Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Advanced Composter Training Course in DC-MD

by Brenda Platt | September 19, 2014 12:00 pm

The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders training program is a community composter train-the-trainer program with a community service component. This program was developed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[1] and ECO City Farms[2] and is offered in partnership with the DC Department of Parks and Recreation.

To apply: To apply for our fall 2014 training in DC-MD (November 1st – December 15th), fill out the online application by October 6th.  Details below.

Once your application is selected, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance will contact you to arrange an interview. Find a friend, colleague, or neighbor to take the course with you!  As one goal is to launch neighborhood projects, preference will be given to two (or more) applicants from the same community.

Course Description: The Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Advanced Composter course consists of 12 hours of classroom instruction, approximately 22 hours of supervised hands-on training, implementation of a capstone project, and 30 hours of independent projects/community service helping to advance community composting.

This course covers the following topics:

o the small-scale composting process
o vermicomposting (worm composting)
o how to use finished compost
o how to design and build on-site compost systems
o techniques for teaching others about composting
o techniques for engaging community participation

For the capstone project and community service components, participants engage in projects based upon their interests and the needs of the community they are serving. Potential projects might include building and managing compost bins at community gardens, schools, churches, or working at compost demonstration sites.

Successful completion of the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Advanced Composter course will result in the receipt of a certificate and the option of continuing on to the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders Master Composter train-the-trainer apprenticeship.

Location: Classes will meet at a location accessible to the Petworth Green Line Metro Station in DC.  The Saturday hands-on training sessions will take place at one of ECO City Farms’ sites in Prince George’s County.  Transportation to and from the Petworth station may be available on Saturdays (TBD).

Application deadline: October 6, 2014
. Space is limited!

Class dates and times:  Two (2) times per week, for six (6) weeks, November 1st – December 15th.

Classroom Instruction:  6:30 to 8:30 pm
(Petworth Green line Metro accessible location)

Wednesday, November 5th
Wednesday, November 12th
Wednesday, November 19th
Wednesday, December 3rd
Wednesday, December 10th
Monday, December 15th

Hands-On Training: 10 am to 12:30 pm, unless noted otherwise
(ECO City Farms’ site in Prince George’s County)

Saturday, November 1st
Saturday, November 8th
Saturday, November 15th
Saturday, November 22nd
Saturday, December 6th (10 am to 4 pm – field trip)
Saturday, December 13th (10 am to 4 pm – bin build)

All classes are mandatory!

Cost: This course is being offered for free this fall. A donation of $40 is requested to help cover the cost of food and materials.

Questions? Contact: NeighborhoodSoilRebuilders@gmail.com[3]

 

Endnotes:
  1. Institute for Local Self-Reliance: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/composting/
  2. ECO City Farms: http://www.ecoffshoots.org
  3. NeighborhoodSoilRebuilders@gmail.com: mailto:NeighborhoodSoilRebuilders@gmail.com

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/neighborhoodsoilrebuildersadvancedcomposter/


Review: Zero Waste: “Nil to Landfill” Is Now a Practical Goal

by Neil Seldman | September 18, 2014 2:41 pm

A Review of a March 2014 social impact report from the Wharton School of Business, Philadelphia, PA, by Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, DC

Changes in solid waste management have indeed made a great social impact in the past few years. However, the Wharton School’s Social Impact March 2014 report, Zero Waste: “Nil to Landfill” Is Now a Practical Goal[1], gives only a glimpse of how new expectations have shifted attitudes, technologies and practices about what recycling can do for a local economy in the near future. Another flaw in the review is its lack of precision when using the terms “zero waste,” and “Extended Producer Responsibility” or “EPR.” As a result, while the report introduces interesting and innovative information on businesses and projects, it leaves the reader behind when it comes to appreciating the current state of the art.

The “nil to landfill” claim is a new approach by companies trying to win customer support for their green works. The reality is that, while claiming “zero waste to landfill,” these companies send their wastes to incinerators. All incinerators need landfills for ash and bypass wastes; these byproducts make up about 20% of the waste stream by volume. For decades, the counties in southern Florida counties have reached the “zero waste to landfill” goal. So when Florida declared a 75% goal to diversion, these counties were already covered. Alachua County has a goal of 75% without incineration. The current flirtation with garbage incineration in all its forms is, in fact, a repetition of 1980s and ’90s efforts to build more than 300 facilities. Only a few of those ended up being built. Today’s wave—an estimated 100 garbage incineration proposals—is meeting a similar demise at the hands of citizen and environmental activists and small businesses. Most recently, there has been a big shift in strategy. The industry is moving away from building new incinerators: rather, companies like WMI will focus on prepared or processed fuels from mixed garbage to be burned in relatively small facilities that are below the EPA threshold for pollution controls, with no community opposition.

Wharton’s report presents good information on real zero waste developments: for example, it includes a description of Paul Connett’s new book, The Zero Waste Solution (Chelsea Green, 2013). This book is the best source of up-to-date information from around the world. The report also cites achievements in Italy—in Capannori, for example—that  Connett documents in his book. There is a growing European movement against incineration: officials are backing away from the practice in favor of recycling and composting.

At the same time, European countries are moving away from the EPR system that gave industry a monopoly over recycling. This program is being demonopolized as recycling costs have soared without competition. As new companies are allowed to enter the sector, officials are seeing a 50% reduction in the costs of recycling. The report does not cover the dramatic changes in US EPR policies, which are eschewing brand-name corporation control of EPR in favor of individual company EPR that supports the local recycling industry instead of replacing it. Corporate control over EPR and recycling has been proposed by leading environmental and industry groups such as Recycle Reinvented and NRDC.

There has been strong recycling industry push back against the corporate dominated model. The city of Berkeley, Calif. originally adopted a corporate EPR ‘Framework’ espoused by the Product Packaging Institute, renamed Upstream. The Citizens Zero Waste Commission proposed an alternative approach to EPR that establishes local agency control, subject to citizen discussion and debate. The City Council approved the new EPR policy.  In British Columbia, monopolization, nexus with incineration, confusion and business resistance followed the introduction of the unpopular EPR System. These events reinforced the negative posture to this concentrated form of EPR. Sims, Inc., the largest metals recycling company in the world, closed its facilities in Ontario and British Columbia as a result of their EPR policies. The retrenchment from corporate EPR was a grassroots effort on the part of recycling practitioners and activists acting to protect a robust industry that has been nurtured for the past 40 years, and that has achieved one million jobs, 65,000 companies, and 10,000 local government programs. It regularly delivers 100 million tons of raw materials to US agriculture and industry.

The discussion of EPR also must distinguish between discarded materials that are not wanted in the community—e.g. toxic materials—and what materials are wanted in the community, e.g., materials and products to which you can add value through manufacturing and processing jobs and tax base. EPR works well on the former, not on the latter.

The report mentions the achievements of San Francisco’s recycling and composting systems, but overlooks perhaps a more interesting situation across the Bay. In Berkeley, the recycling rate is equal to that of San Francisco, but a community-based ecology of commerce has flourished. Six agencies—nonprofits, for-profits and city departments—accomplish what in San Francisco requires a unique city charter monopoly.

Alas, the report does not focus at all on composting, which is expanding rapidly to over 200 municipal collection programs and hundreds of new companies and community-based eco-farms. A new generation of equipment has been introduced to meet the needs of this new sector of the recycling industry. Similarly, the report fails to mention reuse enterprises, which are also expanding rapidly. These companies focus on the 5% of the waste stream that is repairable and reusable, and can add value that is equivalent to 50% of all other recovered recycled materials.

It is  true that the economy is on the path to zero waste, but not because of the factors enumerated in the Wharton Report. Rather, as has always been the case, the prime movers in recycling, reuse and composting are organized citizens and small businesses, focused at the local level of government. This is where decisions on recycling and waste are made. Yes, individual companies do at times introduce better products and packaging, but the engine of reform and change has come, and continues to come, from the ground up.

Endnotes:
  1. Zero Waste: “Nil to Landfill” Is Now a Practical Goal: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/zero-waste-nil-landfill-now-practical-goal/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/review-waste-nil-landfill-practical-goal/


Scotland, Sovereignty and Corporations

by David Morris | September 12, 2014 8:14 am

Since 1945 the number of nations has soared from about 60 to more than 180.  The first wave of new sovereign states came with the decolonization movement of the 1960s and 1970s; the second in the early 1990s with the break-up of the Soviet Union.  If Scotland votes for independence it may ignite a third wave.  Dozens of would-be nations are waiting in the wings:  Wales, Catalonia, Flanders, Breton, the list is long.

In 1957 in his classic book The Breakdown of Nations economist and political scientist Leopold Kohr persuasively and rigorously argued that small nations are the natural order having been throughout history the engines for enlightenment, innovation, mutual aid and the arts.  The large nation state, he argued is not a reflection of improved efficiency but of superior force.

It is the great powers which lack the real basis of existence and are without autochthonous, self-sustaining sources of strength. It is they that are the artificial structures, holding together a medley of more or less unwilling little tribes. There is no Great British’ nation in Great Britain. What we find are the English, Scots, Irish, Cornish, Welsh, and the islanders of Man. In Italy, we find the Lombards, Tyroleans, Venetians, Sicilians, or Romans. In Germany we find Bavarians, Saxons, Hessians, Rhinelanders, or Brandenburgers. And in France, we find Normans, Catalans, Alsatians, Basques, or Burgundians. These little nations came into existence by themselves, while the great powers had to be created by force and a series of bloodily unifying wars. Not a single component part joined them voluntarily. They all had to be forced into them, and could be retained by them only by means of their division into counties, Gaue, or departments. . . .”

With a population of 5.2 million, a sovereign Scotland would rank just below the median size of the world’s nations.  It could rest assured that nations of its size can thrive.  Think Finland, Costa Rica, Ireland, Norway.  Small nations are easier to administer, more nimble in policy and their governments are more accountable to and reflective of their communities. Indeed, it is the divergence between the values of the Scottish culture and those of the Conservative government in Whitehall that has been a major impetus for independence.   That divergence is reflected in the fact that today only one Tory holds a seat from Scotland in the British Parliament.

Prime Minister Cameron’s Conservatives advocate welfare cuts, austerity and privatization.  They enthusiastically embrace what the Scots would call the mean values of the Conservatives heroine Maggie Thatcher who summed up her thinking with the famous phrase,  “There is no such thing as society.”

The Scots most definitely believe there is a thing called society. The Scottish National Party, which controls the Scottish government and supports independence, wants to get rid of nuclear weapons, raise the minimum wage in line with inflation and begin a sweeping extension of child care. It is also more favorable toward immigration and the European Union than the British government.

“There is more of a communitarian viewpoint in Scotland that sees the value of coming together to provide public services, to acknowledge the strength of community in Scotland,” Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister told[1] the New York Times.

But if Scotland does become sovereign it will quickly discover that that sovereignty has been severely restricted by new global rules promoted by increasingly dominant global corporations.   Nations may be getting smaller, but corporations are getting larger. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, more than half are global corporations. The Top 200 corporations’ combined sales represent over one quarter of the world’s GDP. (more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. told: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/18/world/europe/the-chasm-tilting-scots-toward-independence.html?_r=0
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/scotland-sovereignty-corporations/#more-37002

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/scotland-sovereignty-corporations/


Webinar September 16, 2014 – Community Composting: Lessons from NYC

by Brenda Platt | September 10, 2014 9:21 am

ILSR’s Brenda Platt presented at a free webinar, “Community Composting:  Lessons from New York City & Beyond,” on September 16, 2014.

Community composting presents a scalable food diversion option that is applicable in virtually any community, whether urban, suburban, or rural. Community compost programs can be established at community (neighborhood, urban, or tribal) gardens, farms, schools, or other locations. They can be operated by not-for-profit organizations, governments, private sector, schools, housing associations, cooperatives, or through other arrangements.

Operations can serve as demonstration or training sites and/or serve as an effective solution for initiating food scrap processing. Food scrap drop-off collection can take place at community compost sites, farmers markets, transit stations, or other locations. An essential role that community composting can play in the evolution of food scrap diversion is to educate and involve residents in learning about food scrap diversion, the benefits of composting, the uses for compost products, and how the resulting compost products can benefit the community.

New York City’s Compost Project is a community-scale composting network that works to increase capacity and participation in composting in NYC. The city has developed partnerships to provide collection and processing of residential food scraps through its community composting network, along with pilot food scrap collections at multi- family units and schools. In NYC, an estimated 200,000 people participate in the community food scrap collection.

Presenters and Topics

Community Composting—a Model for any Community – Brenda Platt, Co-Director, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Director, Composting Makes $en$e Project, & lead author of the new report Growing Local Fertility: Guide to Community Composting

Growing Organics Collections in NYC: The Evolution of the GrowNYC Food Scrap Collection Program & More – David Hurd, Director, Office of Recycling Outreach & Education, GrowNYC

Community Composting in Action – Christine Datz-Romero, Executive Director, Lower East Side Ecology Center

Sponsored by the Northeast Recycling Council • Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/webinar-september-16-2014-community-composting-lessons-nyc/


Debating the Role of Government in Somerset Kentucky

by David Morris | September 10, 2014 9:08 am

When two politicians debate the role of government, it is almost always Democrat vs. Republican.  Which is why it was so refreshing and instructive to read of the debate taking place among Republicans in a small city in southeastern Kentucky.

On July 19, after years of complaints about local gasoline prices being higher than those in surrounding communities, the City of Somerset decided to take matters into its own hands and began selling gasoline directly to the public.  Two term State Senator Chris Girdler immediately declared[1], “socialism is alive and well in Somerset.”  Two term Mayor Eddie Girdler, a distant cousin responded[2], “If government doesn’t do it to protect the public, then who does it?”

In an interview State Senator Girdler, paraphrasing Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum insisted,  “the government is not the answer – government’s the problem.”    Regrettably the interviewer did not remind the readers that government laid the very foundation of Somerset’s economy.  In 1950 the Army Corps of Engineers completed construction of one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. A little over 100 miles in length with an average depth of 85 feet, Lake Cumberland “transformed[3] Somerset from a sleepy rural community into one of the largest recreation centers in Kentucky, drawing more than 1.7 million visitors annually.”   It would have been instructive to discover whether Senator Girdler would describe Lake Cumberland as a “socialist enterprise.”

Girdler wants to protect us from big government. Senator Girdler approvingly cites[4] Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum, “You can’t be for big government, big taxes and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy.” Mayor Girdler wants to protect us from the predations big giant corporation and he views government as a proper vehicle for doing so. “It’s the role of government to protect us from big business,” he maintains[5].

Somerset’s foray into retail gasoline sales is not the first time it has used its collective authority on behalf of the little guy. In 1951 the city established a municipally owned natural gas company. In the mid 1970s, regular natural gas shortages spurred this city of 11,000 to borrow $4.5 million from Farmers Home Administration to build a natural gas pipeline to previously landlocked producers in eastern Kentucky as well as a pipeline westward to a Texas Eastern Transmission terminal. Today Somerset owns and operates 155 miles of pipelines that connect to three major national natural gas transmission companies.  It purchases natural gas directly from more than a dozen producers while also transporting producers’ gas to more distant markets.

In 2011 Somerset opened a natural gas stripping plant to upgrade the quality and monetary value of the natural gas.  In 2012 it began converting its public vehicle fleets to compressed natural gas, a conversion that by now is almost complete and became the first in Kentucky to sell natural gas to privately owned vehicles.

In 2010 storage capacity for 100,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel became available at a bargain price. Entrepreneurial Somerset quickly snapped it up, gaining the ability to control costs by purchasing gasoline when prices are low.  Mayor Girdler estimates the city recouped its investment within two years and has been sharing the savings with 11 other public entities as well as Somerset’s independent schools.

The retail gasoline station comes after years of resident complaints about the high price of gasoline in Somerset compared to the surrounding area.  In 2011 the city extended an open invitation from city to local gasoline state business owners to explain why that is so.  All declined to attend.

In June, after two years of public debate, the city council voted 10-0 to authorize the city to sell gasoline. “We couldn’t get anywhere, and we decided that hey, we might as well take a stand in a small way of saying that we’re tired of it…and it is working”, says[6] Mayor Girdler.

Somerset’s new public gasoline fuel center is consciously designed not to drive local gas stations out of business.  It sells only regular gasoline, has no convenience store and doesn’t advertise.  Its goal from day one has been to make the local price of gasoline competitive with the regional price. In fact, the price of gasoline at the Somerset Fuel Center is set at the average regional gasoline price. So far the venture appears to be accomplishing its objective. The day the public gas station opened prices in Somerset dropped to or below those in surrounding communities.

Ultimately, Somerset is not targeting local gas stations but rather global Marathon Oil.  As Mayor Girdler explains[7], “We are one community that decided we’ve got backbone and we’re not going to allow the oil companies to dictate to us what we can and cannot do.”

Marathon’s acquisition of Ashland Oil in 1998 virtually eliminated the competitive gasoline market in much of Kentucky.  After an investigation of price gouging the Kentucky Attorney General’s office noted[8],  “It doesn’t matter if you’re at Chevron. It doesn’t matter if you’re at Thornton’s or Shell or Speedway. It is all Marathon Oil.”  Marathon sets the wholesale price and varies the price depending on how much it can get from the local market.

For decades Marathon had a wee bit of competition in the Somerset market from a small local refinery. But the Somerset Refinery declared bankruptcy in 2008.  In 2009 it reopened under new ownership.  The new owners should have found a ready supply of crude oil from local small oil producers eager to save $5-6 per barrel by transporting to Somerset rather than to Marathon’s more remote refinery. But Marathon began offering handsome incentives to trucker brokers who would go 172 miles northeast of Somerset to deliver to its refinery in Catlettsburg.

On December 15, 2009 the CEO of Somerset Energy Refining wrote[9] an open letter to Marathon pleading with its CEO to cease this anti-competitive practice.  Marathon refused. In early 2010 Somerset Refinery’s biggest supplier diverted to Marathon.  The company declared bankruptcy.  “We simply weren’t able to buy enough crude oil to process to keep our doors open,” said Ed Phelps, spokesman for the company.

In 2011 the local refinery reopened once again under new management, this time with a new name, Continental Refining Company (CRC).  CRC’s refinery is 2 percent the size of Marathon’s but the new owners have long experience in the oil and gasoline business and deeper pockets than the previous owners.  So far it seems to be faring well and has played a key role in allowing Somerset to set up a competing gas station.

Mayor Girdler is up for reelection this November.  Whatever happens, a tip of the hat to Somerset, Kentucky for making concrete the sometimes abstract and always ideological debate about the role of government and the value of collective action.

 

Endnotes:
  1. declared: http://www.kentucky.com/welcome_page/?shf=/2014/08/04/3364502_sen-chris-girdler-city-owned-gas.html
  2. responded: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/kentucky-city-battles-high-gas-prices-public-fuel/story?id=24680171
  3. transformed: https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Somerset,_Kentucky.html
  4. cites: http://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/07/25/somerset-business-running-business/13145633/
  5. maintains: http://www.moneynews.com/StreetTalk/Kentucky-Town-Public-Gasoline-Station-Big-Oil/2014/07/24/id/584712/
  6. says: http://www.npr.org/2014/08/13/340085122/city-run-gas-station-makes-waves-in-southeastern-kentucky
  7. explains: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/kentucky-town-opens-retail-filling-station-is-criticized-as-promoting-socialism/2014/07/19/2d3dc5b0-0f61-11e4-8c9a-923ecc0c7d23_story.html
  8. noted: http://www.wkyt.com/home/headlines/FTC-could-investigate-Kentuckys-high-gas-prices-soon-261189351.html
  9. wrote: http://irjci.blogspot.com/2009/12/repoened-rural-refinery-in-kentucky.html

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/debating-role-government-republican-somerset-kentucky/


Ultimate Solar Calculator “App” Helps You Choose: To Own or Lease?

by John Farrell | September 4, 2014 12:10 pm

A few weeks ago I wrote about the comeback of solar ownership[1] relative to leasing, as the cost of rooftop solar PV continues to fall and new financing options make ownership easier than ever.

Is owning a solar panel right for you? Find out now!

The calculator below lets you compare (leasing) apples to (ownership) apples, and the chart below the calculator shows the value of your solar investment over 15, 25, and 30 years.

The default inputs are good estimates based on ILSR’s research, but you can customize the comparison extensively. The key elements in the ownership v. leasing comparison are in orange, but other options (like nearest city) will make the actual numbers accurate to your location.

Scroll below the calculator for explanations of the inputs[2].

Keep in mind that solar panels typically carry a 20-year warranty, but most panels are expected to continue producing electricity for 30 years or more.

The Ultimate Solar Calculator from ILSR


Embed this calculator on your website[3]

Calculator Terms

Solar project size, cost, and electricity production

Economic Assumptions

Financing Terms

Leasing Terms

Embed Code:
<iframe width="762" height="897" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" src="https://onedrive.live.com/embed?cid=6BF9122C0EDC4359&resid=6BF9122C0EDC4359%21152&authkey=APphyo05DnZCF54&em=2&AllowTyping=True&Item=NPVChart&wdHideGridlines=True&wdDownloadButton=True"></iframe>
Photo credit:  Derek Gavey[5]

Endnotes:
  1. the comeback of solar ownership: http://www.ilsr.org/solar-ownership-poised-comeback/
  2. explanations of the inputs: #glossary
  3. Embed this calculator on your website: #embed
  4. some solar loans now include a maintenance-free contract: http://www.ilsr.org/solar-ownership-poised-comeback/
  5. Derek Gavey: http://www.flickr.com/photos/derekgavey/6160041079/in/photolist-aokPAP-6Hh8rk-kvNTUB-8Hj1Cg-7JVDCE-dfexY3-9Ajs9g-6bLJqe-dfeyG3-eqnud-99WnKp-eqi7Q-eqi7H-eqi7P-7CifQq-9aMcna-4ftXGe-fcjfv3-dAT72J-36CYxR-hZygMk-a8c9GZ-5y7iff-D9JLg-4kr4Fj-8HSBLq-7QM9Nq-6kb6Cs-5pfpjj-8hYLvj-5XVXnf-eqnub-eqnuc-eqi7J-eqi7M-eqi7L-7CerbB-9nd4Wb-9hj4id-yu31a-7ADeR9-4k2hrk-4syeRB-66PU2s-as6oSo-7x9bNo-a1z1ib-2N1oq2-a2wArk-753DfN

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/ultimate-solar-calculator/


UK Rail Privatization 20 years Later

by David Morris | September 2, 2014 4:26 pm

The United Kingdom privatized its national rail system in 1993. Some 20 years later the unsurprising consequences of transforming a public monopoly into a private monopoly are clear. Higher prices. Worse service. Even more public subsidies. Read the article[1].

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. article:

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/uk-rail-privatization-20-years/


This November We Can Regain Local Authority Over the Internet

by David Morris | September 2, 2014 3:53 pm

In July the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stirred up a hornets’ nest by announcing it might overturn state prohibitions on municipally owned broadband networks. Republicans protested that Washington should keep its grubby hands off state authority. Giant cable and phone companies contended that local governments are incapable of managing telecommunications networks and the resulting failure will burden taxpayers.

The national debate is both welcome and timely.  Welcome because it is grounded while addressing some of the most fundamental issues of our time: What is the role of government?  What is the value of competition?  What is the meaning of democracy?  Timely because we are entering the home stretch of an election year where most state legislators are up for re-election.  And because we confront the prospect of mergers between giants Comcast and Time Warner and AT&T and DIRECTTV that may operate under new rules that allow them greater ability to discriminate against other providers.

Some background to the FCC’s decision may be in order.  In the early 2000s, exasperated by poor service, high prices and the condescending refusal of cable and phone companies to upgrade their networks, cities began to build their own.   Today 150 cities have laid fiber or cable to every address in town. Another 250 offer Internet access to either businesses or residents. About 1,000 have created school or library networks. See map[1].

The vast majority of these networks have proven wildly successful.  The borough of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, for example, saved an estimated $2 million in just the first few years after constructing one of the nation’s first fiber networks, a result of lower rates by the muni network and price reductions by the incumbent cable company in response to competitive pressure. Bristol Virginia estimates its network has saved residents and businesses over $10 million. Lafayette, Louisiana estimates savings of over $90 million.  (The benefits of muni networks have been amply catalogued by the Community Broadband Initiative[2].

Competition by public networks has spurred cable and phone companies to upgrade. After Monticello, Minnesota moved ahead with its citywide fiber network TDS, its incumbent telco, began building its own despite having maintained for years that no additional investments were needed. After Lafayette began building its network, incumbent cable company Cox, having previously dismissed customer demands for better service as pure conjecture scrambled to upgrade.

It’s true that some public networks have had significant financial losses, although it is usually bondholders, not taxpayers who feel the pain.  But compared to the track record of private telecoms, public sector management looks like a paragon of financial probity.

In 2002, after disclosing $2.3 billion in off balance sheet debt and the indictment of five corporate officials for financial shenanigans Adelphia declared bankruptcy.  In 2009 Charter collapsed resulting in an $8 billion loss after four executives were indicted for improper financial reporting. In 2009 FairPoint Communications declared bankruptcy, resulting in a loss of more than $1 billion. WorldCom, TNCI, Cordia Communications, AstroTel, Norvergence.  The list of private telecommunications companies that have been mismanaged to the point of collapse is long.

We should bear in mind that investors will deduct the losses from their taxes.  Thus the cost to taxpayers of private corporate mismanagement arguably has been far greater than that caused by losses in public networks.

In any event, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told[3] a House Communications Subcommittee in May, “I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws that have been adopted at the behest of incumbent providers looking to limit competition.”

If forced to, private companies will compete, but they much prefer to spend tens of millions of dollars buying the votes of state legislators to enact laws that forestall competition rather than spend hundreds of millions to improve their networks.

Today 4 states have outright bans.  Fifteen others impose severe restrictions.  In Utah, for example, if a public network wants to offer retail services, a far more profitable endeavor than providing wholesale services, it must demonstrate that each service provided will have a positive cash flow the first year!

After five North Carolina cities proved that muni networks could be hugely successful, Time Warner lobbied the state legislature to prohibit any imitators. Dan Ballister, Time Warner’s Director of Communications insisted[4], “We’re all for competition, as long as people are on a level playing field.”

Level playing field? Time Warner has annual revenues of $18 billion, more than 500 times greater than Salisbury, North Carolina’s $34 million budget. It has 14 million customers while Salisbury’s Fibrant network has about 2500.

Level playing field? Incumbent telephone and cable companies long ago amortized the costs of building their network. When a new competitor enters the market, it must build an entirely new network, passing the costs onto subscribers or investors in the form of higher prices or reduced margins. Large incumbents have far more leverage when negotiating cable channel contracts. A new network serving a single community might pay 25- 50 percent more for its channels.

The law Time Warner wrote and persuaded the North Carolina legislature to pass slants the playing field even more in favor of the giant telecoms. Time Warner can build networks anywhere in North Carolina but the public sector is limited to its municipal boundaries.  A public network must price its communication services based on the cost of capital available to private providers even if it can access capital more cheaply.

The North Carolina law, as with many such state laws, prohibits public networks from using surpluses from one part of the city to finance the telecommunications system. But the law doesn’t prohibit private networks from doing so. Time Warner can tap into profits from its vast customer base (largely in uncompetitive areas) to subsidize predatory pricing against muni competition. When Scottsboro, Alabama built a city wide cable network Charter used profits from other markets to offer Scottsboro customers a video package with 150 channels for less than $20 per month, even while Charter was charging customers in nearby communities over $70 for the same package. In a proceeding at the FCC, experts estimated[5] Charter was losing at least $100-$200 year on these deals and even more when factoring in the cost of six major door-to-door marketing campaigns.

Existing North Carolina law already required a referendum before a city can issue bonds to finance a public network. The new law specifically exempts cities from having to obtain voter approval “prior to the sale or discontinuance of the city’s communications network”.

Terry Huval, Director of Lafayette’s LUS Fiber describes[6] still other ways state laws favor incumbents.  “While Cox Communications can make rate decisions in a private conference room several states away, Lafayette conducts its business in an open forum, as it should. While Cox can make repeated and periodic requests for documents under the Public Records Law, it is not subject to a corresponding… Louisiana law limits the ability of a governmental enterprise to advertise, but nothing prevents the incumbent providers from spending millions of dollars in advertising campaigns.”

The FCC’s current proceeding came in response to petitions from two cities: Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina.  Both have very successful world-class muni networks.  Surrounding communities are clamoring to interconnect.  The Chattanooga Times Free Press[7] recently described the frustration and anger of people living tantalizingly close to these public networks.

 

“When Joyce Coltrin looks outside the front door of her wholesale plant business, her gaze stops at a spot less than a half mile away.

All she can do is stare in disbelief at the spot in rural Bradley County where access to EPB’s fiber-optic service abruptly halts, as mandated under a Tennessee law that has frozen the expansion of the fastest Internet in the Western Hemisphere…the small business owner has no access to wired Internet of any type, despite years of pleas to the private companies that provide broadband in her community.

‘The way I see it, Comcast and Charter and AT&T have had 15 years to figure out how to get Internet to us, and they’ve decided it’s not cost-effective,’ Coltrin said. ‘We have not been able to get anything because of these state laws, and through no fault of our own, we are treated as second-class citizens. They’ve just sort of held us hostage.’”

On July 16, House Republicans voted 221-4 to freeze FCC funding if it attempts to overturn state prohibitions.  Sixty Republican House members sent a letter to Wheeler declaring, “Without any doubt, state governments across the country understand and are more attentive to the needs of the American people than unelected federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”  Eleven Republican Senators agreed, “States are much closer to their citizens and can meet their needs better than an unelected bureaucracy in Washington, D.C… State political leaders are accountable to the voters who elect them…”

But if state legislatures are closer to and more accountable to the people than the FCC or Congress surely city councils and county commissions are even closer and more accountable.

Ultimately then, this is a fight about democracy. Corporations prefer to fight in 50 remote state capitols rather than 30,000 local communities. But genuine democracy depends on allowing, to the greatest extent possible, those who feel the impact of decisions to be a significant part in the decision making process. Harold DePriest, head of Chattanooga’s municipally owned broadband network (and electricity company) poses[8] the fundamental question this way, “(D)oes our community control our own fate, or does someone else control it?” Decisions about caps and rates and access, about the digital divide and net neutrality can be debated and made at the local level, not in some distant boardroom or having to rely on federal agencies to act and federal courts to support their actions.

If the FCC decides in favor of Chattanooga and Wilson the issue will be tied up in courts for years. But we shouldn’t need the federal government to come to our rescue. The elections this fall will revolve around many issues.  But given the centrality of high speed, affordable, reliable broadband and the looming prospect of even more corporate consolidation citizens this issue should be front and center. In 90 days, in 19 states that restrict municipal broadband, voters will be given the chance to overturn that decision by throwing out those who said no to local democracy.

 

Endnotes:
  1. map: http://www.muninetworks.org/communitymap
  2. Community Broadband Initiative: http://www.muninetworks.org/
  3. told: http://www.broadcastingcable.com/news/washington/wheeler-praises-municipal-broadband-partnership/131463
  4. insisted: http://stopthecap.com/2010/11/02/salisbury-launches-fibrant-service-bringing-fiber-fast-broadband-to-more-north-carolinians/
  5. estimated: http://www.muninetworks.org/sites/www.muninetworks.org/files/breaking-bb-monopoly.pdf
  6. describes: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBYQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.muninetworks.org%2Fcontent%2Flafayette-and-level-playing-field&rct=j&q=lus%20fiber%2C%20While%20Cox%20Communications%20can%20make%20rate%20decisions%20in%20a%20private%20conference%20room%20several%20states%20away%2C%20Lafayette%20conducts%20its%20business%20in%20an%20open%20forum%2C%20as%20it%20should&ei=gGYDTqmSAYa3tgexiJX0DQ&usg=AFQjCNFkg3kCGMCZMEJG3rbsHGEQ9fu6sw&cad=rja
  7. Chattanooga Times Free Press: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2014/aug/29/high-speed-broadband-brings-high-stakes-battle/
  8. poses: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB121115846391602439

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/states-rights-local-democracy-future-broadband/


David Brancaccio Lets Us Down

by David Morris | September 2, 2014 3:39 pm

David Brancaccio is a solid reporter.  Perhaps the cognitive dissonance of talking about public ownership on a program called Marketplace caused him to go astray.  Nevertheless a few days ago he did his listeners a disservice when he commented[1] on the city of Somerset, Kentucky’s new venture: Selling gasoline directly to city residents.

Somerset’s entrepreneurialism got him to explore other municipal enterprises,   “I looked around for some precedents and they are interesting.”

So far so good.  Tens of thousands of precedents exist public ownership and they are indeed interesting.  But a listener to Brancaccio could not be faulted for coming away with the impression that public enterprises are few and far between.

Brancaccio began by observing, “Some cities have long had municipal public utilities. The power company in San Francisco is owned by the city and county, for instance.”

That’s an oddly understated way to talk about municipal electric companies.  Yes San Francisco owns a power company.  But the Hetch Hetchy’s series of dams were built primarily to provide water and the electricity they generated is delivered only to the public sector.  No sales are made to residences or businesses.  That’s the province of an investor owned utility, PG&E.

Much more instructive would have been the revelation that more than 2000 cities boast full fledged electric power companies, including big cities like Los Angeles, San Antonio, Austin and Seattle.   Better yet, Brancaccio might have described one or two of the many titanic struggles between plundering private, unresponsive corporations and the people that preceded the creation of these government enterprises.

Despite abundant evidence to the contrary Brancaccio insists that public enterprises are the exception.  “More typically however, the response to high prices or other perceived market failures has not been ownership of the retail outlet by a municipality. Instead, the solution is more often local citizens banding together. Heating fuel co-ops are common, in which locals pool resources to get a better price on oil by buying in bulk.”

Actually heating fuel coops are not at all common.  Only a few dozen exist and many of them are buying clubs, not genuine cooperatives.  On the other hand, more than 100 cities own their own natural gas companies, including Somerset, Kentucky where sales of compressed natural gas for vehicles anticipated the sale of gasoline.

Brancaccio might have educated his listeners about the latest wave of public enterprises– municipal broadband networks. In the last decade over 150 cities laid fiber or cable to every address in town. Another 250 offer Internet access to either businesses or residents. About 1,000 created school or library networks.

These municipal networks offer some of the fastest speeds and lowest prices in the country.  And their service is incomparably better than that offered by Comcast and Time Warner, although admittedly that is a very low bar.

Brancaccio is correct that often citizens band together to create cooperatives when the private sector fails them. But rather than talk about heating fuel coops he could instead have told his listeners about the great resurgence of the nation’s credit unions–7200 with 100 million members, up by 10 million in just the last six years, and $1 trillion in assets.

As I said, perhaps Brancaccio felt inhibited in talking about the virtues of public and cooperative ownership under the auspices of the Marketplace. When Marketplace reporters talk about business listeners can almost always be assured they are referring to private business not public enterprise.  Nevertheless, I hope Brancaccio revisits the issue in future broadcasts and lets people know that cooperative and government enterprises are not on the periphery of the economy but are a successful and growing component of it.

Endnotes:
  1. commented: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/indie-economics/tale-city-service-station

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/david-brancaccio-lets/


Rural Broadband Funding Webinar

by Rebecca Toews | August 27, 2014 10:42 am

The FCC has made a $100 million fund available to organizations seeking to bring advanced telecommunications to rural America. The National Rural Assembly is hosting a national webinar to explain the criteria and application process.

If you or your organization have a stake in expanding broadband in rural areas, you may want to consider this resource. From National Rural Assembly’s Broadband Working Group press release:

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission launched the Rural Broadband Experiments – a $100 million funding initiative seeking proposals that bring advanced telecommunications services to Rural America. Deadline to apply is October 12th 2014. For the first time, cooperatives, municipalities, nonprofits, anchor institutions, and Tribal governments will be able to access federal funding to bring broadband service to rural areas. This is a historic opportunity for entities committed to rural communities.

On Thursday, August 28th at 1:00pm Eastern, join the Rural Broadband Policy Group and the National Rural Assembly on a webinar featuring Jonathan Chambers from the Office of Strategic Policy and Analysis and Carol Mattey from the Wireline Competition Bureau, to learn about the rules and process to apply for the Rural Broadband Experiments.

You can sign up for the webinar here[1].

Endnotes:
  1. here: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/831203617

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/rural-broadband-funding-webinar-2/


Stafford Incinerator in Virginia Not “Financially Beneficial”

by Neil Seldman | August 22, 2014 11:46 am

The Regional Solid Waste Management Board that oversees the County and City of Fredericksburg landfill will not pursue a garbage and industrial waste incineration-gasification facility. The County received no bid that it considered financially beneficial to the County and City and dropped the project.

Citizens who have been opposed to the project for several years were pleased with the decision and are now pressing the County to implement expanded recycling and composting. Despite having decades left of landfill capacity, the regional authority wanted an incinerator. Now Bill Johnson, StopTheStaffordIncinerator.com[1] activist, wants to unite the government, business and citizens to plan and implement recycling and enterprises expansion under a zero waste policy initiative. The county and city have decades of landfill capacity available; a key reason, why there was no need to rush into an incinerator-based solution. “Now, is the time to expand recycling and composting so that the landfill will serve households and businesses for generations to come”, said Johnson.

Mike Ewall, director of Energy Justice Network[5], has been the prime source of technical assistance observes that this is the second politically and fiscally conservative county in the Mid Atlantic region to reject garbage incineration as an acceptable solid waste management approach. Carroll County, MD paid $1 million this year to get out of a contract for garbage incineration. In June, Energy Justice Network helped citizens in Lorton, VA get their Fairfax County, VA to reject a 50 year expansion of a construction and demolition landfill due to close in 2016.

ILSR and Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA supported the citizens in Stafford County and Lorton through workshops and guest articles in the local media.

Endnotes:
  1. StopTheStaffordIncinerator.com: http://StopTheStaffordIncinerator.com
  2. R-board expected to toss alternative trash ideas: http://news.fredericksburg.com/newsdesk/2014/08/19/alternative-trash-ideas-no-benefit/
  3. Don’t make county an incinerator guinea pig: http://www.freelancestar.com/2014-06-12/articles/38160/stafford-dont-ma/
  4. Stafford nowhere near landfill capacity: http://www.freelancestar.com/2014-06-20/articles/38847/letter-stafford-nowhere-near-landfill-capacity/
  5. Energy Justice Network: http://www.energyjustice.net/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/stafford-incinerator-virginia-financially-beneficial/


Federal Study Confirms “Too Big To Fail” Gives Megabanks a Hidden Funding Advantage

by Olivia LaVecchia | August 20, 2014 6:25 pm

When the country’s giant banks were teetering on the verge of collapse during 2008’s financial crisis, the U.S. government stepped in to bail them out. The banks were, in a phrase that has since become infamous, “Too Big To Fail.”

Would the government do it again? And does the expectation that it would step in give megabanks an unfair competitive advantage over local community banks?

Those are the questions at the heart of an eagerly awaited report[1] released at the end of July by the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan federal department. In a conclusion that highlights the need for more regulatory action to reduce concentration in the banking system, the G.A.O. found that the answers to both questions are “yes.”

Six years after the bailout, the country’s biggest banks have only grown bigger. Just four megabanks, each with more than $1.5 trillion in assets, control 45 percent of the country’s banking industry, up from 37 percent in 2007, according to FDIC data. The consequences for the economy — higher consumer fees, fewer small business loans, and more risky speculative trading — are substantial.

To Senators David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, these are among the signs that “Too Big To Fail” works as a kind of implicit insurance — and as such, a subsidy — for the megabanks. Because creditors and investors believe taxpayers will rescue the banks if anything goes awry, they are willing to finance big banks at much lower interest rates than they offer smaller institutions.

The Senators have introduced a bill, the “Terminating Bailouts for Taxpayer Fairness Act,” that aims to end this implicit government subsidy, and create a fairer playing field for community banks.

The Senators are also the ones who called for the G.A.O. report, in order to get a better sense of just how big the megabanks’ advantage is.

In the report, the G.A.O. looked at one particular benefit that the taxpayers’ guarantee nets the megabanks: whether they’re able to borrow money – issue debt – more cheaply than smaller financial institutions. Using 42 models, the G.A.O. found that though the benefit has tapered off in recent years, during the heart of the financial crisis, in 2008 and 2009, megabanks were able to borrow at significantly lower rates. (more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. report: http://gao.gov/products/GAO-14-621
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/federal-study-confirms-too-big-fail-megabanks-hidden-funding-advantage/#more-36713

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/federal-study-confirms-too-big-fail-megabanks-hidden-funding-advantage/


Why Aren’t Rural Electric Cooperatives Champions of Local Clean Power?

by John Farrell | August 18, 2014 2:20 pm

When it comes to ownership, there are few better structures for keeping a community’s wealth local than a cooperative. So why is it that America’s rural electric cooperatives are tethered to dirty, old coal-fired power plants instead of local-wealth generating renewable power?

There are a lot of answers to this question, but it might start with this: electric cooperatives aren’t quite like other cooperatives.

The Seven Slipping Cooperative Principles

Cooperatives around the world adhere to the “Seven Cooperative Principles[1],” but electric cooperatives (at least in the United States) fail on several of these principles.

  1. Voluntary and open membership. Nope. If you want electric service in cooperative territory, you sign with the cooperative. While it’s no different than rules for other types of utilities in the 30 states that grant utilities a monopoly service territory, it violates the principles of cooperatives.
  2. Democratic control (one member, one vote). Not always. Some electric cooperatives award one vote per meter, and some customers (e.g. farmers, industry) have more than one meter. Furthermore, many cooperatives filter potential board candidates with “nominating committees.” And look, here’s a board election with no opposition[2]!There’s also a big gap between cooperative member support for (paying more for) renewable energy and cooperative behavior. This 2013 survey in Minnesota[3], for example, shows little separation between urban and rural areas (where cooperatives are dominant) in support for renewable energy, yet cooperatives opposed every bill[4] favoring clean energy in the 2013 legislative session.
  3. Members control the capital of the cooperative.
  4. Cooperatives maintain their autonomy and independence even if they enter into agreements with other entities. Questionable. Many cooperatives sign 40- or even 50-year purchase contracts with power suppliers to supply 95% of their entire sales, mostly from coal-fired power plants. Standard and Poor’s explains this in an evaluation of a Seminole Electric in Florida[5], a generation & transmission cooperative that sells to rural cooperatives. In their words, one of the utility’s credit strengths is, “A captive retail market and the ability to set rates through take-and-pay, all-requirements wholesale power agreements with nine of 10 members through 2045.”
  5. Cooperatives provide educational opportunities to their members and the public on the benefits of cooperatives. Questionable. If you read rural electric cooperative newsletters, you’ll hear a lot about climate change but you’ll often find the phrase in[6] quotes[7]
  6. Cooperatives work best when cooperating with other cooperatives. Questionable, refer to #4. Some of these power suppliers are “co-ops of co-ops,” but these long-term contracts have tethered the economic fortunes of cooperative members to the vagaries of the coal market (see below). More than any other type of utility (public or investor-owned), rural electric cooperatives are reliant on coal[8] for their electricity fuel. The average U.S. utility is 38% coal-fired power.rural electric cooperatives reliant on coal - public citizen[9]coal prices 2000-11.001[10]
  7. Cooperatives work for sustainable development of their community. Not enough. Most cooperatives rely heavily on imported power purchased on long-term contracts with the goal of cheap power, but that ironically leave them at the mercy of unfettered price increases. They also have missed an enormous economic development opportunity from renewable energy. For example:Renewable energy provides significant economic impacts ($1 million per megawatt of wind, $250,000 per megawatt for solar) with multipliers for local (i.e. cooperative) ownership[11] (up to 3.5 times more local economic impact, and twice as many jobs). Wind and solar provide more jobs per megawatt of power capacity, as well.RE-fossil-jobs-per-MW[12]Finally, rural electric cooperatives have organized a 1 million comment campaign against EPA regulations[13] of carbon pollution from power plants. Hardly a commitment to “sustainable development.”

How Can Cooperatives Change?

Restoring their 7 principles could do a lot. Improving their structure so that the cooperative directors reflect member opinion on renewable energy would restore the principle of democratic control. Avoiding ridiculously long power purchase contracts would provide local cooperatives with real autonomy and control of their energy costs and options. Broadening their focus on economic development beyond cheap power to include renewable energy would make “sustainable development” much more realistic.

Can it happen? It already has, in Iowa and on[14] Kaua’i[15], and there are more tools that ever[16] at their disposal. But as with electrification, no one will do it unless they do it themselves.

Endnotes:
  1. Seven Cooperative Principles: http://www.ncba.coop/7-cooperative-principles
  2. a board election with no opposition: http://www.lakecountrypower.coop/pdf_newsline/125.pdf
  3. 2013 survey in Minnesota: http://www.mepartnership.org/2013-mep-poll-results/
  4. opposed every bill: http://www.mrea.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/MREA-Legislative-Bulletin-02272013.pdf
  5. evaluation of a Seminole Electric in Florida: http://www.seminole-electric.com/pdf/news/releases/sp.pdf
  6. in: http://www.cvecoop.com/news/apr2014.pdf
  7. quotes: http://www.mnvalleyrec.com/reports/JAN14.pdf
  8. reliant on coal: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2014/06/01/5-dense-carbon-polluters-in-epa-crosshairs/
  9. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/rural-electric-cooperatives-reliant-on-coal-public-citizen.jpg
  10. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/coal-prices-2000-11.001.jpg
  11. multipliers for local (i.e. cooperative) ownership: http://www.ilsr.org/jobs-and-economic-impact-community-wind/
  12. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/RE-fossil-jobs-per-MW.png
  13. 1 million comment campaign against EPA regulations: http://www.ohioruralelectric.coop/blog/2014/05/19/partnership-for-a-better-energy-future-tops-1-million-comments-to-epa/
  14. Iowa and on: http://www.ilsr.org/1-solar-utility-in-iowa-episode-12-local-energy-rules/
  15. Kaua’i: http://www.ilsr.org/perfect-storm-renewables-episode-18-local-energy-rules/
  16. more tools that ever: http://www.ilsr.org/6-billion-opportunity-rural-energy-economy/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/rural-electric-cooperatives-champions-local-clean-power/


The Birth of Community Broadband – Video

by Christopher | August 15, 2014 9:11 am

ILSR is excited to announce a new short video examining an impressive municipal broadband network, Glasgow Kentucky. Glasgow was the first municipal broadband network and indeed, seems to have been the first citywide broadband system in the United States.

We partnered with the Media Working Group to produce this short documentary and we have the material to do much more, thanks to the hard work of Fred Johnson at MWG and the cooperation of many in Glasgow, particularly Billy Ray.

People who only recently became aware of the idea of community owned networks may not be familiar with Billy Ray, but it was he and Jim Baller throughout the 90's and early 2000's that paved the way for all the investment and excitement we see today. 

I'm excited to be helping to tell part of this story and look forward to being able to tell more of it.

Video: 

Source URL: http://www.muninetworks.org/content/birth-community-broadband-video


FCC Releases Notice of Inquiry on Broadband Progress

by Rebecca Toews | August 14, 2014 3:39 pm

 

Section 702 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to report annually on whether “advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.” The FCC kicked off its tenth such report on Tuesday by releasing a “Notice of Inquiry[1],” (NOI) in effect asking individuals and groups around the country to offer relevant data and comments.

This process amounts to a kind of crowdsourced “State of the Union” on broadband issues. In addition to determining how many people in what areas have broadband access, this NOI also asks the critical question of how exactly the FCC should define broadband. The current definition of 4mbps download[2] capacity and 1mbps upload[3] may have been sufficient in the past, but isn’t adequate for even recreational household use by many Americans today, let alone the demands of running a business and conducting commerce online.

This NOI also asks some arcane but important questions about other aspects of broadband definitions, including latency[4] (the speed of data moving within a network, a different measure than bandwidth[5]) and the widespread use of data caps and other policies in the telecom industry.

Obviously the answers to all these questions have significant implications for municipal networks. Inadequate or overly-loose definitions of broadband allow incumbents to claim that they are providing excellent service to just about everyone in a given area, when that is often far from the truth. Many restrictive state laws limiting municipal networks, as well as federal grant programs that may support such networks, are based on whether an area is defined as already served or underserved, which may be dependent on FCC benchmarks. As is often the case in regulatory issues, the devil is in the details.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler introduced the NOI[6] with the following statement:

Congress has instructed us that all Americans should have access to robust broadband services, no matter where they live. Because consumers demand increasing levels of bandwidth capacity to support the applications they want to use online, we are asking if it is time to update the benchmark broadband speed. And as more people adopt faster broadband speeds, we are asking if all consumers, even in the most rural regions, should have greater access to better broadband.

We here at ILSR believe the answer to both questions is a resounding “YES.” The due date for initial comments is September 4th, and ILSR intends to make its voice heard.

Endnotes:
  1. Notice of Inquiry: http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2014/db0805/FCC-14-113A1.pdf
  2. download: http://www.muninetworks.org/glossary/1#term8
  3. upload: http://www.muninetworks.org/glossary/1#term28
  4. latency: http://www.muninetworks.org/glossary/1#term626
  5. bandwidth: http://www.muninetworks.org/glossary/1#term2
  6. introduced the NOI: http://www.fcc.gov/article/fcc-14-113a2

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/fcc-releases-notice-inquiry-broadband-progress/


A Solar Ownership Comeback? John Farrell Talks with Arnie Arnesen on WNHN

by John Farrell | August 13, 2014 3:16 pm

A month ago I wrote about the potential for a comeback for solar ownership[1] (instead of leasing) as the economics and options for ownership continue to improve. Yesterday I discussed this trend in depth on “The Attitude” with Arnie Arnesen on WNHN. Subscribe to the podcast here[2], or listen by clicking the player below:

 
Endnotes:
  1. comeback for solar ownership: http://www.ilsr.org/solar-ownership-poised-comeback/
  2. here: http://www.nhnewsviewsblues.org/podcasts/Attitude_with_Arnie_Podcasts.xml
  3. Play in new window: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/AAA_140812-jff.mp3
  4. Download: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/AAA_140812-jff.mp3
  5. Embed: #

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/solar-ownership-comeback-john-farrell-talks-arnie-arnesen-wnhn/


Working Partner Update: Community Purchasing Alliance, Washington DC

by Neil Seldman | August 4, 2014 3:57 pm

Based in Washington, DC, the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) leverages the buying power of its member community organizations to lower operating costs while supporting vendors committed to a greater social purpose. CPA is owned entirely by its members, which include religious institutions, charter schools, and other nonprofits. Together, CPA helps these organizations realize that by working together they can advance their commitments to social and environmental values while also improving their bottom lines.

CPA started as an electricity-buying group in 2011. It has since grown to more than 100 organizations and helps its members save around 15% on their electricity bills by purchasing at fixed group rates that include 100% renewable energy and a rebates. The fixed rates help members with greater budget predictability and the clean energy component aligns with their sustainability principles. CPA expects 30 to 40 new religious congregations to join this program in the fall. They hope to soon help members more closely track their utility usage to determine additional ways to save money.

Members expanded their cooperative purchasing to waste and recycling pick-up, because of the significant cost savings potential in this area. CPA signed contracts that will save 25%, or $96,000 in the upcoming year, for the 45 participants in this program. Information was collected on the current practices of dozens of members to inform the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. They found members were being significantly over-charged to have their trash collected and on top of that had little recourse in their service agreements. For example, one church was paying $2,300/month for the same level of service that is now being provided for $490/month. CPA created its own service contract within the RFP but allowed respondents to propose changes. The RFP offered additional points for local, minority-owned companies that paid its workers living wages and used transfer stations and materials recycling facilities that share these values. This year, CPA selected two local companies that together employee 250 local residents as the winning vendors.

Other cooperative purchasing programs include installation of solar panels, copier leasing, office supply purchasing and payroll services. CPA also has a discount program with nine ACE Hardware stores in which members receive 10% off any item and 25% off bulk purchases. CPA estimates that, on average, members save $6,000/year by participating in the electric, trash and recycling, and supplies purchasing programs. This savings stays local and enables the nonprofit members to continue serving the community while staying committed to their social and environmental values. CPA believes the model will become self-sustaining once it reaches 180 members in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Once the concept is proven, CPA aims to work with partners to replicate the model in cities across the country.

Contact Information: Web page  http://cpa.coop/[1]; contact person Felipe Witchger, felipe@cpa.coop


This article authored by Megan Loeb and Neil Seldman

Endnotes:
  1. http://cpa.coop/: http://cpa.coop/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/community-purchasing-alliance-washington-dc-working-partner-update/


Chattanooga and Wilson Comment Period Open; Tell the FCC You Support Local Authority

by Lisa Gonzalez | July 29, 2014 4:45 pm

Last week, the communities of Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina, filed petitions with the FCC. Both communities requested that the agency remove state barriers preventing expansion beyond their current service areas. On July 28, the FCC established a public comment calendar for the request. It is imperative that all those with an interest in better access take a few moments to express their support for these two communities.

Opening Comments are due August 29, 2014; Reply Comments will be due September 29, 2014. That means you need to submit comments by the end of this month. If you want to reply to any comments, you can do that in September.

This is a pivotal moment in telecommunications policy. For months municipal network advocates have been following Chairman Wheeler's stated intentions to remove state barriers to local authority. Within the past few weeks, federal legislators - many that rely on campaign contributions from large providers - pushed back through Rep Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Blackburn introduced an amendment to a House appropriations bill preventing FCC preemption if the amendment becomes law.

ILSR and MuniNetworks.org encourage individuals, organizations, and entities to file comments supporting the people of Wilson and Chattanooga. These two communities exemplify the potential success of local Internet choice. We have documented their many victories on MuniNetworks.org and through case studies on Wilson [PDF] and Chattanooga [PDF].

Now is the time to share your support for local decision-making. This is not about whether any given community should build its own network so much as it is about whether every community can decide for itself how to best expand and improve Internet access, whether by investing in itself or working with a trusted partner.

ILSR will be filing comments in support of Wilson's and Chattanooga's petitions. As a service to those who plan to express their support for local authority, we will continue to provide information, guidance, and resources throughout the comment period. In the near future, there should be a guide to help you submit comments. But if you are really enthusiastic or already know the process, here are some links.

File comments electronically for Wilson's petition at Proceeding 14-115; Chattanooga's petition is Proceeding 14-116. Petitions and exhibits are available at the filings pages or at the links below.

Source URL: http://www.muninetworks.org/content/chattanooga-and-wilson-comment-period-open-tell-fcc-you-support-local-authority


Republicans Again Violate Their Own Principles

by David Morris | July 25, 2014 4:22 pm

By the time you read this, Congressional Republicans will have overwhelmingly voted to violate one of their most cherished guiding principles: A service should be paid for by those who use the service. If we don’t fully pay for services, Republicans usually insist, markets can’t work effectively.  We undervalue and overuse services, resulting in wasteful overspending.

All of which makes the debate about renewing and replenishing the months-long federal highway trust fund so revealing. This spring Republicans made clear their position:  No new taxes.  Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), speaking for himself and his party declared[1], “I do not support, and the House will not support, billions of dollars in higher taxes to pay for more spending” on transportation.

Camp’s position might be reasonable if he and his fellow Republicans were at the same time willing to abide by another of their basic principles: Live within your budget.  If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it.  In this instance, if drivers are unwilling to pay the road budget then cut federal highway spending by 28 percent[2], which would reduce overall national road spending by about 7 percent.

But Republicans don’t want to cut road expenditures.  They just don’t want drivers to pay.  The result has been months devising strategies to divert money from other sources.  In May, in a memo to rank and file House Speaker John Beohner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) insisted[3] they had come up with a perfect “way to ensure continued funding of highway projects in a fiscally responsible manner.” They would make up the highway-financing gap by eliminating Saturday postal delivery!   To ensure that the roads are adequate for delivering the mail they will no longer deliver the mail.

Eventually Republicans decided that sacrificing the post office to ensure that drivers could use the roads more cheaply was politically unworkable.

By now I know many readers are asking, “What about Democrats?”  After all, the House proposal was passed by a bipartisan vote of 367-55.  True. But Democrats swear no fealty to the proposition that all services should, whenever possible, be fully paid by users.   They believe I should pay for the public library even if I don’t use it.  I should pay for the public park even if I don’t use it. They believe these are public goods available always to all.  Republicans, or at least Republicans circa 2014 don’t seem to believe there are public goods.

Certainly some aspects of roads may be considered public goods. Even those who don’t drive may need them to deliver fire or police protection or ambulance services.  Which would argue that some part of the road budget could justifiably come from the general public purse.

But the Republicans don’t make that argument.  And if they did they would have to confront the fact that there are public costs as well as public benefits to roads.  The environmental damages caused by driving, for example, far outweigh the taxes paid at the pump.  To redress these damages some propose raising the gas tax by $1 or $2 per gallon or more. Republicans refuse to even entertain the notion.  If they are so ideologically hidebound that they won’t even require drivers to pay for their roads, how could they possibly ask them to pay for the actual damages caused by their driving?

Republican have not always been willing to so quickly violate basic conservative economic principles.  Prior to l956 highways were financed directly from the federal Treasury.  Then in 1956, at the insistence of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower the Highway Trust Fund was established with revenue generated from a dedicated fuel tax.  The original tax was 3 cents per gallon.  Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush each[4] raised the tax by 5 cents per gallon. In 1993 President Clinton raised it by a little over 4 cents.  And there, at 18.4 cents per gallon, it has remained for the last 21 years.

In 2008 the highway trust fund experienced a shortfall, a result of reduced driving due to sky-high oil prices.  Congress made up the shortfall with $8 billion from general funds.  In 2009 and 2010 Congress again supplied general funds.

The hope was that eventually Congress would develop a long term funding plan that would include a gas tax increase.   In 2013 none other than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported such a move.  The Republicans would have none of it.

Washington Republicans are not the only ones violating the user pays principle.  The Tax Foundation estimates[5] that overall state and local governments finance only 32 percent out of user fees.  Federal funding brings this total up to 50 percent.  The rest comes out of general funds.  In the case of cities the majority comes from property taxes.

Recently states, Republican as well as Democrat have begun raising gas taxes.  Eighteen states currently impose a gasoline sales tax whose revenue rises with gas prices or pegs the tax to the rate of inflation.  But 16 states have not raised[6] their gas taxes for two decades or more.  Recently Wyoming raised its gas tax for the first time in 16 years. New Hampshire hiked its gas tax for the first time in 23 years.  But states and cities have a long way to go before they could consider their transportation funding mechanisms self-sustaining.

By the time you read this, Congress may have jimmy rigged a temporary solution to the highway funding shortfall.  Which means we get to have the same debate again next year.  Perhaps Republicans will propose slashing food stamps or Medicare or Pell grants.  Anything to avoid having to require those who use the roads to pay for the roads.

 

 

Image:  Dan Reed, Creative Commons[7]

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. declared: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/3179987/posts
  2. 28 percent: http://www.dot.gov/fastlane/states-feel-pinch-highway-trust-fund-shortfall-threatens
  3. insisted: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-31/house-proposal-to-boost-highway-fund-hits-senate-resistance.html
  4. each: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_Trust_Fund
  5. estimates: http://taxfoundation.org/article/gasoline-taxes-and-tolls-pay-only-third-state-local-road-spending
  6. raised: http://www.ctj.org/taxjusticedigest/archive/2014/04/how_long_has_it_been_since_you.php
  7. Dan Reed, Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thecourtyard/8726338754/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/republicans-violate-principles/


Will Labor Solidarity Save the Post Office?

by David Morris | July 23, 2014 3:31 pm

The United States Postal Service (USPS) management just ran into a possible game-changing obstacle to its shameful pursuit of a fully privatized post office:  labor solidarity.

Here’s the background. For a decade the USPS has been aggressively shrinking, consolidating, and outsourcing the nation’s postal system.  In July 2011 management upped the ante by announcing[1] the rapid closure of 3600 local post offices, a step toward the eventual closing of as many as 15,000, half of all post offices in the nation.

A groundswell of opposition erupted.  Citizens in hundreds of towns mobilized to save a treasured institution that plays a key and sometimes defining role in their communities.  In December 2011, after Congress appeared ready to impose a six-month moratorium on closures USPS management voluntarily adopted a freeze of the same length.

In May 2012, the moratorium ended but management, possibly concerned about reviving a national backlash, embraced an ingenious stealth strategy. Rather than closures, management moved to slash hours at 13,000 post offices.   That could be accomplished quickly.  Reduction in hours, unlike outright closures, requires little justification.  Appeals are limited. Moreover a reduction in hours doesn’t generate the same level of outrage as a closure. The building remains open even though its value to the community is dramatically diminished.

By the end of this year management may achieve its goal.  Already 9,000 post offices have had their hours cut[2] drastically.  Part time inexperienced non-career employees have replaced full time experienced career postmasters. Management duly held meetings in every affected community but refused to heed or even respond to the counsel of local residents and businesses or provide them the data used to justify its decision

Postal clerks and letter carriers are the personal face of the most ubiquitous, trusted and respected of all public institutions.  By gradually replacing to-the-door service with delivery to more remote cluster mailboxes management has already reduced our personal interaction with letter carriers.

Last fall USPS management proceeded with the second phase in its campaign to sever our personal links to the postal clerks by quietly launching a pilot project in 82 Staples stores.  After the news became public management ingenuously announced that nothing had changed. “Staples joins with more than 65,000 retailers . . . who currently provide expanded access to postal products and services.”  Management conveniently forgot to mention that these 65,000 locations just sell stamps or flat boxes. None hosts a postal counter staffed by a retail employee that sells services.

The arrangement with Staples is different.  As management conceded, Staples “is the first retailer to take part in a USPS pilot program dubbed the Retail Partner Expansion Program.” The Retail Partner Expansion Program creates mini post offices into big box stores.

If the pilot proves successful the USPS expects to expand it to all 1,500 Staples. And then to all big box retail outlets.  Steve Hutkins, creator of the inestimable SaveOurPostOffice.org runs the numbers. We can now buy stamps at 7,450 Walgreens; 3,830 Wal-Marts; 1,632 Staples; 1,200 Office Depots; 847 Safeways; 609 Sam’s Clubs; and 426 Costcos. That adds up to over 14,000 locations.  “If all of those arrangements were converted from selling stamps on consignment to setting up postal counters, the Postal Service would have an instant infrastructure of “mini post offices” to replace real post offices…”

A bill introduced by Rep. Darrell’s Issa (R-CA) would make this replacement much easier.  According to Section 103 of the Postal Reform Act of 2013[3] the right to appeal a post office closing to the Postal Regulatory Commission “shall not apply to a determination of the Postal Service to close a post office if there is located, within 2 miles of such post office, a qualified contract postal unit.”  There are 1,200 post offices within two miles of just the Staples retail network.

For management replacing a real post office with a fake post office is a good deal. USPS average pay[4] is about $25 an hour.  Staples retail clerks earn[5] about $8.50 an hour.

For the customer this is a bad deal.  Staples’ employees receive[6] just four hours of “classroom” training for postal retail duties. Postal retail clerks receive 32 hours of intense classroom training, followed by 40 hours of on-the-job training alongside experienced window clerks. Postal workers must pass a test before they are considered qualified to work the window. Given the turnover at Staples it’s unlikely the employee at the postal counter is going to be around long enough to acquire the experience or expertise of a career postal worker.

For the community this is an awful deal. A cherished local institution created to serve the public interest would be replaced by a counter in a business created to serve distant shareholders and management. If its economic self-interest dictated Staples could decide to close the store.  To underline the reality of this threat in March Staples announced[7] it will shutter up to 225 stores. That would leave the community without any postal services at all.

Labor Solidarity to the Rescue

The American Postal Workers Union  (APWU) responded to management’s hostile action by organizing protests around the country. On April 24th a Day of Action resulted in hundreds of pickets, marches and rallies in more than 50 cities across 27 states under the rallying cry, “Stop Staples: The U.S. Mail is Not for Sale”.

In late May Staples Vice Chairman Joe Doody nervously acknowledged the USPS deal “could become a problem if more unions backed the postal workers.” He told[8] the Boston Globe, “The retailer will continue to evaluate the situation to determine whether the negative backlash is worth the benefits of the partnership,” Staples had signed the deal because it was desperate to gain more traffic through its stores.  If the deal actually reduces traffic and sales, Staples would reconsider.

State labor unions and national federations began to endorse the ‘Don’t Buy Staples’ campaign. On May 30, when the AFL-CIO, comprised of 56 unions representing 12.5 million members came out in support of the boycott.  In mid June California’s Service Employees International Union 32BJ, representing 145,000 union members in 11 states and the District of Columbia, voted for a boycott. In a letter to the Staples CEO SEUI 32BJ President Héctor Figueroa observed, “The Postal Service is the largest single civilian employer of union middle-class jobs for African Americans, and Veterans (including disabled veterans), and is the largest single civilian union employer. We need more of these types of jobs to strengthen our economy and the middle class, and we will not accept your efforts to undermine them through low-wage privation.”

After July 4th more unions formally joined the boycott. Perhaps they were inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s enduring comment at the signing of the Declaration of Independence,  “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

In July the International Association of Firefighters representing more than 300,000 backed the boycott. AFSCME union, representing 1.6 million public-sector workers, followed suit.  Then on July 12th the 1.5 million member American Federation of Teachers (AFT) delivered the coup de grace when it signed on. APWU President Mark Dimondstein made[9] the case for solidarity to the convention, “We too are in the public sector, we too are meeting the needs of people. We’re facing some of the same problems you are—I call it divert, defund, demoralize, demonize and dismantle.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten responded. “Who does Staples really want and need to come into its stores every single day? Teachers. The best way we can help is if we say to Staples: ‘You do this to the postal workers, and we aren’t buying supplies in your stores.’”

School supplies are a key market for Staples, accounting[10] for up to one-third of its sales. Last year teachers spent[11] about $1.6 billion of their own money on school supplies. Back-to-school supply-buying gets going in earnest in late July.

On July 14th Staples announced it had withdrawn from the Retail Partner Expansion Program.

The celebrations have been muted. Management hasn’t thrown in the towel.  It’s simply changed the name of the program. As one USPS spokesperson explained[12], “We look forward to continuing the partnership whether it’s called Retail Partner Expansion or approved shipper.”  The USPS wants to establish a beachhead in thousands of retail stores.  Once a postal counter staffed by low paid non union non postal service employees begins to sell services it will be easy to expand the kinds of services it offers.

But Staples announcement and USPS’ obfuscation demonstrates that retail stores are vulnerable to boycotts, especially those organized by people in the communities they serve.  Teachers, firefighters, government workers, service employees live in significant numbers in every community.  They can form the backbone of an effort that puts big box retailers and USPS management on notice.  Hands off our post office!

And who knows?  Hands off our post office could evolve into Give us back our post office. A successful boycott to stop the further privatization of the post office could then move demand that the post office be restored to its former glory and effectiveness by reopening processing centers, extending local post office hours and rehiring experienced staff.   Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster General of the United States, would be pleased.

 

Endnotes:
  1. announcing: http://www.ilsr.org/steps-save-incredible-shrinking-post-office/
  2. cut: http://www.savethepostoffice.com/postplan-postponed-3200-postmasters-get-reprieve
  3. Postal Reform Act of 2013: http://oversight.house.gov/postalreformact/
  4. pay: http://work.chron.com/average-pay-postal-worker-2050.html
  5. earn: http://www.nextnewdeal.net/post-office-piles-shift-low-wage-economy-staples-deal
  6. receive: http://www.apwu.org/news/web-news-article/staples-deal-still-secret-%E2%80%94-hearing-reveals-disturbing-truths
  7. announced: http://money.cnn.com/2014/03/06/news/companies/staples-store-closing/
  8. told: http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/05/20/postal-service-union-confrontation-over-mail-service-staples-stores/soV6Agpjdfr9uX7n50CnWI/story.html
  9. made: http://www.aft.org/newspubs/press/2014/071214e.cfm
  10. accounting: http://nhlabornews.com/tag/staples/
  11. spent: http://thejournal.com/articles/2013/07/01/k12-teachers-out-of-pocket-1-point-6-billion-on-classroom-tools.aspx
  12. explained: http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/07/14/staples-post-offices-going-away-but-services-won/UU4Sc5BEgGTGOkX6ehK5FJ/story.html

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/labor-solidarity-save-post-office/


Media Roundup: Blackburn Amendment Lights Up Newswires

by Rebecca Toews | July 22, 2014 1:05 pm

Rep Marsha Blackburn[1] (R-TN) and her love for large corporate ISPs was all over the telecommunications media this week. She attempted to kneecap the FCC as it explores options to restore local telecommunications authority to communities. Blackburn introduced an amendment attacking local options[2] as the House took up general appropriations bill H.R. 5016.

The amendment passed 223-200[3], primarily along party lines, with most Republican Reps voting with Blackburn and all but two Democrats opposing the amendment.

Democrats voting to support the amendment included Georgia’s 12th District’s John Barrow[4] and Jim Matheson[5] from Utah’s 4th District. If either of these gentlemen represent you, take a moment to call their offices and point out their voting mistake.

Republicans that voted No were Mike Rogers[6] and Mo Brooks[7] from Alabama’s 3rd and 5th Districts.Charles Boustany[8] from the 3rd District in Louisiana and Chuck Fleischmann[9] from the 3rd District in Tennessee (includes Chattanooga) also opposed the restriction. If these elected officials represent you, please take a moment to contact them and thank them for breaking ranks to support local authority.

Coverage this week was fast and furious.

Sam Gustin from Motherboard[10] reported on Blackburn’s efforts. Gustin checked in with Chris:

“Blackburn’s positions line up very well with the cable and telephone companies that give a lot of money to her campaigns,” said Mitchell. “In this case, Blackburn is doing what it takes to benefit the cable and telephone companies rather than the United States, which needs more choices, faster speeds, and lower prices.”

Mitchell says that he’s sympathetic to the arguments against “preemption”—after all, he works for an organization called the Institute for Local Self-Reliance—but points out that while Blackburn opposes the federal government inserting itself into state law, she apparently has no problem with the states telling cities and municipalities what they can and cannot do.

“The argument that Blackburn puts forth is not coherent,” Mitchell said. “It’s just politics.”

Gustin and the International Business Times were only a few of the many reporters that connected the dots between Blackburn’s campaign balance sheet and her concern for big ISPs. From IBT[11]:

Blackburn’s top campaign donors include private telecommunications firms that do not want to have to compete with publicly owned ISPs. Her state is home to EPB, a taxpayer-owned power company in Chattanooga that also provides local residents some of the fastest Internet speeds in the world at market-competitive rates. EPB is now aiming to expand its services beyond Chattanooga.

However, to go forward with its expansion plan, EPB needs the FCC to enter the fray, applying its authority to preempt a Tennessee law backed by the private telecom industry that restricts the utility’s ability to move into new regions.

According to campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, two of Blackburn’s largest career donors are employees and PACs affiliated with AT&T (NYSE:T)  ($66,750) and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) ($36,600). Those are two of EPB’s private-sector competitors in Chattanooga. Blackburn has also taken $56,000 from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the lobby for the big telecoms.

Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin[12] also notes that EPB has turned away local communities that repeatedly request help in areas where broadband is not available. Tennessee law prevents EPB from serving beyond its electric service area. As Brodkin reports, Blackburn is not willing to look beyond the State Capitols.

EFF Logo

Brian Fung, who offered our community networks map[13] for hisWashington Post article[14], delved into the history of the issue. He noted growing support in D.C. for local telecommunications authority.Multichannel News[15] also reported on the opposition to the amendment voiced on the House Floor by New York Representative Jose Serrano.Serrano said[16]:

Whatever happened to localism or local control? This amendment means the Federal Government will tell every local citizen, mayor, and county council member that they may not act in their own best interests. Any such amendment is an attack on the rights of individual citizens speaking through their local leaders to determine if their broadband needs are being met.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation[17] wrote about consumer concerns – the lack of competition and state policy that maintains large corporate monopolies and duopolies:
Projects like community mesh networks and mayors’ attempts to bring fiber to their cities should never be illegal or stifled by misguided state laws. On the contrary, they should be encouraged. That’s because community and municipal high-speed Internet projects provide users more options.
Municipal and community broadband projects offer alternatives, so when companies like Comcast and Verizon are behaving badly, users have somewhere else to go. But right now there are 20 states that have laws that make it make it hard or impossible for communities to take their Internet into their own hands.
The National Journal[18] also published a brief account.
Karl Bode at DSLReports.com summed up[19] the legislative formula that brings us to this point in political time:

The underlying argument from Blackburn and friends continues to be that municipal broadband is the devil — but letting local massive corporations write state telecom laws (laws that often completely eliminate your right to choose for yourself what your town does or doesn’t do, while also resulting in less competition, higher prices, and worse customer service) is perfectly ok.

And my snarky favorite came from Brad Reed, who offered a little sarcasm at BGR.com with “Congresswoman bravely stands up for ISPs’ rights to deliver inferior service with no competition[20]“:

Either way, we’re still glad to see that some patriots in this day and age are still standing up to protect our freedoms from the municipal broadband menace. As certain historical figure might have said were she alive today, “Let them eat dial-up!”

Endnotes:
  1. Rep Marsha Blackburn: http://blackburn.house.gov/
  2. an amendment attacking local options: http://www.muninetworks.org/content/vote-expected-today-blackburn-amendment-targeting-munis-call-dc-now
  3. passed 223-200: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2014/roll423.xml
  4. John Barrow: http://barrow.house.gov/
  5. Jim Matheson: http://matheson.house.gov/
  6. Mike Rogers: http://mike-rogers.house.gov/
  7. Mo Brooks: http://brooks.house.gov/
  8. Charles Boustany: http://boustany.house.gov/
  9. Chuck Fleischmann: http://fleischmann.house.gov/
  10. from Motherboard: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/meet-marsha-blackburn-big-telecoms-best-friend-in-congress
  11. From IBT: http://www.ibtimes.com/marsha-blackburn-r-tn-why-one-congresswoman-wants-block-fast-cheap-internet-her-district-1630060
  12. Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin: http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/07/congresswoman-defends-states-rights-to-protect-isps-from-muni-competition/
  13. our community networks map: http://www.muninetworks.org/communitymap
  14. Washington Post article: http://m.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/07/17/net-neutrality-was-just-the-start-can-the-fcc-keep-states-from-banning-city-funded-internet/?asdf
  15. Multichannel News: http://www.multichannel.com/blackburn-bill-would-block-fcc-preemption/375991
  16. Serrano said: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2014-07-15/pdf/CREC-2014-07-15-house.pdf
  17. Electronic Frontier Foundation: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/07/act-immediately-stop-congresss-sneaky-move-shut-down-broadband-competition
  18. National Journal: http://www.nationaljournal.com/tech/house-votes-to-save-bans-on-city-internet-service-20140716
  19. DSLReports.com summed up: http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Blackburn-Moves-to-Protect-State-Protectionist-Broadband-Bills-129722
  20. Congresswoman bravely stands up for ISPs’ rights to deliver inferior service with no competition: http://bgr.com/2014/07/16/chattanooga-tennessee-municipal-broadband/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/media-roundup-blackburn-amendment-lights-newswires/


Who Should Decide? States Rights, Local Authority and the Future of the Internet

by David Morris | July 21, 2014 9:40 am

“(W)ithout power and independence, a town may contain good subjects, but it can have no active citizens.”  That was the conclusion of Alexis de Tocqueville after touring a youthful American Republic in the early 1830s, as recorded in his classic Democracy in America[1]. Today we are engaged in a renewed debate about the authority of governments closest to the people.

On July 16, by a vote of 223-200the House of Representatives voted to strip the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the authority to allow communities the right to determine their broadband futures.  Republicans voted 221-4 in favor.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler 60 Republicans insisted[2] the federal government shouldn’t interfere with the 20 state laws that either prohibit or severely inhibit municipally owned broadband networks. “Without any doubt, state governments across the country understand and are more attentive to the needs of the American people than unelected federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”  A similar letter signed by 11 Republican Senators asserted[3], “States are much closer to their citizens and can meet their needs better than an unelected bureaucracy in Washington, D.C… State political leaders are accountable to the voters who elect them…”

The Republican rationale is that state legislatures should be given deference over Congress and federal agencies because they are closer, more attentive and more accountable to their constituents.  The same reasoning should lead Republicans to agree that city councils and county commissions should be given deference over state legislatures and state agencies.  But it doesn’t.

The Senate letter warned, the FCC “would be well-advised to respect state sovereignty.”  But Republicans apply the principle of state sovereignty so inconsistently that it’s hard to call it a guiding principle. On July 15th, the day before Republicans loudly proclaimed their allegiance to states rights the House voted overwhelmingly to make permanent a ban on the right for states and localities to tax our Internet bills the way they tax our phone bills.  Their legislation would also overturn existing laws in seven states.  The collective loss[4] of state revenue will exceed $500 million a year.  Texas alone will lose $350 million.

Then there is the issue of whether the price of products sold on-line should include sales taxes equal to those paid by local stores. In 1992 the Supreme Court ruled[5] that states could not compel on line vendors without a physical presence in that state to collect sales taxes, unless Congress gave permission.  In May 2013, the Democratic Senate voted to give them that permission.  House Republicans refused.   Loss[6] of state and local revenue for 2013 was estimated at $1.7 billion. For those who may be unaware, the issue at hand is not whether we should pay taxes when we buy goods on line. Almost all states require us to do so.  The question is whether on-line vendors must, like brick and mortar stores collect those taxes.

In 2006, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), exasperated by the Republican Party’s hypocritical stance on “states rights” asked a Special Investigations Division (SID) to examine legislative actions since George W. Bush took office after a campaign that insisted that with his party in control the federal government would not “impose its will on states and local communities.”  The SID found[7] “a wide gulf between the pro-states rhetoric of Republican leaders and the actual legislative record”.  It cited 57 instances of Republican-approved bills preempting state authority.

One of those occurred in 2002 when the Republican House voted to prohibit states and cities from demanding competition in broadband services.  Using language eerily similar to that used recently by Republicans to justify their refusal to allow the FCC to require states to promote broadband competition, 6 organizations representing state and local officials maintained[8], “state and local officials – those closest to understanding and meeting the needs of our citizens” should make such decisions.  Republicans were unmoved.

The evidence is clear.  Republicans do not favor state authority over federal authority.  They oppose the exercise of authority at any level. Or to be more precise, they oppose the exercise of public authority, the fundamental basis for citizenship at any level.  They believe authority should rest in private hands.  Decisions that determine our future should be made by unelected, remote corporate executives and Boards whose decision making calculus does not, and according to conservatives, should not take into account either the public interest or the public welfare. (more…)[9]

Endnotes:
  1. Democracy in America: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/
  2. insisted: http://www.muninetworks.org/sites/www.muninetworks.org/files/2014%2006%20Blackburn-Johnson-Pompeo-%20FCC%20Municipal%20Broadband%20Letter.pdf
  3. asserted: http://www.ctia.org/docs/default-source/fcc-filings/letter-from-us-senate-on-state-broadband-issues.pdf?sfvrsn=0
  4. loss: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4161
  5. ruled: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/91-0194.ZO.html
  6. Loss: http://usmayors.org/metroeconomies/0613/MarketplaceFairnessReport.pdf
  7. found: http://oversight-archive.waxman.house.gov/documents/20060606095331-23055.pdf
  8. maintained: http://www.nga.org/cms/home/federal-relations/nga-letters/archived-letters--2002/col2-content/main-content-list/title_february-22-20.html
  9. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/decide-states-rights-local-authority-future-internet/#more-36386

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/decide-states-rights-local-authority-future-internet/


Composting Key to Soil Health and Climate Protection, According to Two New Reports

by Rebecca Toews | July 14, 2014 4:39 am

Washington, DC — Composting reduces waste and builds healthy soil to support local food production and protect against the impacts of extreme weather, from droughts to heavy rainfall. That’s the message of two new reports from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR): State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How [1]and Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting[2].

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Rebecca Toews

PHONE: 612-808-0689

EMAIL: Rebecca@ilsr.org[3]


Download both reports:

http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/composting[4]

Compost is the dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling material produced by the managed decomposition of organic materials such as yard trimmings and food scraps. Compost is valued for its ability to enhance soil structure and quality. It adds organic matter to soil, improves plant growth and water retention, cuts chemical fertilizer use, and stems stormwater run-off and soil erosion. In the U.S., 99 million acres (28% of all cropland) are eroding above soil tolerance rates, meaning the long-term productivity of the soil to support plant growth cannot be maintained.

“Applying a meager half-inch of compost to the 99 million acres of severely eroded cropland would require about 3 billion tons of compost,” says Brenda Platt, the lead author of both reports and director of ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Project. “There is not enough compost to meet that need.  No organic scrap should be wasted.”

Compost also protects the climate:  it sequesters carbon in soil and it reduces methane emissions from landfills by cutting the amount of biodegradable materials disposed. (Methane is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 72 times more potent than CO2 in the short-term.) A growing body of evidence demonstrates the effectiveness of compost to store carbon in soil for a wide range of soil types and land uses.

Yard trimmings composting programs are fairly well developed in the U.S. Of the 4,914 composting operations identified in the U.S. for State of Composting in the U.S., about 71% compost only yard trimmings (based on 44 states reporting). Food scrap recovery is slowly growing. More than 180 US cities and counties are now collecting residential food scraps for composting, up from only a handful a few years ago.

“There is more demand for composting, especially from businesses and institutions that want to source separate food scraps and not throw them in the landfill,” says Nora Goldstein, Editor of BioCycle, which conducted the state-by-state assessment of composting infrastructure and policies, “We not only need more infrastructure to compost these materials, we need more infrastructure to manufacture high quality compost that our soils — and climate — desperately need.” (more…)[5]

Endnotes:
  1. State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How : http://www.ilsr.org/state-of-composting/
  2. Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting: http://www.ilsr.org/growing-local-fertility/
  3. Rebecca@ilsr.org: mailto:rebecca@ilsr.org
  4. http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/composting: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/composting
  5. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/composting-key-soil-health-climate-protection-reports/#more-36168

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/composting-key-soil-health-climate-protection-reports/


Size Matters! New Report Shows The Value of Small-Scale, Community-Based Composting

by Brenda Platt | July 14, 2014 4:30 am

Composting can take place at many levels – backyard, block, neighborhood, schoolyard, community, on-farm, and regional – and in urban, suburban, and rural areas.  Composting at the local level circulates dollars in the community, promotes social inclusion and empowerment, greens neighborhoods, builds healthy soils, supports local food production and food security, embeds a culture of composting know-how in the community, sustains local jobs, and strengthens the skills of the local workforce.  When materials are collected and transported out of the community for processing, few if any of these benefits are realized at the local level.

Community composting is thriving but needs support to grow further.  ILSR’s report, Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting, describes successful initiatives, their benefits, tips for replication, key start-up steps, and the need for private, public, and nonprofit sector support. Produced in collaboration with the Highfields Center for Composting[1] in Hardwick, Vermont, Growing Local Fertility profiles 31 model programs in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Programs range from urban to rural and include demonstration/training sites, schools, universities, pedal-powered collection systems, worker-owned cooperatives, community gardens, and farms employing multiple composting techniques. Many but not all are non-profit mission driven enterprises.  Their distinguishing feature is keeping the process and product as local as possible while engaging the community through participation and education.

DOWNLOADS:

Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting – FULL REPORT

ILSR’s Survey Results of Community Composters – October 2013

Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting is based upon work supported under a grant by the Utilities Programs, United States Department of Agriculture and was produced by ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Project[2] and the Highfields Center for Composting[1].

We welcome feedback on this guide and invite community composters to share their lessons learned and tips for replication.

Contact us at communitycomposting@ilsr.org[3]

Endnotes:
  1. Highfields Center for Composting: http://www.highfieldscomposting.org/
  2. ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Project: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/composting/
  3. communitycomposting@ilsr.org: mailto:communitycomposting@ilsr.org

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/growing-local-fertility/


State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How

by Brenda Platt | July 14, 2014 4:30 am

Composting is a proven approach to reduce waste and build soil health and fertility. Amending soil with compost improves its quality and structure and thus its ability to withstand the impacts of extreme weather, from severe droughts to heavy rainfall. When added to soil, compost enhances water retention, controls erosion, and stems sedimentation and stormwater run-off.  It also protects the climate:  it sequesters carbon in soil while reducing methane emissions from landfills by cutting the amount of biodegradable materials disposed. Given that 28% of all U.S. cropland (99 million acres) is eroding so fast that the long-term productivity of the soil cannot be maintained, adding organic matter via compost to soil is critical. Erosion reduces the ability of soil to store water and support plant growth.  These are among the findings of State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How[1], a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, funded under a grant from the 11th Hour Project.

The 131-page report reviews composting basics, provides national and state-by-state statistics and job generation data, summarizes model programs, technologies and systems, and concludes with recommendations on how to grow composting in the U.S.


Downloads:

State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How – Full Report

State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How – Executive Summary

Press Release, July 14, 2014[2]

“State of Composting in US” cover article, July 2014 issue of BioCycle[3]:
- read online[4]
- download pdf[5]


Co-authored by Nora Goldstein (BioCycle Magazine[6]), Craig Coker (Coker Composting & Consulting[7]), and Sally Brown (University of Washington[8]), State of Composting in the U.S. calls for new rules and initiatives to advance composting: streamlined permitting for facilities, training programs, technical and financial assistance, strong recycling and composting goals, disposal bans, compost procurement policies, and more.  It also recommends that communities embrace development of a diverse composting infrastructure.

Large-scale centralized facilities can serve wide geographic areas and divert significant quantifies of materials from disposal. Composting locally at the neighborhood and community-scale level has other benefits:  improved local soils, more local jobs, greener spaces, enhanced food security and fewer food deserts, less truck traffic hauling garbage, and increased community composting know-how and skills.

State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How[1] has four main sections:


See ILSR’s companion report, Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting[9], for detailed information on how to strengthen expansion of community-scale composting. This guide describes successful initiatives, their benefits, how these initiatives can be replicated, key start-up steps, and the need for private, public, and non-profit sector support.

Endnotes:
  1. State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/State+of+Composting+in+the+US
  2. Press Release, July 14, 2014: http://www.ilsr.org/composting-key-soil-health-climate-protection-reports
  3. July 2014 issue of BioCycle: http://www.biocycle.net/current-issue/
  4. read online: http://www.biocycle.net/2014/07/16/state-of-composting-in-the-u-s/
  5. download pdf: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/biocycle-stateofcomposting-us-article-july-2014.pdf
  6. BioCycle Magazine: http://www.biocycle.net/
  7. Coker Composting & Consulting: http://www.cokercompost.com/
  8. University of Washington: http://faculty.washington.edu/slb/
  9. Growing Local Fertility: A Guide to Community Composting: http://www.ilsr.org/size-matters-report-shows-small-scale-community-based-composting/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/state-of-composting/


Working Partner Update: Austin Gets $1 Million Grant for Eco-Industrial Park

by Neil Seldman | July 9, 2014 12:28 pm

ILSR and the City of Austin, Texas, have been working partners since the late 1980s, when a coalition of environmental groups, small businesses and progressive City Councilors rejected a garbage incinerator already under construction. The City Council closed down the project and initiated a path toward recycling, composting and use of low cost landfill which would save the $120 million over the planned life of the incinerator. (more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/working-partner-update-austin-1-million-grant-eco-industrial-park/#more-36117

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/working-partner-update-austin-1-million-grant-eco-industrial-park/


Celebrate Independence with 3 Steps Toward Energy Self-Reliance

by John Farrell | July 2, 2014 5:25 am

Being from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I’m often asked, “You want everyone off-grid and independent with their own solar array and a battery, right?”

In a word, no.

But our mission of economic and energy self-reliance has several similarities to the kind of (economic[1]) independence being sought by England’s American colonists in the 1770s and celebrated this week. And in the spirit of that overlap, I’d like to offer three ways Americans can celebrate their independence by increasing their energy and economic self-reliance.

Step 1: Do What You Can, Recruit Your Friends

The citizen “meter watchers” of SOUL Wisconsin find that modest changes can cut electricity consumption by 13% or more[2], saving $140 per year. They find that with some pretty low energy tasks like swapping out inefficient light bulbs, using power saving power strips and inexpensive light timers, or putting off-the-shelf foam insulation on hot water pipes, households can get high energy savings. Their energy tracking tool shows kilowatt-hours and dollars saved, and also greenhouse gas emissions avoided, from your energy conservation efforts.

If you like energy saving and reducing carbon emissions, chances are your friends will, too.  Expand the impact (and savings) by recruiting your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues.

Step 2: Generate Your Own Energy

Even the best conservation practices can only do so much, and chances are you’re still sending a sizable sum to your utility company every month.  If you’re one of the lucky 1 in 4 residents that owns a sunny rooftop, you can invest in solar power to reduce or eliminate your solar bill.  Join your neighbors in a bulk purchase[3] or finance a system with a crowd-funded loan[4].

Maybe you lack a sunny rooftop, but you’re in one of the few states with policy supporting community-based renewable energy[5]. That local grocery store would be just the place for a solar array owned by you and your neighbors.

Step 3: Organize to Change the Rules

Unfortunately, somewhere between steps 1 and 2 most Americans will find that generating their own power often requires an exercise in political power. Your utility company may erect significant barriers, charge high fees, or pay pennies for energy from your own solar array. It may not allow community-based energy projects at all. It’s because they’re reluctant to see the inevitable, monumental shift in power generation – from large-scale fossil fuel power plants to decentralized renewable energy systems – result in a similarly monumental shift in ownership of the energy system, from them to you.

Some utilities will hide behind the spurious[6] “technical limitations” of the electricity system or the purportedly[7] low cost[8] of their existing, dirty power plants.  They’ll fight good policy like community solar[9], feed-in tariffs[10], incentives for clean energy[11], and net metering[12].*

And that’s why there’s something to be learned from the English colonists nearly 250 years ago.  When your (East India) company is giving you a bad deal, it’s time to dump them.

 

Photo Credit: Deval Patrick[13]

*Some utilities embrace the notion of self-reliance[14].

 

Endnotes:
  1. economic: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/22887109.html?page=all&prepage=1&c=y#l4f47Fds8AoChOhq.97
  2. modest changes can cut electricity consumption by 13% or more: http://fieldpost.org/StarkEnergy/Pages/WisconsinMeterPledge.htm
  3. bulk purchase: http://www.solarizeblacksburg.org/solar-101/
  4. finance a system with a crowd-funded loan: https://joinmosaic.com/blog/press-release-home-solar-loan/
  5. community-based renewable energy: http://mncommunitysolar.com/
  6. spurious: http://www.ilsr.org/archiac-utility-rules-stall-local-solar-infographic/
  7. purportedly: http://www.skepticalscience.com/true-cost-of-coal-power.html
  8. low cost: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/08/study-the-coal-industry-is-in-far-more-trouble-than-anyone-realizes/
  9. community solar: http://www.ilsr.org/community-solar-gardens-sprouting-minnesota/
  10. feed-in tariffs: http://www.ilsr.org/feedin-tariffs-america-driving-economy-renewable-energy-policy-works/
  11. incentives for clean energy: http://www.gosolarcalifornia.ca.gov/csi/index.php
  12. net metering: http://www.ilsr.org/distributed-renewable-energy-fire/
  13. Deval Patrick: http://www.flickr.com/photos/massgovernor/8722961015/in/photolist-ehPspz-em8Kz-cwsUhA-cvdWC9-3nRJPH-cvN2Eq-53x2vP-767YuB-bnKX7U-mmidgx-8SvZba-bnKVNJ-avrm9N-52aN5L-hD6J4c-9bhaae-cHsmeL-7Cmkv8-9bh9rK-decErW-doEkm1-fxJkgp-8Xq2Xt-o63sus-765wtr-8rGcVa-9NCzNg-7goYQY-gn3g6A-bCi7d-as2XT7-ar1WxJ-aq2ELN-bBrqu3-hDU3cg-9HHHxe-6XaK1K-81pk5a-9YNzBJ-9HMMkj-9n1WwY-c2Hxss-89kB7C-8ebGju-2X2Zda-jkeYF-aqYk68-8Vsgti-cuAZt9-7vP5wK
  14. Some utilities embrace the notion of self-reliance: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2014/05/why-a-vermont-utility-ceo-is-embracing-solar-and-net-metering

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/celebrate-independence-3-steps-energy-self-reliance/


ILSR applauds U.S. Lawmakers banding together to support Community Broadband Networks.

by Rebecca Toews | June 27, 2014 10:45 am

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Rebecca Toews 612-808-0689 – Rebecca@ilsr.org[1]

Minneapolis, MN — The Institute for Local Self-Reliance praises Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota for leading the growing list of organizations committed to defending the authority of communities to make their own decisions when it comes to build the Internet networks of tomorrow.

The senators, along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (CT), Cory Booker, (NJ) Representatives Mike Doyle (PA), Anna Eshoo (CA), and Henry Waxman (CA) signed a strong letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler Friday, announcing their support of the chairman’s decision to remove state barriers to municipal networks. Some 20 states currently limit local authority to build networks even when the incumbent firms refuse to upgrade to modern services.

The senators join together with these organizations, which already support the right to build community networks:

“High quality Internet access is essential for jobs and education,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute. “But big cable and telephone companies have pushed state laws to limit competition, even in areas where they will not invest.”

In a recent blog post[2], Chairman Wheeler announced his support for community networks: “The facts speak for themselves: competition works – when it is allowed to. Throughout the country where we have seen competitive broadband providers come in to a market, prices have gone down and broadband speeds have gone up. No wonder incumbent broadband providers want to legislate rather than innovate.”

The Congressional letter to FCC Chair Wheeler asks him to respond with his plans to “make progress on community broadband.”

For more information: Contact Rebecca Toews (Rebecca@ILSR.org[3]) and visit www.muninetworks.org[4].

ABOUT ILSR

We believe we make better and more informed policies when those who design those policies are those who feel their impact.

ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to provide them with innovative strategies and working models that support environmentally sound and equitable economic policies and community development. Since 1974, ILSR has championed local self-reliance, a strategy that underscores the need for humanly scaled institutions and economies and the widest possible distribution of ownership.

ABOUT CHRISTOPHER MITCHELL

Christopher Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Mitchell leads the acclaimed MuniNetworks.org as part of ILSR’s effort to ensure broadband networks are directly accountable to the communities that depend upon them.

He is a leading national expert on community networks, advises high-ranking broadband decision-makers, speaks on radio and television programs in markets across the United States, and frequently presents at telecommunications policy events around the world.

Mitchell, the author of Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network[5] and Minnesota Local Governments Advance Super Fast Networks[6], has been at the center of the battle to help more than 400 cities lead the way in offering the nation’s fastest and least expensive telecommunications services. “We know community broadband networks work and we know they are a key to vibrant modern local economies.”

Endnotes:
  1. Rebecca@ilsr.org: mailto:Rebecca@ilsr.org
  2. recent blog post: http://www.fcc.gov/blog/removing-barriers-competitive-community-broadband
  3. Rebecca@ILSR.org: mailto:Rebecca@ILSR.org
  4. www.muninetworks.org: http://www.muninetworks.org
  5. Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/santa-monica-city-net-fiber-2014-2.pdf
  6. Minnesota Local Governments Advance Super Fast Networks: http://www.ilsr.org/minnesota-local-governments-advance-super-fast-internet-networks/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/ilsr-applauds-u-s-senators-banding-support-community-broadband-networks/


ILSR’s Brenda Platt Delivers Keynote for US Zero Waste Business Conference 2014

by Rebecca Toews | June 18, 2014 1:44 pm

ILSR co-Director, Brenda Platt attended this year’s USZBC conference, hosted in Atlanta, Georgia at the beginning of May. Elemental Impact’s online magazine highlighted Platt’s keynote presentation in their blog[1]:

For the 2014 USZWBC Conference[2] - Creating Value Through Zero Waste, the superb program topics substantiated the zero waste industry’s continued evolution. Hosted in Atlanta, GA – a city entrenched with zero waste roots via the 2009 Zero Waste Zones[3] launch – the conference sessions addressed the far-reaching impacts of zero waste practices.

(more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. their blog: http://zerowastezone.blogspot.com/
  2. 2014 USZWBC Conference: http://zerowastezone.blogspot.com/2014/05/uszwbc-conference-theme-zero-waste.html
  3. Zero Waste Zones: http://elementalimpact.org/Zero-Waste-Zones
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/ilsrs-brenda-platt-delivers-keynote-waste-business-conference-2014/#more-35907

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/ilsrs-brenda-platt-delivers-keynote-waste-business-conference-2014/


Brenda Platt Presenting At Maryland Recycling Network – June 19, 2014

by Brenda Platt | June 17, 2014 2:34 pm

ILSR co-Director, Brenda Platt, is speaking on a zero waste panel on June 19, 2014, at the Maryland Recycling Network’s annual conference[1].   Her presentation, “The State of Composting in the U.S.,” will highlight cutting edge composting programs around the country.  Management and reduction of organics in our waste streams is a hot topic for many communities and represents a key step in meeting future zero waste goals.

The Maryland Recycling Network and SWANA Mid-Atlantic Chapter have put together a two day event at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum, MD where you’ll find:

mdrecyclingnetworkRegistration Information here.[2]

 

Endnotes:
  1. Maryland Recycling Network’s annual conference: http://www.marylandrecyclingnetwork.org/2014conference
  2. Registration Information here.: http://www.marylandrecyclingnetwork.org/registration-2014-annual-conference

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/brenda-platt-presenting-maryland-recycling-network-june-1-2014/


Same Price, More Renewables. San Diego’s Fight for Community Choice – Episode 23 of Local Energy Rules

by John Farrell | June 5, 2014 4:47 pm

“San Diego and its community choice energy district would be able to offer a diverse energy mix with all of the solar, biodiesel, biogas, and energy storage resources that we have in San Diego.  A product that is price competitive and yet at the same time would strive for and achieve a higher level of renewable content.”

See how this southern California city is striving for more clean energy and more local control in this interview with Lane Sharman, co-founder and chair of the San Diego Energy District Foundation. This podcast was recorded via Skype on May 21, 2014.

A Fight Against ‘Solar Taxes’

The rise of the San Diego Energy District Foundation was in response to fees proposed on solar customers by San Diego Gas and Electric in October 2011[4].  Thanks to the efforts of Lane, Bill Powers, and others in and outside of the foundation, the solar-crushing “Network Usage Fees” were not adopted[5]. It was a particularly important win, because the fees would have applied to those customers who had already installed solar, with the expectation that they wouldn’t pay extra for going solar.

Pursuing More Local Energy Control

The Energy District Foundation wasn’t satisfied with stopping their monopoly utility from implementing bad policy, it wanted to create an energy system that put the community in charge of implementing policy that was positive for the economy and the environment. In 2012, members of the Foundation worked with Protect Our Communities, a nonprofit organization focused on using California’s community choice aggregation law, to create a local entity in charge of greening up the city’s energy supply with local power. They hope to follow in the footsteps of Marin County[6] and Sonoma County in prioritizing local control of a cleaner energy system, at competitive prices.

Why Public Power?

The interest in local control over energy purchases is rooted in the inherent conflict of interest between ratepayers and their existing for-profit utility. Utilities in California make money by investing in hardware (power plants, power lines, and the like) and not finding the cleanest, lowest cost power for their ratepayers. In part, this is because taxpayers pick up the tab for pollution from fossil fuels.  A public entity is more likely to incorporate those externalities. Water, sewage, and education all provide examples of where the public sector provides excellent local service.

How Renewable Can San Diego Be?

A 2010 study called the San Diego Regional Plan for 100% Renewable Energy outlines the technical potential for clean energy in the region. But it’s the market prices for clean power than are most encouraging.  Open bids for new energy in Texas, for example, had solar bidding in at 5¢ per kilowatt-hour compared to retail energy prices of 15¢ or more. The county has approved (in 2013) a comprehensive energy plan[7] that will include an investigation of a local energy aggregation.

A ‘Monopoly Protection Act’

Incumbent utilities don’t much like the San Diego Energy District Foundation and its plan for local control of the energy system. The big three corporate monopoly utilities in California are behind a new bill (AB 2145[8]) that would completely undermine community choice aggregation by changing a key provision of implementation.  Currently, when a local government establishes a local aggregation to purchase power on behalf of its residents and small businesses, these individuals may opt out. If AB 2145 passes, all potential participants would have to opt in. It effectively shields the monopoly utilities from competition, requiring a yet-to-be-operational local utility to spend thousands of dollars to attract customers before it sells a single kilowatt-hour. Furthermore, it would make energy procurement nearly impossible for the local utility, which would be unable to effectively plan and purchase power without a reasonable estimate of their market share.

For more information on community choice aggregation, Lane recommends the San Diego Sierra Club[9], the local 350.org[10], the Local Energy Aggregation Network[11], and the San Diego Energy District Foundation [12]

This is the 23rd edition of Local Energy Rules[13], an ILSR podcast with Senior Researcher John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies. It is published twice monthly, on 1st and 3rd Thursday. Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[14] or RSS/XML[15]

Sign up for new podcast notifications[16] and weekly email updates from ILSR’s energy program[17]!

Thanks to ILSR intern Jake Rounds for his audio editing of this podcast.

Photo credit: Rick Naystatt[18]
Endnotes:
  1. Play in new window: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/local-energy-rules-lane-sharman-ep23-2014-0605.mp3
  2. Download: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/local-energy-rules-lane-sharman-ep23-2014-0605.mp3
  3. Embed: #
  4. fees proposed on solar customers by San Diego Gas and Electric in October 2011: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/a-conversation-with-sdge/2011/oct/17/proposed-solar-fee/#
  5. “Network Usage Fees” were not adopted: http://www.ucan.org/index.php/energy/energy-blog/98-sdg-e-s-proposed-solar-tax-is-rejected-by-regulators
  6. Marin County: http://www.ilsr.org/marin-clean-energy-illustrates-benefits-local-energy-self-reliance/
  7. The county has approved (in 2013) a comprehensive energy plan: http://www.countynewscenter.com/news/board-takes-step-toward-renewable-energy-plan
  8. AB 2145: http://cleantechnica.com/2014/05/06/californias-ab-2145-threatens-community-choice-aggregates/
  9. San Diego Sierra Club: http://sandiego.sierraclub.org/home/index.asp
  10. local 350.org: http://sandiego350.org/
  11. Local Energy Aggregation Network: http://www.leanenergyus.org/
  12. San Diego Energy District Foundation : http://www.sdenergydistrict.org
  13. Local Energy Rules: http://www.ilsr.org/local-energy-rules/
  14. iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/local-energy-rules/id595698022?mt=2
  15. RSS/XML: http://www.ilsr.org/feed/localenergyrules/
  16. new podcast notifications: http://eepurl.com/tlKE9
  17. weekly email updates from ILSR’s energy program: http://eepurl.com/tlKE9
  18. Rick Naystatt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_110803-N-UN340-067_A_view_of_solar_panels_recently_installed_on_the_roof_of_Space_and_Naval_Warfare_Systems_Command_Headquarters,_Old_Town.jpg#filelinks

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/price-renewables-san-diegos-fight-community-choice-episode-23-local-energy-rules/


Network Neutrality Update

by Christopher | May 12, 2014 10:49 am

The FCC is hearing the massive public outcry over its plan that would allow the big cable and telephone companies to create fast and slow lanes on the wires most of us depend on to access the Internet. Chairman Wheeler has made some bold claims that he would not allow commercially unreasonable deals but many doubt the FCC has the authority to enforce his tough talk.

Now we see that FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel wants to slow down the rulemaking[1] for “at least a month” given the outcry.

Resistance to the plan does seem to be building with the emergence of over 100 Internet-dependent companies decrying the possibility of fast and slow lanes[2]. Full letter here [pdf][3].

Mozilla has developed an alternative approach to reclassification that some are saying just might work[4], but as a naturally conservative person, I will want to see it vetted by trusted experts like Harold Feld. The main problem with reclassification seems to be that Republicans would demagogue it as Obama attempting to take over the Internet – a problem for Democrats already facing an uphill battle in November.

However, Barbara van Schewick – one of the most knowledgeable people on this matter – makes a strong case for the FCC rebooting the whole process[5], gathering more input, and ultimately reclassifying Internet access as Title II while forebearing many of the Title II powers that would allow the FCC to wield too much control over access to the Internet.

Much like the FCC has long overseen telephone access without censoring the content of our speech, it would be possible for the FCC to reclassify Internet access without getting involved in content.

However, the larger problem remains – the market power of the massive firms like Comcast and AT&T. As long as they continue to wield the power they do (which will grow if consolidation continues), they will buy support in Congress and use the FCC’s revolving door to their advantage; no amount of regulation will ultimately contain them.

To preserve the open Internet over the long haul, we have to reduce the overwhelming power of those companies. We can do that with an “all hands on deck” approach to expanding Internet access – ensuring local governments are free to build their own networks as they choose or partner with trusted entities. On this matter, Chairman Wheeler has said he will use FCC power to remove state barriers[6] to allow communities to make those decisions, a tremendous step forward for preserving the open Internet.

This is a very important moment. We need the FCC to preserve the open Internet by continuing to prevent paid prioritization schemes and we need to create alternative networks to end the cable monopoly and reduce their power in DC and state houses.

Below is an excellent video on this subject that explains the problem and what can be done. As we noted in our podcast with Scott Bradner[7], the way this video presents the key question of who should pay who represents a break with the past traditions, but it may be time to reconsider who should pay when faced with a cable monopoly for Internet access.

Stay current on this and other stories by subscribing to [8]our once a week MuniNetworks.org newsletter.

Endnotes:
  1. Rosenworcel wants to slow down the rulemaking: http://gizmodo.com/fcc-commissioner-wants-to-postpone-net-neutrality-rules-1573142074
  2. over 100 Internet-dependent companies decrying the possibility of fast and slow lanes: http://bgr.com/2014/05/07/fcc-net-neutrality-google-amazon-facebook-microsoft/
  3. letter here [pdf]: http://engine.is/wp-content/uploads/Company-Sign-On-Letter.pdf
  4. just might work: http://gigaom.com/2014/05/05/mozillas-crazy-plan-to-fix-net-neutrality-and-turn-broadband-into-a-utility-and-why-it-could-work/
  5. strong case for the FCC rebooting the whole process: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-rebooting-the-network-neutrality-debate/361809/
  6. Chairman Wheeler has said he will use FCC power to remove state barriers: http://www.muninetworks.org/content/wheeler-tells-cable-industry-he-intends-remove-anti-competitive-state-laws
  7. podcast with Scott Bradner: http://muninetworks.org/content/peering-then-and-now-community-broadband-bits-podcast-96
  8. by subscribing to : https://spreadsheets0.google.com/viewform?formkey=dF9ZdmFsam5FNHN1MTJXNkt4V3VsRGc6MA

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/network-neutrality-update/


International Conversation on Zero Waste, May 2014

by Neil Seldman | May 5, 2014 7:17 pm

During a recent e-mail interchange, Mal Williams of Zero Waste Wales, Plasnewydd, Cardiff, reported on disappearing waste in that country. In order to maximize efficiency, add value to collected recyclables and reduce available materials for incineration, co-mingled recycling (single stream), is being phased out.

Nancy Gorrell, Berkeley, CA commented:
Hooray for Wales! Here in Berkeley, we are having to restructure rate fees, because recycling has replaced garbage.

Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA, commented:
Quite so. Berkeley’s rates are based on garbage, which is dwindling, and therefore income is falling, leading to higher rates to pay for everything.  Garbage income finances recycling, so as garbage falls and recycling increases, recycling is doing more work but there’s less money to cover it.  Moreover, City Hall actually refuses to restructure the rates because they are convinced the people want to think recycling is free.  And they won’t tell.  (Recyclers want to get paid – shh.) (more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/international-conversation-waste-2014/#more-35292

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/international-conversation-waste-2014/


Amazon’s Big Assist from Government

by Stacy Mitchell | May 1, 2014 11:24 am

Amazon’s sales have fallen in states where it is now required to collect sales taxes, according to a new study[1] by three economists at Ohio State University. The study offers striking evidence of how much Amazon’s dominance of the retail marketplace is owed to nearly 20 years of favorable tax treatment.

The economists examined credit and debit card data for 246,000 households, focusing on five states that recently enacted laws requiring Amazon to collect sales tax: California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. They analyzed household spending at Amazon three months before and after the law took effect, and then compared the findings to spending patterns in states that did not adopt an online sales tax law.

Households cut their spending at Amazon by about 10 percent when the company begins collecting sales tax, the economists found. The effect is even greater for larger purchases. Spending falls 16 percent for purchases larger than $150 and 24 percent for those over $300.

That sales tax still matters this much to Amazon’s fortunes is quite remarkable. One might imagine that the company’s size and efficiency, its vast online marketplace and formidable distribution logistics, would be more than enough to outrun its competitors. But in fact, not having to collect sales tax in most states still provides a significant competitive edge, even at this late date.

We can only imagine how different the retail landscape might be today had Congress passed an internet sales tax bill a decade ago, when Amazon was big — it had revenue of $7 billion in 2004 — but not yet in possession of the level of market power it now has. Amazon posted $73 billion in sales last year. The retailer, which owns dozens of internet brands, including Zappos and Diapers.com, now accounts for a staggering one-third of all the items Americans buy online.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has long downplayed the importance of sales tax, as have the company’s supporters. Writing in the Daily Beast last year, columnist Megan McArdle declared[2], “Amazon’s competitive advantage no longer derives from its tax-free status.”

But this study reveals what Jeff Bezos has undoubtedly known for years: Amazon’s success, its track record of shuttering local businesses, is as much a product of government favoritism as it is of its own ingenuity. Indeed, Amazon’s actions from its founding in 1995 provide ample evidence that having a sales tax advantage has always been pivotal to its strategy:

Endnotes:
  1. study: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2422403
  2. declared: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/06/why-is-amazon-supporting-a-plan-to-tax-the-internet.html
  3. unguarded interview: http://www.fastcompany.com/27309/whos-writing-book-web-business
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/amazons-big-assist-government/#more-35214

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/amazons-big-assist-government/


Webinar: The Power of Community Composting

by Brenda Platt | April 30, 2014 11:15 am

Across the nation, grassroots action to capture and recycle organic resources from communities by communities are expanding. The solutions are as diverse as the places and people where these efforts originate, yet the commonalities show a clear trend of an emerging movement. To kick off International Compost Awareness Week, ILSR and Highfields Center for Composting held a “The Power of Community Composting” webinar on May 5th at 4 pm. Brenda Platt, ILSR Co-Director and Director of the Composting Makes $en$e project, presented. To get more information on the International Compost Awareness Week and the Highfields Center for Composting, see here[1]

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. here: http://highfieldscomposting.org/news-resources/events/international-compost-awareness-week

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/community-composting-webinar/


To Save the Internet We Need To Own The Means Of Distribution

by David Morris | April 28, 2014 10:20 am

map-stories[1]With the announcement by the FCC that cable and telephone companies will be allowed to prioritize access to their customers only one option remains that can guarantee an open internet:  owning the means of distribution.

Thankfully an agency exists for this. Local government.  Owning the means of distribution is a traditional function of local government.  We call our roads and bridges and water and sewer pipe networks public infrastructure for a reason.

In the 19th century local and state governments concluded that the transportation of people and goods was so essential to a modern economy that the key distribution system must be publicly owned.  In the 21st century the transportation of information is equally essential.

When communities own their roads they can and have established the rules of the road.  The most fundamental and ubiquitous is what might be called road neutrality. Everyone has equal access regardless whether they drive a Ford or a Chevy, a jeep or a moped.

About 20 years ago, exasperated by high prices, poor service and a callous disregard by cable and phone companies for the future communications needs of their host communities, American cities began building their own networks.  Initially these were based on cable and later on fiber.

Today almost 90 communities have citywide fiber networks.  Another 74 have citywide cable networks.  Scores more have partial fiber networks that serve public institutions—local government, libraries, schools, networks—and could easily be extended.  See here[2] for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s comprehensive map of muni networks in the United States.

More than 3 million people currently live in communities with a publicly owned communications network.

Unlike the FCC, cities that own their telecommunications networks can, and undoubtedly will respond to the will of their citizens by embracing the principle of net neutrality.

Many of today’s muni networks are in cities that a century ago built their own electricity networks after private companies proved unwilling to provide universal, affordable, reliable power. Today over 2000 cities still own the electric means of distribution.   Their price and reliability is comparable or better than those of investor owned utilities and they are, unsurprisingly, far superior in responding to the needs of their communities.

Publicly owned telecommunications networks offer lower prices and higher speeds than Comcast and AT&T and Time Warner.  It is instructive that the first gigabit network was built not by a private company but by Chattanooga, a muni network. Today 40 cities in 13 states have locally owned gigabit networks.

Cities that have built their own networks have found them a singularly successful economic development investment, especially for retaining and attracting the growing numbers of businesses that require high speed, high capacity networks. (more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.muninetworks.org/communitymap
  2. here: http://www.muninetworks.org
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/save-internet-means-distribution-2/#more-35020

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/save-internet-means-distribution-2/


A Trojan Carrot

by Stacy Mitchell | April 25, 2014 8:34 am

This article originally appeared on Grist[1].

Walmart recently announced[2] that it would stock a selection of lower-cost organic packaged foods. A storm of positive press followed, including two U.S. News columns (here[3] and here[4]) by David Brodwin of the American Sustainable Business Council, who argued that, despiteWalmart’s many sins[5], it was doing good in this case by legitimatizing and mainstreaming sustainable products in the eyes of consumers, investors, the media, and other companies.

I’m a big fan of David’s work, and of ASBC, but I think he’s got this one backward. The story that Walmart created with its announcement was not: Wow, organics have changed. They’ve gone mainstream.(That’s not really news, after all.) Instead, the story was: Wow, Walmart has changed. It’s gone organic. In other words, Walmart is not legitimizing organic foods so much as using organic foods to legitimize its own business model.

To me, the pivotal question that ought to frame any discussion about Walmart’s role in our food system is: Will people and the planet be better off if Walmart grows to control 50 percent of the U.S. grocery market?

Growth, after all, is what this is ultimately about. In 2005, staring down bad headlines and organized opposition in one city after another, Walmart realized that it faced a hard ceiling on its expansion if it did not improve its public image, particularly in the liberal-leaning areas of the country. It launched its sustainability campaign[6] that year, pledging to be a leader on climate change and shift completely to renewable power. Walmart has not made much progress on those ostensible goals. Indeed, its greenhouse emissions are higher than ever[7] and it derives just 4 percent of its electricity[8] from its wind and solar projects.

But Walmart has succeeded spectacularly in the real purpose of this project. The company is 37 percent bigger in the U.S. today than it was in 2005.

Walmart is once again struggling with its image, amid an unprecedented series of strikes and other actions by its workers[9], as well as new revelations[10] about its impact on the economy. In response, Walmart is offering up many distractions, from commercials[11] that evoke a time when America was a maker economy to shiny cans of organic tomato paste. But we should never take our eyes off what’s really at stake here. Walmart is a growth machine. It’s not interested in being a better company, only in being a bigger one.

As crazy as it is, we are well on our way to a future in which Walmart controls half of our food system. In 1998, Walmart accounted for 4 percent of grocery sales. A mere 16 years later, its market share has climbed north of 25 percent. Already Walmart captures more than 50 percent of food sales in 40 metro areas. It plans to open at least 385 new stores[12] in the U.S. over the next year alone.

Even the Great A&P — such a juggernaut in its day that Congress passed new antitrust legislation to contain it — never had anywhere near the market power Walmart now has.

Walmart’s rise as a grocer has had the effect of making conventional food production more concentrated and industrialized[13] than ever before — a trend it will surely bring to organics. In response to Walmart’s growing market power, food companies embarked on a wave of mergers in the hope that, by joining forces, they could become big enough to supply the retailer without getting crushed in the process. Today, four meatpackers slaughter 85 percent of the nation’s beef. One dairy processor handles 40 percent of our milk supply.

With fewer companies bidding for their output and Walmart demanding ever lower prices, nearly everyone involved in food production and distribution has seen their income take a hit. Farmers are getting a significantly smaller share of the consumer food dollar. Wages for slaughterhouse workers have fallen 9 percent in the last 15 years. Employees at competing grocery stores have lost ground on wages and given up benefits.

Indeed, no company has done quite as much in the last 20 years to undermine the broad middle class and expand poverty. Walmart has propelled poverty at the macro level of our economy as well as the micro: One peer-reviewed, published study[14] found that when Walmart opens a store, poverty rates in the surrounding county rise.

Walmart is determined to take us further down this road, leading us along with a can of inexpensive industrial-organic carrots. But its continued expansion will undoubtedly come at the expense of a more diverse food system that could help us rebuild local economies and move families out of poverty.

It’s within our power to stop Walmart — to insist that its resources be directed at being a better company, not a bigger one. But we’ll need a unified front to do so.

 

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/food/walmarts-latest-organic-scheme-is-just-part-of-its-plot-to-take-over-our-food-system/
  2. recently announced: http://grist.org/news/why-you-should-be-skeptical-of-walmarts-cheap-organic-food/
  3. here: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/economic-intelligence/2014/04/11/wal-mart-target-and-p-g-embrace-sustainable-food
  4. here: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/economic-intelligence/2014/04/18/how-wal-mart-legitimizes-sustainability-and-the-organic-movement
  5. Walmart’s many sins: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  6. launched its sustainability campaign: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  7. greenhouse emissions are higher than ever: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-climate/
  8. 4 percent of its electricity: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2014/03/are-walmarts-green-claims-simply-greenwashing?cmpid=rss
  9. strikes and other actions by its workers: http://forrespect.org/
  10. new revelations: http://www.ilsr.org/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail/
  11. commercials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LYI--n-tjE
  12. at least 385 new stores: http://news.walmart.com/news-archive/2014/02/20/walmart-us-accelerates-small-store-growth
  13. more concentrated and industrialized: http://www.ilsr.org/walmarts-death-grip-food-system-intensifying-poverty/
  14. study: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-hinders-poverty-reduction-study-finds/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/trojan-carrot/


Understanding the Small Business Credit Crunch

by Stacy Mitchell | April 16, 2014 12:59 pm

Even as their big competitors are awash in capital, many locally owned businesses are struggling to secure the financing they need to grow.  A new ILSR analysis[1] has found that, since 2000, bank lending to large businesses is up 36 percent, while small business loan volume has fallen 14 percent and  “micro” business loans — those under $100,000 — have plummeted 33 percent.

(The largest corporations do not even need to rely on bank loans, of course, but can finance their growth through the soaring stock and corporate bond markets.)

The problem is not a lack of demand.  In our 2014 Independent Business Survey[2], 42 percent of business owners that needed a loan in the previous two years reported being unable to obtain one.  Startups, businesses with fewer than 20 employees, and enterprises owned by minorities and women are having an especially difficult time.  Even with the same business characteristics and credit profiles, small businesses owned by African-Americans and Latinos are less likely to be approved for loans, according to one recent study[3].

One consequence of this credit shortage is that many small businesses are either not adequately capitalized or have been forced to rely on high-cost alternatives, such as credit cards.  Both scenarios make them more vulnerable to failing.

The broader consequences for our economy are significant.  Studies show locally owned businesses are a primary source of net new job creation, contribute to higher median household incomes, and increase social capital.  Yet independent businesses in many sectors are losing market share, while the number of new startups has steadily fallen over the last two decades.  Insufficient capital is a key culprit driving these trends.

To shed light on this problem and help inform policy discussions,  ILSR has published an overview of the small business lending landscape[4]. Among the key takeaways:

(more…)[5]

Endnotes:
  1. ILSR analysis: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/financing-local-businesses/
  2. 2014 Independent Business Survey: http://www.ilsr.org/2014-survey/
  3. one recent study: http://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/files/rs403tot(2).pdf
  4. overview of the small business lending landscape: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/financing-local-businesses/
  5. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/understanding-small-business-credit-crunch/#more-34779

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/understanding-small-business-credit-crunch/


Two Big-Box Decisions Show How Smart Planning Policies Protect Good Jobs

by Stacy Mitchell | April 1, 2014 10:30 am

Although few cities take full advantage of them, planning and zoning powers are among the most potent tools communities have for shaping their economies. Two recent decisions, in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, underscore why land use planning matters and how smart policies can strengthen the local economy and protect good jobs.

The first was a decision by the Cape Cod Commission to deny Lowe’s a permit to build a store in the town of Dennis. As I wrote in a piece last year (“Here’s One Smart Way to Handle Big-Box Stores[1]“), Cape Cod is one of the few places in the country that embeds economic criteria in its planning policies and requires that large projects (commercial development over 10,000 square feet) win approval from both the host town and a regional planning body, the Cape Cod Commission, which is made up of representatives from each of the Cape’s 15 towns.

Guided by Cape Cod’s Regional Planning Policy[2], the commission does not limit its review to conventional zoning issues, such as the number of parking spaces or the distance the building is set back from the street. Instead it focuses on how the development would affect Cape Cod’s economy and environment.

After looking closely at the Lowe’s proposal, the Cape Cod Commission concluded[3] that “the probable benefit of the proposed development is not greater than the probable detriment.”

A pivotal issue was the store’s projected impact on jobs and wages. One of the region’s primary planning goals is to increase household income. Lowe’s would have the opposite effect, the commission concluded. In a region already saturated with building supply stores, Lowe’s arrival would cause many existing local businesses to downsize or close. The result would be a net decline of 48 jobs after Lowe’s opened.

Moreover, the new jobs at Lowe’s would pay $9,000 less on average than the jobs lost at local stores, resulting in a total income loss of over $3 million for the region’s residents.

Armed with this kind of analysis, the Cape Cod Commission has approved relatively few big-box stores in its 24-year history. Walmart has only one store in the region. It’s less than half the size of a typical supercenter and located in a building that used to house another department store. Not surprisingly, Cape Cod has significantly more independent businesses per capita than the national average.

Another example of the value of smart planning policy was last month’s unanimous decision by the Green Bay (Wisconsin) City Council to deny Walmart’s petition to build a 154,000-square-foot store in a historic industrial area adjacent to the downtown.

Green Bay has been looking to redevelop this area. In a similar situation, many cities might leap on a 15-acre Walmart store on the theory than anything is better than nothing. But Walmart’s suburban-style store did not fit the vision that residents and city officials had developed through a series of planning exercises. (more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. Here’s One Smart Way to Handle Big-Box Stores: http://www.ilsr.org/heres-smart-handle-big-box-stores/
  2. Regional Planning Policy: http://www.capecodcommission.org/regionalplans/RPP
  3. concluded: http://www.capecodcommission.org/resources/regulatory/DRIdecisions/TR13005LowesDennisDenialDec010914.pdf
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/smart-planning-policies-protect-good-jobs-cities-vote-big-boxes/#more-34524

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/smart-planning-policies-protect-good-jobs-cities-vote-big-boxes/


Lifecycle Building Center, Atlanta, GA, Established in December 2011

by Neil Seldman | April 1, 2014 9:32 am

ILSR prepared a zero waste plan for the Atlanta Office of Sustainability in 2011-12. During site visits ILSR and Saint Vincent De Paul provided assistance to several community based reuse enterprises. In turn these new community businesses became working partners in ILSR’s and Saint Vincent De Pauls’ national networks. Neil Seldman serves as an advisor to the Lifecycle Building Center.

The Lifecycle Building Center (LBC) was co-founded by Adam Deck, a former store manager for Raleigh’s Habitat ReStore and a professional deconstruction expert, and Shannon Goodman, an architect formerly with Perkins+Will. (P+W) (more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/lifecycle-building-center/#more-34526

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/lifecycle-building-center/


Energy Storage: The Next Charge for Distributed Energy

by John Farrell | March 26, 2014 6:00 am

Update 5/2/14: titles for Fig. 2 and 3 in the report were mistakenly switched and are now corrected.  

Energy storage promises to change the electricity system during the next decade, as fundamentally as distributed renewable energy has in the last decade. A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Energy Storage: The Next Charge for Distributed Energy[1], forecasts where the battleground is shaping up. The report also details promising examples of local renewable energy utilizing energy storage — from Laurel, MD to San Diego, CA to Kaua’i Island, Hawaii — illustrating how the powerful combination can allow for more thorough adoption of renewable energy, support greater local control, and increase reliability of the energy system.

Download the full report here.[2]

The new report reviews the many ways energy storage systems enhance distributed renewable energy including innovative uses for electric vehicles (EVs), community solar, island power grids, and microgrids. The report also looks at ways in which communities utilized energy storage to help managed supply and demand and ancillary electricity services, while reinforcing infrastructure, and supporting renewables.

Energy storage stands to change the political dynamic of local renewable energy development, while also impacting economics and policy prescriptions. The new ILSR report can provoke conversation and new thinking around the coming technologies.

 

Endnotes:
  1. Energy Storage: The Next Charge for Distributed Energy: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Energy+Storage%3A+The+Next+Charge+for+Distributed+Energy
  2. Download the full report here.: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Energy+Storage%3A+The+Next+Charge+for+Distributed+Energy

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/energystoragethenextchargefordistributedenergy/


Distributed Renewable Energy Under Fire

by John Farrell | March 19, 2014 2:46 pm

placeholder[1]

I developed this map as a side project while I was working on explaining the value of solar[2] and its potential role in addressing conflicts between utilities and customers over distributed renewable energy like solar. I’ve received several updates since it was originally published, so here’s the updated map.battlegrounds over net metering and distributed generation 2014-0521[3]

For some context on the contention about the costs and benefits of distributed renewable energy, see this compilation report[4] from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

 

Sources (mostly the excellent, thorough folks at IREC[5]):

Arizona – net metering fees added[6] (2013)

California – cost/benefit study of net metering in progress[7] (2013)

Colorado – net metering preserved after utility suggested DG producers need grid more than expected[8] (2014)

Georgia – PSC staff recommend against proposed net metering fee[9] (2013)

Hawaii – Utilities claim distribution circuits are too full for more solar[10] (2014)

Idaho – Idaho Power proposals to weaken net metering voided[11] (2013)

Iowa – Iowa district court overturns utility opposition to solar power purchase agreements[12], but utility not backing down (2013)

Kansas – net metering significantly curtailed[13] in compromise to avoid complete loss (2014)

Louisiana – proposed net metering fees struck down[14] (2013)

Minnesota – utilities fight accurate environmental, fuel cost, and other values of solar in stakeholder proceedings[15] (2013)

New York – state senate bill S.6357-c includes ALEC-written language for study on costs/benefits of net metering (2014)

North Carolina – Duke Energy wants to pay wholesale, not retail rates[16] (2014)

Oklahoma – The world’s dumbest idea: Taxing solar energy[17] (2014)

Oregon – PUC workshop on solar incentive rates[18] (2014)

Texas - CPS Energy makes revisions to solar-energy fees[19] (2014)

Utah – Rocky Mountain Power proposes additional net metering fees[20] (2014)

Virginia – After adding standby fees to net metered projects in 2011, Dominion Power blocks multi-family net metering bill[21] (2014)

Washington – upcoming workshop on costs/benefits of distributed generation[22] (2013)

Wisconsin – a Wisconsin utility changes net metering from retail to wholesale rates[23] (2013)

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. explaining the value of solar: http://www.ilsr.org/minnesotas-value-solar-winner/
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/battlegrounds-over-net-metering-and-distributed-generation-2014-0521.jpg
  4. compilation report: http://www.rmi.org/Content/Files/eLab-DER_cost_value_Deck_130722.pdf
  5. IREC: http://www.irecusa.org/
  6. net metering fees added: http://www.irecusa.org/2013/12/arizona-commission-approves-net-metering-fee/
  7. cost/benefit study of net metering in progress: http://www.irecusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/state-NEM-studies-2.pdf
  8. net metering preserved after utility suggested DG producers need grid more than expected: http://www.irecusa.org/2014/02/colorado-puc-keeps-net-metering-in-place-for-now/
  9. PSC staff recommend against proposed net metering fee: http://www.irecusa.org/2013/11/georgia-psc-staff-recommends-against-utility-solar-fee/
  10. Utilities claim distribution circuits are too full for more solar: http://www.civilbeat.com/fact_checks/2013/10/24/20211-fact-check-heco-80-percent-of-circuits-on-oahu-have-room-for-solar/
  11. Idaho Power proposals to weaken net metering voided: http://www.irecusa.org/2013/07/idaho-psc-improves-net-metering-rules-for-idaho-power/
  12. Iowa district court overturns utility opposition to solar power purchase agreements: http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/04/12/court-sides-with-iowa-solar-installer-in-dispute-with-utility/
  13. net metering significantly curtailed: http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2014/03/21/compromise-may-help-preserve-net-metering-in-kansas/
  14. proposed net metering fees struck down: http://www.irecusa.org/2013/07/louisiana-rules-to-preserve-net-metering/
  15. utilities fight accurate environmental, fuel cost, and other values of solar in stakeholder proceedings: http://www.ilsr.org/sticking-points-solar-pt-3-minnesotas-process/
  16. Duke Energy wants to pay wholesale, not retail rates: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/print/article/2014/01/net-metering-in-2014-where-the-first-battles-will-be-fought
  17. The world’s dumbest idea: Taxing solar energy: http://news.yahoo.com/worlds-dumbest-idea-taxing-solar-energy-111300623.html
  18. PUC workshop on solar incentive rates: http://www.irecusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/state-NEM-studies-2.pdf
  19. CPS Energy makes revisions to solar-energy fees: http://www.irecusa.org/2014/05/cps-energy-makes-revisions-to-solar-energy-fees/
  20. Rocky Mountain Power proposes additional net metering fees: http://www.irecusa.org/2014/01/utah-utility-proposes-additional-net-metering-fee/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=utah-utility-proposes-additional-net-metering-fee&utm_reader=feedly
  21. Dominion Power blocks multi-family net metering bill: http://cleantechnica.com/2014/02/10/dominion-virginia-power-blocks-net-metering-bill/
  22. workshop on costs/benefits of distributed generation: http://www.irecusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/state-NEM-studies-2.pdf
  23. a Wisconsin utility changes net metering from retail to wholesale rates: http://www.irecusa.org/2013/08/wisconsin-utility-seeks-stricter-net-metering-policy/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/distributed-renewable-energy-fire/


Minnesota Local Governments Advance Super Fast Internet Networks

by Lisa Gonzalez | March 19, 2014 11:57 am

As in much of rural America, communities in Greater Minnesota struggle with connectivity. Some areas have no choice at all, forced to rely on dial-up or slow DSL. Others have an incumbent cable provider. A few local community leaders in Minnesota, conscious of the need for broadband to save public dollars, encourage economic development, and get their citizens online, found ways to deploy next generation networks. Today, they reap the rewards.

Minnesota Local Governments Advance Super Fast Internet Networks examines five rural communities that have deployed fiber networks. We examined such issues as smart strategies, financing, and partnerships. Each community took a different path but all finished with a valuable public asset. All are now prepared for the future.

In our report we share the stories of networks in Lac qui Parle County, Scott County, Windom, Sibley County, and Monticello. When large incumbents declined to provide affordable, fast, and reliable connectivity, each of these communities took control of their own situation. The challenge was daunting, but each community brought their vision to life and now save millions in public dollars. Their schools are able to offer a 21st century education. Employers bring well-paying jobs to once dwindling rural regions.

Learn how Greater Minnesota communities are bringing better connectivity to residents, businesses, and government. This report provides a continuum of approaches. Download Minnesota Local Governments Advance Super Fast Internet Networks.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance presents this report co-authored by Christopher Mitchell and Lisa Gonzalez.

Read ongoing stories about these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks[1].  You can also subscribe[2] to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.

About ILSR: Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) proposes a set of new rules that builds community by supporting humanly scaled politics and economics. The Telecommunications as Commons Initiative believes that telecommunications networks are essential infrastructure and should be accountable to residents and local businesses.  www.ilsr.org[3]

Endnotes:
  1. Community Broadband Networks: http://muninetworks.org
  2. also subscribe: https://spreadsheets0.google.com/viewform?formkey=dF9ZdmFsam5FNHN1MTJXNkt4V3VsRGc6MA
  3. www.ilsr.org: http://www.ilsr.org/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/minnesota-local-governments-advance-super-fast-internet-networks/


Could Minnesota’s “Value of Solar” Make Everyone a Winner?

by John Farrell | March 13, 2014 4:27 pm

placeholder[1]On Wednesday, Minnesota became the first state to allow utilities a new method of contracting with distributed solar producers, called the market-based “value of solar.” If adopted by utilities, it will fundamentally change the relationship between solar-producing customers and their electric utility.

Following Minnesota’s Value of Solar Process? Here are a few resources:

Until now, producing on-site energy from a solar panel has been treated much like any other activity reducing electricity use. Energy produced from solar is subtracted from the amount of energy used each month, and the customer pays for the net amount of energy consumed.  This “net metering[14]” policy has guided the growth of distributed solar power in the United States to an astonishing 13 gigawatts GW by the end of 2013.

But net metering has been the focal point for the utility war on the democratization of the grid, a phenomenon made possible by enormous reductions in the cost of on-site power generation from solar. The following map illustrates the many states where utilities have sought to undermine policies and/or incentives supporting distributed renewable energy generation.

battlegrounds over net metering and distributed generation[15]

The transformation of the grid has utilities crying foul (or fowl[16]) because lots of customers using net metering reduces their balance sheet revenue. However, increasing evidence suggests that the overall economic benefits to the utility’s electric grid may outweigh the loss of revenue.

Value of solar creates a market price for distributed solar energy in an effort to answer the utility’s cry. And Minnesota’s rigorous formula suggests that in crying “foul,” utilities may have been crying “wolf.” That’s because the initial estimates of the market value of solar peg it at more than the retail electricity price.  In other words, utilities have been getting a sweet deal on solar power.

Will Value of Solar Work?

Will the value of solar market price be sufficient to maintain growth in distributed solar generation?

Yes, according to preliminary calculations.

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, shared estimations for the value of solar in its comments (to reduce the value) to the Public Utilities Commission in mid-February. Their calculations follow:

Minnesota value of solar calculation Xcel Energy [17]

The solar market price includes eight separate factors, but the largest four account for the lion’s share of the value: 25 years of avoided natural gas purchases, avoided new power plant purchases, avoided transmission capacity, and avoided environmental costs.

The value of avoided fuel cost recognizes that utilities cannot buy natural gas on long-term contracts the way they can buy fixed-price solar energy, and it internalizes the risk of fuel variability that utilities have previously laid on ratepayers.

The avoided power plant generation capacity value recognizes that sufficient solar capacity allows utilities to defer peak energy investments (like Xcel’s recently requested 3 natural gas peaking power plants that an administrative law judge discarded in favor of distributed solar).

Avoided transmission capacity costs rewards solar for on-site energy production, saving on the cost of infrastructure and energy losses associated with long-range imports.

The environmental value may be the most precedent setting, because it means that when buying solar power under Minnesota’s value of solar tariff, a utility is for the first time paying for the environmental harm it had previously been socializing onto everyone else. This value is based on the federal “social cost of carbon” as well as non-carbon externality values adopted by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

All told, the preliminary market value of solar estimate by Xcel Energy (14.5¢ per kilowatt-hour) for Minnesota comes fairly close to the levelized cost of energy from solar projects in Minnesota using the federal 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Residential projects installed at $4/Watt will cost 17.2¢ per kWh over 25 years (and be eligible for state incentives). Commercial projects installed at $3/Watt will cost 12.9¢ per kWh over 25 years.

Market Value of Solar v. Levelized Solar Cost[18]

Will Utilities Adopt Value of Solar?

The crucial remaining issue is whether Minnesota utilities will adopt value of solar in place of net metering. The adopted methodology may require utilities to (in the short run) pay more for solar electricity than they do under net metering. The following chart shows that a representative residential customer with a 5 kW solar array would net an extra $200 bill credit this year with the value of solar than they would using net metering.

Market Value of Solar v Net Metering[19]

Within five years, however – based on recent utility rate inflation of 4-5% per year – the premium falls to just $12.  And over the life of the value of solar contract – 25 years – the net present value (5% discount rate) of utility payments for solar production is $3,000 less under value of solar than under net metering.

Not only that, utilities lock in the market value of solar when the signed a 25-year contract, not bad for a business rocked by volatile fuel prices.

Who Wins?

In theory, everyone is a winner if utilities adopt Minnesota’s market value of solar. In the near term, solar energy producers will get a better price than they have under net metering. In the long term, the cost of solar will fall (perhaps significantly) below the market value (accelerating the development of solar energy), and the 25-year, fixed price contract will help small-scale producers secure financing.

Utilities should also come out ahead. Over the 25-year life of solar projects, they will pay less for solar energy than under net metering. Furthermore, greater amounts of solar on the grid will (over time) erode the market price for solar energy since much of its value is based on low (zero) fuel costs and environmental advantage over fossil fuel generation.

The market value of solar should also be a victory for ratepayers. First, it’s transparent and without subsidy. In fact, it removes hidden subsidies for polluting fossil fuel generation. Ratepayers also get to purchase this renewable resource based on its value to the grid and not an awkward and obscure retail price proxy.

Is the market value of solar the best thing to come out of Minnesota in 2014? If nothing else, it beats the polar vortex[20].

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. Part 1: http://www.ilsr.org/setting-solar-part-1-minnesotas-process/
  3. Part 2: http://www.ilsr.org/debating-solar-pt-2-minnesotas-process/
  4. Part 3: http://www.ilsr.org/sticking-points-solar-pt-3-minnesotas-process/
  5. Part 4: http://www.ilsr.org/rec-final-comments-minnesotas-proposed-solar/
  6. final comments: http://cl.ly/3y063s413M2b
  7. draft value of solar methodology: http://cl.ly/462S0Z0C1n1J
  8. My comments to the Department of Commerce: http://www.ilsr.org/essential-elements-solar/
  9. PDF: http://mn.gov/commerce/energy/images/ILSR_comments.pdf
  10. slideshow: http://www.ilsr.org/debating-solar-pt-2-minnesotas-process/#slideshow
  11. #MNVOST: https://twitter.com/search?q=%23MNVOST&src=typd
  12. value of solar stakeholder resource page: http://mn.gov/commerce/energy/topics/resources/energy-legislation-initiatives/value-of-solar-tariff-methodology%20.jsp
  13. HF 729: https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/bills/text.php?number=HF729&version=4&session=ls88&session_year=2013&session_number=0
  14. net metering: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yVgPrhvwyc
  15. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/battlegrounds-over-net-metering-and-distributed-generation-.002.jpg
  16. fowl: http://www.raponline.org/document/download/id/6977
  17. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/mn-vost-calculation-xcel-2014-02.001.jpg
  18. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/mn-vost-calculation-xcel-2014-02.002.jpg
  19. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/mn-vost-calculation-xcel-2014-02.003.jpg
  20. polar vortex: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/01/17/article-2541506-1ABFBEA400000578-649_634x402.jpg

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/minnesotas-value-solar-winner/


Crimea, Anschluss and the Enduring Quest for Autonomy

by David Morris | March 11, 2014 4:24 pm

The upcoming Crimea referendum is both ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary because more than 100 times since World War II geographically concentrated ethnic or linguistic groups have voted on the question of independence.  Extraordinary because never before have a people encountered a ballot allowing them to choose only between continuing subservience within their existing nation or subservience to another nation.

The quest for autonomy is ubiquitous.  When given the choice most regions choose statehood. Since World War II the number of nations has mushroomed from 51 to 193.

Sometimes the desire for autonomy results in devolution rather than independence as nations concede authority in order to maintain territorial integrity.  That was the outcome of Quebec’s political awakening in the late 1970s.  In the wake of Franco’s death in 1975 Spain constitutionally evolved into what is now sometimes called a “State of autonomies”.  In 1998 Scotland won the right to elect its own parliament.  In 2005 South Sudan gained autonomy within Sudan.

Devolution whets but often does not quench the thirst for full independence. This fall Scotland will vote on nationhood.  The Parti Quebecois, expected to handily win provincial elections in April, likely will revive the issue of separation. After Spain rejected their recent demands for near full sovereignty the autonomous Basque Country and Catalan began to take steps toward nationhood. Indeed, Spain’s recent promise to veto Scotland’s entry into the European Union if Scots voted for independence was clearly borne of a fear for its own dissolution.

Uncoupling has sometimes occurred peacefully as happened with Norway and Sweden a century ago and the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.  More often it has involved considerable violence. The 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia into 7 nations and one autonomous province took 10 often-bloody years. In late 1975 East Timor declared independence but an invasion and occupation by Indonesia delayed actual independence until 2002. South Sudan’s independence in 2011 followed two civil wars; violence continues to wrack the new nation.

In 1991 Crimea itself voted for autonomy within the Soviet Union.  After the USSR’s breakup the continuing separatist movement from Ukraine led many observers to view Crimea as the next international flashpoint.  In 1993 the Economist warned[1] of a ‘long-running, acrimonious, possibly bloody and conceivably nuclear, dispute over Crimea’.  The dispute was peacefully but uneasily resolved when the ‘Autonomous Republic of Crimea’ was embedded in the 1996 Ukrainian constitution and the 1998 Crimean constitution.  But Crimea’s political authority remained weak.

The overthrow of a Ukrainian government that found its strongest backing among Russian speakers coupled with its new parliament’s passage of a bill eliminating the use of Russian as an official language (later withdrawn under heavy international pressure) spurred the initial Crimean crisis.

If history were the norm, we might expect Crimeans to vote on whether they preferred more autonomy or full independence.  Tragically that choice has never been offered.  The original referendum offered by Ukraine and set for May 25 (later pulled forward to March 30) allowed Crimeans to vote only on greater autonomy.

The options offered in the March 16th referendum are even worse. Crimeans will have the opportunity to choose between subservience to Ukraine or Russia. Such a ballot appears to be unprecedented.  The closest we came to such a vote was in 1938 when the Austrian government proposed a plebiscite on the annexation of Austria by Germany.  Fearing he would lose such a vote, Hitler invaded Austria under the guise of quelling alleged violence against Germans.  Hitler not only swallowed up Austria but to this day he continues to win the language battle.  We use the term Anschluss to describe the takeover of Austria, a German word meaning unification rather than using the German word for annexation.

Ukraine and the West insist that Crimeans do not have the right to vote on independence. Russian agrees.  This tragic meeting of minds moves us toward a potentially tumultuous showdown.

 

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. warned: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/03/03/crimean-autonomy-a-viable-alternative-to-war/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/crimea-anschluss-enduring-quest-autonomy/


Faulty Study Ignores Small Business Benefits

by Stacy Mitchell | March 5, 2014 12:07 pm

Photo by Cale Bruckner[1].  This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian[2].

Last month, San Francisco’s Office of Economic Analysis waded into the debate over whether the city should beef up its policy restricting the spread of chain stores[3]. In a new study[4], the OEA concludes that the city’s regulations are harming the local economy and that adding additional restrictions would only do more damage. But this sweeping conclusion, hailed by proponents of formula retail, rests on a deeply flawed analysis. The study is riddled with data problems so significant as to nullify its conclusions.

San Francisco is the only city of any significant size where “formula” businesses, defined as retail stores or restaurants that have 10 or more outlets, must obtain a special permit to locate in a neighborhood business district. The law’s impact, in one sense at least, is readily apparent: Independent businesses account for about two-thirds of the retail square footage and market share in San Francisco, compared to only about one-quarter nationally. Although chains have been gaining ground in San Francisco, the city far outstrips[5] New York, Chicago, and other major cities in the sheer numbers of homegrown grocers, bookstores, hardware stores, and other unique businesses that line its streets.

San Francisco’s policy has gaps, however, which have prompted a slew of recent proposals to amend the law. Members of the Board of Supervisors have proposed a variety of changes, such as extending the policy to cover more commercial districts (it only applies in neighborhood business districts) and broadening the definition of what counts as a formula business.

The OEA presents its study as an injection of hard economic data into this policy debate. There are three pieces to its analysis. Let’s take each in turn.

First, the OEA reports that chains provide more jobs than independent retailers do. It presents U.S. Census data showing that retailers with fewer than 10 outlets employ 3.2 workers per $1 million in sales, while chains (10 or more outlets) employ 4.3 people.

One major problem with this statistic is that the OEA includes car dealerships. Retail studies generally exclude the auto sector, because car dealers differ in fundamental ways from other retailers and car sales account for such a large chunk of consumer spending that they can skew one’s results. The OEA’s analysis is a classic example of this. Because the vast majority of car dealerships are independently owned and employ relatively few people per $1 million in sales, by including them, the OEA drags down the employment figure for local retailers overall.

If you take out car dealers, which are not subject to San Francisco’s formula business policy anyway, and also remove “non-store” retailers, a category that includes enterprises like heating oil dealers and mail order houses, a different picture emerges. Retailers with fewer than 10 outlets employ 5.3 people per $1 million in sales, compared to only 4.5 for those with 10 or more locations.

The actual difference is even a bit more than this, because chains handle their own distribution, employing people to work in warehouses, while independents typically rely on other businesses for this. And, of course, a portion of the jobs chain stores create are not local jobs; they are housed back at corporate headquarters. The OEA fails to mention either of these fairly obvious caveats.

(more…)[6]

Endnotes:
  1. Cale Bruckner: http://www.flickr.com/photos/palmit/9255369363/sizes/z/
  2. San Francisco Bay Guardian: http://www.sfbg.com/2014/03/04/bogus-chain-store-study-ignores-small-biz-benefits#comment-138643
  3. policy restricting the spread of chain stores: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/formula-business-restrictions/2321-2/
  4. study: http://co.sfgov.org/webreports/details.aspx?id=1666
  5. far outstrips: http://www.ilsr.org/san-francisco-dealing-chains/
  6. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/bogus-chain-store-study-ignores-small-business-benefits/#more-34248

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/bogus-chain-store-study-ignores-small-business-benefits/


Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network

by Lisa Gonzalez | March 5, 2014 8:51 am

Santa Monica has built a fiber network called City Net that has lowered its own costs for telecommunications, helped to retain businesses, and attracted new businesses to the community. Built incrementally without debt, it offers a roadmap any community can draw lessons from.

Unlike the majority of municipal fiber networks, Santa Monica does not have a municipal power provider – City Net is run out of the Information Systems Department. The vision for the network and its expansion was created in the Telecommunications Master Plan in 1998, standardizing the procedure that we now call “dig once.” Careful mapping and clever foresight laid the foundation for growth.

The first goal of the network was to save public dollars by eliminating leased lines from private providers. The first $530,000 investment in fiber infrastructure ultimately resulted in an ongoing savings of $700,000 per year. As part of their long term strategy, the City reinvested those savings in expanding the network. Over the past ten years, the network has expanded to offer dark fiber and services of 100 Mbps to 10 Gbps to area businesses as well as free Wi-Fi to the public in many areas.

Money that could have been spent on leasing slower, less reliable connections from existing providers has instead been used to expand public infrastructure and other public amenities. Free Wi-Fi, public safety video cameras, and realtime parking info are just a few niceties that enhance the quality of life in Santa Monica.

Learn more about Santa Monica’s journey from idea to reality. Download Santa Monica City Net: An Incremental Approach to Building a Fiber Optic Network.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance presents this in-depth case study co-authored by Eric Lampland and Christopher Mitchell.

Read ongoing stories about these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks[1].  You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks[2].

About ILSR: Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) proposes a set of new rules that builds community by supporting humanly scaled politics and economics. The Telecommunications as Commons Initiative believes that telecommunications networks are essential infrastructure and should be accountable to residents and local businesses.  www.ilsr.org[3]

About Lookout Point Communications: Lookout Point Communications was established in 1997 to offer consulting in various aspects of communications technology. The company has assisted individuals, companies, schools and governments to understand choices in communication networks and implement positive solutions.lookoutpt.com[4]

Endnotes:
  1. Community Broadband Networks: http://MuniNetworks.org
  2. subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks: https://spreadsheets0.google.com/viewform?formkey=dF9ZdmFsam5FNHN1MTJXNkt4V3VsRGc6MA
  3. www.ilsr.org: http://www.ilsr.org/
  4. lookoutpt.com: http://lookoutpt.com/about/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/santa-monica-city-net/


Christopher Mitchell Speaks in Sweden at Fiber Event

by Lisa Gonzalez | March 4, 2014 12:36 pm

In February, ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell travelled to Stockholm to share our work on broadband at an event titled Fibre: The key to creating world-class IT regions. On February 21st, he presented info to attendees on the status of broadband in the U.S.

While Chris was there, he also spoke one-on-one with Anders Broberg, one of the conference organizers. Chris’ presentation, Q&A, and the interview are now available online.

(more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/christopher-mitchell-speaks-sweden/#more-34204

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/christopher-mitchell-speaks-sweden/


Zero Waste Symposium – Comments By Neil Seldman

by John Bailey | February 24, 2014 5:13 pm

Comments (edited version) by Neil Seldman at the Zero Waste Symposium[1] – held February 4, 2014

Sponsored by Zero Waste San Diego and the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA)

February 4, 2014

Thank you very much, Rick. It’s always a pleasure to come back to California – certainly San Diego. Many of you know that I learned my recycling in California many years ago. And, my first assignments were helping to replace planned incinerators in LA and San Diego with recycling. And here are two of the people here who taught me – Jon Michael Huls and Rick Anthony; Kathy Evans, is still an active recycler in Berkeley; Cliff Humphrey is working in Kansas City. Mike Anderson and Bernie Meyerson have retired. (more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. Zero Waste Symposium: http://zerowastesandiego.org/zero-waste-symposium-presentations/
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/waste-symposium-comments-neil-seldman/#more-34112

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/waste-symposium-comments-neil-seldman/


When It Comes to Public Services, Government Knows Best

by David Morris | February 20, 2014 8:29 pm

Minneapolis will soon vote to shift nearly 180 privately owned bus shelters to public ownership following numerous complaints about the lack of maintenance and upkeep.  When it does it will join the burgeoning ranks of cities who have discovered that when it comes to public services government knows best.

In the post-Ronald Reagan era Americans take as indisputable that the private sector is more nimble and more innovative and the profit motive commands efficiency.  But a mountain of evidence points in the other direction. The government is highly competitive.  Indeed privatized services often come at a higher price and lower quality.

The examples are legion.  Medicare boasts a tiny overhead cost compared to that of private insurance companies.  Federal unsubsidized student loans are cheaper and more flexible than private bank student loans. Private contractors cost Washington almost twice as much as federal employees for the same tasks.

Evidence of government excellence is equally abundant at the state and local level.   In a growing number of jurisdictions governments are reassessing the value of privatizing services.

In the Public Interest[1] reports that in 2010 the Hernando County, Florida sheriff’s office took over management of its jail from the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) after the CCA failed to adequately maintain the facility and engaged in practices that compromised safety and increased the chance of escapes and incidents of violence.  The sheriff increased annual salaries of corrections officers by more than $7,000 to attract the highly qualified, significantly improved the quality of the facility and saved $1 million the first year of public operation to boot.

In 2011 Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett considered outsourcing many city services, including the maintenance of fleets, facilities and streets but had the good sense to open the bidding process to public workers. The public proposal was chosen over local and national firms for its significant taxpayer savings.

In 2012, San Diego sought to sell its landfill to a private corporation. Several companies submitted bids.  Once again the city had the foresight to allow public service workers to submit a bid.  The review board concluded the city would save money and get better service by keeping the operation of the landfill in-house.

In 2012, Illinois awarded the Maximus one of country’s largest private social service providers a $77 million contract to review Medicaid eligibility. A 2013 independent investigation found errors in almost 50 percent of the cases.  Illinois terminated[2] the $77 million contract last December. One analysis found that state employees would save Illinois more than $18 million annually while replacing unqualified call center hires with trained caseworkers.

Every year, the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) eight districts solicit bids m private contractors as well as MnDOT’s own striping division to paint lane stripes n every highway in Minnesota. Without fail, MnDOT’s public striping crew beats the private competitors by a large margin.

Outsourcing not only tends to cost more and provide lower quality services; it also has unquantifiable but very real other costs.  After Minneapolis outsourced its information management system to Unisys about 10 years ago it found it had lost much needed in-house expertise, including the ability to properly oversee the Unisys contract.

Last fall the Jonesboro Sun asked the CEO of Tiger Correctional Services, a company that contracts for jail commissary services with the Craighead County Arkansas Sheriff’s Department for financial information that was public when the services were operated by that department.  Tiger’s attorneys asserted that because it is a private company none of the company’s records were subject to public open records laws.

With regard to private military contractors, Major Kevin P. Stiens and Lt. Col. (Ret.) Susan L. Turley observed[3] with regard to private military contractors, “Not only did the cost savings fail to materialize, outsourcing caused other tangible losses. The government lost personnel experience and continuity, along with operational control, by moving to contractors.” Air Force Colonel Steven Zamperelli added,  “Private employees have distinctly different motivations, responsibilities and loyalties than those in the public military.”

One city shifting 180 bus shelters back into public hands is a minor development with a one-day news life. But it reflects a much larger story, the growing reevaluation by governments of the efficacy of privatizing public services.

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. In the Public Interest: http://www.inthepublicinterest.org/
  2. terminated: http://leftlaborreporter.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/arbitrator-rules-that-outsourced-work-in-illinois-must-be-returned-to-state-employees/
  3. observed: https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&doctype=cite&docid=65+A.F.+L.+Rev.+145&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&key=bf73240d21a5e31cc3617bb13382efc4

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/public-services-government/


Webcast: ILSR & Allies Respond to Walmart’s Environmental Claims

by Stacy Mitchell | February 19, 2014 2:16 am

placeholder[1]On Feb. 17th, during a 90-minute event[2] broadcast live from Walmart’s Arkansas headquarters, the company’s top brass, including its new CEO Doug McMillon, presented what they claimed was remarkable progress to green Walmart’s operations and protect the planet.

ILSR, together with our allies at Environmental Action[3] and OUR Walmart[4], organized a live webcast response attended by hundreds of environmental activists.

Click below to watch this 45-minute event, which includes analysis of Walmart’s environmental impact and greenwashing by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell; perspective from Dominic Jamal Ware, a Walmart worker and leader with OUR Walmart who connects the dots between the company’s environmental harms and its destructive labor practices; and details on Environmental Action’s growing grassroots campaign on Walmart.  (Get involved in that campaign by sharing this event[5] and signing the petition[6].)

For more background, see our report, Walmart’s Assault on the Climate: The Truth Behind One of the Biggest Climate Polluters and Slickest Greenwashers in America[7]. 

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. event: http://news.walmart.com/events/global-sustainability-milestone-meeting-february-2014
  3. Environmental Action: http://www.environmental-action.org
  4. OUR Walmart: http://forrespect.org
  5. sharing this event: http://www.environmental-action.org/action/live-planets-official-response-walmart
  6. signing the petition: https://secure3.convio.net/engage/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=9874
  7. Walmart’s Assault on the Climate: The Truth Behind One of the Biggest Climate Polluters and Slickest Greenwashers in America: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Walmart%27s+Assault+on+the+Climate

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/webcast-ilsr-responds-walmarts-environmental-claims/


Independent Business Owners Report Growing Public Support, Call for Policies to Level the Playing Field

by Stacy Mitchell | February 6, 2014 9:37 am

Image: 2014 Independent Business Survey Cover[1]

A national survey of independent business owners conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[2] in partnership with the Advocates for Independent Business[3] coalition has found that Local First initiatives are boosting customer traffic and improving the outlook on Main Street, but policymakers need to do more to create a level playing field and ensure that small local businesses have an equal opportunity to compete.

The survey gathered data from 2,602 independent businesses across the country.

Among the survey’s key findings:

Sales Growth — Independent businesses reported revenue growth of 5.3% on average in 2013. The retailers surveyed experienced a 1.4% increase in same-store holiday sales, comparable to many competing chains.

Buy Local — Over 75% of businesses located in cities with active Local First campaigns reported increased customer traffic or other benefits from these initiatives. They also reported sales growth of 7.0% on average in 2013, compared to 2.3% for independent businesses in places without such an initiative.

Challenges — Competition from large internet companies was rated as the biggest challenge facing independent businesses, followed by supplier pricing that favors their big competitors, high costs for health insurance, and escalating commercial rents.

Graph12[4]Policy Priorities — Among independent retailers, the top policy priorities are extending the requirement to collect sales tax to large online retailers, eliminating public subsidies and tax breaks for big companies, and regulating the swipe fees that Visa and Mastercard charge.

Internet Sales Tax — More than three-quarters of independent retailers said that the fact that many online companies are not required to collect sales tax had negatively impacted their sales, with 41% describing the level of impact on their sales as “significant.”

Access to Credit — Of those businesses that applied for a bank loan in the last two years, 42% either failed to obtain a loan or received a loan for less than the amount they needed.

“This comprehensive survey makes clear the unparalleled role that local businesses play in the health and vitality of communities,” said Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association[7] and Co-Chair of Advocates for Independent Business[3]. “And it highlights, too, the challenges that these businesses are facing regarding equitable governmental policy and a level competitive playing field. However, the widespread acceptance of the localism movement — which shows the potential of small business advocacy — is a clear sign for optimism.”

(more…)[8]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/2014+Independent+Business+Survey
  2. Institute for Local Self-Reliance: http://www.ilsr.org
  3. Advocates for Independent Business: http://indiebizadvocates.org
  4. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Graph12.jpg
  5. Download the full report: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/2014+Independent+Business+Survey
  6. View a presentation of the key findings: http://www.ilsr.org/findings-2014-independent-business-survey/
  7. American Booksellers Association: http://www.bookweb.org
  8. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/2014-survey/#more-33875

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/2014-survey/


Show Me Solar: Parity, Value, and Opportunity for Solar Power

by John Farrell | February 4, 2014 5:16 pm

placeholder[1]What can solar power do for a single state? How about 21% of its energy, $14 billion in economic activity, and over 150,000 jobs. At a discount to existing electricity costs. Without subsidies.

ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy, John Farrell, shared this message with the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association on Feb. 1, 2014 in Kansas City. Click below to view or download the presentation, or read the short report on Solar Jobs for Missouri.

 

Show Me Solar: Clean, Local Power for Missouri’s Economy from John Farrell[2]
Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. John Farrell: http://www.slideshare.net/farrell-ilsr

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/show-solar-parity-value-opportunity-solar-power/


Bill to Limit Internet Investment Introduced in Kansas

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 30, 2014 1:00 pm

Kansas is the latest legislative battle ground in the fight to preserve local self-reliance. The Kansas Legislature is taking up SB 304[1] to limit local municipalities’ authority to invest in publicly owned networks.

While the language of the bill states the purpose is to “encourage widespread use of technological advances” for video and broadband at competitive rates, it actually discourages investment and competition.

The bill provides an obligatory exemption but our analysis[2] finds:

The bill contains what will appear to the untrained eye to be an exemption for unserved areas. However, the language is hollow and will have no effect in protecting those who have no access from the impact of this bill.

The first problem is the definition of unserved. A proper definition of unserved would involve whether the identified area has access to a connection meeting the FCC’s minimum broadband definition delivered by DSL, cable, fiber-optic, fixed wireless or the like. These technologies are all capable of delivering such access.

However the bill also includes mobile wireless and, incredibly, satellite access. As we have noted on many occasions, the technical limits of satellite technology render it unfit to be called broadband, even if it can deliver a specific amount of Mbps. Satellite just does not allow the rapid two-way transmitting of information common to modern Internet applications. Mobile wireless comes with high costs, prohibitively low monthly caps, and often only works in some areas of a rural property. This is not a proper measure of having access to the Internet.

The second problem with the fake unserved exemption is the challenge of demonstrating an area meets it. If one suspected that a territory with over 90% of the residents did not meet the overly broad definition, one would have to engage in an expensive survey to prove it at the census block level. Data is not ordinarilly collected at that granular level – and even when it is, it is often based on unverified claims by existing carriers.

Even if anywhere in Kansas qualified as unserved under this definition, the cost of proving it would only add to the extremely high cost of building to such a low density population, breaking any business plan that could attempt it.

Every legislative session we contend with at least one state bill like SB 304 (Georgia faced similar legislation in 2013[3]). Barriers to municipal network investment exist in nineteen states[4], preventing local communities from serving their own needs as  powerful incumbents turn away. Those incumbents’ business model dictates they consider shareholder interests above all else but municipal networks first serve and provide accountability to the community. Even though billion dollar incumbents refuse to invest in places like Chanute[5] or Ottawa[6],  they use political connections to restrict local communities from making the investment on their own.

From our story on MuniNetworks.org:

These types of bills make a mockery of our political system. Whether to invest in essential infrastructure (or how to) is a decision that should be made at the local level, where people know how their unique mix of assets and challenges relate to ensuring everyone has fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. There is no need for the state or federal authority to overrule local decision-making. The only reason we see it popping up in state after state (most recently Georgia) is because powerful cable and telephone companies want to ensure they face no competition – even in the most rural areas of the country.

 

Stay current on this and other stories by subscribing to [7]our once a week MuniNetworks.org newsletter.

Endnotes:
  1. SB 304: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/measures/documents/sb304_00_0000.pdf
  2. our analysis: http://www.muninetworks.org/content/kansas-legislature-introduces-bill-limit-internet-investment
  3. Georgia faced similar legislation in 2013: http://muninetworks.org/content/georgia-bill-limit-internet-investment-dies-house-floor
  4. exist in nineteen states: http://www.muninetworks.org/communitymap
  5. Chanute: http://muninetworks.org/taxonomy/term/568
  6. Ottawa: http://muninetworks.org/tags/tags/ottawa-ks
  7. by subscribing to : https://spreadsheets0.google.com/viewform?formkey=dF9ZdmFsam5FNHN1MTJXNkt4V3VsRGc6MA

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/bill-limit-internet-investment-kansas/


Can Cities Tackle Inequality?

by David Morris | January 30, 2014 12:00 pm

After Bill de Blasio was elected mayor of New York City on a promise to narrow the gap between rich and poor, former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D) lectured[1] him on the facts of local government life. “The point is, you’re a mayor, buster, you’ve got to make sure the snow gets plowed. You’ve got to make sure the garbage gets picked up. You’ve got to make sure the bad guys get locked up. Mayors have to run cities. Governors have to balance budgets. Washington, D.C., they get to talk about inequality.”

Perhaps Mr. Schweitzer can be forgiven his cramped view of local authority because his home state does keep its cities on a very tight leash.  But many states do not, and a growing number of cities are moving into the power vacuum left by a dysfunctional Washington and too cautious state governments to tackle inequality.  So far theirs has been a three-pronged strategy.

1. Taking on Corporations:  Demanding a Living Wage

The longest locally focused effort to lift family income began twenty years ago when Baltimore required businesses paid with tax dollars to pay a living wage.  Today over 140 cities and counties have[2] living wage ordinances and at least 20 percent of the country’s population lives somewhere that has such a law on its books.

The first living wage ordinances focused on businesses that received municipal contracts but later these were soon broadened to include companies who receive subsidies such as tax abatements or low-interest loans and firms that operate on city property (for example, in convention centers, parks, or on golf courses). A Los Angeles ordinance covers[3] airlines operating at LAX, a city owned airport. San Francisco ‘s law covers homecare workers funded through state Medicaid money.

San Jose boasts[4] the nation’s highest living wage.  Covered employers must pay at least $17.03 if they do not offer health benefits and $15.78 if they do.  De Blasio is proposing[5] an $11.75 living wage including cash and benefits.

However, living wage laws still cover a small fraction of the local labor force.  Beginning a decade ago, cities began to apply the principle of a just wage more broadly by enacting citywide minimum wage laws.

(more…)[6]

Endnotes:
  1. lectured: http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/week-transcript-sen-rand-paul-sen-charles-schumer/story?id=21417330&page=8
  2. have: http://www.cows.org/_data/documents/1556.pdf
  3. covers: http://www.peri.umass.edu/339/
  4. boasts: http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_24712556/living-wage-san-jose-should-not-weaken-its
  5. proposing: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303442004579119440354602598
  6. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/cities-tackle-inequality/#more-33746

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/cities-tackle-inequality/


Self-Reliance Podcast Episode 1: Local Self-Reliance in the Modern Economy

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 30, 2014 11:19 am

What is the role of local self-reliance in the modern economy?

As world travel, global commerce, and communications across the oceans bring us closer together, the role of localism changes. In our inaugural podcast episode, we bring together three ILSR veterans to look at the issue.

Christopher Mitchell[1], Director of the Telecommunications as Commons initiative at ILSR interviews Stacy Mitchell[2], the Director of ILSR’s Community-Scaled Economies initiative and David Morris[3], co-founder of the Institute and Director of the Defending the Public Good initiative come together to tackle the question. With expertise from a broad range of policy areas and decades of working with local communities, the conversation is sure to ignite some neurons in your grey matter.

Self-Reliance Podcast Episode 1[4]

Click to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes[8].

As we develop this series, we encourage you to send us your feedback, suggest topics, and offer ideas for new guests. Contact us at info@ilsr.org.

 

We want to thank Fit and the Conniptions for their song Many Many[9], licensed through Creative Commons.

For Creative Commons License Info: (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US[10]).

 

Endnotes:
  1. Christopher Mitchell: http://www.ilsr.org/about-the-institute-for-local-self-reliance/staff-and-board/christopher-mitchell/
  2. Stacy Mitchell: http://www.ilsr.org/stacy-mitchell/
  3. David Morris: http://www.ilsr.org/about-the-institute-for-local-self-reliance/staff-and-board/david-morris/
  4. Self-Reliance Podcast Episode 1: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/self_reliance_podcast_1.mp3
  5. Play in new window: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/self_reliance_podcast_1.mp3
  6. Download: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/self_reliance_podcast_1.mp3
  7. Embed: #
  8. Click to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/institute-for-local-self-reliance/id810197556
  9. Many Many: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Fit_and_the_Conniptions/Sweet_Sister_Starlight/Fit_and_the_Conniptions_-_Sweet_Sister_Starlight_-_07_Many_Many
  10. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/self_reliance_podcast_episode_1/


Update on the Proposed Frederick County and Carroll County, MD Garbage Incinerator

by Neil Seldman | January 29, 2014 1:05 pm

Organized citizens and small business people of Carroll and Frederick Counties, MD have been fighting a proposed garbage incinerator for 8 years. Most recently the news has been filled with suggestions that the deal may be dissolving. (more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/update-proposed-frederick-county-carroll-county-md-garbage-incinerator/#more-33772

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/update-proposed-frederick-county-carroll-county-md-garbage-incinerator/


A Zero Waste Paradigm for Denmark

by Neil Seldman | January 29, 2014 12:34 pm

Transitioning from incineration to recycling and composting in Denmark — A detailed article on this important policy  turn around is helpful in the debates on garbage incineration in the US, where incineration proponents point to the “success” of this technology in Northern Europe.

Click here to read the full article[1] on the Zero Waste Europe web site.

Endnotes:
  1. Click here to read the full article: http://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/2014/01/the-story-of-denmarks-transition-from-incineration-to-zero-waste/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/waste-paradigm-denmark/


Republican Rhetoric Changes Depending On Whether They Are Dealing With Labor Or Capital

by David Morris | January 21, 2014 8:14 pm

Are Republicans inconsistent when they sometimes support using offsets and indexing and sometimes don’t?  Not at all.  They’re actually very consistent.  When capital comes asking for gifts Republicans act like Santa Claus.  When labor is the supplicant they conduct themselves more like Scrooge.

Consider the Republicans’ different approach to the estate tax, the minimum wage, and jobless benefits.

When George Bush came to office the federal government taxed the value of estates over $675,000.  Congress immediately raised the exemption to $1 million and in 2009 to $3.5 million.  In 2010 Congress boosted it again to $5 million and in 2012 indexed the exemption to inflation.  This year an individual will pay taxes only for the value of an estate over $5.25 million.  A couple will receive an exemption of $10.5 million.

In sum, over 13 years Congress increased the estate tax exemption almost 800 percent and then indexed it to inflation.  During that time the cost of living rose by 32 percent.

From 1997 to 2007 Congress refused to raise the minimum wage a penny.  Then in 2007 it reluctantly raised it by $2.10 over three years.  Since 2009 Congress has again refused to revisit the issue.  Today and for the foreseeable future any proposal to index the federal minimum wage is dead on arrival.

In sum, over 16 years full time workers earning the federal minimum wage have seen their income rise by 40 percent, to $15,000.  During that time the cost of living rose by 45 percent.

Ten states do automatically increase the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation. But last year Congress all but erased the impact of those increases when it refused to extend the 2 percent payroll tax reduction.   The increased dollars subtracted from workers paychecks almost completely offset the dollars added to paychecks from the indexing of the minimum.

Congress takes the same mean spirited and miserly approach to the long term unemployed. In 2009, as part of its stimulus package, Congress extended jobless benefits to as much as 99 weeks.   In 2012 it slashed the maximum to 73 weeks and for all but a dozen of the highest unemployment states, to 63 weeks. This was done even though unemployment remained at the highest levels in a generation and about 43 percent of the nearly 13 million unemployed were out of work for more than 6 months, double the rate of any other economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The average unemployment benefit is $300 per week.

In 2014 Republicans insist they won’t support an extension of jobless benefits without comparable reductions in spending.  GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insists[1], “There is no excuse to pass unemployment insurance legislation—without also trying to find the money to pay for it so we’re not adding to a completely unsustainable debt.”

Republicans do not apply the offset principle to deficits created by reducing taxes.  “You do need to offset the cost of increased spending and that’s what Republicans object to”, asserts[2] Senator Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AR).   “But you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.”

At the end of 2012 corporate tax breaks that cost the Treasury upwards of $50 billion a year expired.  Congress is expected, as it has done many times in the past, to extend the tax breaks and to do so retroactively.   No one is talking about the need for offsets.

But even here Republicans demonstrate their consistency.  At the end of 2011 the payroll tax reduction expired.  Republicans flatly refused to extend it through 2012 without offsetting the loss of revenue.  After a protracted battle they reluctantly abandoned their principled effort. As Brian Beutler wrote[3] in TPM the “development represents a dramatic reversal for GOP leaders, who nearly allowed the payroll tax cut to lapse in December in part because of their insistence that the package be financially offset.”

No principle is involved here unless the eagerness to engage in class warfare is a principle.  Support for the working class must be offset because it increases the deficit but tax cuts for billionaires, which increase the deficit just as much if not more, do not.  The minimum wage should be raised at most every decade and god forbid it should rise automatically with inflation but the estate tax exemption should be raised every year and indexed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. insists: http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/free/20140107us-jobless-benefits-bill-clears-senate-hurdle.html
  2. asserts: http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2010/07/11/106938/kyl-tax-cuts/
  3. wrote: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/profile/brian-beutler/82

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/republican-rhetoric-depending-dealing-labor-capital/


New Help for Cities Auditing Private Trash and Recycling Contractors

by Neil Seldman | January 21, 2014 10:41 am

New Help for Municipal Officials: Forensic Audits of Private Trash and Recycling Contractors, and Efficiency Analysis of Municipal Trash and Recycling Programs

ILSR and Sustainable Environmental Management Company (SEMCO) have joined to make state-of-the-art analytical tools available to city and county agencies overseeing solid waste and recycling programs. ILSR president Neil Seldman, and SEMCO president Jon Michael Huls will direct this new outreach effort. Seldman and Huls have been working partners for over 30 years in the field of resource management.

ILSR is partnering with SEMCO because of its unique understanding and longstanding involvement with nonprofit organizations and agencies, to help local governments get the most recycling for the least cost.  ILSR helps local governments maximize recycling and composting, and SEMCO will be a critical asset for communities to do this.

SEMCO pioneered the field of forensic analysis of municipal refuse management firms, focusing on the efficiency and effectiveness of solid waste programming and financial management.  ILSR is now working with SEMCO to help local governments improve their waste management and recycling systems and to recover revenues where appropriate.

What is a forensic audit and why should a community consider an audit to address several important challenges facing city and county agencies.

Forensic waste auditing is an investigative practice used to identify and quantify service and fee anomalies and inconsistencies in municipal waste and recycling collection, processing and disposal systems. “Forensic” means “suitable for use in a court of law.”  It is to this standard and potential outcome that forensic waste auditors generally have to work.  Forensic waste audits can be used to resolve actual or anticipated disputes or litigation; provide for financial recovery in communities from contractors’ fraudulent or inappropriate activities; and can be very helpful in negotiation processes for municipal related contract and franchise services.

How successful have forensic waste audits been?

In the past few years the forensic waste audit process as proposed by ILSR and SEMCO has resulted in the following:

ILSR was established in 1974 to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development. ILSR’s program areas include recycling and economic development, broadband communications, small-scale energy production, and retail and finance.

SEMCO was established in 1995 to serve local government in all aspects of integrated environmental management. SEMCO is particularly adept at designing, implementing, and funding innovative and sustainable refuse and recycling programs.

Contact Neil Seldman at nseldman@ilsr.org[1]

Contact Jon Michael Huls at  semco.info@sustainable-env.com[2].

Endnotes:
  1. nseldman@ilsr.org: mailto:nseldman@ilsr.org
  2. semco.info@sustainable-env.com: mailto:semco.info@sustainable-env.com

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/cities-auditing-private-trash-recycling-contractors/


Circuit Court to FCC: You Can Restore Local Authority to Build Community Networks

by Lisa Gonzalez | January 16, 2014 1:00 pm

This article originally ran January 15 on MuniNetworks.org[1], our site dedicated to broadband and community networks. Our analysis zeros in on the Court’s take on local authority, an issue near and dear to our mission at ILSR. 

As we noted yesterday[2], the DC Circuit of Appeals has decided that the FCC does not have authority to implement its Open Internet (network neutrality) rules as proposed several years ago.

But the court nonetheless found that the FCC does have some authority to regulate in the public interest, particularly when it comes to something we have long highlighted: state barriers to community owned networks. For example, see North Carolina[3] and recent efforts in Georgia[4].

States have been lobbied heavily by powerful cable and telephone companies to create barriers that discourage community owned networks. Nineteen states have such barriers (see our map with the states shown in red[5]), largely because communities have nowhere near the lobbying power of massive cable and telephone companies, not because the arguments against municipal networks are compelling.

For those who remember a certain Supreme Court decision called Nixon v Missouri, the Court has once weighed in the matter of state barriers to community networks. In the ’96 Telecom Act, Section 253 declares “No State or local statute or regulation, or other State or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service.”

However, the Supreme Court decided in 2004 that Congress was insufficiently clear in its intent to preempt state authority – that “any” did not mean “any” but rather meant something else. In making this decision, it ignored a legislative history with plenty of evidence (see Trent Lott for instance[6]) that suggested Congress meant “any” to mean “any.”

map-preemption[7]

ANYway, we lost that one. States were found to have the right to limit the authority of communities to build their own networks. But we have long felt that a different grant of authority gave the FCC the power to overrule state limits of local authority to build networks, Section 706.

And this is where yesterday’s decision comes in. Circuit Judge Silberman concurred in part and dissented in part – but more importantly for us, he explained Section 706. Read along with your own copy from here [pdf][8].

The statute directs the Commission to “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans . . . by utilizing . . . price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.”

As I said, we have long felt the FCC had the power to remove state barriers that limit local authority to build fiber networks under its section 706 authority but we did not know whether the courts would read it in the same way. In describing the difference between its authority to promote competition vs. its power to remove barriers to infrastructure investment, he notes:

An example of a paradigmatic barrier to infrastructure investment would be state laws that prohibit municipalities from creating their own broadband infrastructure to compete against private companies.

The footnotes cites this Wired article[9] for further information. It’s “kind of a big deal.”

We now have a clear roadmap: Section 706 gives the FCC the authority to remove barriers to infrastructure investment and to promote competition. Restoring local authority to build networks achieves both. The Nixon v. Missouri decision is irrelevant, based on a different section of law. And we have plenty of evidence that when allowed to build their own networks, communities can do a wonderful job… that is what we have been documenting for years.

We encourage you to subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks[10]. Stay current on developments in community network news.

Image of the Meade and Prettyman Courthouse By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0[11] or GFDL[12], via Wikimedia Commons[13]

 

Endnotes:
  1. MuniNetworks.org: http://www.muninetworks.org/content/circuit-court-fcc-you-can-restore-local-authority-build-community-networks
  2. noted yesterday: http://muninetworks.org/content/network-neutrality-decision-and-importance-community-owned-networks
  3. North Carolina: http://www.muninetworks.org/content/big-bucks-why-north-carolina-outlawed-community-networks
  4. recent efforts in Georgia: http://muninetworks.org/content/georgia-bill-limit-internet-investment-dies-house-floor
  5. see our map with the states shown in red: http://www.muninetworks.org/communitymap
  6. Trent Lott for instance: http://www.muninetworks.org/quotes/trent-lott-supported-muni-broadband
  7. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/map-preemption.png
  8. Read along with your own copy from here [pdf]: http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/3AF8B4D938CDEEA685257C6000532062/$file/11-1355-1474943.pdf
  9. this Wired article: http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2013/05/community-fiber/
  10. subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks: https://spreadsheets0.google.com/viewform?formkey=dF9ZdmFsam5FNHN1MTJXNkt4V3VsRGc6MA
  11. CC-BY-SA-3.0: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0
  12. GFDL: http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html
  13. via Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMeade_and_Prettyman_Courthouse.jpg

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/circuit-court-to-fcc-restore-local-authority/


A David and Goliath Fight to Tap World Class Solar – Episode 14 of Local Energy Rules

by John Farrell | January 16, 2014 12:54 pm

“It’s the most inspirational work that I’m doing…this is an inspirational and aspirational effort…at the heart of it is love of place and energy democracy.”

Citizens of Santa Fe, NM, are exploring the economic and environmental benefits of more local and locally-controlled energy production.  Is their city ready to take the lead?

Find out in this interview with Executive Director Mariel Nanasi of New Energy Economy[1], recorded via Skype on November 22, 2013.

 

A Failure to Take Advantage

The incumbent electric monopoly serving Santa Fe, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), gets just 1% of its energy from solar in a state that some call the “Saudi Arabia of solar.” The result is a citizen-driven movement to explore a city-owned utility, and to make the most of the local renewable resource.

Mariel says, “I look at my kids in their eyes.  I don’t say ‘you have so much potential’ and leave it at that.  I want them to maximize their potential….We have abundant solar and wind resources in New Mexico.  The incumbent monopoly has failed to take advantage.”

New Energy Economy commissioned a study to see what would happen if the city, becoming the electric utility, did take advantage of its local resource.  The results are remarkable.

Doubling Efficiency, Doubling Renewables, Cutting Costs

In a study released in December 2012 and benignly titled “Preliminary Economic Feasibility Assessment of a Publicly-Owned Electric Utility for the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County[5],” the city learned that an energy switch to public power could be momentous:

As Mariel says, the study says Santa Fe has “the potential to create leading edge innovations in energy efficiency and renewable energy and related economic development.”

Lessons from Las Cruces: A David and Goliath Fight

Santa Fe has two local examples that will inform their quest for cleaner, more local, public power.

The first is the local water utility, which “highlights our ability to put our values to work.”  The city purchased the water utility from a private monopoly 10 years ago and it is now “one of the most respected water utilities in the country” for its efforts on conservation and furthermore, “It is profitable for the city of Santa Fe.”

The second is a failed attempt to municipalize the electric utility in nearby Las Cruces.  After a 10 year effort, the bid to take over the electric system from El Paso Electric failed by a single vote in the 1990s, after the incumbent corporate utility helped finance the successful campaign of a city council candidate who voted against the last $30 million appropriation necessary to complete the deal.

The lesson from Las Cruces, according to the lawyer that represented the city, is that the question of municipalization is not about which entity is better – that’s self-evident (see the study[6]) – but ‘is there sufficient political will to fight the incumbent monopoly?’

“PNM will do shady things…will do everything in their power…will ask their friends at Edison Electric…create phony nonprofits…try to pay off people…to quash public power,” notes Mariel.  There’s even a corporate utility-written handbook[7] for defeating public power efforts.  (There’s a response, too, from the American Public Power Association called Straight Answers to False Charges Against Public Power[8]).

Already, PNM is already talking to mayoral candidates in Santa Fe in preparation for the political battle.  It is, Mariel says, “Part of the David and Goliath fight.”

What’s Next

New Energy Economy and its partners in Santa Fe are going to spend 2014 “doing our due diligence.”  Their research will focus on the lessons learned from the city’s recent purchase of the water utility, as well as best practices from leading utilities like Austin, TX.

Ultimately, they intend to push their city council and county commissioners to vote on the issue of a public electric utility in 2014.

 

This is the 14th edition of Local Energy Rules[9], an ILSR podcast with Senior Researcher John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies.

It is published twice monthly, on 1st and 3rd Thursday.  Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[10] or RSS/XML[11]

Sign up for new podcast notifications[12] and weekly email updates from the energy program[13]!
Photo credit: gholmes[14]
Thanks to ILSR intern Jake Rounds for his audio editing of this podcast.
Endnotes:
  1. New Energy Economy: http://newenergyeconomy.org/
  2. Play in new window: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Local-Energy-Rules-Mariel-Nanasi-Santa-Fe-ep14-2013-1122.mp3
  3. Download: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Local-Energy-Rules-Mariel-Nanasi-Santa-Fe-ep14-2013-1122.mp3
  4. Embed: #
  5. Preliminary Economic Feasibility Assessment of a Publicly-Owned Electric Utility for the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County: http://newenergyeconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/SF-Public-Power-FINAL-Report-Dec-2012v4.pdf
  6. study: http://newenergyeconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/SF-Public-Power-FINAL-Report-Dec-2012v4.pdf
  7. corporate utility-written handbook: http://cl.ly/0b2K1v3w1228
  8. Straight Answers to False Charges Against Public Power: http://cl.ly/0Y1s3T1t2O1z
  9. Local Energy Rules: http://www.ilsr.org/local-energy-rules/
  10. iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/local-energy-rules/id595698022?mt=2
  11. RSS/XML: http://www.ilsr.org/feed/localenergyrules/
  12. new podcast notifications: http://eepurl.com/tlKE9
  13. weekly email updates from the energy program: http://eepurl.com/tlKE9
  14. gholmes: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/gholmes/5768168949/sizes/m/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/david-goliath-fight-tap-world-class-solar-episode-14-local-energy-rules/


Ten Ways to Strengthen DC’s Proposed Ban on Polystyrene

by Brenda Platt | January 15, 2014 12:20 pm

Last week the DC City Council held a public hearing on Mayor Vincent Gray’s Sustainable DC Omnibus Act of 2013 (Bill 20-573), which aims to improve the quality of life and economic opportunity for District residents.  Brenda Platt, director of ILSR’s Sustainable Plastics and Composting Makes $en$e projects, testified in support of the bill’s ban on expanded polystyrene foodservice products (Subtitle A, Title IV, “Protecting the District’s Waterways through Pollution Prevention”) and outlined 10 ten ways to strengthen passage of the bill and its impact. Brenda also emphasized the potential public health hazard of using polystyrene (resin code #6), and urged the City Council not to allow a polystyrene recycling loophole as New York City recently did.  She presented sample legislative language from existing cities around the country that could be a model for DC and elsewhere.

Health Implications of Polystyrene[1]

Ten Ways to Strengthen DC’s Proposed Ban on Polystyrene

Reasons to Restrict Polystyrene for Foodservice Ware[2]

Sample Legislative Language from Select Cities[3]

To download full copy of ILSR Testimony, click here.

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. Health Implications of Polystyrene: http://www.ilsr.org/health-implications-polystyrene-2/
  2. Reasons to Restrict Polystyrene for Foodservice Ware: http://www.ilsr.org/reasons-restrict-polystyrene-foodservice-ware/
  3. Sample Legislative Language from Select Cities: http://www.ilsr.org/sample-legislative-language-select-cities-restricting-polystyrene-foodservice-ware/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/ten-ways-strengthen-dcs-proposed-ban-polystyrene-2/


Republican Principles Change Depending On Whether A Bill Favors Labor Or Capital

by David Morris | January 14, 2014 10:02 am

Are Republicans inconsistent when they sometimes support using offsets and indexing and sometimes don’t?  Not at all.  They’re actually very consistent.  When capital comes asking for gifts Republicans act like Santa Claus.  When labor is the supplicant they conduct themselves more like Scrooge.

Consider the Republicans’ different approach to the estate tax, the minimum wage, and jobless benefits.

When George Bush came to office the federal government taxed the value of estates over $675,000.  Congress immediately raised the exemption to $1 million and in 2009 to $3.5 million.  In 2010 Congress boosted it again to $5 million and in 2012 indexed the exemption to inflation.  This year an individual will pay taxes only for the value of an estate over $5.25 million.  A couple will receive an exemption of $10.5 million.

In sum, over 13 years Congress increased the estate tax exemption almost 800 percent and then indexed it to inflation.  During that time the cost of living rose by 32 percent.

From 1997 to 2007 Congress refused to raise the minimum wage a penny.  Then in 2007 it reluctantly raised it by $2.10 over three years.  Since 2009 Congress has again refused to revisit the issue.  Today and for the foreseeable future any proposal to index the federal minimum wage is dead on arrival.

In sum, over 16 years full time workers earning the federal minimum wage have seen their income rise by 40 percent, to $15,000.  During that time the cost of living rose by 45 percent.

Ten states do automatically increase the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation. But last year Congress all but erased the impact of those increases when it refused to extend the 2 percent payroll tax reduction.   The increased dollars subtracted from workers paychecks almost completely offset the dollars added to paychecks from the indexing of the minimum.

Congress takes the same mean spirited and miserly approach to the long term unemployed. In 2009, as part of its stimulus package, Congress extended jobless benefits to as much as 99 weeks.   In 2012 it slashed the maximum to 73 weeks and for all but a dozen of the highest unemployment states, to 63 weeks. This was done even though unemployment remained at the highest levels in a generation and about 43 percent of the nearly 13 million unemployed were out of work for more than 6 months, double the rate of any other economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The average unemployment benefit is $300 per week.

In 2014 Republicans insist they won’t support an extension of jobless benefits without comparable reductions in spending.  GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insists[1], “There is no excuse to pass unemployment insurance legislation—without also trying to find the money to pay for it so we’re not adding to a completely unsustainable debt.”

Republicans do not apply the offset principle to deficits created by reducing taxes.  “You do need to offset the cost of increased spending and that’s what Republicans object to”, asserts[2] Senator Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AR).   “But you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.”

At the end of 2012 corporate tax breaks that cost the Treasury upwards of $50 billion a year expired.  Congress is expected, as it has done many times in the past, to extend the tax breaks and to do so retroactively.   No one is talking about the need for offsets.

But even here Republicans demonstrate their consistency.  At the end of 2011 the payroll tax reduction expired.  Republicans flatly refused to extend it through 2012 without offsetting the loss of revenue.  After a protracted battle they reluctantly abandoned their principled effort. As Brian Beutler wrote[3] in TPM the “development represents a dramatic reversal for GOP leaders, who nearly allowed the payroll tax cut to lapse in December in part because of their insistence that the package be financially offset.”

No principle is involved here unless the eagerness to engage in class warfare is a principle.  Support for the working class must be offset because it increases the deficit but tax cuts for billionaires, which increase the deficit just as much if not more, do not.  The minimum wage should be raised at most every decade and god forbid it should rise automatically with inflation but the estate tax exemption should be raised every year and indexed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. insists: http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/free/20140107us-jobless-benefits-bill-clears-senate-hurdle.html
  2. asserts: http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2010/07/11/106938/kyl-tax-cuts/
  3. wrote: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/profile/brian-beutler/82

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/republican-principles-change-depending-bill-favors-labor-capital/


The End Of Personal Space

by David Morris | January 14, 2014 9:39 am

The natural tendency of the private sector, when unrestrained, is to strip us of our personal physical and psychic space.  Just look at what has happened in the airline and broadcasting industries.

When it comes to air travel, private companies’ profits depend on maximizing revenue per cubic inch of space inside a plane.

Fifty years ago, when regulated airlines competed primarily on service rather than price expanding personal space was part of their strategy for attracting customers.  As the Wall Street Journal reports[1] seats on the first Boeing 707 were 17-inches wide, a dimension based on the width of a US Air Force pilot’s hips.  In the 1970s and 1980s seat width increased to 18 inches and in the early 2000s, seats on the new Boeing 777 and Airbus 380 were widened still further to 18.5 inches.

But the increased concentration resulting from airline deregulation reversed this dynamic.  Today just 4 airlines control[2] 85 percent of the national market.  In many major airports, a single company may account for 80 percent of the flights.  Their near monopoly power has allowed airline companies to boost revenue by adding a seat in every row and in some cases adding rows too.  This is achieved by shrinking seat width and pitch and narrowing aisles.

The WSJ notes that new Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliners may have 17-inch-wide seats.  Seats on a new Airbus A330 can be as narrow as 16.7 inches.

Airlines not only squeeze our waists and shoulders, they cramp our legs as well. Independent Traveler reports[3] that over the last two decades the space between your seat and the one in front of you has been reduced from 34 inches to as little as 30 inches.  Some airlines shoehorn passengers into 28 inches.

While the private sector shrinks our personal physical space, our need for space has grown. In the last 4 decades the average American man and woman’s waistline has increased[4] by 2.5 inches and their weight by over 20 pounds.  Their height has increased[5] by more than an inch.    The result is air travel that for a growing number of people feels like persecution.

When it comes to broadcasting, private companies’ profits depend on maximizing revenue per minute of air time and cubic inch of screen.  They accomplish this by delivering less product per hour and making it more difficult for us to effectively watch the product delivered.

In the 1960s a typical hour-long show would run 51 minutes excluding advertisements.  Today[6] it is down to 42 minutes. Every ten minutes or so commercials interrupt programs and their story lines and their dramatic rhythm. (more…)[7]

Endnotes:
  1. reports: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304384104579141941949066648
  2. control: http://www.cntraveler.com/features/2013/07/airline-industry-changes
  3. reports: http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/travelers-ed/the-shrinking-airline-seat
  4. increased: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/23/business/on-jammed-jets-sardines-turn-on-one-another.html?_r=0
  5. increased: http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/healthcare/a/tallbutfat.htm
  6. Today: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_advertisement
  7. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/personal-space/#more-33460

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/personal-space/


It’s Been A Very Bad Month For the Private Sector

by David Morris | January 13, 2014 11:44 am

The private sector has had a very bad month.   Its most widely publicized failure occurred when UPS and FedEx fumbled their Christmas deliveries while the U.S. Postal Service scored a touchdown.   

“An unlikely Star of the Holiday Shipping Season:  The U.S. Postal Service” is how Business Week described[1] the clear victory of the public over the private. “The government-run competitor was swamped with parcels just like UPS and FedEx were, with holiday package volume 19 percent higher than the same period late year. But there were no widespread complaints about tardy deliveries by USPS. The postal service attributes its success to meticulous planning.”

Less publicized but even more damning has been the growing public evidence regarding the epidemic of incompetence and lofty costs of private contractors. A recent Op Ed in the New York Times by David A. Super, Professor of Law at Georgetown University offered[2] a litany of private contractor failings, including a flawed Colorado Benefits Management System that took four years to fix.  When first implemented it reportedly refused food stamps to anyone who did not have a driver’s license from Guam! Last October a contractor’s glitch made food stamps inaccessible to recipients in 17 states.

Then there was what the Times deemed the “disastrous rollout” of a privately created and managed system to oversee unemployment benefits in Florida by Deloitte Consulting.  In December Florida penalized[3] the contractor $6 million and begin fining it $15,000 a day until the problems are fixed. Privately managed systems from Massachusetts to California have experienced dramatic delays and enormous cost overruns.

In mid December Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton fired[4] off a 5 page letter to the CEO of IBM demanding the company “immediately deploy whatever people or resources are needed to correct the defects in your product that are preventing Minnesotans from obtaining health insurance through MNsure.”  Dayton noted that when IBM had responded to the state’s request for bids it had promised the software was “90 percent complete and ready out-of-the-box.”  “We now know that the product is still not 90 percent complete in December of 2013”, Dayton wrote, “and that your product has significant defects, which have seriously harmed Minnesota consumers.”

IBM is a subcontractor on the $46 million Minnesota contract.  The primary contractor, Maximus, has its own record of shoddy service.   In 2012 Illinois awarded Maximus a $77 million contract to review Medicaid eligibility. A 2013 investigation concluded[5] that its recommendation to change benefit levels were found in error 50 percent of the time

In December Illinois terminated the $77 million contract after an arbitrator found it guilty of violating a collective bargaining agreement.  One analysis found that allowing state employees to do the job would save the state more than $18 million annually while replacing unqualified call center hires with trained caseworkers.

Washington now spends about $500 billion on private contractors, more than double what it spent in 2000 even though a thorough investigation by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) found[6] that Washington pays private contractors almost twice as much as federal employees.  In 33 of 35 occupational classifications, federal employees were less expensive.

Last March Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri told a Senate hearing that federal contractors charged overhead of 50 percent or more, even when federal space was provided free. In 2012, contractors were allowed[7] to charge the government as much as $693,000 per worker.

The inability of the private to compete with the public seems to matter little who’ve drunk the private-sector-is-always-better Kool-Aid.  We might recall it was Bill Clinton who first aggressively pursued the privatization of the federal workforce.  It allowed him to brag about his reduction of federal employees while conveniently ignoring the commensurate rise in the number of private employees, meticulously documented by Paul Light, Professor of Public Service at NYU in his book The True Size of Government and the multi hundred billion dollar cost to taxpayers.

It may be time to take a page from the Ronald Reagan playbook and adapt one of his most famous lines to the new reality.  “The 10 (now 11) most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the private sector and I’m here to help you.”

 

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. described: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-12-30/an-unlikely-star-of-the-holiday-shipping-season-the-u-dot-s-dot-postal-service
  2. offered: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/04/opinion/an-error-message-for-the-poor.html?_r=0
  3. penalized: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/us/faulty-websites-confront-needy-in-search-of-aid.html
  4. fired: http://www.startribune.com/business/238634681.html
  5. concluded: http://leftlaborreporter.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/arbitrator-rules-that-outsourced-work-in-illinois-must-be-returned-to-state-employees/
  6. found: http://www.pogo.org/our-work/reports/2011/co-gp-20110913.html
  7. allowed: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-112shrg73681/html/CHRG-112shrg73681.htm

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/bad-month-private-sector/


The High Cost of the Solar Middleman

by John Farrell | January 9, 2014 5:17 pm

If there’s no such thing as a free lunch, then how can Americans get solar on their roof with “zero money down” and lower their electric bill?  Solar leasing, as it’s often called, is a clever market solution to poor federal and state policy design that otherwise requires Americans to do financial acrobatics to power their home or business with solar.

But solar leasing adds significantly to the cost of solar energy.

New data from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources published last year[1] suggests that state taxpayers that will pay (a lot) more to make solar easy to install for individuals and businesses, and to make solar energy lucrative for solar leasing companies.

The report estimates the necessary production based incentive (in dollars per megawatt-hour[2] of electricity produced) to support the development of solar. Specifically, the researchers priced a “10-year levelized incentive…that allows system owners to achieve their target economic rate of return.” The analysis notably focused on ownership structures, either 3rd party ownership (solar leasing) or host ownership (owned by the home or business owner).  The following chart shows the difference in state incentives necessary to support a small-scale (15 kW or less) solar array that is either owned by a 3rd party or the actual electric customer.

host v 3rd party ownership solar incentive mass[3]

The bottom line is that leased solar arrays require more than double the incentive needed to support customer-owned solar arrays.  Not only do leasing companies require more revenue, but customers of leasing companies get less than solar owners, because they presumably sign contracts for electricity that are less than the net metering they would receive in owning a solar array.

Why does solar leasing cost more?

In the words of the report authors, “These transactions often require attracting additional tax-motivated parties to the project financing, and at considerable expense for transaction and capital.”  How much more expensive?  A host-owned solar array is expected to get financing at 4% interest and have a return on equity expectation of 4%.  A solar leasing company is expected to pay 6% interest on shorter-term debt and to require 15% return on equity.

It might seem convenient to blame solar leasing companies for this problem, but they’re merely opportunists in a poor policy environment.  Making your money back on solar in America is complicated.  It requires a combination of tax savvy, skilled navigation of state bureaucracies, persistence at a local permitting office and limited options for low-cost financing. Compared to Germany, with a simple, non-nonsense long-term contract that permits low financing costs and broad participation, America’s solar market is a joke (and the installed cost of solar is much higher[4] as a result).

Furthermore, big banks have also played a role in inflating solar leasing costs[5] to taxpayers, using a legal loophole to collect tax incentives based on (higher) estimated costs of solar installations instead of actual costs.  Leasing company SolarCity was notable targeted by the Treasury Department for its participation[6] in the practice.

In other words, we pay twice for bad solar policy in America.  Complicated tax incentive, interconnection, and contract policy makes solar cost more to install than in mature markets like Germany. Solar leasing middlemen simplify the complications, but at a price premium to (complicated) individual ownership.

Even though sunshine is free, no kind of solar power is a free lunch.

Endnotes:
  1. published last year: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/doer/rps-aps/doer-post-400-task-1.pdf
  2. megawatt-hour: http://megawatt-hour
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/host-v-3rd-party-ownership-solar-incentive-mass.png
  4. the installed cost of solar is much higher: http://www.ilsr.org/why-pay-double-solar-america/
  5. big banks have also played a role in inflating solar leasing costs: http://www.ilsr.org/big-banks-inflate-solar-project-value-boost-tax-credits/
  6. SolarCity was notable targeted by the Treasury Department for its participation: http://www.ilsr.org/treasury-dept-fingers-solarcity-leasing/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/cost-solar-middleman/


Democratic Energy’s Top 5 of 2013

by John Farrell | January 2, 2014 5:02 am

commercial-grid-parity-FB-images.004-1-320x239[1]Rooftop Revolution

A combination resource of our two reports on residential and commercial solar grid parity, including a slideshow, infographic, and an amazing interactive map (#5 on this list by itself).

 

 

 

1360282556772.jpg.CROP_.article568-large-320x246[2]Germany Has More Solar Power Because Everyone Wins

It got press because someone at Fox News thought Germany was sunnier than America (the reverse is true), but the real revelation is that the renewable energy revolution in Germany is largely people powered.

 

 

 

gchart-share-of-germany-renewable-energy-market-2011[3]Half of Germany’s 53,000 Megawatts of Renewable Energy is Locally Owned

Actually, it’s up to 63,000 MW[4], and it’s the average German who is powering the transition to a renewable energy future.

 

 

greenhousesolar1[5]Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities

It’s no surprise that this report[6] still catches the eye three years after its publication.  Over 3 in 4 Americans want to go solar affordably, but only 1 in 4 have a suitable roof for solar.  Community power is the answer, but it’s not yet easy.

 

 

solar-grid-parity-interactive-map-screenshot-150x150[7]Mapping Solar Grid Parity

Want to know when solar beats grid prices – without subsidies?  This is your interactive map, covering every utility in every state for the next decade.

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/commercial-grid-parity-FB-images.004-1-320x239.png
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/1360282556772.jpg.CROP_.article568-large-320x246.jpg
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/gchart-share-of-germany-renewable-energy-market-2011.png
  4. it’s up to 63,000 MW: http://www.ilsr.org/germanys-63000-megawatts-renewable-energy-locally-owned/
  5. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/greenhousesolar1.jpg
  6. this report: http://www.ilsr.org/community-solar-power-obstacles-and-opportunities/
  7. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/solar-grid-parity-interactive-map-screenshot-150x150.png

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/democratic-energys-top-5-2013/


The Single Best Article on the End of the Social Contract in the U.S.

by David Morris | December 19, 2013 12:37 pm

In the recent issue of the American Prospect [1]editor-at-large Harold Meyerson has written what may be the single best piece on the reasons behind the decline and fall of the American worker since the 1960s and the rise of the age of anxiety.

The disparity between then and now is stark.

In the 25 years before 1974, U.S. productivity increased by 97 percent and median wages rose by an almost equivalent 95 percent. In the 1950s GM and later other companies contractually agreed to guarantee their workers a cost of living increase plus additional raises based on increases in national productivity.

Labor’s share of the national income was 50 percent. The three largest employers in 1960 were high wage, unionized companies: AT&T, GM and Ford.

Almost one third of the labor force was unionized. It was a period of robust give and take between labor and capital. In the 1950s the number of annual major strikes, on average, was 300. Labor won concessions but also seemed to have changed many a CEO’s mindset. In the early 1980s the Conference Board surveyed CEOs and found 56 percent agreed that “employees who are loyal to the company and further its business goals deserve an assurance of continued employment.”

That was then. This is now.

In the 37 years since 1974, productivity grew by 80 percent while median wage compensation l0 percent. Since 2000 productivity has grown 23% while real wages have stagnated.

Today the three largest employers are low wage, retail companies: Wal Mart, YUM!, and McDonalds.

Today only 6.6 percent of the private sector is unionized. The number of annual major strikes has plunged to below 20. Genuine collective bargaining has virtually ceased. The share of national income going to labor has dropped to 43 percent, a shift of about $1.2 trillion from labor to capital. In the late 1990s, the Conference Board found that only 6 percent of CEOs agreed that loyal, productive employees deserved any reciprocal loyalty from their companies.

Endnotes:
  1. American Prospect : http://prospect.org/article/40-year-slump

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/single-piece-social-contract-ended-united-states/


How Solar Saves on Grid Costs – Episode 13 of Local Energy Rules

by John Farrell | December 19, 2013 6:13 am

“We can avoid that $100 million investment in transmission lines, distribution lines, in capital infrastructure…”

How can a utility like Long Island Power Authority avoid all that new capital expenditure?  Find out in this interview with Vice President of Environmental Affairs Michael Deering, recorded via Skype on November 25, 2013.

Customer-Powered Utility

The first question we asked Michael was why one of the largest municipal utilities in the country was looking to its customers for power generation.  The answer was simple: 1) for the environmental value of solar energy but more importantly, 2) for the economy.  To generate jobs and economic development on Long Island.

Solar Programs Helping Meet Peak Demand

The Long Island Power Authority isn’t new to customer-owned solar.  They launched their first solar rebate program in 2001, and now have solar on over 7300 homes and businesses on Long Island.  They’ve added another ~50 megawatts (MW) with a few utility-scale projects, and then launched the feed-in tariff program in 2012.  In total, the utility will have 170 MW of solar installed by the end of 2014, sufficient to meet about 3% of its peak demand.

Limited Line Capacity Means High Value for Local Solar

LIPA isn’t a typical municipal utility.  It’s literally at the “end of the line,” and that limited import capacity puts a premium on locally generated energy.  The new iteration of the feed-in tariff program, launched in 2013, asks for 40 of the 100 MW to be developed on the south fork of Long Island (Montauk).  If they can attract the investment, the utility will pay an additional 7¢ per kilowatt-hour for energy from those solar projects because the energy will help defer big investments in transmission and power plants to serve growing peak demand.

What’s Next?

LIPA has plans to procure more large-scale renewable energy through a 280 MW request for proposal (RFP) in 2014 as well as a third wave feed-in tariff program, focused on non-solar renewable energy technologies, with a total capacity of 20 MW.

You can learn more about feed-in tariff programs from our 2012 report[4] or about the way utilities are valuing solar power from our series on Minnesota’s value of solar law[5].

 

This is the 13th edition of Local Energy Rules[6], an ILSR podcast with Senior Researcher John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies.

It is published twice monthly, on 1st and 3rd Thursday.  Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[7] or RSS/XML[8]

Sign up for new podcast notifications[9] and weekly email updates from the energy program[10]!
Endnotes:
  1. Play in new window: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Local-Energy-Rules-Michael-Deering-LIPA-ep13-2013-1219.mp3
  2. Download: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Local-Energy-Rules-Michael-Deering-LIPA-ep13-2013-1219.mp3
  3. Embed: #
  4. 2012 report: http://www.ilsr.org/u-s-clean-programs-now-learned/
  5. series on Minnesota’s value of solar law: http://www.ilsr.org/rec-final-comments-minnesotas-proposed-solar/
  6. Local Energy Rules: http://www.ilsr.org/local-energy-rules/
  7. iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/local-energy-rules/id595698022?mt=2
  8. RSS/XML: http://www.ilsr.org/feed/localenergyrules/
  9. new podcast notifications: http://eepurl.com/tlKE9
  10. weekly email updates from the energy program: http://eepurl.com/tlKE9

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/solar-saves-grid-costs-episode-13-local-energy-rules/


Airline Deregulation: A Triumph of Ideology Over Evidence

by David Morris | December 6, 2013 11:43 am

In November, in what history may judge the ultimate triumph of ideology over evidence, the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its lawsuit against the merger of American Airlines and United Airways.

It is altogether fitting that the green light for allowing just 4 airlines to control 85 percent of the domestic market was given by a Democratic administration.  For airline deregulation, the precursor for all things deregulatory, was a liberal cause.  In 1978 Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. Teddy Kennedy, Chair of the Senate Judicial Committee was deregulation’s principal architect. Ralph Nader was one of its most passionate advocates.

The argument they made would not be out of place at a Tea Party meeting today.  Industry had captured the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), the airlines regulatory agency.  As a result fares were much higher than necessary. (more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/airline-deregulation-triumph-ideology-evidence/#more-33157

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/airline-deregulation-triumph-ideology-evidence/


Building a Better Economy: ILSR’s 2013 Annual Report

by admin | December 4, 2013 2:53 pm

placeholder[1]2013 Annual Report cover screen shot[2]2013 was a big year for ILSR.  We successfully countered attempts by big corporations like Walmart, Xcel Energy, and Time Warner Cable to expand their market power and override local decision-making authority.  And we worked with communities and policymakers across the country to advance new models and policies that build strong, sustainable, locally owned economies.

ILSR’s 2013 Annual Report highlights how our analysis and strategic partnerships are shifting the public debate about our economic future and securing policy change at the federal, state, and local level.

Download our report[3] to read more about our progress in 2013, which included:

Download the Institute for Local Self-Reliance 2013 Annual Report[4].

We can’t do our work without YOU!
Please contribute today!

DONATE[5]

We need your support today.[6] Help us continue the fight against the concentration of corporate power, the loss of control of our local economies and government, and the growing threats to our environment.

Join us by making a one-time or recurring donation[7] to help communities take control of their economies and their futures by:

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/ILSR+2013+Annual+Report+
  3. Download our report: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/ILSR+2013+Annual+Report+
  4. Institute for Local Self-Reliance 2013 Annual Report: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/ILSR+2013+Annual+Report+
  5. [Image]: http://www.razoo.com/story/Institute-For-Local-Self-Reliance
  6. We need your support today.: http://www.razoo.com/story/Institute-For-Local-Self-Reliance
  7. Join us by making a one-time or recurring donation: http://www.razoo.com/story/Institute-For-Local-Self-Reliance

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/annual-report-2013/


What Is Good for Microsoft Turns Out To Be Bad For the Public Schools–And Microsoft

by David Morris | November 26, 2013 2:41 pm

Schools have a lot to learn from business about how to improve performance Bill Gates declared[1] in an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2011.  He pointed to his own company as a worthy model for public schools.

“At Microsoft, we believed in giving our employees the best chance to succeed, and then we insisted on success. We measured excellence, rewarded those who achieved it and were candid with those who did not.”

Adopting the Microsoft model means public schools grading teachers, rewarding the best and being “candid”, that is, firing those who are deemed ineffective.  ”If you do that,” Gates promised[2] Oprah Winfrey,  “then we go from being basically at the bottom of the rich countries to being back at the top.”

The Microsoft model, called “stacked ranking” forced every work unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.

Using hundred of millions of dollars in philanthropic largesse Bill Gates persuaded state and federal policymakers that what was good for Microsoft would be good for the public schools system (to be sure, he was pushing against an open door).  To be eligible for large grants from President Obama’s Race to the Top program, for example, states had to adopt Gates’ Darwinian approach to improving public education.   Today more than 36 states have altered their teacher evaluations systems with the aim of weeding out the worst and rewarding the best.

Some states grade on a curve.  Others do not.  But all embrace the principle that teachers continuing employment will depend on improvement in student test scores and teachers who are graded “ineffective” two or three years in a row face termination.

Needless to say, the whole process of what has come to be called “high stakes testing” of both students and teachers has proven devastatingly dispiriting.  According[3] to the 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, over half of public school teachers say they experience great stress several days a week and are so demoralized that their level of satisfaction has plummeted from 62 percent to 39 percent since 2008.

And now, just as public school systems have widely adopted the Microsoft model in order to win the Race to the Top, it turns out that Microsoft now realizes that its model has led that once highly competitive company in a Race to the Bottom.

In a widely circulated 2012 article[4] in Vanity Fair two-time George Polk Award winner Kurt Eichenwald concluded[5] that stacked ranking “effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “  He writes, “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees.  It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

This month Microsoft abandoned the hated system.

On November 12 all Microsoft employees received a memo from Lisa Brummel, Executive Vice President for Human Resources announcing[6] the company will be adopting “a fundamentally new approach to performance and development designed to promote new levels of teamwork and agility for breakthrough business impact.”

Ms. Brummel listed four key elements in the company’s new policy.

•More emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.

•More emphasis on employee growth and development.

•No more use of a Bell curve for evaluating employees.

•No more ratings of employees.

Sue Altman at EduShyster[7] vividly sums up the frustration of a nation of educators at this new development. “So let me get this straight. The big business method of evaluation that now rules our schools is no longer the big business method of evaluation? And collaboration and teamwork, which have been abandoned by our schools in favor of the big business method of evaluation, is in?”

Big business can turn on a dime when the CEO orders it to do so.  But changing policies embraced and internalized by dozens of states and thousands of public school districts will take far, far longer.  Which means the legacy of Bill Gates will continue to handicap millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers even as the company Gates founded along with many[8] other businesses, have thrown his pernicious performance model in the dustbin of history.

 

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. declared: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970204485304576641123767006518
  2. promised: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/The-Shocking-State-of-Our-Schools/7
  3. According: https://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/foundation/MetLife-Teacher-Survey-2012.pdf
  4. article: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2012/07/microsoft-downfall-emails-steve-ballmer
  5. concluded: http://www.vanityfair.com/business/2012/08/microsoft-lost-mojo-steve-ballmer
  6. announcing: http://www.theverge.com/2013/11/12/5094864/microsoft-kills-stack-ranking-internal-structure
  7. EduShyster: http://edushyster.com/?p=3646
  8. many: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-11-12/yahoos-latest-hr-disaster-ranking-workers-on-a-curve

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/good-microsoft-turns-bad-public-schools-and-microsoft/


Foreign Aid At Its Best

by David Morris | November 20, 2013 3:35 pm

Sierra Leone map[1]I support foreign aid because it reflects a willingness of rich nations to share resources with those less fortunate.  I criticize foreign aid because it tends to go from government to government, often encouraging corruption and wastefulness.  Or is driven primarily by self-interest, often undermining rather than nurturing a country’s independence (e.g. U.S. food aid that has to be spent importing US food and ends up driving local farmers off the land).

Which makes this short video[2] from UpWorthy[3] so inspiring.   The focus is on Kelvin Doe, an ingenious 15 year old from Sierra Leone.  The foreign aid in this case resulted a 3-week guest residency at MIT for Kelvin, the result of yeoman efforts by MIT’s Media Lab’s David Sengeh who is also from Sierra Leone.

Sengeh is on a mission.  He firmly believes that countries like his own will not progress until they identify and nurture tens of thousands of rooted and committed young people who view problems as challenges and opportunities and possess the ingenuity and persistence to make the most of the opportunities.

Kelvin is one of those young people.  Even in this brief video we are witness to an unusual combination of talent and humility and an abiding love of family and community.

Kelvin taught himself electronics and when he discovered the lights in his village sometimes come on only once a week he scrounged used materials and parts to build a battery.  To give youth a voice and the community a vehicle for participating in decisions he built a radio transmitter and generator.

His visit to MIT expanded his horizons but didn’t diminish his devotion to family and community.  Whatever I’ve learned here I will go back and share and do it as a team he calmly and assuredly says.  “I want to help my family,” he notes, and the pictures indicate a very large family indeed.  And a tear runs down his cheek.

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/foreign-aid/sierra-leone-map/
  2. video: http://www.upworthy.com/a-15-year-old-with-a-huge-brain-and-an-even-bigger-heart-blows-mit-away-3?c=upw1
  3. UpWorthy: http://www.upworthy.com

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/foreign-aid/


Yes to Amazon. No to the Rest of Us.
Welcome to the New Post Office

by David Morris | November 18, 2013 5:07 pm

The announcement that the US Postal Service will deliver packages for Amazon on Sundays came just a few days after a federal judge halted USPS’ sale of Stamford’s historic downtown post office.  The juxtaposition of the two events throws into stark relief the new Janus-like philosophy of the postal service:  a big hug to big business, the back of the hand to the public.

For its first 175 years the US Post Office also served business.  But protecting[1] the public took precedence. When private carriers began to siphon away the most profitable parts of the mail delivery system, raising the cost and lowering the quality of services the Post Office could provide the general public Congress created an effective post office monopoly.  Which enabled a sharp reduction in the price of a stamp and mail delivery to the doors of urban, and later rural residents and businesses.  When private packaging companies mistreated their customers, the Post Office established Parcel Post.  When shaky banks didn’t pay their depositors the post office established the Postal Bank.

In 1971 Congress transformed the cabinet level Post Office Department to the quasi-public United States Postal Service.  Nevertheless the Postal Reorganization Act explicitly noted its public purpose, “The United States Post Office shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people.”  Or, to paraphrase Lincoln’s immortal phrase, the postal service was to be, as the Post Office had been, an institution “of the people, by the people, for the people”.

But the actions of USPS management mock those words.  The USPS not only gives business access; it gives them handsome subsidies. Companies that preprocess their mail qualify for a discount.  By law discounts cannot exceed the avoided costs of USPS doing the work, but the Public Regulatory Commission, an independent agency, estimated[2] in 2012 that businesses were given $1.5 billion annually in excess discounts.  Indeed, as William Burrus, former President of the American Postal Workers Union notes[3] that as the cost of USPS handling a letter dropped discounts actually increased.

The agreement with Amazon should be viewed in this pro-business light. The Washington Post reports[4], “For years Amazon wanted to deliver seven days a week but was stymied by the cost of getting packages from distribution centers to doorsteps.”  Normally a business would have to pay a premium to have the post office deliver on a Sunday.  Under the new deal Amazon will not be charged a premium.  Why?  According to the USPS they will be served by part time, low paid employees, a growing part of a USPS workforce that has been reduced by over half a million career employees since 2000.

While the Postal Service bends over backwards to help big business it often takes an in-your-face attitude towards the general public.  Casual readers of USPS’ proposal earlier this year to end Saturday delivery might have missed the fact that it would apply only to first class mail not to junk mail. (more…)[5]

Endnotes:
  1. protecting: http://www.ilsr.org/the-post-office-past-present-and-future/
  2. estimated: http://www.prc.gov/PRC-DOCS/UploadedDocuments/2012_PRC_ACD_3108.pdf
  3. notes: http://www.apwu.org/news/webart/2010/10-043-house_hearing-100512.pdf
  4. reports: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/amazon-to-deliver-on-sundays-using-postal-service-fleet/2013/11/10/e3f5b770-48c1-11e3-a196-3544a03c2351_story.html
  5. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/amazon-rest-us-welcome-post-office/#more-32954

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/amazon-rest-us-welcome-post-office/


New Report Reveals Walmart’s Climate Impact

by Stacy Mitchell | November 13, 2013 10:50 am

placeholder[1]Cover Image: Walmart Climate Report[2]Today, ILSR issued a report on Walmart’s rapidly expanding climate pollution and joined with leading environmental organizations in calling for change.

The new report, Walmart’s Assault on the Climate: The Truth Behind One of the Biggest Climate Polluters and Slickest Greenwashers in America[3], finds:

“A closer examination of what Walmart is actually doing behind all of its climate announcements shows the company continues to externalize its costs on people and the environment,” said Stacy Mitchell, ILSR Senior Researcher and author of the report.

The report comes as leading environmental organizations call for change.  In an open letter to the company[4], several organizations, including Sierra Club[5], Rainforest Action Network[6], Friends of the Earth[7], and Energy Action Coalition[8], call on Walmart to implement a publicly verifiable, accurate tracking of all of their climate change emissions, make an overall 20 percent reduction in emissions, and stop funding the campaigns of those who oppose legislation to address the climate crisis.

Download:  Report[9]  |  Press Release[10]   |  Open Letter[11]

The Sierra Club made the following statement, which was delivered by Michael Marx, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil Campaign:

“Walmart is failing on climate exactly like it is failing on worker’s rights. The company’s carbon pollution is up 14 percent while it pours millions of dollars into a misleading PR campaign around sustainability and anti-environmental public officials who obstruct solutions to climate disruption. If Walmart wants us to live better it can start by treating its workers with the dignity and respect they deserve and taking real steps to cut carbon pollution.”

Philip D. Radford, executive director of Greenpeace USA, said:

“As the nation’s largest employer, and the largest company in the world, Walmart has an obligation to match its clean energy commitments with a greater commitment to reducing its global warming pollution and improve how it treats its employees.”

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Walmart%27s+Assault+on+the+Climate
  3. Walmart’s Assault on the Climate: The Truth Behind One of the Biggest Climate Polluters and Slickest Greenwashers in America: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Walmart%27s+Assault+on+the+Climate
  4. an open letter to the company: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-climate-letter/
  5. Sierra Club: http://www.sierraclub.org
  6. Rainforest Action Network: http://ran.org
  7. Friends of the Earth: http://www.foe.org
  8. Energy Action Coalition: http://www.energyactioncoalition.org
  9. Report: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Walmart%27s+Assault+on+the+Climate
  10.  Press Release: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Walmart-Climate-Report-Release.pdf
  11. Open Letter: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-climate-letter/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-climate/


Brenda Platt Talks Bioplastics on Toxic Free Radio

by Brenda Platt | November 9, 2013 3:14 pm

On November 6, 2013, Debra Lynn Dadd’s Toxic Free Talk Radio Show had ILSR’s Brenda Platt as a guest representing the Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative and talking about bioplastics. Brenda is Director of the Sustainable Plastics Initiative, Co-Chair of the Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative (www.sustainablebiomaterials.org), and co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, based in Washington, DC. She has worked 26 years on waste reduction, recycling and composting issues.

The show focused on compostable bioplastics, made from renewable resources instead of fossil fuels. Brenda is working as part of several coalitions to spur the use of biobased products that are sustainable from cradle to cradle. The Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative has developed environmentally sustainability criteria for biobased plastics, and recently released purchasing specs for biobased compostable food service ware.

Listen to the Toxic Free Radio Show[1]

Endnotes:
  1. Listen to the Toxic Free Radio Show: http://mediaarchives.gsradio.net/toxic_free_talk_radio/hr1110613.mp3

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/brenda-platt-talks-bioplastics-toxic-free-radio/


Five Steps To Save The Incredible Shrinking Post Office

by David Morris | November 4, 2013 1:50 pm

In July 2011 the United States Postal Service (USPS) management announced it would rapidly close 3600 local post offices and eventually as many as 15,000.  And shutter half the nation’s mail processing centers.

A frenzy of grassroots activity erupted as citizens in hundreds of towns mobilized to save a treasured institution that plays a key and sometimes a defining role in their communities.  Only when Congress appeared ready to impose a six month moratorium on closures and consolidations that December did USPS management agree to a voluntarily moratorium of the same length.

That moratorium ended in May 2012.  Rather than proceed with closings, management embraced a devilishly clever new strategy.  Instead of closing 3600 it would slash the hours of 13,000 post offices.   That could be accomplished very quickly because reduction in hours, unlike outright closures, requires little if any justification while appeals are very limited.

Germany circa 1940 would have envied the efficiency of the USPS’s blitzkrieg against itself and America’s rural communities.  By November 2013, almost 8,000 post offices already have seen hours whacked.

As required USPS held community meetings but they went not to listen but to dictate.  As the web site Save The Post Office, the go to source of information about the ongoing assault on the post office observes[1], “The decision to reduce the hours was made almost a year ago and what the new hours will be comes as an announcement, not a matter for discussion.  There’s no need for a lot of talk about the options because there aren’t any.”

When communities ask the postal service management for the data upon which it made the decision they are invariably rebuffed.  Postal management considers it none of their business.

A reduction in hours doesn’t generate the same level of outrage as a closure but its impact on a community may, even in the short run, be almost as negative.  The building remains open but its value to the community is dramatically diminished.   Hours may be cut in half.  A part time inexperienced non-career employee replaces a full time experienced career postmaster.

At a meeting in Great Capacon, West Virginia small business owners talked[2] about how the abundant knowledge of the current postmaster, Rick Dunn, helped them cut costs and improve service.  One resident offered another measure of Dunn’s value, relating how he had called in a wellness check on a senior he hadn’t seen in a few days.  It turned out the man needed medical attention. Dunn may have saved his life.

A reduction in hours may set up a slippery slope to full closure because the postal service reviews the workload and revenues of individual post offices annually.  As one resident in Greenwood, Virginia reasonably inquired[3], “How in the world can our revenue increase if they’re reducing the hours that our window can perform retail sales?” (more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. observes: http://www.savethepostoffice.com/post-topics/postplan
  2. talked: http://www.journal-news.net/page/content.detail/id/586342/Great-Cacapon-Residents-find-dissatisfaction-in-proposed-post-office-choices.html?nav=5006
  3. inquired: http://www.cvilletomorrow.org/news/article/13828-greenwood-usps/
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/steps-save-incredible-shrinking-post-office/#more-32686

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/steps-save-incredible-shrinking-post-office/


Indie Trade Associations Form New Coalition

by Stacy Mitchell | November 1, 2013 12:35 pm

In an exciting new development for the local economy movement, seven independent business organizations have come together to launch the Advocates for Independent Business[1] (AIB), a new coalition dedicated to ensuring that locally owned, independent businesses succeed and thrive.

The coalition was founded by the American Booksellers Association[2], American Independent Business Alliance[3], American Specialty Toy Retailing Association[4], Independent Running Retailers Association[5], National Bicycle Dealers Association[6], Professional Association of Innkeepers International[7], and Record Store Day[8].

AIB will provide a structure for its member organizations to exchange information about successful programs that deliver value for their members, generate new ideas to support independent businesses, and work together to advocate for shared public policy goals.

ILSR helped the coalition get off the ground and is coordinating its work.  We think building a national coalition  will give independent businesses a stronger voice on critical public policy issues.

AIB has its roots in the Advocates for Independent Retail Summit[9] organized by the American Booksellers Association two years ago. The day-long meeting drew over 50 people from more than 30 trade associations covering a broad range of independent businesses.

Recognizing the significant opportunity represented by that gathering and the value of having an ongoing vehicle for sharing ideas and collaborating to support independent businesses, the founding members of AIB began meeting earlier this year to create the coalition.

They anticipate that it will grow in the coming months as other organizations join.  Membership is open to organizations that primarily represent independent, locally owned businesses.

More on the AIB’s website[10].

Endnotes:
  1. Advocates for Independent Business: http://indiebizadvocates.org/
  2. American Booksellers Association: http://www.bookweb.org/
  3. American Independent Business Alliance: http://amiba.net/
  4. American Specialty Toy Retailing Association: http://astratoy.org/
  5. Independent Running Retailers Association: http://www.theirra.com/
  6. National Bicycle Dealers Association: http://nbda.com/
  7. Professional Association of Innkeepers International: http://www.innkeeping.org/
  8. Record Store Day: http://www.recordstoreday.com/Home
  9. Advocates for Independent Retail Summit: http://www.bookweb.org/news/aba-host-summit-advocates-independent-retail
  10. AIB’s website: http://www.indiebizadvocates.org

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/indie-trade-associations-form-coalition-2/


Review: The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community At a Time

by Neil Seldman | October 30, 2013 3:15 pm

A Review of The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community At a Time
(By Paul Connett, published by Chelsea Green Publishing[1])

Review by Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, DC

Neil Seldman is President and co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). He is a specialist in recycling and the history of ideas. He is co-founder of the National Recycling Coalition, 1980, Grass Roots Recycling Network, 1995 and Zero Waste International Association, 2003. Seldman wrote the “Introduction” to the International Zero Waste Dialogue, Anthony and Liss, Editors, Grass Roots Recycling Network, 2000.

Disclosure: Neil Seldman and Paul Connett have worked together for over 25 years fighting against waste incineration and for total recycling and economic development, or zero waste, in the US and UK. The book under review includes discussion of Neil Seldman’s and ILSR’s ideas and work.

Paul Connett’s newly released book displays his personal charisma, scientific knowledge and applied wisdom to the deadly serious, though mundane, world of waste. It is a book worthy of the man who Richard V. Anthony, president of the Zero Waste International Association, refers to as the ‘rock star’ of the anti-incineration, pro zero waste movement.

Indeed, Professor Connett’s lectures are scientific tarantellas of facts, consequences, warnings and solutions, accompanied by charts, tables and slides that lay out the biological and chemical realities of wasting and poor management of residuals. They are also wonderfully entertaining, generating more than one side splitting laugh at his metaphors, similes and profound aphorisms — the Devil Burns, God Recycles, Make Love Not Waste, and for older folks, Make Friends Not Waste. The lectures end with a most spirited rendition, lead by Connett, of “No Incineration Forever”, with words set to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Audiences clamor for more.

What a boon to the US and international zero waste movement! This is one super star who charges no money for his participation in thousands of grass roots events over the decades.

Connett is a retired chemistry professor who currently works on fluoridation issues, while still maintaining a heavy schedule of anti wasting speeches and workshops. He initiated and coordinated the Citizens Dioxin Conferences and produced the videos Zero Waste: Idealistic Dream or Realistic Goal? and Road to Zero Waste in the l990s[1]. Most recently, Connett has worked with Rossano Ercolini, a former schoolteacher and winner of the 2013 Goldman for Excellence in Protecting the Environment in Europe for his anti incineration in Italy.

Connett, a native of the UK, fits in well with the US tradition of citizen scientists Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner who used their scientific skills for grass roots rather than corporate or bureaucratic interests. These environmental and scientific heroes strive to apply the benefits of scientific knowledge for the common good, the ideal form of science hailed in Rousseau’s First Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, those that make for a better and happier world.

The text is grounded in Connett’s optimistic belief that there can be a world where local decision making counts. Garbage is just the tip of the iceberg. Wasting is a paradigm that encompasses energy, jobs and small businesses, climate change, toxicity, the fate of the oceans. The solutions to wasting open up a world of renewed possibilities for the human race and nature.

Nothing if not specific, Zero Waste educates us about the Five Rs (Recycle, Reuse/Compost, Redesign, Reduce, Responsibility) and the Four Cs (Common Sense, Community, Creativity, Children). These simple, yet profound, concepts and practices are critical for sustained resource management and broad prosperity. Zero waste is not one big solution for waste management, a large incinerator or mega landfill. Rather the solutions are small scale, locally owned and environmental sound. These policies, programs and enterprises are ‘pieces of zero waste’ that have spontaneously emerged in every part of the globe, the instinctual human response to the bourgeoning and threatening waste stream.

Zero Waste identifies the needs for citizen and small business organizing and solidarity as the necessary socio-political context for zero waste technologies, policies and businesses to thrive. With localism and citizen participation at every stage of development, zero waste is a pathway to a stable, steady state economy as envisioned by previous economic visionaries John Stewart Mill, Frederick Engels, Kenneth Boulding and Herman Daly.

Zero Waste also includes the stories of US and world grass roots leaders who have shaped the new paradigm in resource management and made it possible for business people and residents to say no to incinerators and landfills that destroy resources and pollute. There are essays written by leading activists and thinkers in the zero waste movement:  Eric Lombardi links the practicalities of zero waste to world peace, Dan Knapp and Mary Lou Van Deventer, pioneers in reuse entrepreneurialism, the leading theoreticians of the US total recycling and zero waste movement, Jeffrey Morris a leading zero waste economic analyst, Buddy Boyd a recycling practitioner who discusses the need for political leadership, Richard V. Anthony and Gary Liss describe zero waste efforts in the private sector. I have an essay linking recycling to resilient communities and cities.

Following these essays, Connett provides detailed updates and lessons learned from local accomplishments in Canada. Europe, Asia, Mid East, South America and Australia-New Zealand.

The book’s publication took two years.. Yet, even as the essays contain older information, they are quite useful. They need updating in some places as ideas and projects around the world have grown and new issues emerged. The sections on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) as they stand are inadequate. They are not informed by the latest push back against the rigid, ideological, EPR Formula and Framework that have resulted in zero waste dystopias in British Columbia, Canada and Europe where Extended Producer Responsibility has been diverted from core values of zero waste including small scale, local ownership entrepreneurialism, anti monopoly and anti incineration. Most pertinent are the recent policy statements that place EPR under local government rather than industry control, the Zero Waste Commission, Berkeley, CA, and the Global Recycling Council of the California Resource Recovery Association, the dialogue within local and national Sierra Club chapters and committees, and the Grass Roots Recycling Network.  Connett addresses these inconsistent policies, but EPR deserves more sophisticated essays on its own. Recyclers and cities are not willing to turn over their cities, companies and industries to the concentrated corporations that produce wasting in the first place.

The history section could use more details from the pre-1985 period. During the late 1960s and l970s and early l980s, the infrastructure of the post World War II recycling movement was rebuilt on the remaining paper and metal scrap industries by private consulting firms (SRD and SCS Engineers), dozens of community based recycling companies (Santa Rosa Community Recycling, EcoCycle in Boulder, Ann Arbor Ecology Center) and regional anti toxics groups (Western Washington Anti Toxics Coalition, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, ReClaim, Springfield, MO), and direct technical assistance groups (ILSR, NYPIRG, BioCycle). It was this groundswell of activism that finally, by 1985, caught the attention of the national environmental organizations, which then formed their own response to garbage and wasting.

Finally, I disagree with an assessment cited to the effect that the current challenge posed by the incinerator industry is greater than in previous decades (1970-1995) and that the industry is now better organized. The current number of proposed incinerators is half of that in previous decades. The current grass roots institutions that have emerged and proved their mettle as a firewall against mass propaganda for technological fixes, false science, financial patronage and a government-industry revolving door still serve every corner of the country. Years ago these local and regional organizations had to pull themselves together as they fought off incinerators, which benefited from far more comprehensive government support and subsidies than today. The anti incineration movement is as vibrant and diversified today as it was yesteryear when 300 planned incinerators were defeated.

These shortcomings are minor compared to the enormous value of this book. Zero Waste will contribute greatly to the public discussion of waste. It will become a standard text for students of all ages. No longer can business and government leaders ‘sleepwalk’ through an era of “socially sanctioned wasting that characterized the Twentieth Century.”[2]

In my last book review, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash [2][3], I praised its lively description of the social history of wasting in the US economy. Zero Waste by Paul Connett complements this history. It is required reading for those who seek to understand the recycling phenomenon and avoid the economic and environmental pain that will certainly follow if zero waste is not introduced immediately throughout the world.

One further recommendation, after reading Zero Waste, watch the movie “Trashed: No Place for Waste,” which features Dr. Connett.[4]

 


[1] www.AmericanHealthStudies.org[3], click on videos

[2] Helen Spiegelman, Zero Waste, page 47.

[3] http://www.ilsr.org/book-review-garbology-dirty-love-affair-trash/

[4] http://www.trashedfilm.com/[4].

 

Endnotes:
  1. Chelsea Green Publishing: http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/the_zero_waste_solution:paperback
  2. Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash : http://www.ilsr.org/book-review-garbology-dirty-love-affair-trash/
  3. www.AmericanHealthStudies.org: http://www.AmericanHealthStudies.org/
  4. http://www.trashedfilm.com/: http://www.trashedfilm.com/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/review-waste-solution-untrashing-planet-community-time/


New Report: 8 Ways Local Energy Policies Can Boost the Economy

by John Farrell | October 7, 2013 2:22 pm

Minneapolis, MN (October 7, 2013) – The economy has stalled and so has the war on climate change. But a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance describes how dozens of cities are boosting their local economies while dramatically reducing greenhouse gases.

City Power Play:  8 Practical Local Energy Policies to Boost the Economy[1] reports on how Chattanooga, TN, is adding over $1 billion to its local economy in the next decade by implementing one of the most advanced smart grids while delivering the fastest internet service in the country.  Sonoma County, CA, has created nearly 800 local jobs retrofitting over 2,000 properties for energy savings with city financing. Babylon, NY, repurposed a solid waste fund to finance retrofits for 2% of the city’s homes, saving residents an average of $1,300 a year on their energy bills at minimal cost to the city.

“These savings weren’t dependent on state or federal grants,” said report author John Farrell, ILSR’s Director of Democratic Energy. “These cities used their own resources to seize control of their energy future and economy.”

The report highlights eight practical energy policies cities can and have used to their economic advantage, from more rigorous building codes to solar mandates and easier permitting to the use of a wide array of financing tools to spur renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The brief case studies link to the text of the relevant ordinances.

The policies aren’t tied to a political ideology, but a practical and local one.  Cities have identified where they have untapped resources and deployed them to generate jobs and keep more of their energy dollars in the economy.

“Not every city can use every policy,” notes Farrell, “but every community can find at least one that will help them strengthen their local economy while contributing to the worldwide effort to reduce climate change.”

The report is freely available from ILSR’s Democratic Energy program: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/energy/[2]

Endnotes:
  1. City Power Play:  8 Practical Local Energy Policies to Boost the Economy: http://www.ilsr.org/city-power-play/
  2. http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/energy/: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/energy/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/report-8-ways-local-energy-policies-boost-economy/


City Power Play: 8 Practical Local Energy Policies to Boost the Economy

by John Farrell | October 7, 2013 12:43 pm

placeholder[1]The economy has stalled and so has the war on climate change. But dozens of cities are creating jobs and cleaner energy using their own power.

Learn more:

Read the report:

City Power Play - cover 150[2]

View the infographic (coming soon): placeholder150[3] View presentation:

city power play presentation cover 150[4]

Help support
more research like this![5]

placeholder150[3]

 

Keeping Energy Dollars Localsunshine means local dollars[6]

Eight Powerful, Practical Policies

This report details eight practical energy policies cities can and have used to their economic advantage:energy efficiency means local dollars[7]

  1. Municipal utilities
  2. Community choice aggregation
  3. Building energy codes
  4. Building energy use disclosure
  5. Local tax authority
  6. Solar mandates
  7. Permitting
  8. Local energy financing

Case studies of each policy vividly illustrate their impact with specific examples, right down to the text of the relevant ordinances.

The policies aren’t tied to a political ideology, but a practical and local one.  Cities have identified where they have untapped resources and deployed them to generate jobs and keep more of their energy dollars in the economy.

Every City Could Do Something

Some cities are more limited than others. While the federal constitution typically reserves all powers not expressly given the federal government to the states, states typically do not similarly reserve powers for cities. In fact, an opinion issued by Justice Dillon of the Iowa Supreme Court in the mid-1800s (Clark v. City of Des Moines) set a precedent for local authority that extends to this day in most states: many cities have only those powers expressly granted them by the state or that are indispensable in being a city. Issues like energy codes or property assessed clean energy programs don’t fit under “Dillon’s Rule.”

On the other hand, many states have instituted a form of “home rule,” that grants (at least some) powers of self-governance to cities. The following map illustrates the complex landscape of local authority.limits-of-local-authority-map-v2[8]

No city, no matter how committed to boosting its economy, could adopt all eight policies (heck, the first two are incompatible). Forming a municipal utility means a tough fight with the incumbent utility.  Few states allow community choice aggregation.

But nearly every city has a local budget and borrowing power, can issue permits for buildings, and can set local policy. And likely no city has explored the full potential of their power to boost the local economy with local energy policies. This report shows how dozens have done so, in the hopes it inspires many more to act.

Download the report

Like what you see? Get email updates on ILSR’s energy work![9]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/City+Power+Play%3A+8+Practical+Local+Energy+Policies+to+Boost+the+Economy
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/placeholder150.jpg
  4. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/12-slides-8-practical-local-energy-policies-boost-economy/
  5. more research like this!: http://www.ilsr.org/donate
  6. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Screen-Shot-2013-09-30-at-4.38.22-PM.png
  7. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Screen-Shot-2013-09-30-at-4.38.14-PM.png
  8. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/limits-of-local-authority-map-v21.png
  9. Get email updates on ILSR’s energy work!: http://ilsr.wufoo.com/forms/z7x3x5/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/city-power-play/


Let The Red States Vote on Health Care

by David Morris | October 5, 2013 5:18 pm

In 2009, when Congress passed the health care bill, only one Republican voted in favor.  In 2010, with opposition to the new health care law as their rallying cry, Republicans gained a net 63 seats and control of the House of Representatives.  They also won control of 11 additional states, bringing their total to 25.

On October 1st, the first day of the new federal fiscal year and the launch of the new health care exchanges, the victors of 2009 collided with the victors of 2010.  The entire nation felt the impact.

Even when it ends, the government shutdown will have demonstrated the willingness, indeed the eagerness, of Republicans to do everything possible to stop the health care law. Already well-funded campaigns are trying to persuade healthy 25 year olds not to purchase health insurance through the exchanges.  If successful, these campaigns will result in higher premium rates for those who do sign up, which will spawn dissatisfaction with the new law.

The health care law finances “navigators” to help people sign up, similar to what Medicare has.  But red states are hamstringing navigators, often requiring them to pass licensing exams, obtain insurance bonds, and pay heavy fees.  Tennessee recently adopted[1] an emergency rule requiring any “enrollment assister” to undergo a criminal background check, fingerprinting and take 12 hours of course work.  The more problems people have with the exchanges the greater their dissatisfaction will be with the new law.

Given this level of intransigence what is to be done?  President Obama and the Democratic Party are resolute about rolling out the health law in all 50 states.  They refuse to give in to what they see as blackmail.  But I believe the country, and the Democratic Party itself would be better served if Republican controlled states were allowed to opt out of the Affordable Care Act, but only under three conditions.

First, opting out requires opting out of all provisions of the law. No individual mandate.  No health exchanges.  No requirement that insurance companies spend 80 percent of the premium dollar on health care and cover people with pre-existing conditions.  No federal incentives contained in the new law will be provided.

Second, those states that are implementing the health care law will be given great latitude in designing their new health systems. Several states, for example, want to create a single payer insurance system similar to that which Canadian provinces have had for almost 50 years.  The existing law allows significant autonomy only in 2017.  A bill should be passed that gives them the authority to do so immediately. (more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. adopted: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2013/10/07/131007taco_talk_gawande
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/red-states/#more-32399

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/red-states/


Setting the Value of Solar – Part 1 of Minnesota’s Process

by John Farrell | September 27, 2013 1:13 pm

What is solar worth to a utility? It’s an issue of national debate, but one unexpected state – Minnesota – is engaging a formal process for determining the methodology for setting the value of solar. As the first multi-utility process, it’s likely to set a precedent nationwide for what the “value of solar” will mean and whether it will aid the continued growth of distributed solar power.

So what’s happening with solar in Minnesota?

Starts with a Standard

It starts with the recently adopted solar energy standard[1], which requires investor-owned utilities to get 1.5% of their energy from solar by 2020, establishes a standard, long-term contract for buying distributed solar, and allows utilities to file for a “value of solar” tariff (VOST).

The Value of Solar Concept

The “value of solar” concept is designed to solve one of the most pressing problems with expanding solar power. Utilities see customers generating their own energy as a mortal threat to their business model, because the regulatory structure and their business rely on selling kilowatt-hours. The policy in place, net metering[2], allows customers to get a credit on their bill that’s the same whether they made power from the sun or reduced their energy use by turning off lights. Either way, it means less sales for the utility, but while the utility can’t fight conservation, they can make trouble for solar.

The value of solar concept is a means to catalog and make transparent the many benefits solar energy provides to the grid system (producing energy at times of high demand, being very close to where people use energy).  The idea is that utilities would pay solar producers that full value (on a per kilowatt-hour basis) and that customers would reduce their energy bill with the money from that sale, rather than a credit based on how much energy they produce.  The benefit to the utility would be transparent, and customers would continue to see how much energy they are using.

Minnesota’s Value of Solar Law

The law sets out the required components of the VOST:

(more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. solar energy standard: http://www.ilsr.org/minnesotas-standard-offer-solar-energy-standard/
  2. net metering: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/net-metering/
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/setting-solar-part-1-minnesotas-process/#more-32306

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/setting-solar-part-1-minnesotas-process/


ILSR co-Sponsoring Cultivating Community Composting Forum

by Brenda Platt | September 23, 2013 12:56 pm

ILSR is pleased to announce — along with BioCycle, Highfields Center for Composting, and the Organics Recycling Association of Ohio — Cultivating Community Composting[1], a day-long forum (11:00 AM-4:30 PM) on October 19, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. The forum is inspired by the excitement, energy and innovation emanating from the rapidly growing number of community composting sites in the U.S. that are processing source separated household, commercial and institutional food scraps.Cultivating Community Composting is being held at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden in Columbus — which operates a large community garden and education program (Growing To Green) that includes on-site composting. The forum starts with a panel of community composters who will address a range of topics, including site footprint, composting methods, permitting and financing, volunteer management and sourcing/collecting food scraps. A variety of models and scales of community composting — from a bin system at a community garden to windrows and aerated static piles at stand-alone sites — will be covered. The forum includes lunch and a tour of the Conservatory’s garden, composting site and educational facilities
.More information and Online Registration.[2]
Endnotes:
  1. Cultivating Community Composting: http://www.biocycle.net/2013/08/21/cultivating-community-composting-forum/
  2. More information and Online Registration.: http://www.biocycle.net/communitycomposting/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/ilsr-co-sponsoring-cultivating-community-composting-forum/


Defending the Public Good: FDR’s Portland Speech

by David Morris | September 11, 2013 10:36 am

A month before the 1932 election, Franklin Roosevelt traveled to Portland, Oregon to deliver a speech about government and governance. Some 80 years later, his talk, given in the depths of the Depression to a nation that had yet to accept that government should play an important role, remains one of the clearest and most accessible explications of the relationship between the public and the private.

FDR specifically addressed the relationship of government to electric utilities but one could easily translate the theory and principles he proposes to today’s banks, or cable companies or airlines.

In the decade before FDR’s visit to Portland the electricity sector had undergone a sea change. Power companies that once served neighborhoods now served cities and even states.  The era of competition when Chicago had 29 electric companies and New York at least 6 had given way to a consensus that the inherent nature of electricity production and distribution lent itself to monopolies.

The key question after 1920 was who would own and control these monopolies.  At the local level, the war between the public and the private raged for a decade.  More than 2200 smaller cities eventually built their own electric networks.  Most large cities lost the battle although a few like Los Angeles, Seattle and Cleveland emerged victorious.

FDR began with the basic question, then and now. Why not leave electricity production and distribution in private, unregulated hands?  He answered: (more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/defending-public-good-fdrs-portland-speech/#more-32215

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/defending-public-good-fdrs-portland-speech/


Review: 40 Years of Curbside Recycling

by Neil Seldman | September 11, 2013 7:46 am

A Review of 40 Years of Curbside Recycling: A Celebration of Our Culture’s Greatest Environmental Movement[1], Waste & Recycling News, Detroit, August 2013, 42 pages

By Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, DC
(Neil Seldman is President of ILSR and a specialist in recycling and economic development. He works for cities and counties, community and environmental organizations, and small businesses.)

And a worthy celebration it is! Recyclers should be grateful that the editors and publishers of Waste & Recycling News (WRN) invested their time in preparing this retrospective. Despite some curious lapses in their recounting of the history of recycling, the essays and tables they present will significantly add to the growing literature of recycling for the next generation of Americans.

“No other environmental movement,” the report begins, “can come close to changing the way we think about garbage in our daily lives. None other can match recycling’s economic, cultural and ecological impact…on humanity’s greatest environmental idea.”

Oddly, WRN begins by incorrectly crediting the “hippies” of the 1960s for the recycling revolution. Nothing can be further from the truth, as readers soon find out when they delve into the text. Cliff Humphrey of Modesto Environmental Action, Penny Hansen of the EPA, and the children and grandchildren of 19th century immigrant scrap entrepreneurs hardly fit the image of hippie culture. To be sure, Cliff and Mary Humphrey’s mock funeral for a new car was hippie-like in its irreverence for materialism and counter-culture message. But these activists were no flash in the pan. They and thousands more followed up with years of hard work and political organizing.

Praise is duly noted for the “scrappies” who, out of necessity, built viable businesses in scrap metal and paper that kept recycling alive as it withered under the emerging post-World War II throwaway economy. Mayor Sam Yorty’s 1960 campaign to end curbside recycling in Los Angeles as a spoil of victory of World War II is duly noted as the harbinger of wastefulness and hubris. In Washington, DC, it was ABC Salvage that preserved markets for materials, and invested money and equipment in community-based drop-off centers—an important building block for the curbside recycling that was soon to follow. Hundreds of “scrappies” from across the country did the same. WRN estimates that 1 billion tons of raw materials derive from US recycling efforts since curbside was reintroduced in the early 1970s.

The retrospective covers individual and community accomplishments, the evolution of collection and processing equipment as curbside recycling reappeared, and the change in the economics of recycling during the mid-1980s emergence of a recycling culture. WRN correctly emphasizes the staying power of recycling through the 2008 recession and the current stagnant economy.

WRN also walks us through the latest recycling effort: the one bin, “dirty MRF” system being rolled out in Houston and other cities. Dirty refers to the fact that processing lines recover recyclables and compostables from mixed waste streams, thus reducing the quality of materials recovered. Recyclers also object to dirty MRFs: if people no longer sort their own garbage, efforts to educate them about the waste stream will be for naught, and previous behavior modification surrounding recycling will be lost. Dirty MRFs may also end up as feedstock for planned incinerators, as proponents in Houston and elsewhere anticipate.

Throughout WRN’s report, there are stories that reinforce lessons learned over the past 30 years, and that remind us of both the conventional and unconventional people and ideas that formed and continue to drive the movement to this day.

There are, however, significant omissions in the retrospective that deserve attention. The subtitle is misleading in that it separates the recycling movement from the prior emergence of a larger environmental movement. One could not have been possible without the other: Rachel Carson, Barry Commoner and other scientists prepared the groundwork for the general population’s acceptance of recycling by revealing the appalling state of the environment and the imminent dangers of current practices. These citizen scientists were the midwives of modern recycling. Their work led directly to the national consensus that allowed for 1965′s groundbreaking National Solid Waste Management Act, which marked the first time in a century that the federal government paid attention to garbage. New federal, state and local rules began to change quickly. Like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, recyclers starting aiming for a Clean Land Act, as reflected in the now unfolding zero waste paradigm.

Despite WRN’s initial focus on the grassroots origin of the movement, there is little follow-up on grassroots activism. The l980 Fresno Recycling Congress is omitted in the timeline completely, as is the 1995 emergence of the Grass Roots Recycling Network, a critical development in reaction to the takeover of the National Recycling Coalition by industry consultants and corporations. It would have been helpful to describe the critical role of environmental educators in spreading recycling literacy in schools and in the public’s consciousness. Recycling education has been a vehicle for public knowledge about closely related issues of water, energy and air issues.

The report omits mention of transformative works that deserve attention include Brenda Platt’s 1990s EPA-supported case studies Beyond 25% Recycling, Beyond 40% Recycling and Cutting the Waste Stream in Half, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and Tania Levy’s Garbage to Energy: The False Panacea, Santa Rosa (CA) Community Recycling Center.
Levy’s 1979 booklet launched the anti-incineration movement. Recyclers and ad hoc local groups eventually scuppered over 300 planned incinerators in virtually every major US city and county. WRN chooses to highlight the Mobro Garbage Barge incident as the source of vitality for the recycling movement in the mid l980s. It’s true that the daily images of Long Island garbage floating around the world on the nightly news—ultimately to be returned to NY—were indeed powerful. The threat of massive pollution and the high cost of incinerators in cities, however, were what really galvanized local actions and raised the recycling movement to the forefront of people’s imaginations as a viable alternative to incineration and, later, the parallel development of mega-landfills.

Surprisingly, WRN’s retrospective does not focus on how important citizen- and small business-led anti-incineration activism was to the recycling movement. The prospect of 1000 ton per day plus garbage incinerators led to a broad, locally based movement in opposition. Citizens learned that recycling was a viable alternative to incinerators but that to become the predominant way we handled garbage, we needed to change the rules.

My colleague Brenda Platt’s work appeared as a crucial antidote to industry and EPA periodic assertions in the 1970s that only 10% (later raised to 25%), of MSW could be recycled. Platt’s case studies changed the solid waste narrative by showing communities what other communities had already accomplished. Once people could see successful recycling in action, it became much easier to replace the “burn and bury” paradigm with the recycling and economic development paradigm. Today, hundreds of communities in the US are recovering over 50% of their discarded materials. Some have reached over 70% diversion, while striving for 90%. Recycling has, remarkably, continued to expand its hold on the public’s imagination and practice to this day.

The timeline of WRN’s report focuses mostly on the business side of the movement. Readers should supplement their understanding of the recycling movement by comparing WRN’s timeline with ILSR’s grassroots-oriented timeline[2].

Despite these omissions, the “40 Years” report is a most welcome addition to our history. It provides insights and context that are required if current and future generations are to understand and learn how grassroots democracy can work when decision-making remains in the hands of local government where organized citizens can change the rules.

Endnotes:
  1. 40 Years of Curbside Recycling: A Celebration of Our Culture’s Greatest Environmental Movement: http://www.wasterecyclingnews.com/40-years-of-curbside-recycling
  2. ILSR’s grassroots-oriented timeline: http://www.ilsr.org/wasting-and-recycling-in-the-united-states-2000/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/review-40-years-curbside-recycling/


A “shot across the bow” for Real. Local. Power.

by John Farrell | September 5, 2013 4:58 pm

In 2011, citizens of Boulder, CO, opted to oust their monopoly, corporate electric utility[1] for a locally owned, cleaner, more affordable model despite being outspent 10-to-1.  They’ve since shown[2] that a locally owned utility could deliver 54% renewable energy, lower greenhouse gas emissions by half, and all at a cost as good or better than the incumbent utility.

But Xcel Energy is doubling down after their 2011 loss, preparing to spend well more than $1 million (what they spent in 2011) to protect their profits (and their outmoded business model).  They’ve sponsored a new ballot initiative[3] that would spike Boulder’s wheel and make running a municipal utility nearly impossible.  It’s a textbook example of a corporation looking to buy the election result they want, and all that’s standing in their way is a committed group of local citizens.

But the citizens aren’t giving up without a fight.  This video – headlining their crowdfunding campaign[4] – shows what’s at stake, and how you can be part of a solution to deliver real. local. power. in Boulder, and across the country.  Boulder might be the first to fight to be energy deciders for a cleaner energy future, but it’s not fighting alone.  Already their campaign has raised 3 times it’s goal of $40,000, and with a little more help (from you[5]), they can put up a terrific people powered campaign to stop one utility’s dirty money, and put a shot across the bow on local climate action.

Endnotes:
  1. citizens of Boulder, CO, opted to oust their monopoly, corporate electric utility: http://www.ilsr.org/citizens-give-going-boulder-new-meaning-local-energy-self-reliance/
  2. since shown: http://www.ilsr.org/unequal-options-local-energy-control/
  3. a new ballot initiative: http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_23930826/xcel-linked-measure-at-bottom-boulder-ballot
  4. crowdfunding campaign: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/campaign-for-local-power
  5. from you: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/campaign-for-local-power

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/shot-bow-real-local-power/


Book Review: Garbology – Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash

by Neil Seldman | August 16, 2013 4:33 pm

A Review of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, by Edward Humes
Penguin Group, NYC, NY, 2012 

By Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, DC 

Pulitzer Prize-wining writer, Edward Humes, has turned his attention to garbage. Most recently, in a Cato Institute publication, he wisely observes, recycling is America’s last line of defense against waste, when it should be the last. His book, Garbology, contains an excellent concise history of how the US became addicted to garbage and the socioeconomic and environmental dilemmas of today. It also introduces us to extraordinary individual activists and entrepreneurs attempting to solve problems, and provides useful summary charts and tables to further inform readers. Garbology also addresses key issues of corporate bigness and incineration with less success.

Proper Setting but Improper Analysis

In presenting garbage as “nothing less than the lens on our lives, our priorities, our failings, our secrets ands our hubris”, Humes uses the 102-ton-per-life generated by each of us in the USA as a metaphor for the garbage crisis and the opportunities to turn the waste stream into a raw materials stream.

The waning days of the vast Puente Hills landfill in Los Angeles County is the setting. This ‘temporary’ facility has stayed open for decades as the planned network of incinerators for Los Angeles city and county never materialized due to citizen and small business financial and environmental concerns. This pattern of frustrated incinerator deals has impacted New York, New Jersey and other major urban areas. Alas, Humes concludes that European style garbage incineration is the key to any realistic solution. Yet the conditions that make European systems appealing (use of steam for district heating, public ownership, small scale) are virtually impossible to replicate in the US. The conditions that defeated 300 planned garbage incinerators in the l970s, 1980s and 1990s have become stronger than ever before. In 2013 facing a new round of garbage incineration proposals, anti incineration efforts have defeated or stalled all but one proposed facility.

Humes unfortunately takes short cuts with his research and analysis of landfills and incinerators. He praises Waste Management, Inc. CEO David Steiner for the insight that the millions of tons the company handles is worth billions of dollars, an insight that has been recognized for over 40 years. He fails to point out that the company still makes more money from landfill than recycling, that its recycling program was forced upon WMI by new rules imposed by citizens, that the company is trying to repeal yard debris bans from landfills and incinerators, and that the key to WMI success was its ability to raise tons of capital to buy out competitors and build RCRA prescribed landfill systems that cities and smaller companies could not afford.

Misplaced admiration grows worse with Nickolas Themelis who heads a pro-incineration industry think tank at Columbia University. Data presented on incineration costs, environmental or economic impacts are unreliable. Nor does he present the depth of the justified anger against proposed incinerators by citizens and small businesses owners that propel the anti incineration and pro recycling movement. Finally, the discussion on European garbage incineration omits the fact that recyclable plastic and paper are burned because of overbuilt incineration capacity and industry dominated Extended Producer Responsibility programs. Western Europe incinerates an estimated 54 million tons of garbage annually, but has an estimated 64 million tons of incineration capacity. This explains the significant increase in international transport of garbage on the continent and the burning of recyclable and compostable materials. To remedy this, the European Parliament is developing a policy framework to phase out the destruction of these valuable materials by 2020. (See this report for more information[1])

Humes, provides plenty of data but fails to properly analyze it. He emphasizes the high cost of recycling some materials but does not compare this to the multi billion dollar cost of incineration; capital, bond debt, high operating costs.

Readers must balance Humes’ caricature of garbage incineration with accurate information, analysis and context from Bradley Angel, GreenAction for Health and the Environment, Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network, Paul Connett, professor of chemistry (ret), Caroline Eader, No Incineration Frederick County, MD and Jean Marc Simon, Global Anti Incineration Alliance/Europe. In Carroll County, MD, conservative county commissioners refused to move forward on garbage incineration after citizens showed them that the plant would have to be subsidized through a new System Benefit Charge on their homeowner tax bill.

The Political Economy of Garbage in the US

The book’s history of the US garbage generation is well worth reading. While Humes overlooks two early social critics — Thorstein Veblen who first alerted Americans to the bourgeoning social, economic and moral crisis of over and conspicuous consumption (Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, 1899, Theory of the Business Class, 1904) and William Leiss focuses on the psychological impacts of the our society’s embarrassment of riches (The Domination of Nature, 1972, Limits to Satisfaction, 1976) — his narrative is highly educational. It makes us take a good look at ourselves for falling under the sway of what Stuart Ewen refers to the ‘captains of consciousness’ that is the base cause of consumption without responsible discard management. It would also have been good if Humes considered the work of economist Kenneth Boulding who described the US as a ‘cowboy economy’ to extend the waste discussion to a broader economic context.

Humes picks up the sordid tale in the late 1940’s with marketing and design genius Gordon Lippincott’s pivotal notions of the ‘super consumer’: one who is ready to consume unneeded products and discard and replace useful products to support the national prosperity. This American willingness to part with something before it is worn out is a phenomenon of no other society in history, he observed. Based on the economy of abundance, this willingness “must be further nurtured even though it runs contrary to one of the oldest inbred laws of humanity, the law of thrift,” Lippincott taught companies and their ad agencies. The failure to waste was the enemy, Hume writes, and the message has been carried to the highest levels of mass communication through Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan and Bush. Hume continues by aptly describing the companies and products that eased these unnatural habits of consumption (TV dinners, Styrofoam, Coca Cola’s one-way bottle and a river of other disposable products and packaging) that introduced the ‘Throw-Away Society’. Here too are presented the financial, cultural and technology changes that catered to the consumption fest: plastic bags, credit cards, compaction garbage trucks and the Golden Age of TV which made all of this seem so natural and inevitable. Along with mass consumption with no thought to disposable, Humes underscores, the idea of thrift was erased from consciousness, and the resulting historic low individual savings in the US.

Against the tidal wave of consumption, Vance Packard’s brilliant warning about the insidious use of subliminal advertising and general veneration of promoting consumption (The Hidden Persuaders, 1957, The Waste Makers, 1960), made no headway. By l960, Packard notes, “The people …are becoming a tiger….They are taught to consume more and more…or their magnificent machine may turn and devour them….Their ever-expanding economy demands it.” “Not even Packard imagined”, Humes writes, that Americans would achieve a 102-ton legacy.”

The Wrong Direction

In addition to this excellent social history, Hume describes the efforts of individual citizens who have opted to live without ‘stuff’. Others have joined efforts to document and halt the plasticization of the oceans. Still others were inspired to start businesses to serve a zero waste economy such as TerraCycle and Chico-Bag. Humes concludes with a compilation of practical steps that individuals can take to reduce the environmental impacts of their discards.

This is the wrong message. The garbage crisis will not be solved by individual heroics. Community organizing, anti incineration organizing and local political campaigning are the strategic tools to take against the war on waste. Cooperative and combined efforts by citizens and small businesses is the only strategy that can challenge the onslaught of stuff that makes our economy and environment unsustainable. These are in fact the ways and means that the ‘burn and bury’ paradigm has been transformed to the ‘recycling and economic development’ paradigm in the last 40 years. Humes does not see the critical nature of combined efforts, because he focuses on the individual. He does not know the history of the recycling movement.

Curiously, Humes does not address the issues of Extended Producer Responsibility or Bottle Bills, although these are hotly debated among professionals in the field and public at large.

Garbology will remain a curiosity to veteran recyclers and solid waste planners based on its uneven treatment of the field. For those new to the fascinating world of garbage, parts of the book will be very helpful in understanding the scale of garbage dilemma and the history of how the US got into the mess that we must clean up. For a more thorough analysis these readers will have to read on.

—-

Neil Seldman is president and co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He works with cities, businesses and community organizations start and expand recycling, reuse and composting businesses and implementing policies that nurture a homegrown economy. Seldman also assists communities in implementing alternatives to garbage incineration and landfill. His book and movie reviews appear in Bicycle Magazine, Greenyes Listserve and ILSR’s Waste to Wealth web page.

Endnotes:
  1. See this report for more information: http://www.no-burn.org/downloads/Incineration%20overcapacity%20and%20waste%20shipping%20in%20Europe%20the%20end%20of%20the%20proximity%20principle%20-January%202013-1.pdf

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/book-review-garbology-dirty-love-affair-trash/


Stop the Presses: Washington Discovers Mergers Reduce Competition, Increase Prices

by David Morris | August 16, 2013 9:59 am

In 1985 the United States was home to 24 airlines.  Today there are 7.  The Justice Departments under Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush II and Obama welcomed all mergers. Then in August 2013 the antitrust division of the Justice Department suddenly discovered why there is an antitrust division.

According to the New York Times[1], “But antitrust officials said on Tuesday that despite the cost savings for the carriers from consolidation, domestic airfares, on average, had increased much faster than inflation over the last several years, prompting the department to revise its thinking about what was best for the consumer…And the fares varied greatly, often depending on the level of competition.”

“Justice Dept. Alters View of Mergers By Airlines.” New York Times. August 15, 2013

Endnotes:
  1. New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/15/business/justice-dept-alters-view-of-mergers-by-airlines.html?pagewanted=all

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/stop-presses-washington-discovers-mergers-reduce-competition-increase-prices/


“We Can Never Make Enough Money” CEO Tells Ever-Poorer Workers

by David Morris | August 15, 2013 4:29 pm

200px-Caterpillar_logo.svg[1]“Caterpillar has pioneered a two-tier wage system in which workers hired after a certain date are consigned to a significantly lower wage scale than others and it recently pressed its longer-term employees into accepting a six year wage freeze.  Many Caterpillar workers ask why the company insisted on a pay freezer when it reported repeated record profits-$5.7 billion last year, amounting to $45,000 per Caterpillar employee.  Caterpillar’s chief executive, Douglas Oberhelman (whose compensation has increased more than 80 percent over the last two years) says the freeze was vital to keep wages competitive with rival companies.  “I always try to communicate to our people that we can never make enough money”,  he recently told Bloomberg BusinessWeek.  “We can never make enough profit.”

Steven Greenhouse, “Fighting Back Against Wretched Wages[2].” New York Times. July 28, 2013

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/we-money-ceo-ever-poorer-workers/200px-caterpillar_logo-svg/
  2. Fighting Back Against Wretched Wages: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/sunday-review/fighting-back-against-wretched-wages.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/we-money-ceo-ever-poorer-workers/


The Tea Party vs. the Public Library

by David Morris | August 15, 2013 4:14 pm

In September 2012 the Library Board of Pulaski County raised property taxes $1 per year for a typical homeowner to maintain the existing level of services in its five libraries. Voters were not given the opportunity to reject the increase; in 2006 however, they were and resoundingly approved a much larger increase to finance a new library.

But in 2006 the county and the country did not have a Tea Party.  That grassroots movement sprang up early 2009 in fury at the federal government’s attempt to help millions of people facing foreclosure stay in their homes.  In 2010 it escalated into a full-throated attack on the federal government’s attempt to expand medical care access to tens of millions.  By 2012 the Tea Party movement’s virulent anti-government, anti-tax philosophy and take-no-prisoners, I’m-not-my-brother’s-keeper attitude had come to define American politics.

Pulaski County Tea Partiers, justifying their fury by noting the $1 increase had not been voted on by the people began circulating a petition to dissolve[1] the library tax district completely.  The effort’s leader declared[2] her group would stop accumulating signatures only if all members of the current library board resigned.

The Board did not resign and ultimately the petitioners found they had too little time to gather the necessary signatures.  But the Tea Party had demonstrated its strength and revealed its willingness to use scorched earth tactics.

A year before the Pulaski library district raised property taxes without asking voter permission, the Campbell County Library Board proposed a $20 per year tax increase to finance the construction of a new library in the underserved southern part of the County. It would submit the proposal to voters on the November 2012 ballot.

In six public hearings Tea Party members tried to stop the project from being on the ballot. When they failed they asked[3] a lawyer to identify ways to halt the project.  He came across a 1964 statute that prohibited library taxing district formed by a petition from voters – as the Campbell County district was – to change its tax rate without a petition signed by at least 51 percent of voters in the last election.  In January 2012, eleven months before the voters were to decide the issue (they rejected the project) several Tea Party members went to court. A few months later tea party members in Kenton, a neighboring County, did the same.

(more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. dissolve: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/11/26/2421370/fight-over-tax-increase-could.html
  2. declared: http://somerset-kentucky.com/local/x86847712/Sanders-wants-library-board-out
  3. asked: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/04/litigation/kentucky-library-suits-threaten-district-tax-funding-statewide/
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/tea-party-vs-public-library/#more-31984

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/tea-party-vs-public-library/


Medical Marijuana: 40 Years of Sanity from the Bottom and Insanity from the Top

by David Morris | August 13, 2013 10:47 am

Our attitude toward medical marijuana has unfolded like a sisyphean tragedy in three acts.

Act I:  The People Press Their Case, Again and Again

In 1937 Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act, which made the recreational use of marijuana illegal.  But it affirmed the right of physicians and pharmacists to prescribe and dispense it. The American Medical Association opposed the Act not because it allowed medical marijuana but because it required doctors to register with federal authorities and pay an annual tax or license fee that the AMA felt would unduly inhibit doctors ability to offer their patients this medicine.  The AMA was right.  Few doctors were any longer willing to prescribe marijuana.  In 1942 cannabis was removed from the United States Pharmacopeia of existing medicines.

In 1961, 74 nations signed the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs[1].  Again the treaty criminalized the recreational use of marijuana but allowed it for medical purposes.  Indeed Article 49 specifically advises, “The use of cannabis for other than medical and scientific purposes must be discontinued as soon as possible…”

Physicians retained the ability to legally prescribe marijuana until the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 made marijuana a Schedule I drug, equivalent to heroin and, according to the Congress, with no medical uses.  In the debate leading up to its passage the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs, responding to a Congressional request for guidance noted[2] there was “still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it” and recommended it be retained within schedule I temporarily while “certain studies now underway to resolve the issue.”

Those studies were undertaken by the newly created National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse Commission, chaired by Pennsylvania Governor Raymond P. Shafer, who had earned a reputation as a tough-on-crime U.S. Attorney.

President Nixon had already made up his mind.  In May 1971 he told[3] H.R. Haldeman, “I want a goddamn strong statement about marijuana. Can I get that out of this sonofa-bitching, uh, domestic council? I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.”  And Nixon told[4] Shafer directly, “You’re enough of a pro to know that for you to come out with something that would run counter to what the Congress feels and what the country feels, and what we’re planning to do, would make your commission just look bad as hell.”

In June 1971, to pre-empt the Commission’s report Nixon declared a War on Drugs. “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”  Over the next year marijuana arrests jumped by over 100,000.

In March 1972 the Shafer Commission’s submitted its report to Congress.  Revealingly titled Marijuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding[5] the Commission concluded, “The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only ‘with the greatest reluctance’.”

(more…)[6]

Endnotes:
  1. UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs: http://www.unodc.org/pdf/convention_1961_en.pdf
  2. noted: http://www.cannabis-med.org/data/pdf/2001-01-8.pdf
  3. told: http://www.csdp.org/research/nixonpot.txt
  4. told: http://norml.org/pdf_files/Nixon_Transcript_1.pdf
  5. Marijuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/studies/nc/ncmenu.htm
  6. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/medical-marijuana-40-years-sanity-bottom-insanity-top/#more-31932

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/medical-marijuana-40-years-sanity-bottom-insanity-top/


The Truth about Amazon and Job Creation

by Stacy Mitchell | July 29, 2013 6:44 pm

Of all the places President Obama might give a speech on job creation, an Amazon warehouse is a particularly perplexing choice. Here are five ways Amazon is costing our economy and undermining real job growth.

1. Amazon destroys more jobs than it creates.

Brick-and-mortar retailers employ 47 people for every $10 million in sales, according to an analysis by ILSR of US Census data. (If you exclude chains and look just at independent retailers, the figure is even higher — 52 jobs.) But Amazon employs only 14 people per $10 million in revenue[1]. As Amazon grows and takes market share from other retailers, the result is a decline in jobs, not a gain.  In 2012, Amazon expanded its share of retail spending in North America by $8 billion, which works out to a net loss of about 27,000 jobs.

2. Most Amazon jobs are awful.

How does Amazon manage to sell so much stuff with so few workers? The online giant is technologically efficient, yes, but it also excels at squeezing a back-breaking amount of labor out of its employees. Amazon’s workplace abuses, including life-threatening temperatures inside its warehouses[2], injury-inducing workloads[3], and neo-Nazi guards[4], have been well-documented by investigative journalists.

At the Amazon warehouse Obama is visiting in Chattanooga, workers are paid about $11.20 an hour, according to Glassdoor.com[5].  That’s 17 percent less than the average wage for U.S. warehouse workers reported by the U.S. Labor Department.

3. Amazon pilfers value created elsewhere in the economy.

Another way Amazon gets by with such a small workforce is by leaning on the services provided by brick-and-mortar stores. Through its mobile app, Amazon actively encourages consumers to try-out merchandise in stores and then buy online. This allows Amazon to free-ride on the value created by other businesses. Take books, for example. Amazon now accounts for about one-third of book sales. But, if you ask Amazon book shoppers where they learned about a book, only rarely is the answer Amazon. Far more often, according to research by Codex Group[6], they discovered the book while browsing in an actual bookstore.

A similar dynamic is at play across a wide variety of products, from toys to cameras. The threat Amazon’s free-riding poses to the U.S. economy is that, over time, brick-and-mortar stores will no longer be around to showcase new products, depriving both consumers and manufacturers of a valuable service that stimulates demand and innovation.

4. Amazon drains dollars from local economies. (more…)[7]

Endnotes:
  1. only 14 people per $10 million in revenue: http://phx.corporate-ir.net/External.File?item=UGFyZW50SUQ9MTc5ODc3fENoaWxkSUQ9LTF8VHlwZT0z&t=1
  2. life-threatening temperatures inside its warehouses: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/amazon/
  3. injury-inducing workloads: http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2017901782_amazonwarehouse04.html
  4. neo-Nazi guards: http://world.time.com/2013/02/19/amazon-fires-neo-nazi-security-firm-at-german-facilities/
  5. according to Glassdoor.com: http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Amazon-com-Chattanooga-Salaries-EI_IE6036.0,10_IL.11,22_IM164.htm
  6. research by Codex Group: http://www.salon.com/2013/07/19/amazon_could_be_a_victim_of_its_own_success/
  7. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/amazonfacts/#more-31803

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/amazonfacts/


VICTORY! Arizona Court Overturns Renewable Energy Credits for Incinerators

by Neil Seldman | July 18, 2013 3:59 pm

For the first time a court of law has disqualified trash burning as a non-renewable energy source. The Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter in Arizona has been victorious in its challenge to the Arizona Corporation Commission’s ruling that trash burning could qualify for renewable energy credits.

On July 16, the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that the Commission erred and abused its discretion in deciding to give renewable energy credits to the Mohave Electric Cooperative for the project it planned near Phoenix by the Reclamation Power Group.

The Sierra Club argued that burning trash to produce power was not a use intended under the state’s renewable energy standard, and that funds should be redirected to support truly renewable energy resources such as wind and solar. The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit last September challenging the Commission’s decision to allow trash burning to be considered a renewable energy resource.

“This decision is good news for clean renewable energy such as solar and wind,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter. “Promoting polluting and dated technologies such as burning trash to produce electricity would be a step backward for Arizona’s renewable energy programs.”

ILSR’s Brenda Platt worked with Jeff Morris of Sound Resource Management in preparing expert testimony for the case and assisting the Sierra Club and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest in its analysis and submissions.  According to Brenda Platt, “This is a critical precedent as state renewable energy incentives perversely subsidize trash burners, making it more difficult for non-burn and safer reuse, recycling, and composting options to compete.  Now in Arizona this money can support legitimate renewable energy systems. Trash is not renewable.”

The average value of a renewable energy credit in 2010 in Massachusetts was between $20 and $40 per MWh.  (“Burning Recycling[1], “Resource Recycling, May 2013.)

For more information on the Arizona decision, view:

Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter & Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest press release[2].

Arizona News Tribune July 16th article, “Judge rules burning trash isn’t renewable energy”  here[3].

Arizona Star Net July 16th article: “Maricopa Superior Court: Trash burning not a renewable resource – Utility Can’t Use Incineration to Meet Mandate, Judge Says”  here[4].

For information and fact sheets on ILSR’s 2011 work in Maryland fighting the weakening of that state’s renewable portfolio standards, go to:
Trash Is Not Renewable[5]

For additional data on the environmental, energy, and climate problems posed by trash incineration, see ILSR’s 2008 report, Stop Trashing the Climate[6].

trash is not renewable[7]

Endnotes:
  1. Burning Recycling: http://www.no-burn.org/downloads/Burning%20Recycling%200513.pdf
  2. press release: http://arizona.sierraclub.org/pr_and_alerts/pr_and_alerts_2013/NEWS_RELEASE_Mohave_Electric_WTE_07-17-2013.pdf
  3. here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/07/17/2681616/judge-rules-against-trash-incineration.html
  4. here: http://azstarnet.com/business/local/maricopa-superior-court-trash-burning-not-a-renewable-resource/article_6ef9b711-3ea1-5f88-8385-7db4aa97a1a4.html
  5. Trash Is Not Renewable: http://www.ilsr.org/trash-is-not-renewable/
  6. Stop Trashing the Climate: http://www.ilsr.org/stop-trashing-the-climate/
  7. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Screen-shot-2013-07-18-at-3.32.18-PM.png

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/az-incinerator/


Does the Citizens Recycling Movement Face a Hostile Takeover?

by Neil Seldman | July 8, 2013 11:54 am

Neil Seldman provides an update and review of recycling and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) developments based on his interviews with recycling practitioners,  local officials and environmental leaders.

Download the policy review[1].

Endnotes:
  1. policy review: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Does+the+Citizens+Recycling+Movement+Face+a+Hostile+Takeover

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/does-recycling-movement-face-hostile-takeover/


Towards a Localist Policy Agenda

by Stacy Mitchell | July 5, 2013 4:35 pm

placeholder[1]

This presentation was delivered on June 14, 2013, at the BALLE Conference in Buffalo, New York.  Download a PDF version of the text[2]. 

Welcome, everyone.  Thanks for being here.  (Slide 2)  I’m Stacy Mitchell.  I direct the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community-Scaled Initiative[3], which provides research, policy analysis, and tools to help communities gain greater control over their own economic futures.

Let me begin by offering a little background on this session. (Slide 3)  The movement for local economies has grown dramatically over the last decade.  We’ve attracted public support and engaged tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and community leaders.  But I think we’ve reached a point where we can’t get much further solely with the strategies we’re using now.  We’re at a stage where we need to up our game.  I want to suggest to you today that moving a policy agenda is a key part of what we need to do.

I’m hoping we can tackle four key questions in this session (Slide 4):

The format for today is that I’m going to kick off the session by providing some thoughts on each of these questions. Then we’re going to turn to the panel.  We have four terrific panelists today: Kimber Lanning of Local First Arizona; David Levine of the American Sustainable Business Council; Micaela Shapiro-Shellaby of the Coalition for Economic Justice here in Buffalo; and Jonathon Welch, owner of Talking Leaves Books, also here in Buffalo.  They each have a story to share about a policy win that will help us reflect on some of these themes.  And then we’re going to have a roundtable discussion. I’ll be bringing in all of you at that point for what I hope will be a lively conversation.  So, with that, let me dive in. (more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. PDF version of the text: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Towards-a-Localist-Policy-Agenda.pdf
  3. Community-Scaled Initiative: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/independent-business/
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/localist-policy-agenda/#more-30588

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/localist-policy-agenda/


Here’s One Smart Way to Handle Big-Box Stores

by Stacy Mitchell | July 1, 2013 8:56 am

This article was originally published on Grist[1].

This month, citizens and planning officials in Cape Cod, Mass., will get a chance to do what almost no one else in the U.S. is allowed to do when deciding whether to approve or reject a big-box retail development: weigh the likely impacts on the region’s economy.

Thousands of proposals to build big-box stores and shopping centers will be submitted to cities and towns this year. (Walmart alone is pushing to open 220 new stores by January.) In almost every case, local planning policies will limit any review of these projects to conventional zoning issues, like how much traffic the store will generate and whether the site has sufficient landscaping.

Questions about the economic impacts of these projects will be off the table. Residents who want to talk about how a new shopping center will affect the viability of Main Street business districts, wage rates for local workers, or even the cost of public services will be told that those issues cannot be considered as part of the planning board’s deliberations.

This narrow approach to land-use policy strips communities of an important tool for shaping their own economic future, constraining the reach of extractive corporations, and moving toward less carbon-intensive economic systems and shopping patterns.

One exception to this common state of affairs is Cape Cod, a peninsula home to about 217,000 people.

Mindful of the Cape’s fragile environment and economy (despite pockets of wealth, the peninsula’s median household income is below the state as whole), residents voted to create the Cape Cod Commission[2] in 1990. Made up of representatives of each of the Cape’s 15 towns, this regional planning body has the authority to review, and reject, large development projects that could significantly impact the local economy or environment, including any commercial building over 10,000 square feet. The commission does not supplant municipal planning boards, but rather adds a second layer of review for large projects, in which all of the region’s towns are given a say.

Guided by a Regional Policy Plan[3] that frowns on development outside of town centers and favors projects that protect the Cape’s character, expand local ownership, and enable the region’s communities to meet more of their own needs instead of relying on imports, the Cape Cod Commission has turned down several big-box stores over the last two decades, including a Walmart in Falmouth, a Sam’s Club in Hyannis, a Costco in Sandwich, and a Home Depot in Yarmouth.

A few big retailers have made it in, but only by proposing much smaller stores and locating them on sites that were already developed. Walmart finally won approval to open its one and only store on the peninsula when it applied to put a 73,000-square-foot store (one-third the size of a typical supercenter) into a building in Falmouth previously occupied by a defunct regional department store chain. Home Depot likewise was given the green light to take over an empty retail space in Hyannis, opening a store about half its standard size. (more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/cities/heres-one-smart-way-to-fight-big-box-stores/
  2. Cape Cod Commission: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/economic-impact-review/capecod/
  3. Regional Policy Plan: http://www.capecodcommission.org/resources/RPP/2012RPP_webJan2013.pdf
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/heres-smart-handle-big-box-stores/#more-30795

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/heres-smart-handle-big-box-stores/


The One Thing Obama’s Climate Policy Can’t Leave Out

by John Farrell | June 20, 2013 5:04 am

When President Obama unveils his climate policy proposal in the coming days, he should focus on the one key element of successful climate and energy policy.  It’s not about utilities or incentives or numbers, it’s about ownership.

Climate-protecting energy policy succeeds when communities can keep their energy dollars local by directly owning and profiting from investments in renewable energy.

Look at Denmark, with wind power capacity sufficient for 28% of its electricity use.  When the world’s nations descended on Copenhagen in 2009 for the climate conference, attendees could have gleaned their most important lesson by gazing across the water at the Middelgrunden offshore wind farm – 50% owned by over 10,000 Copenhagen residents.  Local ownership like this was the centerpiece of building over 4,000 megawatts of wind power in Denmark, increasing energy independence by letting ordinary citizens collectively own wind farms that brought money right back into their community.  Ownership let Danes focus on their own energy independence and economy.  Concern for the climate was secondary.

Andrew Cumbers of the UN Research Institute for Social Development explains the ongoing strength of the Danish commitment to renewable energy:

The participation of communities in the ownership and development of the technology has been a critical factor in the successful growth of renewable energy capacity.  Surveys suggest around 70 per cent of the population are in favour of wind farms with only around 5 per cent against (Soerensen et al 2003), figures that are far higher than found elsewhere. (emphasis added)

Germany’s roaring success reinforces why ownership should be President Obama’s highest priority.  Over 60% of mid-day electricity demand was met with wind and solar on a recent sunny day[1], and almost 25% of annual German electricity usage comes from renewable sources.  Once again, it’s a people-powered transition (or as the Germans like to call it, Energiewende[2], or “energy change”).

Nearly half of all German renewable energy capacity is owned by individuals[3], not utilities.  These small, quickly built distributed energy projects multiplied quickly under simply policies that made it easy for Germans to own a share in their energy future.

Despite numerous attempts by various political factions to curtail the renewable energy transition (most frequently citing high costs), Germans remain stolidly committed to growing renewable energy, with over 60% willing to pay more to continue its expansion[4].  A survey of Germans towns[5] suggest that ownership, more than anything else, has built this steadfast political support for a low carbon energy future.

Evidence that ownership holds the key to political success lies closer to home, as well.  After a near-death experience at the polls, Ontario’s Liberal Party revised their renewable energy program[6] to prioritize new wind and solar projects that sport local ownership and public support.  Most U.S. state renewable portfolio standards include language that requires or prefers qualifying projects to be in state,* to link the economic and environmental outcomes.  These statutes have survived an all-out assault[7] by the corporate-funded conservative lobbying group ALEC.  And one should not ignore the power of having the Atlanta Tea Party testifying alongside solar power advocates against monopoly utility Georgia Power, arguing that more people should be able to generate their own energy.

Ownership is good politics not just because of who wins, but how much they win.  A study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows local ownership dramatically multiplies the economic returns of renewable energy[8] for the host community.

No climate proposal from President Obama will sail past Republican opposition (see: Waxman-Markey), but his greatest chance for a climate legacy lies in empowering Americans to take control – with their votes and their dollars – of their own energy future.

 

Photo credit: Black Rock Solar[9]

*Note: a recent court decision struck down this provision in Michigan, jeopardizing the in-state preference for all states that include this policy.

Endnotes:
  1. 60% of mid-day electricity demand was met with wind and solar on a recent sunny day: http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/2013/kw25/solar-pv-wind-reach-60-of-mid-day-german-electricity-output-on-june-16th.html
  2. Energiewende: http://energytransition.de/
  3. half of all German renewable energy capacity is owned by individuals: http://www.ilsr.org/germanys-63000-megawatts-renewable-energy-locally-owned/
  4. over 60% willing to pay more to continue its expansion: http://www.ilsr.org/democratic-energy-policy-means-strong-public-support-renewables/
  5. survey of Germans towns: http://www.ilsr.org/political-and-technical-advantages-distributed-generation/
  6. renewable energy program: http://www.ilsr.org/expect-delays-reviewing-ontarios-buy-local-renewable-energy-program/
  7. These statutes have survived an all-out assault: http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/06/04/state-renewable-energy-laws-survive-repeal-attempts-so-far/
  8. local ownership dramatically multiplies the economic returns of renewable energy: http://www.ilsr.org/jobs-and-economic-impact-community-wind/
  9. Black Rock Solar: http://www.flickr.com/photos/freethesun/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/obamas-climate-policy/


On Liberty and Security Democrats and Republicans Drastically Differ

by David Morris | June 18, 2013 10:19 am

The gridlock that plagues Washington leads many, fairly or unfairly, to lump together the two parties and declare a pox on both their houses.  But most state governments are not gridlocked. Just the opposite.  In almost two thirds one party controls both legislative houses (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature) and the governorship:  Republicans 20, Democrats 13.

In these states, parties can translate ideology into policies virtually unimpeded.  An examination of these policies allows us to get behind the name-calling and 30-second sound bites and discover the remarkable difference between the two parties on fundamental issues.

Contrary to popular wisdom, the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats is not on the size of government but the purpose and goals of government.  Both parties believe in taxing heavily and spending lavishly when it comes to protecting our nation from external attack.  Both parties fervently embrace the Declaration of Independence’s insistence that among our “unalienable rights” are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  But their conceptions of security and liberty differ radically.

Democrats believe that governments should not only secure our borders but also advance our personal security.  As reflected in recently enacted state laws, that belief translates into policies extending health care access to as many as possible, raising the minimum wage and expanding unemployment insurance. Republicans vigorously oppose this use of government.  They insist we should not be compelled to be our brothers’ keeper. Of the 13 states that so far have refused the federal government’s offer to pay 100 percent of the costs of expanding health care coverage to millions of their residents, for example, Republicans dominate 12.  All six of the states that are leaning that way are Republican controlled.

What Democrats see as steps to enhance security Republicans view as steps that restrict liberty.  They assert that government-created health exchanges interfere with the right of insurance companies to manage their own affairs while the requirement that everyone have health insurance constitutes an act of tyranny.  Minimum wage laws interfere with the economic liberty of business and the freedom of the marketplace.

Republicans argue that taxes, especially those that tax the rich at higher rates than the poor, interfere with our liberty to pursue happiness by amassing unrestrained wealth.   In the last legislative session Democrat-controlled California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota raised the income tax rate on millionaires while in the last two legislative sessions, Republican-controlled Kansas reduced such rates by 75 percent and legislators in Kansas as well as in North Carolina and Nebraska are openly pushing for the complete elimination of the income tax.

It is important to note that these Republican actions often result less in a tax reduction than in a tax shift from income taxes to sales or property taxes that burden lower income households most heavily.

When it comes to personal liberty, however, Republicans believe in big government. As former Republican Senator and Presidential candidate Rick Santorum observed, “The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.”  Even if their wants or passions do not harm others.

This legislative session Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota joined 9 other states and the District of Columbia in extending the freedom to marry to include those of the same sex. Meanwhile, of the 25 states with constitutional prohibitions on same sex marriage, 22 are completely controlled by Republicans.  None are Democrat dominant.

Of the 17 states that have enacted medical marijuana laws, 10 are Democratic and only two are Republican. (The rest are not controlled by a single party.) As if to put an exclamation point on this difference, the same day last November that voters in Washington and Colorado approved the legalization of marijuana, voters in Arkansas handily defeated a proposal to allow the drug to be used for medicinal purposes with a doctor’s prescription.

Gun control is an issue that for Republicans and Democrats affects both liberty and security. For Republicans the ability to own unlimited numbers of guns and carry them whenever and wherever one wants with a minimum of government oversight, constitutes an essential part of freedom while allowing the owner to protect herself from physical harm.  For Democrats widespread gun ownership significantly contributes to physical violence inside and outside the gun owner’s household; thus in this case unrestrained liberty must give way to regulation.

In this legislative session while Democratic states like New York and Connecticut and Maryland tightened gun laws, more than a dozen GOP states scaled back their already minimal gun laws. Statistician Nate Silver insists, “Whether someone owns a gun is a more powerful predictor of a person’s political party than her gender, whether she identifies as gay or lesbian, whether she is Hispanic (or) whether she lives in the south…”

For both Democrats and Republicans liberty means being able to participate in influencing the political decisions that affect our lives and futures.  But here again their conception of liberty differs significantly. For Republicans it means the liberty of money, allowing individuals to spend unlimited amounts to elect candidates and lobby legislators while restricting the liberty of people by making voter access more difficult.  For Democrats it means the opposite.

Recently Colorado, Delaware and Maryland have enacted laws making it easier for people to register and vote while Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee and Virginia have made it harder. Nine of ten states that have voter photo ID laws are Republican dominated.

One could hope that in 2014 the stark evidence emerging from state capitols about the difference between the parties can lay the foundation for a nationwide debate on the purpose of government and the ends to which collective authority should aspire that goes beyond the are-you-for-it-or-against-it attitude that contaminates and diminishes that debate.

 

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/liberty-security-democrats-republicans-differ/


Why Master Limited Partnerships are a Lousy Policy for Solar, Wind, and Taxpayers

by John Farrell | May 30, 2013 6:04 am

Read reactions to this piece here[1]

If you follow the renewable energy industry and haven’t been sleeping, then you’ve probably heard about one of the few pieces of federal legislation purported to help clean energy that’s actually moving: expanding Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) to cover wind and solar energy. (H.R.1696)

This is not a good thing.

MLPs originated in 1986, when Congress decided that to allow certain businesses (oil and gas pipelines) to avoid paying corporate income tax.  These partnerships function a lot like publicly traded corporations, with publicly traded stock, but don’t pay income taxes. Most folks who’ve touted expanding MLPs to include renewable energy projects see this move as “leveling the playing field.”  And it will, allowing big energy corporations to avoid paying taxes on their renewable energy projects just like they do for pipelines.

But that’s not the worst.  Several years after the MLP was created, the federal agency responsible for setting the prices to use these oil and gas pipelines (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) allowed the not-paying-corporate-income-tax companies to charge rates for access as though they DID pay the corporate income tax.  Including this phantom tax payment in rates amounted to a 75% increase in after-tax profits for pipeline companies. This policy wasn’t even set in a public forum (such as a docket with public hearings), but through a shadow “policy statement” released after private meetings with the oil and gas industry (and after a federal judge had previously struck down the absurd notion that users of pipelines should have to pay phantom taxes).

This makes two big problems in adding renewable energy companies to the list of eligible Master Limited Partnerships.

First, there are many powerful, regulated industries that would love a bite at this apple, like the existing electric and gas utilities.  The cost to taxpayers from letting these hogs get to the trough is likely much, much larger than the opportunity for renewable energy.  These big industries – with huge lobbying budgets – are not likely to miss the opportunity.

But even more important, the extension of MLPs to renewable energy is likely to reinforce centralized, corporate control of the energy system.  Right now, renewable energy – particularly solar – is transforming the energy system.  It’s turning energy consumers into producers, re-routing energy dollars back into community economies, and giving cities and towns more control over their energy future.  Half or more of new solar power in the U.S. is being put on the rooftops of homes and small businesses.  New community solar policies (like one just adopted in Minnesota[2]!) are giving even more Americans a chance to have skin in the energy game and share in the profits of a transition to renewable energy.

The average American isn’t going to be a shareholder of a Master Limited Partnership, but they probably will pay a share of phantom taxes in their electric and gas rates if MLPs are expanded to other energy industries.  Even if Congress miraculously limits the MLP expansion to just the renewable energy industry, subsidiaries of most of the large corporations in the energy business (Shell, BP, Exxon) are building wind and solar projects.  These subsidiaries would certainly be reorganized as MLPs, giving them a tax advantaged opportunity to crowd out competitors (like community solar or other distributed generation) AND make larger profits off their renewable energy business.

There are many ways the federal government could improve its policy toward renewable energy.  A CLEAN Contract or feed-in tariff could supplant tax credits that act as a barrier to production-based payment for energy and avoid paying for panels that don’t produce power[3].   The feds could remove ridiculous bonus incentives for long-distance, high-voltage transmission[4] that gives electric companies an incentive to build power lines for 20th century power plants instead of distributed solar and wind power.  They could set a federal distributed renewable energy standard that requires utilities to procure energy from places close to where people use it.

But let’s not expand a tax loophole to big renewable energy companies.  This is one playing field best left unmoved.

(most of this article is based on a book, The Fine Print[5] by former New York Times writer David Cay Johnston)

Photo credit: Michael Fleshman[6]

Endnotes:
  1. here: http://www.ilsr.org/reactions-master-limited-partnerships-renewable-energy/
  2. one just adopted in Minnesota: http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/05/29/minnesota-plants-seeds-for-community-solar-gardens/
  3. panels that don’t produce power: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/29/business/energy-environment/solar-powers-dark-side.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  4. ridiculous bonus incentives for long-distance, high-voltage transmission: http://www.ilsr.org/fercs-high-voltage-gravy-train/
  5. The Fine Print: http://www.commongoodbooks.com/ebook/9781101476307
  6. Michael Fleshman: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fleshmanpix/6958125632/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/master-limited-partnerships-lousy-policy-solar-or-business/


Expect Delays: Reviewing Ontario’s “Buy Local” Renewable Energy Program

by John Farrell | May 20, 2013 7:07 am

placeholderLaunched in 2009, Ontario’s “buy local” Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program promised to deliver hundreds of megawatts of new renewable energy and create 50,000 new jobs by the end of 2012. The program has had some notable achievements, and the province has worked hard to remedy some of the remaining roadblocks to success.

The bottom line is that the FIT program and its predecessors (despite facing significant threats) have jumpstarted renewable energy development in Ontario: the province would rank #4 and #11 for solar and wind deployment, respectively, if it were a U.S. state. It has created 31,000 jobs. It has also enabled widespread participation in renewable energy generation: 1 in 7 Ontario farmers is participating, earning a return on their investment.  Finally, it has enabled the province to shut down all of its coal-fired power plants by the end of 2014.

Learn more:

Read the report:[1]
expect delays Ontario FIT thumb[2]
View the infographic:[3]ontario infographic thumb[4] View presentation:
Expect Delays - Presentation cover[5]
Help support more research like this![6]

Ontario FIT program solar wind capacity[7]

Huge Interest

The biggest challenge for the FIT program is the overwhelming demand. Already, signed contracts for nearly 5,000 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity will allow the province to meet most of its 2030 renewable energy target, 12 years early. Actual deployment has kept pace with many U.S. states, but poor preparation has meant that less than 10% of energy under contract (thus far) is actually producing electricity.

(more…)[8]

Endnotes:
  1. Read the report:: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Expect+Delays%3A+Reviewing+Ontario%E2%80%99s+%E2%80%9CBuy+Local%E2%80%9D+Renewable+Energy+Program
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Expect+Delays%3A+Reviewing+Ontario%E2%80%99s+%E2%80%9CBuy+Local%E2%80%9D+Renewable+Energy+Program
  3. View the infographic:: http://www.ilsr.org/democratic-energy-ontarios-buy-local-renewable-energy-program-infographic/
  4. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/democratic-energy-ontarios-buy-local-renewable-energy-program-infographic/
  5. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/expect-delays-presentation-reviewing-ontarios-buy-local-renewable-energy-program/
  6. Help support more research like this!: http://www.ilsr.org/donate
  7. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Ontario-FIT-program-solar-wind-capacity.png
  8. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/expect-delays-reviewing-ontarios-buy-local-renewable-energy-program/#more-30158

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/expect-delays-reviewing-ontarios-buy-local-renewable-energy-program/


Can We Save the Commons that is the Post Office?

by David Morris | May 13, 2013 4:14 pm

For 225 years the U.S. Post Office has been the most admired and ubiquitous manifestation of government. From 1789 until the 1960s, the Cabinet level agency saw its mission not only to deliver the mail but to aggressively defend the public good.  In the late 19th century when oligopolistic mail order delivery companies abused their rural customers the Post Office launched parcel post.  The competition quickly forced private companies to reduce their exorbitant prices and dramatically improve the quality of their service.  In the early 20th century, when bank collapses resulted in depositors losing their life saving the Post Office created postal banks that for half a century provide security and attractive interest rates to millions of small depositors.

In 1970 Congress stripped the post office of its cabinet status and stopped providing public funding.  The new quasi public corporation was urged to adopt a more business like attitude.  Its name, the U.S. Postal Service, reflected a circumscribed mission statement.  No longer was it to be a tool to check the predations of the private sector.  Its sole mission would be to deliver the mail.

The USPS used its new flexibility and ability to borrow to dramatically increase productivity.  By the 1990s, despite the elimination of a public subsidy that in 1970 had accounted for 25 percent of its total budget the USPS was generating a consistent profit.  But to USPS management the mandate to operate in a more businesslike manner was viewed as a mandate to operate more like a private business, improving its internal balance sheet at the cost of weakening the balance sheet of the communities it served.  Again and again Congress had to step in to prevent USPS management from pursuing actions that would have inflicted harm on the nation:  stopping closing Saturday delivery, closing rural post offices willy-nilly.

In 2006, in an accounting maneuver I’ve discussed in more detail elsewhere[1] Congress forced the USPS to pay $5.5 billion a year to do what no other public agency or private corporation does—prepay 100 percent of its future health insurance costs. As the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) later observed, these payments quickly “transformed what would have been considerable profits into significant losses.”  Today the USPS deficit has reached $20 billion.  Headlines constantly use the word “bankruptcy”, conveying the message that the post office is an antiquated institution doomed to irrelevancy in the age of the internet, but 80 percent of this huge deficit has been caused not by a decline in first class mail but by this human contrived financial burden.

The debt may be contrived, but its impact is real. USPS management is cutting its “deficit” by eviscerating the institutional commons it oversees.  By closing rural post offices the USPS is delinking the institution from the community.  By closing half of its processing centers, the post office is eliminating local overnight delivery of the mail, a severe burden on weekly newspapers and undermining another sense of geographic community.  In 2012 the USPS announced that first class mail delivery would take at least one more day.  USPS is selling off dozens of magnificent buildings constructed during the New Deal that have served as testaments to a time when the very design of public buildings was seen as part of the commons.  Tens of thousands of workers with the most experience have taken early retirement, resulting in an increasingly less knowledgeable and lower paid workforce.

(more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. elsewhere: http://www.onthecommons.org/magazine/how-post-office-being-destroyed-phony-budget-crisis
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/save-commons-post-office/#more-30118

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/save-commons-post-office/


Why Won’t Conservatives Let Communities Decide for Themselves?

by David Morris | May 11, 2013 4:50 pm

In his 1996 State of the Union Address Democratic President Bill Clinton famously declared, “the era of big government is over.”  And during his tenure he did everything he could to make that true–deregulating the telecommunications and the financial industry, enacting a free trade agreement severely restricting the authority of the federal government to protect domestic jobs and businesses and abandoning the 75 year old federal commitment to the poor.

Seventeen years later I fully expect a Republican Governor or two to declare in their state of the state address, “the era of small government is over”.  For again and again, Republican governors and legislatures are preempting and abolishing the authority of communities to protect the health and welfare of their communities.

Earlier this year Wisconsin passed a law eliminating the authority of cities villages and counties to require public employees to live inside city limits and voiding any existing requirements.

A few weeks ago Kansas passed a law prohibiting cities, counties, and local government units from requiring private firms contracting with the city to provide leave, benefits or higher compensation than the state minimum wages.

The Florida House recently voted to preempt local governments from enacting “living wage” laws and “sick time” ordinances.  If signed into law, the bill would also overturn counties like Miami-Dade and Broward that have “living wage” ordinances that require companies that contract with the county to pay wages higher than the federal minimum wage, and sometimes provide certain benefits.

(more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/conservatives-communities-decide-themselves/#more-30104

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/conservatives-communities-decide-themselves/


Composting Supports Jobs and Healthy Watersheds, Say New ILSR Reports

by Brenda Platt | May 8, 2013 7:00 am

Two new reports from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Composting Makes $en$e Project document the importance of expanded composting and compost use to enhance soils, protect watersheds, reduce waste, and create green jobs and a new made-in-America industrial sector.

For press release, click here.

With compostable material making up almost one-half of municipal solid waste, there is an enormous opportunity to achieve higher recycling levels with comprehensive composting.  Increasing composting and compost use are also drivers of local economic growth and vital for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and other watersheds.  When added to soil, compost has the unique ability to filter pollutants and absorb water, reducing flash runoff that causes erosion and pollution downstream. It’s a win-win for local economies and the environment.

Pay Dirt: Composting in Maryland to Reduce Waste, Create Jobs, & Protect the Bay

This 47-page report summarizes the current composting infrastructure in the state of Maryland, compares the number of jobs sustained through composting versus disposal facilities, outlines the benefits of expanding composting and compost use, underscores the importance of a diverse composting infrastructure, and suggests policies to overcome obstacles to expansion. One key finding is that 1,400 new full-time jobs could potentially be supported by converting the 1 million tons of yard trim and food scraps now disposed in Maryland into compost and using that compost locally in green infrastructure and low-impact development.

For full report, click here.
For Executive Summary, click here.
For Key Findings, click here.
For List of Benefits of Composting & Compost Use, click here.
For Job Potential Summary Tables, click here.

Building Healthy Soils with Compost to Protect Watersheds

This 12-page report highlights the importance of organic matter to healthy soils, and links healthy soils in turn to a healthier watershed.  It makes the case that amending soil with compost is the best way to increase the level of organic matter.  This report identifies watershed problems, the benefits of compost-amended soils, model initiatives and policies, frequently asked questions, and resources for more information.

For full report, click here.

Pay Dirt and Building Healthy Soils with Compost to Protect Watersheds were produced by ILSR’s Composting Makes $en$e Project under funding support from the Town Creek Foundation and from the University of the District of Columbia’s Water Resources Research Institute.

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/paydirt/


5 Barriers to and Solutions for Community Renewable Energy

by John Farrell | May 3, 2013 11:13 am

placeholder[1]Community renewable energy has significant political and economic benefits, but is often hindered by five major barriers. Watch this vividly illustrated presentation to learn how communities can overcome the barriers and advance more local renewable energy.

ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell gave this presentation as part of a Sustainable Economies Law Center[2] webinar on April 30, 2013.

You can also download or view just the slide show[3].

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. Sustainable Economies Law Center: http://www.theselc.org/
  3. download or view just the slide show: http://www.slideshare.net/farrell-ilsr/community-renewable-energy-presentation-sustainable-economies-law-center

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/5-barriers-solutions-community-renewable-energy/


Happy 39th Birthday, ILSR!

by admin | May 1, 2013 3:52 pm

On the first of May 1974 Neil Seldman, Gil Friend and David Morris self-consciously incorporated the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.   We thought it made for a suitable birthing day.

A little history might be in order.

Traditionally May Day marked the beginning of spring.  In the Middle Ages it belonged to the workers. No work was done and the landlord of was required to provide a huge feast for all his tenant farmers and employees. The day was totally given over to enjoyment: dancing, singing, games, feasting.

After the Civil War as the industrial revolution moved into high gear, workers organized for an 8-hour day and used May 1st as the day for demonstrations. On May 1, 1886, protests erupted across the United States. Some 340,000 workers took part. An estimated 190,000 went out on strike.

As a large peaceful protest was winding down in Chicago’s Haymarket Square on May 4, 1886 someone threw a dynamite bomb that killed a policeman.  That led to a battle in which 12 were killed. A widely publicized trial followed and the eventual hanging of four anarchists.

What came to be known as the Haymarket Massacre became a powerful symbol for workers around the world. In 1889, the Second International, a group comprised of leading communists and anarchists officially initiated the tradition of May Day labor demonstrations. In 1894, the first Monday in September was established as a federal holiday in the United States.

May Day celebrations later spread to Communist governments.  Which led President Eisenhower, in 1958, to proclaim May 1 as Law Day.

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/happy-39th-birthday-ilsr/


Locally owned businesses can help communities thrive — and survive climate change

by Stacy Mitchell | April 26, 2013 9:24 am

Originally published on Grist[1].

Cities where small, locally owned businesses account for a relatively large share of the economy have stronger social networks, more engaged citizens, and better success solving problems, according to several recently published studies.

And in the face of climate change, those are just the sort of traits that communities most need if they are to survive massive storms, adapt to changing conditions, find new ways of living more lightly on the planet, and, most important, nurture a vigorous citizenship that can drive major changes in policy.

That there’s a connection between the ownership structure of our economy and the vitality of our democracy may sound a bit odd to modern ears. But this was an article of faith among 18th and 19th century Americans, who strictly limited the lifespan of corporations and enacted antitrust laws whose express aim was to protect democracy by maintaining an economy of small businesses.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that this tenet of American political thought was fully superseded by the consumer-focused, bigger-is-better ideology that now dominates our economic policy-making. Ironically, the shift happened just as social scientists were furnishing the first bona fide empirical evidence linking economic scale to civic engagement.

In 1946, Walter Goldschmidt, a USDA sociologist, produced a groundbreaking study comparing two farming towns in California that were almost identical in every respect but one: Dinuba’s economy was composed mainly of family farms, while Arvin’s was dominated by large agribusinesses. Goldschmidt found that Dinuba had a richer civic life, with twice the number of community organizations, twice the number of newspapers, and citizens who were much more engaged than those in Arvin. Not surprisingly, Dinuba also had far superior public infrastructure: In both quality and quantity, the town’s schools, parks, sidewalks, paved streets, and garbage services far surpassed those of Arvin.

At about the same time, two other sociologists, C. Wright Mills and Melville J. Ulmer, were undertaking a similar study of several pairs of manufacturing cities in the Midwest. Their research, conducted on behalf of a congressional committee, found that communities comprised primarily of small, locally owned businesses took much better care of themselves. They beat cities dominated by large, absentee-owned firms on more than 30 measures of well-being, including such things as literacy, acreage of public parks, extent of poverty, and the share of residents who belonged to civic organizations.

One might expect such findings to have had a powerful influence on government policy. (more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/cities/locally-owned-businesses-can-help-communities-thrive-and-survive-climate-change/
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/locally-owned-businesses-communities-thrive-survive-climate-change/#more-29804

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/locally-owned-businesses-communities-thrive-survive-climate-change/


Four Victories for the Public Good

by David Morris | April 17, 2013 11:51 am

I’m not saying it’s time to break out the champagne and start chanting, “The people united will never be defeated”.  But the past few weeks have brought us some heartwarming demonstrations that the popular will still has a bite.

February 22:  After a major public outcry, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) directed federal agencies to make published results freely available to the public.  Director John Holdren declared, “Americans should have easy access to the results of research they help support.”

The announcement by the Obama Administration came after 65,000 people petitioned the White House to make publicly supported research available to the public and 6 weeks after the suicide of Aaron Swartz who was facing up to 35 years in prison for freely distributing nearly 5 million scholarly articles from a privately owned digital archive.  The death of Swartz, whose 2008 manifesto declared sharing information a “moral imperative” and the “privatization of knowledge” a curse, became a rallying cry for those who wanted to honor his legacy by changing a federal bias toward the privatization of public information first adopted by Ronald Reagan.

March 3:  By more than 2 to 1, Swiss voters approved the “fat cat initiative”, a Constitutional amendment that bans big payouts to new and departing managers, gives shareholders the right to veto executive compensation and makes prison the penalty for executives who defy the new rules. All 26 Swiss cantons approved the amendment.  A few weeks before the vote the nation was both outraged and energized by the $78 million payoff offered to the outgoing Chairman of Novartis even as the firm was cutting jobs. The vote reflected a deep-seated public sense “that company managers have been ransacking the coffers at the expense of society”, noted one Zurich newspaper.

March 21:  The European Right to Water Initiative announced it had gathered 1.3 million signatures on a petition to demand the European Commission stop mandating or encouraging the privatization of water utilities.  To be formally recognized by the European Union, the petition needs not only a million signatures but also a sufficient number from 7 EU member states.  Currently 5 states have exceeded that level; several more are close.

April 10:  The US Postal Service reversed its February 6th decision to end Saturday mail delivery as of this August.  The Postal Service blamed Congress for requiring six-day delivery in a continuing budget resolution in March, but the culprit really was the groundswell of public opposition to its decision.  Indeed, the leading advocate of privatizing the Post Office, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee declared, “Despite some assertions, it’s quite clear that special interest lobbying and intense political pressure played a much greater role in the Postal Service’s change of heart than any real or perceived barrier to implementing what had been announced.”

(more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/victories-public-good/#more-29657

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/victories-public-good/


Proposed Solar Standard is Cheap Compared to Minnesota Utilities’ Rate Increases

by John Farrell | April 17, 2013 11:25 am

If you’re a state legislator in Minnesota, here are a few grains of salt to season the message you’ve been getting from electric utilities about the proposed solar energy standard.  The bill (HF956[1]/SF901[2]) requires most utilities to get 4% of their energy from solar by 2025 and offers a standard, fixed-price contract to distributed solar energy producers (the same deal utilities get when they build their own power plants).  The bill works by combining a utility-financed, revenue-neutral, market-based “value of solar” tariff and a ratepayer-financed incentive that is explicitly capped at a one-time 1.33% increase in electric rates.

Utilities are crying foul over the cost, the same utilities that have raised electric rates by 35-40% in the past decade.  Let’s start with the average retail price of electricity, as reported by the utilities to the federal Energy Information Administration.

  average Minnesota retail electric price by customer class (1990-2013)[3]

The average retail rate for Minnesota electricity customers has increased by 40% in the past decade, spread fairly evenly over the three customer classes: residential, commercial, and industrial.

(more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. HF956: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?b=house&f=HF956&ssn=0&y=2013
  2. SF901: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?b=Senate&f=SF0901&ssn=0&y=2013
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/average-retail-electric-price-by-customer-class.png
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/proposed-solar-standard-cheap-compared-minnesota-utilities-rate-increases/#more-29652

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/proposed-solar-standard-cheap-compared-minnesota-utilities-rate-increases/


VICTORY against Maryland’s “Waste Portfolio Standard” — the Latest Creative Way to Prop Up Incinerators

by admin | April 10, 2013 7:02 am

Reposted from Energy Justice – http://www.energyjustice.net/content/victory-against-marylands-waste-portfolio-standard-latest-creative-way-prop-incinerators[1]

by Mike Ewall

What does an incinerator industry do when they can’t compete?  Change the rules.  Biomass[2] and trash incinerators[3] are the most expensive way to make energy, and trash incineration costs more than directly landfilling the waste.  These industries survive to the extent that they can change the rules to get monopoly waste contracts, become ‘renewable’ energy in state mandates, or as we’re seeing in Maryland: worse.

In 2011, Maryland became the first state to change their state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law[4] — a law that mandates “renewable energy” use — to move trash incineration from the dirtier “Tier II” to the not-quite-as-dirty “Tier I” (where wind and solar, but also biomass[5] and landfill gas[6] compete).  Many states with RPS laws have two tiers, where the cheaper, already-built, and dirtier technologies (usually trash incineration and big old hydroelectric dams) are put in a second tier menu of options where the credits are cheaper, and in Maryland’s case, where the mandate gets phased out over time.  Putting trash incineration in the same tier as wind power creates a much larger and growing market with more valuable credits.  Since this, several other states have seen proposals to do the same.

In 2013, Maryland tried to set an ever worse precedent.  Covanta (the nation’s largest waste incinerator corporation) wrote a bill that gets more creative: a municipal solid waste portfolio standard[7].  Taking the notion from renewable energy laws, this law would phase in a 50% recycling goal, but also phase out direct landfilling of waste.  By doing so, the law would create a strong incentive to incinerate waste before burying the ash.  Zero waste[8], as defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance[9], means diverting as much waste as possible (90%+) from both landfills AND incinerators.  However, the incinerator industry has managed to hijack the “zero waste” idea by pushing this “zero waste to landfill” rhetoric which many cities and corporations are mimicking — which really means “toxic ash to landfills.”

On April 8th, the Maryland legislature came very close[10] to passing this awful precedent, but thanks to work by Community Research, Clean Water Action, Energy Justice Network and 15 other groups who lent their name to opposing this bill, it died a quiet death in the state House after passing the state Senate earlier in the last day of the 2013 legislative session.  Covanta’s lobbyist was fuming and we can now focus back on stopping the two large new waste incinerators planned for the state, without worrying that they’ll be propped up by yet another pro-burn state policy.  Keep an eye out for this tactic in your state.

 

Endnotes:
  1. http://www.energyjustice.net/content/victory-against-marylands-waste-portfolio-standard-latest-creative-way-prop-incinerators: http://www.energyjustice.net/content/victory-against-marylands-waste-portfolio-standard-latest-creative-way-prop-incinerators
  2. Biomass: http://www.energyjustice.net/biomass/
  3. trash incinerators: http://www.energyjustice.net/incineration/
  4. change their state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2011rs/bills/sb/sb0690e.pdf
  5. biomass: http://www.energyjustice.net/biomass/
  6. landfill gas: http://www.energyjustice.net/lfg/
  7. municipal solid waste portfolio standard: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2013RS/bills/sb/sb0799f.pdf
  8. Zero waste: http://zwia.org/standards/zw-definition/
  9. Zero Waste International Alliance: http://zwia.org
  10. came very close: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmMain.aspx?pid=billpage&stab=03&id=sb0799&tab=subject3&ys=2013RS

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/victory-against-maryland-incinerator-bill/


Why Walmart’s Death Grip on Our Food System Is Intensifying Poverty

by Stacy Mitchell | March 27, 2013 9:08 am

Originally published on Alternet[1], Truthout[2], and Salon.

When Michelle Obama visited a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri, a few weeks ago to praise the company’s efforts to sell healthier food, she did not say why she chose a store in Springfield of all cities. But, in ways that Obama surely did not intend, it was a fitting choice. This Midwestern city provides a chilling look at where Walmart wants to take our food system.

Springfield is one of nearly 40 metro areas where Walmart now captures about half or more of consumer spending on groceries, according to Metro Market Studies.  Springfield area residents spend just over $1 billion on groceries each year, and one of every two of those dollars flows into a Walmart cash register.  The chain has 20 stores in the area and shows no signs of slowing its growth. Its latest proposal, a store just south of the city’s downtown, has provoked widespread protest.  Opponents say Walmart already has an overbearing presence in the region and argue that this new store would undermine nearby grocery stores, including a 63-year-old family-owned business which still provides delivery for its elderly customers. A few days before the First Lady’s visit, the City Council voted 5-4 to approve what will be Walmart’s 21st store in the community.

As Springfield goes, so goes the rest of the country, if Walmart has its way. Nationally, the retailer’s share of the grocery market now stands at 25 percent. That’s up from 4 percent just 16 years ago.  Walmart’s tightening grip on the food system is unprecedented in U.S. history.  Even A&P — often referred to as the Walmart of its day — accounted for only about 12 percent of grocery sales at its height in the 1940s.  Its market share was kept in check in part by the federal government, which won an antitrust case against A&P in 1946.  The contrast to today’s casual acceptance of Walmart’s market power could not be more stark.

Having gained more say over our food supply than Monsanto, Kraft, or Tyson, Walmart has been working overtime to present itself as a benevolent king. It has upped its donations to food pantries, reduced sodium and sugars in some of its store-brand products, and recast its relentless expansion as a solution to “food deserts.” In 2011, it pledged[3] to build 275-300 stores “in or near” low-income communities lacking grocery stores. The Springfield store Obama visited is one of 86 such stores Walmart has since opened.  Situated half a mile from the southwestern corner of a census tract[4] identified as underserved by the USDA, the store qualifies as “near” a food desert. Other grocery stores are likewise perched on the edge of this tract.  Although Walmart has made food deserts the vanguard of its PR strategy in urban areas, most of the stores the chain has built or proposed in cities like Chicago and Washington D.C. are in fact just blocks from established supermarkets, many unionized or locally owned.  As it pushes into cities, Walmart’s primary aim is not to fill gaps but to grab market share.

***

The real effect of Walmart’s takeover of our food system has been to intensify the rural and urban poverty that drives unhealthy food choices.  (more…)[5]

Endnotes:
  1. Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/food/walmarts-death-grip-groceries-making-life-worse-millions-people-hard-times-usa
  2. Truthout: http://truth-out.org/news/item/15404-walmarts-death-grip-on-groceries-is-making-life-worse-for-millions-of-people
  3. pledged: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/21/us/21food.html?_r=0
  4. half a mile from the southwestern corner of a census tract: http://obamafoodorama.blogspot.com/2013/02/michelle-obama-talks-business-at.html
  5. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/walmarts-death-grip-food-system-intensifying-poverty/#more-29375

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/walmarts-death-grip-food-system-intensifying-poverty/


Steve Johnson: Episode 3 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

by John Farrell | February 21, 2013 3:15 pm

In this edition of Local Energy Rules, John Farrell and Wade Underwood speak with Steve Johnson of Convergence Energy about a successful 660 kilowatt community solar project near Delavan, WI.  The project required 33 separate LLCs to take advantage of the state’s net metering rules, and also used the limited-time federal cash grant program to pull it together.  Unfortunately, the policy environment isn’t as favorable for repeats, and Convergence has interest in, but no plans to replicate the project.


Just north of Delavan, Wisconsin, is Dan Osborne’s nursery farm. Where you once found a bean field now sit 80 solar panels on 100 tracking towers, generating power for over 125 homes. It’s a small, but successful energy harvest.  The solar farm was developed by Convergence Energy of Lake Geneva, WI. Steve Johnson, vice president of business development, spoke to John Farrell and Wade Underwood about the solar farm in Delavan,

“The genesis of the project from the beginning was to try and provide an offsite location for individuals interested in investing in solar.”

Many individuals interested in going solar can be stymied because their property has tree cover or inadequate roof space, so Dan Osborne’s fields offered a better option, a community solar project.

Dan, who had worked with Convergence in the past, offered up 14 acres of his farm for the 660 kilowatt (kW) facility outside of Delavan. From there, Convergence arranged for 33 individual Limited Liability Companies to invest in 20 kW increments, which are sold back to the utility at retail price as a part of the net-metering policy (note: the utility’s net metering policy does not require the solar project to offset on-site load).  The state’s net metering policy caps projects at 20 kW, hence the 33 separate companies.

In addition to receiving the retail electricity price for solar electricity produced, the projects also received grants from the state’s Focus on Energy program[4] and used the cash grant option (since expired) in lieu of the 30% federal tax credit.  Project investors signed up for either an 11-year or 20-year investment term (with an 8% return on investment) after which the project ownership reverts to Convergence Energy.

As Steve says, their investors are happy with the solar farm, but there have been precious few opportunities for similar networked projects to grow.  The federal cash grant program has expired and the Focus on Energy incentives have been reduced.  Despite the changed landscape, Steve and Convergence Energy are keeping their eyes open for opportunities where the success from the Osborne farm might be replicated. It’s small seed that they want to see growing in many places.

This is the third edition of Local Energy Rules[5], a new ILSR podcast that will be published twice monthly, on 1st and 3rd Thursday.  In this podcast series, ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell talks with people putting together great community renewable energy projects and examining how energy policies help or hurt the development of clean, local power.  

Click to subscribe to the podcast: iTunes[6] or RSS/XML[7], sign up for new podcast notifications[8] and weekly email updates from the energy program[9]!

Photo credit: Dan Lassiter, from Walworth County Today[10]

Endnotes:
  1. Play in new window: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Steve-Johnson-interview-on-Local-Energy-Rules.mp3
  2. Download: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Steve-Johnson-interview-on-Local-Energy-Rules.mp3
  3. Embed: #
  4. Focus on Energy program: http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=WI15R&re=0&ee=0
  5. Local Energy Rules: http://www.ilsr.org/local-energy-rules/
  6. iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/local-energy-rules/id595698022?mt=2
  7. RSS/XML: http://www.ilsr.org/feed/localenergyrules/
  8. new podcast notifications: http://eepurl.com/tlKE9
  9. weekly email updates from the energy program: http://eepurl.com/tlKE9
  10. Dan Lassiter, from Walworth County Today: http://walworthcountytoday.com/photos/2012/feb/04/47189/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/steve-johnson-episode-3-local-energy-rules-podcast/


How a City Can Get More Clean, Local Energy

by John Farrell | February 19, 2013 4:54 pm

Like many cities attempting to solve climate change at a local level, Minneapolis is finding the prospect more challenging that it may have imagined. The lion’s share of emissions (two-thirds in the case of Minneapolis) come from electricity and gas sold by two monopoly, corporate utilities. Minnesota’s state-level policy is helping: a renewable energy standard pushes the electric utility to 30% clean energy by 2020 and a conservation standard aims to reduce the growth in energy consumption. But state (and federal) policies aren’t enough[1], and Minneapolis has had no leverage to force its utilities to de-carbonize.

But an opportunity is coming soon.

In a short time, the city’s “franchise” contracts with its electric and gas utility will expire, giving the city a once-in-20-years chance to negotiate new terms for its energy services. These contracts are largely focused on right-of-way agreements, discussing an annual payment to city coffers in exchange utility use of city right-of-way to deliver energy services (in other words, payments for poles and wires in the alleys). But the contracts need not be limited to such mundane matters, especially when the city has a commitment to a climate-safe future and a populace strongly supportive of more clean, local energy. Already, the city’s franchise working group – a select four city council members – is examining alternatives to the status quo, options for energy services that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But there’s a catch. State law gives the utilities a monopoly on serving Minneapolis customers, regardless of their interest in negotiation. In other words, there’s not much incentive for Xcel Energy or CenterPoint Energy to talk turkey with Minneapolis when their citizens are a captive audience.

That’s the motivation behind Minneapolis Energy Options, giving the city an option and giving residents and businesses a choice for more control over their energy future. To do it, the city needs to put a municipal utility on the ballot this fall. If passed, it would authorize the city to create a municipal utility but only if it could be cleaner, more affordable, more reliable, and generate more local energy than the incumbent utilities. (see the video below for more about Minneapolis Energy Options[2]).

It’s been done before, in Boulder, Colorado. After many years of fruitless negotiation with their monopoly electric utility (Xcel Energy, by coincidence), citizens in Boulder narrowly approved authorization of a city-owned utility in fall 2011[3]. It hasn’t closed the door to negotiation; in fact, Xcel continues to ply the city with alternatives[4] to forgo losing tens of thousands of customers and millions in profits. The utility’s motivation should not be lost on Minneapolis or other cities with an eye on meeting ambitious climate and energy goals:

If you want investor-owned, for profit, monopoly utilities to work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they need a financial incentive. And there’s no better incentive than losing customers.

In the next two years, Minneapolis will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take charge of its energy future in its utility franchise negotiations. But it’s only likely to make a difference if they have options on the table. Here’s hoping city council gives citizens that chance.

Endnotes:
  1. state (and federal) policies aren’t enough: http://www.ilsr.org/new-report-lessons-pioneers-tackling-global-warming-local-level/
  2. see the video below for more about Minneapolis Energy Options: http://www.ilsr.org/clean-energy-minneapolis/
  3. citizens in Boulder narrowly approved authorization of a city-owned utility in fall 2011: http://www.ilsr.org/citizens-give-going-boulder-new-meaning-local-energy-self-reliance/
  4. Xcel continues to ply the city with alternatives: http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_22173819/boulder-officials-debate-xcel-partnership-ideas

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/city-clean-local-energy/


Germany Has More Solar Power Because Everyone Wins

by John Farrell | February 8, 2013 4:49 pm

Suddenly everyone knows about Germany’s solar power dominance because Fox Newsheads made an ass of themselves[1], suggesting that the country is a sunny, tropical paradise.  Most media folks have figured out that there are some monster differences in policy (e.g. a feed-in tariff[2]), but then latch on to the “Germans pay a lot extra” meme.  Germans do, and are perfectly happy with it[3], but that’s still not the story.

The real reason Germany dominates in solar (and wind) is their commitment to democratizing energy.

Half of their renewable power is owned by ordinary Germans[4], because that wonky sounding feed-in tariff (often known as a CLEAN Contract Program in America) makes it ridiculously simple and safe for someone to park their money in generating solar electricity on their roof instead of making pennies in interest at the bank.

It also makes their “energy change[5]” movement politically bulletproof.  Germans aren’t tree-hugging wackos giving up double mochas for wind turbines, they are investing by the tens of thousand in a clean energy future that is putting money back in their pockets and creating well over 300,000 new jobs (at last count).  Their policy makes solar cost half as much to install as it does in America[6], where the free market’s red tape can’t compete with their “socialist” efficiency.

Fox News’ gaffe about sunshine helps others paper over the real tragedy of American energy policy.  In a country founded on the concept of self-reliance (goodbye, tea imports!), we finance clean energy with tax credits that make wind and solar reliant on Wall Street[7] instead of Main Street.  We largely preclude participation by the ordinary citizen unless they give up ownership[8] of their renewable energy system to a leasing company.  We make clean energy a complicated alternative to business as usual, while the cloudy, windless Germans make the energy system of the future by making it stupid easy and financially rewarding.

I’m all for pounding the faithless fools of Fox, but let’s learn the real secret to German energy engineering and start making democratic energy in America.

Endnotes:
  1. Fox Newsheads made an ass of themselves: http://grist.org/climate-energy/fox-news-solar-power-only-works-in-germany-because-germany-is-a-tropical-paradise/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
  2. feed-in tariff: http://www.ilsr.org/clean-contract-feed-in-tariff-101/
  3. perfectly happy with it: http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/most-germans-support-shift-to-renewable-energy-despite-cost-1.1004492
  4. Half of their renewable power is owned by ordinary Germans: http://www.ilsr.org/half-germanys-53000-megawatts-renewable-energy-locally-owned/
  5. energy change: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBx493I0W7k
  6. cost half as much to install as it does in America: http://www.ilsr.org/why-pay-double-solar-america/
  7. tax credits that make wind and solar reliant on Wall Street: http://www.ilsr.org/why-tax-credits-make-lousy-renewable-energy-policy/
  8. give up ownership: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Third-Party-Owned-Solar-Drives-California-Market

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/germany-solar-power-wins/


The End of the Post Office as a Public Institution?

by David Morris | February 6, 2013 3:34 pm

“When the post office is closed, the flag comes down.  When the human side of government closes its doors, we’re all in trouble.”   Senator Jennings Randolph (West Virginia) 1958-85

For the post office the end game is on.  This year the post office will close half its processing centers.  By late spring a first class letter will take 1-3 days longer to arrive at its destination. By the end of this summer Saturday delivery is scheduled to end.  Over the next year the Post Office plans to close over 3000 local post offices while slashing some 220,000 of the its 650,000 employees.

How did we come to this place?  In retrospect, it is easy to distinguish three discrete stages in the 221-year life of the Post Office.

Stage 1:  The Post Office Has a Broad Public Mandate

The first stage began in 1792 when President George Washington signed legislation making the United States Post Office a Cabinet level Department. It was a public institution with a clear mandate:  to enable universal low cost access to information.   In its early years this led it to initiate free and low cost delivery of newspapers and eventually, to offer a special rate for periodicals and books.

The post office helped tie the country together physically as well as intellectually.  Post roads were essential to the early development of the country.  Rural free delivery established in the late 19th century, spurred improvements in roads and bridges since the post office would not offer service where roads were bad.  In the 20th century mail contracts underwrote the embryonic aviation industry

In the 1820s, when private companies began charging a handsome fee to deliver information faster, enabling cotton speculators to make a killing on the difference in prices at the docks of New York and the plantations of Alabama, the post office responded by establishing its own express mail service.  The private sector complained.  A Congressional investigation concluded “(T)he Government should not hesitate to adopt means…to place the community generally in possession of the same intelligence at as early a period as practicable.

In the 1840s, when the private sector began siphoning off the most profitable mail routes, leaving to the post office only money losing routes, Congress gave the post office a monopoly, enabling it to dramatically reduce the price of postage and initiate free door to door delivery in cities.  In 1858 the first mailboxes appeared on street corners.

At the end of the 19th century, when private parcel companies began treating their customers badly, the post office introduced parcel post.  The competition resulted in reduced prices and improved customer service.

(more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/post-office-public-institution/#more-28636

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/post-office-public-institution/


Survey Finds Independent Businesses Benefit from “Buy Local First” Campaigns, But Challenges Loom

by Stacy Mitchell | February 6, 2013 11:29 am

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:  (Additional contacts below)
Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 207-774-6792

MINNEAPOLIS, MN (Feb. 6, 2013) – An annual survey has found that independent businesses experienced solid revenue growth in 2012, buoyed in part by “buy local first” initiatives and growing public interest in supporting locally owned businesses.

But the survey also documented significant challenges facing independent businesses, most notably an increase in “showrooming” and competition from online retailers, tax and subsidy policies that favor their big competitors, difficulty obtaining loans, and a customer base still reeling from the recession.

The 2013 Independent Business Survey, which was conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in partnership with several business associations, gathered data from 2,377 independent businesses across 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Among its findings:

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/2013-independent-business-survey/#more-28568

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/2013-independent-business-survey/


MD Seminar on Compost BMPs for Watershed Protection

by Brenda Platt | February 5, 2013 4:03 pm

Tools exist that can remove up to 96% of stormwater pollutants. Are you interested? Attend this FREE seminar on March 5, 2013, to learn how compost-based BMPs can dramatically reduce sediment and targeted pollutants entering the Chesapeake Bay.

ILSR has partnered with local watershed and organizations to sponsor this event. Scientists from Filtrexx International and representatives from EPA, Anne Arundel County, and others to share insight on the challenges facing the watershed and the natural systems that can be harnessed for ecological and economic benefits.

SPACE IS LIMITED. To register download the PDF and follow the instructions to submit your RSVP.

Compost BMPs: EPA-WIP/TMDL Challenge

Date: March 5, 2013
Time: 9 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. EST
Location: Annapolis Maritime Museum
723 2nd Street, Annapolis, MD 21403

Compost BMPs Seminar Invitation (PDF)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. Compost BMPs Seminar Invitation (PDF): http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Compost-BMPs-Invitation-Final.pdf

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/md-seminar-compost-bmps-watershed-protection/


Decentralized Recycling Models for Cities: Berkeley and El Cerrito, CA

by Neil Seldman | January 28, 2013 6:52 pm

placeholder[1]Berkeley, CA, and El Cerrito, CA, in the San Francisco Bay area have been special examples of government, grassroots, and private business collaboration in recycling and reuse for the past 30 years. Below are comments on the decentralized model by one of its key advocates and activists, Dan Knapp. Dan is the founder of Urban Ore[2], which operates in both cities. Urban Ore is a reuse enterprise that handles 7,000 tons of materials a year with just 2% going to landfill.  Among other achievements, Dan has authored the 12 categories of materials and products in the discard supply to allow for proper planning for each subset of materials and products.

Urban Ore and ILSR are long-term working partners.

Decentralized Recycling Models for Cities: Berkeley, CA, population 113,000, and El Cerrito, CA, population 24,000

by Dan Knapp, Ph.D.

Berkeley is a good example of a city that has an interlocking set of specialized operators with access to different subsets of the discard supply. All the operators cooperate with one another on policy, compete with one another for supply, and even trade resources with one another on a daily basis.  All together, there are six major enterprises: one for-profit, two nonprofit, and three that are municipally owned and operated.  They are: Urban Ore[2] (transfer station salvage, reuse, some recycling including regulated materials); Community Conservation Centers[3] (clean MRF operator, buyback and drop off operator, regulated materials operator), Ecology Center[4] (residential CleanStream split-cart curbside pickup); and three City Operations: commercial curbside pickup including separate pickup for mixed plant debris and putrescibles, transfer station management, including more regulated materials and hard-to-recycle materials, and construction and demolition materials recovery from mixed loads.  The City also provides garbage pickup service, but I don’t include that as recycling.

All this has been built up incrementally over time, in a process that is ongoing. Berkeley’s biggest problem, apart from periodic upsets caused by people who think a monopoly would be better, is that our facility is old and the customer interface is too small because the whole thing was designed to feed an incinerator that was never built.  Altogether the City-owned discard management center occupies 9.6 acres; Urban Ore’s Ecopark adds another 2.6 to the total footprint of materials recovery in West Berkeley.  There are other smaller companies dealing with smaller subsets of the discard supply, but these are the main ones.

For a community pursuing essentially the same model as Berkeley, consider the City of El Cerrito, about five miles to the north.  They opened their source-separation facility in the early 1980s, and rebuilt it in 2011 after citizens rejected the idea of closing it down.  The rebuilt facility opened in 2012 on Earth Day and has been a big success.  It features quick in-and-out traffic flow, a fine and welcoming administration building, and a large customer interface with over thirty drop-off options.  It is city-owned and operated, but there are a number of contractors, including Urban Ore, that also provide specialized recovery services onsite.

I personally think there are many advantages to this decentralized model.  Last year at the CRRA (California Resource Recovery Association[5]) conference held in Oakland, Berkeley’s operators presented their businesses as a case study of the ecology of commerce in action.

Photo credit: Urban Ore. A sculpture was made mainly from materials salvaged at Urban Ore by Bay Area artist Nemo Gould.

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. Urban Ore: http://urbanore.com/
  3. Community Conservation Centers: http://berkeleyrecycling.org/index.php
  4. Ecology Center: http://www.ecologycenter.org/
  5. California Resource Recovery Association: http://www.crra.com/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/decentralized-recycling-models-cities-berkeley-el-cerrito-ca/


New Mexico Recycling Industry Poised to Add 5,000 Jobs

by admin | January 21, 2013 10:39 am

Reposted from New Mexico Recycling Coalition[1]

Many people associate recycling as something that is good for the environment.  But, not many realize the number of jobs created and what a significant economic driver the recycling industry plays in our state and country. In fact, nationally the recycling industry represents more jobs than the car manufacturing industry. A general rule of thumb is that for every landfill job there could be 10 recycling jobs for that same amount of material handled.  The recycling industry is a $236 billion industry compared to the $45 billion waste industry.

A new report released by the New Mexico Recycling Coalition (NMRC) details the estimated number of jobs in the recycling industry and predicts how many jobs could be gained through increased recycling activities. It is estimated that close to 5,000 new direct, indirect and induced jobs will be created in New Mexico when the state recycling rate reaches 34%.

With recent investments and commitments made in both rural and urban areas, New Mexico is poised to meet this goal. Recycling activity is measured by the New Mexico Environment Department: Solid Waste Bureau, which calculates the state’s 2011 recycling rate at 21% of the municipal solid waste stream. That rate has witnessed a 16% average annual increase over the previous 5 years. If this trend continues, reaching the national average of 34% could be attained by 2015. (more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. New Mexico Recycling Coalition: http://www.recyclenewmexico.com/jobs.htm
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/nm-recycling-industry-poised-add-5000-jobs/#more-28309

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/nm-recycling-industry-poised-add-5000-jobs/


The Most Amazing, Interactive U.S. Solar Grid Parity Map

by John Farrell | January 14, 2013 1:16 pm

placeholder[1]Within a decade, 300,000 megawatts of unsubsidized local solar power could compete with utility electricity prices in almost every state, enough clean energy to produce 10% of U.S. electricity.  Grid parity is building like a relentless wave, but how much solar is at parity today?  In 2016?  In 2020?  On homes or businesses?  With incentives or without?

Answer all of these questions with the Greatest, Most Interactive U.S. Solar Grid Parity Map from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance[2].  Click the link or the map image below to interact.

Screen shot of the Greatest Most Interactive U.S. Solar Grid Parity Map from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance [3]

For more on the data behind the map, see ILSR’s Rooftop Revolution resources[4].

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. the Greatest, Most Interactive U.S. Solar Grid Parity Map from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance: http://www.ilsr.org/projects/solarparitymap/
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/projects/solarparitymap/
  4. ILSR’s Rooftop Revolution resources: http://www.ilsr.org/rooftop-revolution/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/amazing-interactive-u-s-solar-grid-parity-map/


Who Should Pay the Costs of Climate Disasters?

by David Morris | January 4, 2013 4:54 pm

Who should pay the costs of climate disasters?  In light of the current debate in the United States about federal assistance to Hurricane Sandy victims and the recent debate at the recent Doha Climate Conference about international assistance for climate change victims, that has become an increasingly pressing question for humankind.

The frequency and cost of natural disasters is rapidly increasing. Since the 1980s the number of billion dollar natural disasters in the United States has tripled[1] from two to six.  In 2011 there were 14 separate $1 billion plus weather events and losses topped $60 billion.  This year Hurricane Sandy alone will exceed that total.

As costs have exceeded the ability of insurance companies, individual homeowners, businesses and communities to pay, some states have created statewide pooled risk funds.  After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, for example, Florida created the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.

An increasing federalization of disaster relief has been occurring since the 1988 passage of the Stafford Act that required Washington to assume at least 75 percent of the costs of federally declared disasters. Predictably, the number of such declarations has increased[2] dramatically, from 53 in 1992 under George H.W. Bush to 110 in 1999 under Bill Clinton, to 143 in 2008 under George W. Bush.  In 2011 President Obama set a record by declaring federal disasters 242 times.

But as Hurricane Sandy has demonstrated, natural disasters are exceeding even FEMA’s expanded financial capacity, leading to the need for additional ad hoc Congressional appropriations.  This has given a boost to efforts to create a natural catastrophe insurance fund that would pool the risk nationally, similar to the terrorist catastrophe fund we put in place immediately after 9/11 with the passage[3] of the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act.  The fund created by that Act eventually paid out about $7 billion to more than 7400 victims.

In 2002 Congress passed[4] the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act. The program is triggered if losses exceed $100 million and cost to an individual insurance company is more than 20 percent of premiums paid. When the program is triggered, the federal government pays 85 percent of insured terrorism losses in excess of individual insurer trigger/deductibles while the insurer pays 15 percent.  The program is capped at $100 billion per year.

(more…)[5]

Endnotes:
  1. tripled: http://www.voxxi.com/costly-natural-disasters-increase/
  2. increased: http://www.fema.gov/disasters/grid/year
  3. passage: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/107/hr2926
  4. passed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism_Risk_Insurance_Act
  5. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/pay-costs-climate-disasters/#more-27933

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/pay-costs-climate-disasters/


Should We Subsidize Giving?

by David Morris | December 19, 2012 4:37 pm

Robert J. Shiller, Professor of Economics and Finance at Yale recently weighed in with his perspective on subsidizing charity with a New York Times column[1] whose title clearly conveys his message: “Please Don’t Mess With the Charitable Deduction.”

There is a case to be made for charitable deductions.  Regrettably, this isn’t it.

Shiller offers three arguments.

First, giving is a fundamental part of who we are.  He cites anthropological research by Marcel Mauss and Karl Polanyi that contends reciprocal gift giving ”has pervaded healthy human society from its Neolithic beginnings.”  And he points to recent brain imaging research revealing, “reciprocity is supported by fundamental structures in the brain.”

But Shiller misreads this evidence and its implications.  Reciprocity is the key word.  Polanyi and Mauss, and more recently, Lewis Hyde have argued that socially obligatory gift giving was the glue that held many societies together.  It was the material expression of cohesive relationships.

Polanyi and Hyde made clear that market economies have undermined the concept of reciprocity, made relationships more impersonal, severely injured the culture of sharing and caused grievous social harm.  In a review of Hyde’s 1983 book, The Gift, Detroit librarian JoAnn Schwartz notes[2] the fundamental difference between a market economy and a gift economy.   “In a market economy, one can hoard one’s goods without losing wealth. Indeed, wealth is increased by hoarding— although we generally call it ‘saving’.  In contrast, in a gift economy, wealth is decreased by hoarding, for it is the circulation of the gift(s) within the community that leads to increase— increase in connections, increase in relationship strength.”

Our declining sense of reciprocity is not an argument for subsidizing charity but for reducing the dominance of market thinking.  Not surprisingly, Professor Shiller does not pursue this argument.

(more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. column: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/business/the-charitable-deduction-and-why-it-needs-to-stay.html
  2. notes: http://www.southerncrossreview.org/4/schwartz.html
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/subsidize-giving/#more-27782

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/subsidize-giving/


The Headlines Say It All. When Guns Are Involved, People Die

by David Morris | December 18, 2012 12:40 pm

[1]A letter to the editor in today’s New York Times succinctly makes the case that when guns are involved, people die. When they’re not, people are hurt.

To the Editor:

The New York Times, Dec. 15, 2012:

Page A1: “Gunman Massacres 20 Children at School in Connecticut[2].” Twenty children shot, 20 died.

Page A9: “Man Stabs 22 Children in China[3].” Twenty-two received knife wounds, 22 survived.

National Rifle Association claim: Guns don’t kill. People do.

Case closed.

JOHN ISRAEL
. Decatur, Ga., Dec. 16, 2012

 

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/headlines-all-guns-involved-people-die/gun-and-knife/
  2. Gunman Massacres 20 Children at School in Connecticut: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/nyregion/shooting-reported-at-connecticut-elementary-school.html
  3. Man Stabs 22 Children in China: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/world/asia/man-stabs-22-children-in-china.html

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/headlines-all-guns-involved-people-die/


Rooftop Revolution

by John Farrell | December 14, 2012 2:30 pm

At the start of 2012, the United States had over 4,000 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) connected to the grid, with the pace of new installations accelerating as the price continues to fall. There has never been a better opportunity for Americans to generate their own electricity on-site nor such a challenge to the electricity system paradigm and for its policy makers and regulators.  The greatest challenge is to prepare: although only 0.1% of electricity is generated by solar power in 2012; within a decade, 300,000 MW of unsubsidized solar power will be at parity with retail electricity prices in most of the United States and more than 35 million buildings may be generating their own solar electricity sufficient to power almost 10% of the country.

Learn more:

Read the reports:
View the interactive map:
View the infographic:[1][2] View presentation:
rooftop revolution presentation screengrab[3]
Endnotes:
  1. View the infographic:: http://www.ilsr.org/get-ready-solar-rooftop-revolution/
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/get-ready-solar-rooftop-revolution/
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/utility-ready-solar-rooftop-revolution/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/rooftop-revolution/


Lincoln, the Movie, and The Rest of the Story

by David Morris | December 7, 2012 10:34 am

Lincoln is a magnificent movie. But as I left the theatre, to echo Paul Harvey, the late radio commentator, I wanted to know “the rest of the story”.

The movie begins in January 1865, exactly 2 years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring slaves of the Confederate States “thenceforward and forever free. ”

As Lincoln himself told Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles issuing the Proclamation was a “military necessity. We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.”   Indeed, Lincoln wanted to issue the Proclamation in July 1862 but Secretary of State William Seward cautioned that the series of military defeats suffered by the Union army that year would lead many to view such a move simply as an act of desperation.   The victory at Antietam in September gave Lincoln the opportunity he needed.

The Emancipation Proclamation helped the Union immeasurably.  It converted a war to preserve the union into a war of liberation, a change that gained widespread support in key European nations.  And by rescinding a 1792 ban on blacks serving in the armed forces, the Proclamation solved the increasingly pressing personnel needs of the Union Army in the face of declining number of white volunteers. During the war nearly 200,000 blacks, most of them ex-slaves joined the Union Army, giving the North additional manpower needed to win the war.   As historian James M. McPherson writes, “The proclamation officially turned the Union army into an army of liberation…And by authorizing the enlistment of freed slaves into the army, the final proclamation went a long step toward creating that army of liberation.”

Abolitionists viewed arming ex-slaves as a major step toward giving them equality.  Frederick Douglass urged blacks to join the army for this reason. “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

The movie focuses on one month—January 1865–and the Congressional vote on the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Indeed, it could have been subtitled, “How a bill becomes a law.”  The film ends with triumphant celebrations by whites and blacks after the Amendment that ended slavery throughout the nation passed by the razor thin margin of two votes.  But earning the rights of citizenship was to prove a much more protracted affair.

(more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/lincoln-movie-rest-story/#more-27592

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/lincoln-movie-rest-story/


Commercial Rooftop Revolution

by John Farrell | December 4, 2012 4:50 pm

[1]The United States has over 4,000 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) connected to the grid, with the pace of new installations accelerating as the price continues to fall. There has never been a better opportunity for Americans to generate their own electricity on-site nor such a challenge to the electricity system paradigm and for its policy makers and regulators.  The greatest challenge is to prepare: although only 0.1% of electricity is generated by solar power in 2012; within a decade, 300,000 MW of unsubsidized solar power will be at parity with retail electricity prices in most of the United States and more than 35 million buildings may be generating their own solar electricity sufficient to power almost 10% of the country.

Download Commercial Rooftop Revolution

Solar parity begins in areas with strong sun and high electricity prices.  In some places (like Hawaii) that has already occurred.  In several parts of the country, e.g. southern California, New York, parity is just around the corner.  Commercial solar represents a third of the total installed base for solar PV and it has grown faster and the price has fallen more rapidly (by nearly 30% in two years) than for residential solar. Meanwhile, retail electricity prices have risen by 3% per year in the past decade.

Until now, the solar energy boom has largely been driven by federal tax incentives and state-based incentives.  But incentive policies will also need to change to accommodate the uneven geographic distribution of unsubsidized solar at price parity.

Furthermore, almost all attention on solar power has been focused on cost, but industry, utilities, and policy makers need to begin addressing significant non-cost barriers that will become prominent as parity arrives.

Key Findings

 

Year-by-Year Solar Parity Potential

The following table shows the parity potential for residential and commercial solar power by year.  For example, in 2016 when the installed cost of solar will approach $3 per Watt, there’s a potential to install 75,000 MW of residential solar and 33,000 MW of commercial solar in utility service territories at prices competitive with retail electricity.

[2]

Existing federal and state incentives expand and accelerate the parity opportunity, but also create pitfalls.  The sudden reduction of the federal tax credit in 2016 could set back solar markets in several states by 5 to 6 years.  But without incentive changes, the tax credit may over-reward producers in sunny states at the expense of those in states with nascent solar markets.

Policy makers need to replace a one-size-fits-all incentive program with one that can adapt to the rapidly falling cost of solar and variations in regional competitiveness (e.g. a CLEAN Contract). It will also be necessary to address unexpected barriers to solar that emerge as the cost issue fades away.

A Decade Spreads Solar Parity Far and Wide

The following maps illustrate the enormous potential for the spread of solar at retail price parity.  An impressive 5.5 gigawatts of solar is already at price parity in 2012, rising to 122 gigawatts in 2022.

[3]

 

Like what you see?  Get email updates on ILSR’s energy work![4]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Screen-Shot-2012-12-04-at-3.14.14-PM.png
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Screen-Shot-2012-12-04-at-3.14.00-PM.png
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/commercial-solar-parity-2012-20221.png
  4. Get email updates on ILSR’s energy work!: http://ilsr.wufoo.com/forms/z7x3x5/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/commercial-roofop-revolution/


Why We Can’t Shop Our Way to a Better Economy: Stacy Mitchell’s TEDx Talk

by Stacy Mitchell | December 1, 2012 3:00 pm

[1]In this TEDx talk, delivered on October 20, 2012 at TEDxDirigo[2]‘s Villages conference at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine,  conference, ILSR Senior Researcher Stacy Mitchell argues for a new phase in the local economy movement. She notes that there’s been a resurgence of support for small farms, local businesses, and community banks, but argues:

“As remarkable as these trends are, they are unlikely to amount to more than an small sideshow on the margins of the mainstream if the only way we can conceive of confronting corporate power and bringing about a new economy is through our buying decisions… What we really need to do is change the underlying policies that shape our economy. We can’t do that through the sum of our individual behavior in the marketplace. We can only do it by exercising our collective power as citizens.”

Please watch and leave us your comments. And please share it. (The “Share” button on the YouTube page[3] makes it easy to embed the video on your own website or Facebook.)

 

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. TEDxDirigo: http://tedxdirigo.com
  3. YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6rAgHcuYtE&feature=plcp

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/ted/


How Walmart is Devouring the Food System (Infographic)

by Stacy Mitchell | December 1, 2012 2:41 pm

[1]Walmart now captures $1 of every $4 Americans spend on groceries. It’s on track to claim one-third of food sales within five years. Here’s a look at how Walmart has dramatically altered the food system — triggering massive consolidation, driving down prices to farmers, and leaving more families struggling to afford healthy food.

This infographic was also published on Grist[2] and Huffington Post[3].  Click to enlarge.

Infographic: Walmart is Taking Over the Food System[4]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. Grist: http://grist.org/food/how-walmart-is-devouring-the-food-system/
  3. Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stacy-mitchell/how-walmart-is-devouring-_b_2231974.html
  4. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Walmart-food-infographic.jpg

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/infographic-walmart-food/


Free Checking is Rare at Big Banks, Common at Small

by Stacy Mitchell | November 27, 2012 1:05 pm

Share of Institutions Offering Totally Free Checking

While just 24 percent of big banks offer totally free checking, more than 60 percent of credit unions and small banks do, according to a new report (“Big Banks, Bigger Fees[1]“) from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

To gather data for the report, PIRG staff made inquiries at over 300 bank and credit union branches in 17 states. They found that credit unions and small banks have lower fees on average and do a better job of disclosing fees to prospective customers.

Comparison of Median Fees at Big and Small Banks[2]

(Data from 2009[3] likewise show that, the bigger the bank, the higher the fees.)

PIRG also found that many financial institutions are failing to comply with the Truth In Savings Act, which requires that banks make complete fee schedules available to prospective customers. (more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. Big Banks, Bigger Fees: http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usp/big-banks-bigger-fees-1
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/median-fees.jpg
  3. Data from 2009: http://www.ilsr.org/chart-average-consumer-fees-size-financial-institution-2009/
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/free-checking-rare-big-banks-common-small/#more-27299

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/free-checking-rare-big-banks-common-small/


Seeking a Director of Strategy and Development

by admin | November 14, 2012 1:36 pm

We are expanding our team and are looking for an energetic individual passionate about ILSR’s mission to serve as Director of Strategy and Development.  This is a great opportunity for an experienced fundraiser and nonprofit leader to help ILSR grow and develop new strategies during an important time. (more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/director-strategy-development/#more-27180

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/director-strategy-development/


Creating Jobs and Saving Money through Reuse – A Deconstruction Case Study

by Neil Seldman | November 13, 2012 9:34 am

The joint venture between Westmoreland Community Action[1] (WCA), Greensburg, PA, and The ReUse People[2] (TRP), Oakland, CA, completes a circle begun over a decade ago when HHS engaged ILSR to explore the feasibility of building deconstruction as a community development tool. The ILSR technical assistance work that followed led to the start up and expansion of numerous deconstruction companies and projects. As advisor to TRP, ILSR suggested that WCA would be a suitable partner as TRP expanded from its base in CA to nine additional sites throughout the US. WCA and TRP have been working together for the past two years.

Background

Westmoreland Community Action, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in Greensburg, PA, has been serving disadvantaged residents in Westmoreland County and surrounding counties in southwestern Pennsylvania since 1980.  WCA’s mission is to “strengthen communities and families to eliminate poverty,” and the organization currently runs 22 programs to achieve its organizational goals.  WCA provides housing services including the construction of 10-20 homes per year.  The organization also offers emergency assistance in addition to employment, mental health, and child development programs. (more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. Westmoreland Community Action: http://www.who-inc.org/
  2. The ReUse People: http://thereusepeople.org/
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/westmoreland-deconstruction-case-study/#more-27131

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/westmoreland-deconstruction-case-study/


Finding Value in Distributed Generation, Before it Finds You

by John Farrell | November 9, 2012 4:17 pm

[1]ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell is giving this presentation to a collaborative meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners (NARUC) this weekend.  It highlights the proven value of distributed solar to utility grid systems and the urgent need for regulators and utilities to incorporate this value into their long-term plans, because distributed and unsubsidized solar is poised to explode as it reaches retail price parity.

Finding Value in Distributed Generation, Before it Finds You from John Farrell[2]
Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. John Farrell: http://www.slideshare.net/farrell-ilsr

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/finding-distributed-generation-finds/


Even Superstorm Sandy Couldn’t Stop the Mailman

by David Morris | November 8, 2012 11:29 am

[1]“Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep the postmen from their appointed rounds.” Bill Fletcher Jr. of the Institute for Policy Studies tells of how he was reminded of that covenant when in the middle of superstorm Sandy he saw a postal van traveling on his street. And he reminded us that we should not expect such commitment and dedication by a public institution and public servants if private companies and private employees delivered the mail.

Postal Service Undeterred by Superstorm Sandy[2]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/superstorm-sandy-stop-mailman/foreverstamp-1/
  2. Postal Service Undeterred by Superstorm Sandy: http://www.blackvoicenews.com/commentary/more-commentary/48321-postal-service-undeterred-by-superstorm-sandy.html

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/superstorm-sandy-stop-mailman/


What Utilities Can Do for Distributed Solar

by John Farrell | October 31, 2012 1:06 pm

Last week the Minnesota Public Utility Commission had a rare live public comment period on Xcel Energy’s long term planning process (called an Integrated Resource Plan).  At the urging of several fellow clean energy advocates, I gave my 3 minute testimony about the enormous gulf between Xcel’s 10-year plan for solar power and the solar opportunity.

In their plan, the state’s largest electric utility indicated an interest in adding 20 megawatts (MW) of solar power to their Minnesota system (in comparison to a current statewide capacity of around 6-7 MW).  If that seems small, consider that our forthcoming report on commercial solar grid parity indicates an opportunity to construct 940 MW of commercial rooftop solar at a price (without subsidies) that matches or beats retail electricity prices.  The opportunity for residential solar is 2-3 times greater.  Combined, 4400 MW of unsubsidized rooftop solar could compete with utility retail prices statewide by 2022.

In other words, Xcel’s plan is remarkable under-estimate of Minnesota’s likely solar market in the next decade.

Minnesota is a utility-regulated state.  In other words, Xcel is a government-sanctioned monopoly with guaranteed customers and a guaranteed profit.  Being the public utility for half the state means Xcel also has a public responsibility to the citizens of Minnesota, many of whom will want to take advantage of the chance to generate their own power, cut their electric bills, and keep their energy dollars local.

There are several ways Xcel could meet that public responsibility:

As a government-sanctioned monopoly, Xcel should enable its customers to make energy decisions that reduce their bills, generate clean energy, and keep their energy dollars local.  It’s the least they can do for their guaranteed shareholder return.

Photo credit[1]

Endnotes:
  1. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cocreatr/5386929721/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/utilities-distributed-solar/


Sandy and the Importance of Government

by David Morris | October 30, 2012 4:49 pm

If this election is a referendum on the benefit of government then superstorm Sandy should be Exhibit A for the affirmative. The government weather service, using data from government weather satellites delivered a remarkably accurate and sobering long range forecast that both catalyzed action and gave communities sufficient time to prepare. Those visually stunning maps you saw on the web or t.v. were largely based on public data made publicly available from local, state and federal agencies.

As the storm neared, governors and mayors ordered the evacuation of low lying areas. Police and firefighters ensured these orders were carried out and helped those needing assistance. As the storm hit, mayors imposed curfews.

Government 911 and 311 telephone operators quickly and effectively responded to hundreds of thousands of individual calls for assistance and information. Indeed, the volume of those calls may lead us to propose a different answer to the question asked by those famous lines from the movie Ghostbusters. “If there’s something weird and it don’t look good who ya gonna call?” Government.

Public schools and other public buildings were quickly converted into temporary shelters. Transit systems and bridges were closed when public safety might be compromised.

Tens of thousands National Guard troops were mobilized to assist at evacuation shelters, route clearance, search and rescue and delivery of essential equipment and supplies. USNORTHCOM placed its forces on 24-hour alert to provide medium and heavy lift helicopters and rescue teams and activated local military bases for possible use by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Before the storm hit state agencies required emergency preparedness plans from publicly regulated utilities and after the storm hit monitored their responses.

The President quickly issued Major Disaster Declarations that allowed states and communities to access funding for recovery efforts. His ongoing hands-on role earned him the fulsome praise of New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie who told Good Morning America, “I have to say, the administration, the president himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far.”

Public agencies swung into action to protect bridges, and roads, and sewer plants and subways and to plan for a cleanup that will require clearing debris, repairing infrastructure, and providing financial and other assistance to homeowners and businesses.

Seven years ago, Katrina showed the tragic consequences when government fails its duty to respond to natural disasters. But that was the exception that proves the rule. When disasters hit, the government is the only agent with the authority and capacity to marshal and mobilize resources sufficient to the undertaking. It can coordinate across jurisdictions and with both public and private actors. And its mission is not to enhance its balance sheet but to preserve the well being of its citizens. And in October 2012 it has shown how effectively it can perform that task.

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/sandy-importance-government/


Six Small Business Issues at Stake in this Election

by Stacy Mitchell | October 22, 2012 9:45 am

A number of critical small business issues are at stake in next month’s federal and state elections. Below we take a look at six of these issues.

1. Restructuring the Banking System

Nearly half of all small businesses have been unable to secure adequate financing, according to recent surveys. Even as the economy recovers, lending is unlikely to improve significantly because the problem is largely structural. Big banks, which increasingly dominate the banking system, do relatively little small business lending[1]. Since 2007, the share of bank assets held by the largest 18 banks grew from 52 to 60 percent[2]. Meanwhile, small and mid-sized banks, which provide most small business loans, have been losing ground. Over 900 of these banks have disappeared since 2007, casualties of the recession and government policy responses that have favored big banks.

What to look for in Congressional candidates:

Presidential positions: Romney has said that he does not support breaking up big banks. The Obama Administration opposed an amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that was similar to the SAFE Banking Act.

What to look for in candidates for state offices:

2. Closing Corporate Tax Loopholes (more…)[6]

Endnotes:
  1. do relatively little small business lending: http://www.ilsr.org/big-lend/
  2. 52 to 60 percent: http://www.ilsr.org/small-business-lending-charts/
  3. SAFE Banking Act: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/market-share-caps/market-share-cap-safe-banking-act/
  4. depositing public funds with local banks: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/depositing-public-funds-in-local-banks/
  5. Bank of North Dakota: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/bank-of-north-dakota-2/
  6. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/small-business-issues-stake-election/#more-26708

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/small-business-issues-stake-election/


Too Big to Lend

by Stacy Mitchell | October 17, 2012 9:04 am

[1]Two years ago, Bank of America made headlines in nearly every major national news outlet when it announced it would “hire more than 1,000 small business bankers.”  It’s been using the hirings to gin up a steady stream of positive local press ever since, most recently in Florida, where newspapers reported[2] last month that Bank of America was adding 130 of these special loan officers.

But what exactly these “small business bankers” have been doing is anyone’s guess.  Small business lending at Bank of America has plunged 38 percent since 2009, falling from $34 billion to $25 billion, according to FDIC data.

Change in Share of Assets Devoted to Small Business Lending, 2009-2012[3]

The story is much the same at the other giant banks.  Even as they’ve been pushing out marketing messages touting their support of small businesses, big banks, including JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, have been steadily shrinking their small business portfolios.

Overall, the volume of small business lending at the nation’s largest 18 banks has fallen 21 percent since 2009.  But the picture is even worse when you consider that these banks have gained market share.  As a share of their assets, small business lending at these banks fell 33 percent. The top banks now control 60 percent of U.S. bank assets, but provide only 27 percent of small business loans.

Small business lending has fallen some at small and mid-sized banks, but not nearly as much as it has at big banks. Today, there are 938 fewer small and mid-sized banks than there were three years ago and their share of bank assets has fallen from 23 to 21 percent.  Even so, these banks continue to provide 54 percent of small business loans, the same share they held three years ago.

All of this adds up to what may be the most compelling argument for breaking up the nation’s biggest banks (by passing Senator Sherrod Brown’s SAFE Banking Act[4]). A critical function of our banking system is financing small businesses and big banks are doing a rotten job of it.

Trying to cajole or compel them to do more won’t make much difference because the problem is largely inherent to their scale.  They lack the local decision-making and intimate knowledge of local borrowers and local markets that small banks have, which leaves them ill-equipped to make smart judgments about the likelihood that a particular business will succeed or fail. (more…)[5]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. reported: http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/news/2012/09/25/bank-of-america-hires-small-business.html
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/change-share-assets-devoted-small-business-lending-2009-2012/
  4. SAFE Banking Act: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/market-share-caps/market-share-cap-safe-banking-act/
  5. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/big-lend/#more-26589

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/big-lend/


What a Difference a Court Makes

by David Morris | October 16, 2012 12:40 pm

In a democracy the majority wins. Which makes minority groups vulnerable.  At the dawn of the Republic John Adams warned about “the tyranny of the majority.”

Almost a century later, the 14th Amendment finally declared that no State shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  Despite its being passed specifically to protect the rights of ex-slaves from the south’s new Black Codes, the Supreme Court astonishingly ruled the 14th Amendment did not apply to states as it dismissed indictments for lynching two blacks that had been issued based on violations of the Amendment.

Sixty years later the Court reversed itself. In the 1950s and 1960s the Warren Court, now viewed by conservatives as engaging in unwanted judicial activism, intervened to protect minorities from state legislatures.

In 1966, the Supreme Court struck down a $1.50 tax imposed on each voter (equivalent to about $10.50 today).  Legislators in southern states defended the poll tax as a way to prevent “repeaters and floaters” from committing voting fraud. The Court disagreed.  It rules that voting is a fundamental constitutional right and thus the burden was on the state to prove that a discriminatory law was necessary.   The Court argued[1] that introducing a “wealth or payment of a fee as a measure of a voter’s qualifications” violated the equal protection clause by unfairly burdening low-income, mostly black voters.

In 1967, the Court overturned[2] bans on interracial marriage that remained on the books, and in some cases the constitutions of 16 states.  The defendant, the state of Virginia argued that marriage laws are traditionally under the control of states and it had a rationale for treating interracial marriages different from other marriages because some studies found that children of interracial couples suffered intellectually and emotionally and the Bible clearly revealed God’s intention to separate the races.  The Virginia Supreme Court had agreed, “Both sacred and secular history teach that nations and races have better advanced in human progress when they cultivated their own distinctive characteristics and culture and developed their own peculiar genius.”

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” the Court declared.  “Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.”  And because the freedom to marry is a fundamental right, the burden of proof is heavily on the state to offer substantial evidence that limiting access to that fundamental right was necessary to achieve a compelling government interest. (more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. argued: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0383_0663_ZO.html
  2. overturned: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0388_0001_ZO.html
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/difference-court/#more-26570

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/difference-court/


Exemptions/Exclusions Added to Atlanta Airport Info Packet

by admin | October 11, 2012 9:37 am

Reposted from Elemental Impact’s Zero Waste in Action blog[1]
By: Holly Elmore

The Sustainable Food Court Initiative[2] (SFCI) Airport Pilot, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, [3]works closely with the SFCI Team to bring sustainable operating practices to their operations, especially regarding food waste. In early 2012 the Atlanta Airport made a bold statement in the new concessionaire contract, the largest foodservice contract executed in North America. In the new contract, airport food vendors must meet the following provision:

“Concessionaire shall use compostable serviceware along with consumer facing packaging and source separate all food service wastes for direct transport to off airport composting facilities.” (more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. Zero Waste in Action blog: http://zerowastezone.blogspot.com/2012/10/exemptions-exclusions-added-to-atlanta.html
  2. Sustainable Food Court Initiative: http://elementalimpact.org/SFCI
  3. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, : http://www.atlanta-airport.com/
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/atlanta-airport-exemptions-added/#more-26528

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/atlanta-airport-exemptions-added/


Is It All About Hormones?

by David Morris | October 9, 2012 11:40 am

[1]Sometimes everywhere I turn, the story line seems to pivot on hormones.

Recently the Boys Scouts denied[2] Ryan Anderson, a gay 17 year-old the rank of Eagle Scout because “he does not meet scouting’s membership standard on sexual orientation.”  Last April, Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian parent in Ohio, was forced out[3] as a den mother of her son’s Tiger Scouts group. (Can it be the Tiger Scouts were worried their boys would become lesbians?)

Way back in 1991, the Girl Scouts also grappled with the issue of homosexuality, but they came to a starkly different conclusion[4] than their male counterparts. “As a private organization, Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. respects the values and beliefs of each of its members and does not intrude into personal matters. Therefore, there are no membership policies on sexual preference.”  They’ve never found it necessary to revisit that policy nor, apparently have they been under much pressure to do so.

And then there’s the Catholic Church.

A few months ago, on orders from male Pope Benedict XVI, the all male Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (popularly known as the Holy Inquisition) appointed a male Archbishop from Seattle to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  The LCWR is an association comprised of 80 percent of America’s Catholic sisters.  What was the nuns’ heresy?  Focusing too much on promoting social justice and too little on opposing contraception and same-sex marriage.  The head of the church’s doctrinal office informed[5] the nuns they should regard their receivership as “an invitation to obedience.”

And Wall Street.

Unlike the Catholic Church, Wall Street cannot use scripture to justify excluding and diminishing women.  Yet its organizational ranks eerily echo those of the Vatican.  Women comprise only[6] 2.5 percent of U.S. CEOs of finance and insurance companies.  And Wall Street also treats its heretical women with contempt.

In 1997, in Congressional testimony Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission warned that unregulated trading in derivatives could “threaten our regulated markets or, indeed, our economy without any federal agency knowing about it.” She called for greater transparency.  The New York Times later revealed[7] that Alan Greenspan treated her with “condescension”.  Larry Summers “chastise(d) her.”  When she persisted Greenspan, Robert Rubin and the head of the SEC, Arthur Levitt, Jr., called on Congress “to prevent Ms. Born from acting.”  Months later, the huge hedge fund Long Term Capital Management nearly collapsed–confirming Born’s warnings. (Bets on derivatives were a key reason for the collapse.) “Despite that event,” the Times reports,” Congress ‘froze’ Born’s Commissions’ regulatory authority.” The next year, she left as head of the Commission.

(more…)[8]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/male-female-images1.jpg
  2. denied: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/gay-boy-scout-denied-eagle-award-believes-god/story?id=17407747
  3. forced out: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/boy-scout-den-mother-lesbian-_n_1434307.html
  4. conclusion: http://humanraceandothersports.com/columns/632/religious-and-sexual-orientation-in-the-bsa
  5. informed: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/us/us-nuns-weigh-response-to-scathing-vatican-critique.html?pagewanted=all
  6. only: http://m.cutimes.com/2012/01/13/editors-column-women-executives-key-to-the-success
  7. revealed: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/09/business/economy/09greenspan.html?pagewanted=all
  8. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/hormones/#more-26485

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/hormones/


Illinois’ Game-Changing E-scrap Law

by Neil Seldman | October 4, 2012 5:00 pm

The Illinois Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act[1] is breaking the mold of 25 state e-scrap laws. Under the law, passed in 2008 and amended in 2011, companies that reuse machines get twice the credit of those companies that recycle the materials.

The law addresses the fastest growing part of the U.S. waste stream, mandating that manufacturers pay for recycling their products after consumers are through with them. According to Mel Nickerson, of the Environmental Law & Policy Center[2], over 130 million cell phones are discarded annually in the U.S. Most e-scrap is sent overseas where improper “recycling” burden people and the environment with dioxins, mercury, lead and other toxics. When these materials go to U.S. landfills they act as filters for rain, which then pollutes groundwater with these same toxic materials. (more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. Illinois Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/escrap-illinois/
  2. Environmental Law & Policy Center: http://elpc.org/
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/illinois-game-changing-e-scrap-law/#more-26450

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/illinois-game-changing-e-scrap-law/


We’re the NFL. We don’t have to care.

by David Morris | September 26, 2012 10:14 am

Watching professional football these days reminds me of Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine the telephone operator on Saturday Night Live and her famous punch line, “We don’t care.  We don’t have to.  We’re the phone company.”

Or in this case the National Football League.  For those who don’t follow football, let me bring you up to date.  In June the NFL locked out its referees and has been using replacements ever since.  Referees at major college conferences refused to become scabs so the NFL reached down into the lower college and even high school ranks.

The result, as many predicted, has been a disaster.

“We have all seen officials have bad games. We have even seen bad officials. This is different, and unlike anything I can remember,” writes[1] Michael Rosenberg of Inside NFL. “These guys are overwhelmed. They look like they spent 20 years riding a bicycle and now they have to fly a plane, and they keep looking around the cockpit for the handlebar brakes.”

Mike Pereira, who used to oversee NFL officiating before he went on Fox t.v. reveals[2] that his on-the-air commentary has become much more challenging. “I’m not sure how refs arrive at rulings when they aren’t using NFL rules.”

Games are longer and much more tedious as replacement officials huddle and huddle and huddle trying to figure out what to do.  “They’re killing the tempo and flow of the game,” CBS’ Shannon Sharpe asserts[3].

Typically, the home team wins a little more than 50 percent of the time. This season, the home team is 31-17 writes[4] Marc Tracy at The New Republic.  Some believe this is a result of replacements being intimidated by hometown fans.

It’s gotten so bad that Mitch Mortaza, founder of the Lingerie Football League, a league that has fined players for wearing too many clothes, recently tried to make his league look good by comparison. “Due to several on-field incompetent officiating we chose to part ways with a couple crews which apparently are now officiating in the NFL,” he writes[5] on the league’s Facebook page.  “We have not made public comment to date because we felt it was not our place to do so. However in light of tonight’s event, we felt it was only fair that NFL fans knew the truth as to who are officiating these games.”

The “event” he was referring to occurred on Monday Night Football.  With a few seconds to go the Seattle Seahawks QB launched a Hail Mary pass into the end zone.  A Packer caught the ball and a Seahawk quickly grabbed on to it. According to NFL rules that meant the pass was an interception.  Two replacement officials, positioned perfectly on either side of the corner of the end zone, made two opposite calls. They huddled and huddled and after reviewing the play ruled it a touchdown.  Only the hometown fans were happy.  Others are already calling[6] it the play that will live in infamy.

The assault on the integrity of the game, and the safety of the players, has not fazed the NFL.  Before the season began Dave Zirin and Mike Elk predicted[7] in The Nation, “The NFL clearly believes with no small amount of justification that they can do this because no one will care.”   At the time NFL Vice President Ray Anderson apparently agreed, “You’ve never paid for an NFL ticket to watch someone officiate a game.”

By the second week of the new football season coaches and players were vigorously complaining about the officiating.  The NFL quickly responded by threatening to discipline those coaches or owners who publicly protested.  “We contacted them to remind them that everyone has a responsibility to respect the game,” said NFL’s Ray Anderson.  A few days later the fines began.

On SportsCenter, former Forty Niner QB Steve Young forthrightly explained[8] to fans that nothing could be done, “Everything about the NFL now is inelastic for demand. There’s nothing they can do to hurt the demand for the game. So the bottom line is they don’t care. Player safety—doesn’t matter in this case. Bring in the Division III officials–-doesn’t matter. Because in the end, you’re still going to watch the game, we’re going to all complain and moan and gripe and say there’s all these problems, all the coaches say it, the players say it—doesn’t matter. So just go ahead, gripe all you want.”

After griping, Josh Levin at Slate grudgingly agrees[9],  “It’s crappy to know that you and I and all the NFL fans out there provide the NFL’s leverage against its workers. But what are we supposed to do—not watch football? … Being a silent accomplice to Roger Goodell’s union-busting barely even registers.”

The key bargaining issue between owners and workers has to do with money.  No surprise there.  What is surprising is how little money is involved–$3.3 million a year according[10] to Peter King of Sports Illustrated.  That’s the amount the NFL wants to cut from its current pension contributions.

Compare that to the $3 billion a year the 32 owners of the NFL are dividing up in t.v. revenue, plus the tens of millions of dollars more they make from selling tickets, merchandise, concessions, etc.   The cost of keeping referees pensions where they are is about $100,000 per team.  A few days ago Forbes came out with its 2012 list of billionaires.  Three more NFL owners made the list, bringing the total number of billionaire football owners to 18.

Ironically, there is another sticking point between referees and owners.  The owners want to be able to “bench” referees who make mistakes in order to hold them accountable.  But no replacement referee has yet to be benched.

And who will hold the owners accountable for the way they have undermined the sport?  Apparently no one.  We like our football too much.

Endnotes:
  1. writes: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/michael_rosenberg/09/24/refs/index.html
  2. reveals: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/hiestand-tv/story/2012/09/23/fox-rules-analyst-pereira-lone-winner-in-nfl-replacement-officials-saga/57834462/1
  3. asserts: http://www.cbspressexpress.com/cbs-sports/releases/view?id=33021
  4. writes: http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/107712/the-nfl-replacement-refs-reach-the-tipping-point
  5. writes: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/replacement-refs-working-nfl-fired-lingerie-football-league-report-article-1.1167796
  6. calling: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000065969/article/seahawks-hail-mary-vs-packers-will-live-in-infamy
  7. predicted: http://www.thenation.com/blog/169593/why-are-nfl-refs-locked-out-its-all-game
  8. explained: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/gameon/post/2012/09/18/steve-young-rips-nfl-replacement-referees/70000551/1
  9. agrees: http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/features/2012/nfl_2012/week_2/replacement_refs_the_nfl_will_win_the_referee_lockout_no_matter_how_much_you_complain_.html
  10. according: http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/25/monday-night-football-ending-brings-more-heat-to-replacement-refs/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/were-nfl-dont-care/


John Farrell Presents on Local Energy Options for Minneapolis

by John Farrell | September 20, 2012 2:19 pm

[1]What happens when a city’s franchise contracts with its incumbent electric and gas utilities expires?  A once-in-20-year opportunity to consider how its energy can be cleaner, more affordable, more reliable, and more local.  ILSR Senior Researcher John Farrell presents to Environment Minnesota’s Green Ideas and Ham policy breakfast, discussing the implications of an expiring franchise and some examples of how municipal utilities are pushing the envelope on clean, local energy.

Listen to the presentation audio[2] as you click through the slides.

Minneapolis Energy Options from John Farrell[3]

 

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. Listen to the presentation audio: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/john-farrell-green-ideas-MEO.mp3
  3. John Farrell: http://www.slideshare.net/farrell-ilsr

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/john-farrell-presents-local-energy-options-minneapolis/


The Times They Are A’Changing. Or Are They?

by David Morris | September 13, 2012 3:19 pm

The recent colorful tirade by Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe against a legislator who demanded the Baltimore Ravens owner fire linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for supporting gay marriage and the overwhelmingly positive response to it by football fans and players alike are heartwarming developments.  It shows how far we’ve come.  But the fact that voters in four states—Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Washington—will have an opportunity this November to ban same sex marriage and voters in 31 states have already approved constitutional amendments to that effect, usually by wide margins, shows how far we have to go.

The path from prejudice to understanding and acceptance has been much smoother in other countries.  Eight European countries have legalized same sex marriage, including predominantly Catholic countries like Portugal and Spain.  In Europe this is not a left-right issue.  The new Socialist-led government in France promises to legalize same sex marriage next year.  The Conservative-led government in Britain will introduce similar legislation.

On this continent, in 2000 the Canadian Parliament, by a wide margin, banned same-sex marriage.  Five years later, after a series of court decisions overturned bans on same-sex marriage in several Canadian provinces the nation’s legislators revisited the issue, reversed themselves and legalized same-sex marriage.

In this country, by contrast, whenever state courts have overturned a ban on same sex marriage as a violation of state constitutions, Americans often have reacted by changing state constitutions or enacting federal laws that devalue same sex marriage in those states that do legalize it.  In 1996, for example, after a Hawaiian court concluded that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the equal rights provision of its constitution Congress quickly passed the Defense of Marriage Act denying federal benefits to same-sex couples even if they are legally married under state law.  And Hawaiians promptly changed their constitution to allow their legislature to ban gay marriages, which it just as promptly did.

As I was doing research for my recently published book, The Thoughtful Voter’s Guide to Same Sex Marriage:  A Tool for the Decided, the Undecided and the Genuinely Perplexed[1], I was struck by how many times we’ve addressed and changed the institution of marriage.  We’ve upgraded the status of wives (originally subordinate to their husbands in the eyes of the law), enabled no-fault divorce (initially a spouse had to prove adultery), permitted family planning (initially in many states the sale of contraceptives was illegal), and overturned bans on interracial marriage.

I was also reminded of how often scripture was used to justify opposition to change.  Believe that wives must be subservient?  Cite Genesis 2:24.  Oppose allowing divorce simply when both parties want one?  Cite  Matthew 19:3-9. Oppose contraception?  Cite Genesis 1:28.  Oppose interracial marriage?  Cite Acts 17:24-26.

Opponents of same sex marriage argue they are defending the institution of marriage but their arguments have little to do with marriage.   After all, the institution of marriage has suffered grievously in the only-heterosexuals-can-marry era.  The percentage of households comprised of married couples plunged from 78 percent in 1950 to just 48 percent in 2010. Meanwhile the 2010 Census reported about 600,000 same sex households in this country.  Allowing those among them who want to abandon cohabitation and choose marriage to do so can only strengthen the institution of marriage.

Nor does the argument opponents make that they are defending the psyche and safety of children have anything to do with marriage. Same sex couples already parent 115,000 children and study after study after study finds them at least as well-adjusted as children of heterosexual couples.  In 2008 a Florida Circuit Court judge, after taking voluminous testimony from both sides on whether to overturn that state’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples flatly concluded, “… based on the robust nature of the evidence available in the field, this Court is satisfied that the issue is so far beyond dispute that it would be irrational to hold otherwise; the best interests of children are not preserved by prohibiting homosexual adoption.” Indeed, as psychologist Abbie Goldberg points out, the fact that gays and lesbians do not become parents by accident, compared to almost 50 percent accidental pregnancy rates among heterosexuals “translates to greater commitment on average and more involvement”.  And allowing same sex couples with children to marry can only benefit the child.

No, the arguments against same-sex marriage are not about marriage;  they’re about homosexuality. We should remember that only a generation ago an admission of homosexuality could not only get one fired but arrested.  In 1970 the IRS rejected the application of The Pride Foundation for a non profit tax exemption by declaring the organization’s goal of “advanc(ing) the welfare of the homosexual community” to be “perverted or deviate behavior…contrary to public policy and therefore not ‘charitable’”.

We’ve come a long way since then, but the road has been bumpy and we have yet to arrive at our destination.   In a cover story, Entertainment Weekly noted that just 15 years ago when Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet the story became the cover of Time magazine, a major story on Oprah and the subject of an editorial in the New York Times.  Today t.v. and movie actors come out with little publicity.  “What was impossible 60s year ago and dangerous 40 years ago and difficult 20 years ago is now becoming no big deal.”

Nevertheless, prejudice against homosexuals is still widespread. In 34 states it is still legal for lesbian and gay employees to be fired simply because their employers disapprove of their sexual orientation. And the vitriol of opponents of same sex marriage, especially among the clergy, has lent legitimacy to that prejudice.  The FBI reports a significant increase in hate crimes directed at gays and lesbians.

In several states the Catholic Church is leading the fight against legal recognition of same sex couples. In Minnesota virtually all funding for the opposition to same-sex marriage has come from the Catholic Church.  Earlier this year the Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis declared the banning of same sex marriage one of the most important ambitions of the Church and made clear he would brook no dissent on this issue from any member of the clergy.  He then ordered priests to sermonize on the sins of same sex marriage and say a prayer for its prohibition every Sunday and began sending teams to high schools to tutor seniors on the definition of marriage.

The Archbishop has had trouble finding scriptural justification for his frenetic campaign.  In a letter to the clergy early this year he offered two pieces of biblical evidence to support his crusade.   A passage in Genesis that says Adam was lonely so God made Eve and they, the only two people on earth, had sex (even though they weren’t married.)  And a passage from Matthew that contains Jesus’ opposition to divorce and has nothing to do with homosexuality, which Jesus never condemns) nor same sex marriage.

The Catholic Church, regrettably, doesn’t point to the part of the New Testament that conveys the essence of the values that Jesus hoped would be the foundation of Christianity.  Matthew relates the story of a Pharisee asking Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” His answer is both instructive and revealing as to which side of the debate He might take.   “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (22:36-40)

I suspect that for Jesus what is important is not a family structure based on biology or even heterosexual relationships but the quality of love exhibited in relationships.  Unfortunately, those who oppose the right of loving, committed individuals to become married often seem driven more by hate than love.

In 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the constitutional amendment approved by the voters that banned same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution.  After taking weeks of testimony from both sides he concluded,  “The considered views and opinions of even the most highly qualified scholars and experts seldom outweigh the determinations of the voters.  When challenged, however, the voters’ determinations must find at least some support in evidence… Conjecture, speculation and fears are not enough.  Still less will the moral disapprobation of a group or class of citizens suffice, no matter how large the majority that shares that view. The evidence demonstrated beyond serious reckoning that Proposition 8 finds support only in such disapproval.”

To date no ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage has been defeated.  We will see in November whether that string continues or whether we will be able to say we have turned a corner and are willing to join the increasing part of the rest of the western world that accepts the diversity of the human condition and truly honors the precept, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

 

 

 

Wedding rings (c) Jeff Belmonte. Published under a creative commons license.

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. The Thoughtful Voter’s Guide to Same Sex Marriage:  A Tool for the Decided, the Undecided and the Genuinely Perplexed: http://www.ilsr.org/thoughtful-voters-guide-same-sex-marriage/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/times-achanging-they/


Minnesota’s First Community Solar Project is Minnesota-Made

by John Farrell | September 7, 2012 4:32 pm

Update 12/20/12: This project includes battery storage.

Just last month, the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association[1], serving communities just north and west of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, announced Minnesota’s first community solar project[2].  The 40 kW solar array will be located at the cooperative’s headquarters, with members allowed to purchase individual panels in the project for $869.   In exchange, members will receive a credit on their bill equal to the electricity production of their portion of the 40 kW array.

[3]Participation in the community solar project lowers the payback period for solar, as compared to individual ownership, by 7-12 years.

The project is organized by the Clean Energy Collective[4], a Colorado-based firm that has already built two community solar projects with rural electric cooperatives in that state and with plans to build several more.  Their projects are noteworthy for being the only consistently replicable community solar model, as evidenced by their success.  (for more on community solar projects, see our 2010 report[5]).

Partnership is the key to CEC’s success, with the company providing cooperatives with “RemoteMeter” software allowing them to handle the accounting part of the community solar project (and a smartphone app to allow participants to track production).  They also handle all of the project financing and development, with utilities having merely to market the program to their members and help oversee the project interconnection to their electric grid.

The community solar project provides a good deal for members, for three reasons.  Most Minnesotans lack an appropriate, sunny space for a solar array (75% of people rent or have a roof that is unsuitable for solar).  With Wright-Hennepin’s community solar array, participants can own a share of a local, centralized system that will be maintained by the cooperative, and still get their share of the electricity as though it were on their own rooftop.

(more…)[6]

Endnotes:
  1. Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association: http://www.whe.org/
  2. Minnesota’s first community solar project: http://www.whe.org/news-events/mn-solar-community-project-launched.html
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/gchart-community-solar-mn-payback1.png
  4. Clean Energy Collective: http://www.easycleanenergy.com/
  5. 2010 report: http://www.ilsr.org/community-solar-power-obstacles-and-opportunities/
  6. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/minnesotas-community-solar-project-minnesota-made/#more-25953

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/minnesotas-community-solar-project-minnesota-made/


The Thoughtful Voter’s Guide to Same-Sex Marriage

by David Morris | August 31, 2012 11:04 am

This November voters in four states–Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington–will be voting on whether to legalize or ban same-sex marriage.

After 20 years of debate one might reasonably ask why another report on same-sex marriage would be necessary. Our reply is that although the debate has been long it has often generated more heat than light.

We learn best through debate, by listening to both sides and sifting through the evidence they present. Too often, outside the courtroom where examination and cross-examination are the basis of judicial decision making, we hear only one side or the other. And in this case we too often lose the forest for the trees, failing to step back and examine the heated debates over the definition of marriage that have occurred throughout U.S. history and abroad.

That’s why we wrote, The Thoughtful Voter’s Guide to Same-Sex Marriage: A Tool for the Decided, the Undecided and the Genuinely Perplexed

We begin with a background that puts the current debate about same-sex marriage in a historical context. We then present both sides of the debate, with extensive footnotes that allow the interested reader to dig deeper.

We opted for thoroughness rather than sound bites. The result, we concede, is a long document that demands a willingness to spend some time on the issue. We believe the reader will find the time spent rewarding. The issue itself is one of the most important ever put before voters.

Download The Thoughtful Voter’s Guide to Same-Sex Marriage: A Tool for the Decided, the Undecided and the Genuinely Perplexed

Or download the guide as an eBook, in ePub[1] or Kindle format[2]

The Guide is also in print.  Bulk copies are available for as little as 50 cents apiece if ordering over 50.  For more information contact David Morris at dmorris@ilsr.org

 

Endnotes:
  1. ePub: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Thoughtful+Same+Sex+Guide+ePub
  2. Kindle format: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Thoughtful+Same+Sex+Guide+Kindle

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/thoughtful-voters-guide-same-sex-marriage/


How San Francisco is Dealing With Chains

by Stacy Mitchell | August 30, 2012 9:19 am

No other large American city has done as much to check the spread of chain stores as San Francisco. Under a city law enacted in 2006, a “formula” retail store or restaurant cannot open in any of the city’s neighborhood commercial districts unless it undergoes a public hearing and obtains special approval from the Planning Commission.

The restrictions have helped San Francisco maintain a relatively vibrant independent retail sector. The city has twice as many independent bookstores per capita as New York. It is home to some 80 local hardware stores. It also boasts more than 900 independent retailers selling fresh food, including more than 50 locally owned grocery stores of at least 5,000 square feet.

But San Francisco’s policy has major gaps. The law, for example, covers only neighborhood business districts, leaving the city’s downtown and other commercial areas unprotected. Its guidelines for approving formula businesses, which were written with smaller stores like Walgreens in mind, are also ill-suited to evaluating the impacts of big-box stores and large supermarket chains, which recently began pushing their way into San Francisco and other urban areas.

These gaps have allowed scores of new chain stores to slip into the city over the last couple of years. Target is opening two stores this fall. Fresh & Easy, a subsidiary of the British mega-retailer Tesco, has won approval for four stores and is working on a fifth. Whole Foods has opened half a dozen outlets. Several new malls[1] are under construction. Even Walmart is scouring the city for sites. And, while San Francisco still has half as many Starbucks stores per capita as Manhattan, it’s now home to a staggering 66, along with about the same number of chain drugstores.

“San Francisco is perceived to be a tough place for big businesses and corporate formula retail chains. The facts don’t bear this out,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, who chairs the city’s Land Use and Development Committee. “We continue to hear from neighborhood merchants and residents that they feel the city is being steadily overrun by chain stores.”

Should that trend continue, it will not only erode the city’s distinctive character. It will also weaken its economy. According to a 2005 study[2] by Civic Economics, local retailers have a much larger market share in San Francisco than they do nationally. This high proportion of local ownership is great for the city’s economy, because every $1 million in consumer spending the flows to independent businesses instead of chains generates about twice as many local jobs. (more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. new malls: http://www.sfbg.com/2012/07/10/malling-san-francisco
  2. study: http://civiceconomics.com/app/download/5841704804/SFRDS+May07.pdf
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/san-francisco-dealing-chains/#more-25749

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/san-francisco-dealing-chains/


Stacy Mitchell Talks Walmart and the Future of Big-Box Retail on San Francisco’s KALW

by Stacy Mitchell | August 22, 2012 1:01 pm

ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell was a guest on Your Call[1] on San Francisco public radio station KALW. She joined host Rose Aguilar and Charles Fishman, author of The Wal-Mart Effect, for an hour-long conversation about how Walmart came to dominate the economy and what local business owners and retail workers are doing to counter its market power.

Listen to the show[2].

Endnotes:
  1. Your Call: http://yourcallradio.org
  2. Listen to the show: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/082112yc.mp3

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/stacy-mitchell-interview-kalw/


Encouraging Corporate Crime

by David Morris | August 16, 2012 3:09 pm

Almost daily we read about another apparently stiff financial penalty meted out for corporate malfeasance. This year corporations are on track to pay as much as $8 billion to resolve charges of defrauding the government, a record sum, according to the Department of Justice.  Last year big business paid the SEC $2.8 billion to settle disputes.

Sounds like an awful lot of money. And it is, for you and me.  But is it a lot of money for corporate lawbreakers?  The best way to determine that is to see whether the penalties have deterred them from further wrongdoing.

The empirical evidence argues they don’t. A 2011 New York Times analysis[1] of enforcement actions during the last 15 years found at least 51 cases in which 19 Wall Street firms had broken antifraud laws they had agreed never to breach.  Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, among others, have settled fraud cases by stipulating they would never again violate an antifraud law, only to do so again and again and again.  Bank of America’s securities unit has agreed four times since 2005 not to violate a major antifraud statute, and another four times not to violate a separate law. Merrill Lynch, which Bank of America acquired in 2008, has separately agreed not to violate the same two statutes seven times since 1999. Outside the financial sector the story is similar. Erika Kelton at Forbes reports[2] that Pfizer paid $152 million in 2008; $49 million a few months later; a record-setting $2.3 billion in 2009[3] and $14.5 million last year. Each time it legally promised to adhere to federal law in the future.  Each time it broke that promise.

The SEC could bring contempt of court charges against serial offenders, but it doesn’t. Earlier this year the SEC revealed it has not brought any contempt charges against large financial firms in the last 10 years.  Adding insult to insult the SEC doesn’t even publicly refer to previous cases when filing new charges.

We know that CEOs of big corporations never go to jail.  We probably didn’t know they often benefit financially even when the corporations under their control violate the law. GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty recently received a significant pay boost to roughly $16.5 million just four months after Glaxo announced it will pay $3 billion to settle federal allegations of illegal marketing of many of its prescription drugs. Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO William Weldon received a 55 percent increase in his annual performance bonus for 2011 and a pay raise despite a settlement J&J is negotiating with the Justice Department that could run as high as $1.8 billion.

(more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. analysis: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/08/business/in-sec-fraud-cases-banks-make-and-break-promises.html?pagewanted=all
  2. reports: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikakelton/2012/04/02/fraud-shouldnt-be-so-rewarding/
  3. a record-setting $2.3 billion in 2009: http://www.stopmedicarefraud.gov/pfizerfactsheet.html
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/encouraging-corporate-crime/#more-25373

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/encouraging-corporate-crime/


Independent Businesses Deliver Bigger Economic Benefit, Study Finds

by Stacy Mitchell | August 16, 2012 2:23 pm

[1]Choosing a locally owned store generates almost four times as much economic benefit for the surrounding region as shopping at a chain, a new study[2] has concluded.  The analysis also found that eating at a local restaurant produces more than twice the local economic impact of dining at a chain restaurant.

The research firm Civic Economics analyzed data from fifteen independent retailers and seven independent restaurants, all located in Salt Lake City, and compared their impact on the local economy with four chain retail stores (Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, Office Max, and Target) and three national restaurant chains (Darden, McDonald’s, and P.F. Chang’s).

The study found that the local retailers return an average of 52 percent of their revenue to the local economy, compared with just 14 percent for the chain retailers.  Similarly, the local restaurants re-circulate an average of 79 percent of their revenue locally, compared to 30 percent for the chain eateries.

What accounts for the difference? In a handy graphic, Civic Economics shows the breakdown. Independent businesses spend much more on local labor.  They also procure more goods for resale locally and rely much more heavily on local providers for services like accounting and printing.  This means that much of the money a customer spends at a local store or restaurant is re-spent within the local economy, supporting other businesses and jobs.

[3]

Chains have little need for local goods and services, and keep local labor costs to a minimum.  Most of the revenue that these stores and restaurants capture leaves the community.

This study was sponsored by Local First Utah[4].  “Most of us have a natural sense that local businesses are good for communities,” said Betsy Burton, who co-chairs the organization’s board and owns the King’s English Bookstore. “And studies[5] in other parts of the country have borne this out… Now we have hard evidence right here in our own city that consumers can have a huge impact on the local economy, just by shifting some of their purchases to local businesses.”

The study is part of a nationwide research project being conducted by Civic Economics in partnership with the American Booksellers Association.  Other communities where a similar data analysis is underway include Bainbridge Island, Washington; Chicago, Illinois; Las Vegas, New Mexico; Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Pleasanton, California; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. new study: http://www.localfirst.org/images/stories/SLC-Final-Impact-Study-Series.pdf
  3. [Image]: http://www.localfirst.org/images/stories/SLC-Final-Impact-Study-Series.pdf
  4. Local First Utah: http://www.localfirst.org/think-local/slc-economic-study
  5. studies: http://www.ilsr.org/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/independent-businesse-deliver-bigger-economic-benefit/


For Quality Customer Service Go to Government, Not Business

by David Morris | August 14, 2012 10:52 am

In 2012 we accept as received wisdom that government is unresponsive while a competitive marketplace forces private business to offer quality customer service.  So when Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX) introduced his warmly received bill, The Government Customer Service Improvement Act, we considered his announcement a truism, “When taxpayers interact with a government agency, they deserve the same timely, reliable assistance they would expect from a private sector business,”

Ironically, just as we achieve a bipartisan consensus that to improve customer service government should act like a private business both the empirical and anecdotal evidence is telling us it should be the other way around.

Consider the results of a new study[1] by the Commonwealth Fund that compares private health insurance companies to government Medicare.  Government was the hands down winner. People covered by private health plans were much more likely than Medicare beneficiaries to forego needed care, experience access problems, encounter medical bill problems, and be less satisfied with their coverage.  Is anyone who’s had a conversation, or tried to have a conversation, with his or her private insurance carrier surprised?

Indeed, the evidence that government is far better than business at delivering health insurance is so compelling that anti-government Americans have adopted an ingenious strategy to avoid conceding the point.  They have simply decided that Medicare is a private insurance program.  Recall the signs and letters and talk show host warnings during the health reform debate that President Obama better keep the government out of Medicare!

We no longer even expect personal customer service in the fastest growing part of the economy and the one with which we interact the most–internet based services.  “Twitter’s phone system hangs up after providing Web or e-mail addresses three times,” the New York Times recently reported[2].  “At the end of a long phone tree, Facebook[3]’s system explains it is, in fact, “an Internet-based company.” …LinkedIn[4]’s voice mail lists an alternate customer service number. Dial it, and the caller is trapped in a telephonic version of the movie “Groundhog Day,” forced to work through the original phone tree again and again until the lesson is clear: stop calling.” Google’s phone system (what, you didn’t know Google has a phone number?) sends callers back to the Web no less than 11 times.

Internet based companies argue that with millions of users, they cannot possibly pick up a phone.

But of course they could. They certainly have the resources. This year Google’s profits will hit $10 billion with revenues approaching $50 billion.  Diverting just 10 percent of its profit, 2 percent of its revenue to customer service would allow Google to hire an additional 80,000 people to answer the phone.

“Mikkel Svane, the chief executive of Zendesk, which helps companies manage incoming requests offers the companies’ 21st century perspective on customer service, “People get aggressive or aggravated; people are depressed or crying. It’s just hard talking to customers.”

Yes dealing with humans is messy.  But hard as it is, government, unlike private business, appears equal to the challenge. In 1996 Baltimore launched the nation’s first 311 number, a single non-emergency number that residents can call to complain, ask advice, or request service.  The number now receives 1 million calls a year.  New York City 311, activated in 2003, receives 20 million calls a year on a remarkable range of issues.   My mom once called to ask why the reception of her beloved local public television station had become intermittent after the conversion to digital.  The 311 operator politely and efficiently shifted her to a person at Channel 13 who provided her with a clear (albeit ultimately unsatisfying) explanation.

Unlike Google, New York devotes about 2 percent of its revenues to this most personal and effective customer service. “We consider 311 one of the most used and most critical city services,” says[5] Joseph Morrisroe, executive director of NYC 311.

Budget difficulties have led several cities to launch online options to reduce costs. But they don’t see them as a replacement for a human answering the phone. Spencer Stern, a 311 consultant for more than 10 years notes, “Technology is an important tool, but everyone I’ve worked with — from city managers to county executives — is also very much focused on human interaction…They realize having that human touch is important to their constituents — no matter what the cost.”

Despite the cost, and shrinking budgets, cities don’t appear to be slowing their embrace of 311.

Why do big businesses all but ignore customer service?  Because the profits of Facebook and Google and Humana do not depend on providing high quality customer service. In fact, some keen observers of the giant companies that have come to dominate the private sector have concluded that good customer service actually hurts the bottom line.  The New York Times reports[6] on the epiphany of one such observer, Richard X. Bove, an analyst with Rochdale Securities about customer service in the banking sector. “Spending time solving problems with people is not selling products. It’s wasting time.”  “One of the core beliefs you have about any company is that the quality of their product is the determinant of the company’s financial success,” says Mr. Bove. “The point is, it doesn’t work here.” He adds, “I’m struck by the fact that the service is so bad, and yet the company is so good.”  Good to an analyst means the stock price has increased.

Mr. Bove gained this insight from personal experience.  He was a longtime customer of Wachovia, acquired by Wells Fargo in 2007.   Since then investors have pushed up Wells Fargo’s stock price so much that it is now the largest American bank by stock market capitalization. Meanwhile its customer service ratings have plunged.  In 2007, J. D. Power & Associates rated Wachovia among the banks with the highest level of customer satisfaction. After it was taken over its banks received below-average customer service ratings. In Florida, where Mr. Bove lives, Wachovia/Wells Fargo was 10th out of 11 banks.

Mr. Bove recently upgraded his recommendation on Wells Fargo stock to a buy.  At about the same time he began to move his personal accounts to another bank.

A few years ago Kevin Drum, a writer at Mother Jones, after describing his infuriating experience dealing with customer service at another corporate giant, Verizon nicely encapsulated what may become the new received wisdom. “Frankly, my dealings with the government, on average, are better than most of my dealings with corporations.  The government might sometimes provide poor customer service just because they lack the motivation to do better, but corporate America routinely provides crappy customer service as part of a deliberate and minutely planned strategy.”

Endnotes:
  1. study: http://www.commonwealthfund.org/News/News-Releases/2012/Jul/Medicare-v-Employer-Insurance.aspx
  2. reported: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/07/technology/tech-companies-leave-phone-calls-behind.html
  3. Facebook: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/facebook_inc/index.html?inline=nyt-org
  4. LinkedIn: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/linkedin-corporation/index.html?inline=nyt-org
  5. says: http://www.govtech.com/budget-finance/Cities-Aim-to-Slash-311-Phone-Bills-Without-Affecting-311-Services.html
  6. reports: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/25/business/bank-analyst-sees-no-payoff-in-customer-focus.html

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/quality-customer-service-government-business/


How Archaic Utility Rules Stall Local Solar [Infographic]

by John Farrell | August 8, 2012 11:02 am

[1]

Many people expect that solar power will dramatically expand once it bursts through the cost barrier and becomes less expensive than grid electricity.  But archaic utility rules can effectively cap local solar development at just 15% of peak demand.  Fortunately, pioneering states like Hawaii and California are exploring ways to lift the cap and bring utility rules into the 21st century.

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/archaic-utility-rules-barriers-infographic-ILSR.png

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/archiac-utility-rules-stall-local-solar-infographic/


Supportive Rules For Small-Scale Composting

by Brenda Platt | August 6, 2012 10:07 am

Composting is inherently local; it supports local green jobs, farmers and other businesses. Indeed, farmers have a vital role to play in producing and utilizing compost to restore depleted soils. They also have land, a necessary factor for developing the capacity to compost. State permitting rules can facilitate on-farm and other small-scale operators, thus helping to expand and diversify the composting infrastructure.

(more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/supportive-rules-small-scale-composting/#more-25199

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/supportive-rules-small-scale-composting/


Charter Schools and Kudzu

by David Morris | August 5, 2012 2:36 pm

On this, the 20th anniversary of the opening of the first charter school, kudzu comes to mind.

In the 1930s the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) paid farmers $8 per acre to plant this Japanese vine whose deep root structure helps reduce erosion and enrich a depleted soil.  Farmers planted more than 1.2 million acres.

Twenty years later the SCS declared kudzu a virulent, parasitic weed.  Its rapid growth shades the native flora, blocking their access to life-sustaining light. As these plants die, nutrients previously used by them become available to kudzu.

Initially, charter schools were embraced as a strategy to enrich what many viewed as an increasingly sterile public school landscape.  Early promoters included most famously Albert Shanker, President of both the United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.  The first charter school opened in Minnesota, one of the nation’s most liberal states.

“Groups of teachers and administrators who wanted to innovate and try new things would band together and little laboratories of education would emerge,” Dr. Gary Miron, Professor of Evaluation, Management and Research at Western Michigan University recalls[1], “The idea was simple: anything valuable culled from these experiments could be copied by the district…”

Within a decade the goals of experimentation and innovation were replaced by a focus on kudzu-like growth. Charter schools were less and less viewed as a way of improving public schools and more and more seen as a direct competitor and eventual replacement for them.  For conservatives, charter schools are an effective weapon for undermining Democratic strength in big cities and teacher unions.  For investors, charter schools are cash cows as local non-profit public school laboratories morphed into multi-state non-profit and eventually for profit corporations.    More than a third of all charter schools are now operated[2] by private corporations.  Student enrollment in for-profit charter schools has soared from approximately 1,000 in 1995-1996 to slightly less than 400,000 in 2010-2011. About 80 percent of Michigan’s charter schools are operated[3] by for-profit corporations.

As charter schools began to vie with public schools for supremacy Congress and the White House titled the playing field sharply in their favor.  To improve public education No Child Left Behind (NCLB) enthusiastically embraced what came to be known as “high stakes accountability”.  Parents of children in public schools that fail to make continued improvement on standardized tests for two years can transfer them to charter schools. If progress continues to stall the public school is closed.  The NCLB pointedly does not apply to charter schools.  To be eligible for funding from Obama’s Race to the Top program states must eliminate caps on charter schools.

Today 2 million students attend[4] some 5,600 charter schools in 41 states, with a waiting list of more than 600,000.   In the last 18 months, 23 states have approved[5] new laws aimed at promoting their growth. Meanwhile, last year cities announced the closing of about 2000 public schools.  And the cycle feeds on itself.  The more charters the less money for public schools, the more public education deteriorates and the greater the popularity and number of charter schools.

(more…)[6]

Endnotes:
  1. recalls: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/09/29/80-of-michigan-charter-schools-are-for-profits/
  2. operated: http://www.eduberry.com/sibling-group-announces-education-management-organization/
  3. operated: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/09/29/80-of-michigan-charter-schools-are-for-profits/
  4. attend: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_ID=22163
  5. approved: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/charterschoice/2012/06/twenty_years_in_lots_of_charter_school_activity_in_the_states.html
  6. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/charter-schools-kudzu-2/#more-25128

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/charter-schools-kudzu-2/


Atlanta Airport Launches Compostable Foodservice Ware Packet

by Brenda Platt | July 30, 2012 8:11 pm

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (HJAIA) sends more than 19,000 tons of waste to Georgia landfills each year.  Food scraps are the single largest component of HJAIA waste, making up about one-third of this tonnage.  In fact, food waste is the most prevalent material disposed in the landfills in the State of Georgia. Non-recyclable paper and plastic foodservice ware represent significant volumes of HJAIA’s trash as well.  HJAIA has a goal to divert 50% of its waste from landfill disposal by 2015.  Composting food waste is essential to reach this goal, and switching to compostable food packaging will enable successful food residuals recovery. (more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/atlanta-airport-launches-compostable-foodservice-ware-packet/#more-23070

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/atlanta-airport-launches-compostable-foodservice-ware-packet/


The Health Care Debate: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

by David Morris | July 27, 2012 11:10 am

Nowhere is the phrase American Exceptionalism more appropriately used than when describing our debate over health care.  Outside the bubble that is the United States health care is viewed as a right, recognition that sickness and injury can strike anyone despite their best efforts and an acknowledgement of a basic obligation civilized societies have to its members.

If members of those societies were to tune in to the American debate I suspect they’d be baffled to watch grown men and women come up with ingenious ways to complicate a very simple moral issue.

From the Sublime

Consider Richard Epstein’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold most of the health reform law. Epstein, an influential law professor at the University of Chicago chided[1] Chief Justice Roberts in the New York Times for relying on Congress’ Constitutional power to “lay and collect Taxes.”  He reminds us that the Constitution restricts the use of that power solely “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence (sic) and general Welfare of the United States.”  And he insists that extending health care to 30 million Americans does not meet this standard because “general welfare” means “benefits that must be given to all citizens, if given to any,” that is, “matters that advance the welfare of the United States as a whole.”(Italics in the original)

Extending health care to 30 million does not enhance the general welfare, argues Epstein, because it does not extend health care to all 330 million Americans.

Now consider the argument by the vast majority of the Supreme Court who voted to strike down the law’s provisions regarding states’ expanding Medicaid.  Under existing law the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the right to withdraw Medicaid funding from any state that does not meet minimum standards of access and coverage.  The new law gave the Secretary the authority to strip states of their existing Medicaid funding if they do not expand Medicaid.  The Court struck down this provision, arguing,[2] “the expansion accom­plishes a shift in kind, not merely degree. The original program was designed to cover medical services for particular categories of vulner­able individuals. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid is trans­formed into a program to meet the health care needs of the entire non-elderly population with income below 133 percent of the poverty level.”

(more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. chided: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/29/opinion/a-confused-opinion.html
  2. arguing,: http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/567/11-393/case.pdf
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/debating-health-care-american-bubble/#more-24841

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/debating-health-care-american-bubble/


Hawaiian Sunblock: Solar Facing Unexpected Barriers Despite Low Cost

by John Farrell | July 26, 2012 12:51 pm

[1]First in the U.S., Hawaii residents and businesses can install solar power – without incentives – for less than the cost of grid electricity.  But as local Earthjustice lawyer Isaac Moriwake notes, “the gates of heaven do not open just because solar is cheap.”  Instead, a number of unexpected barriers have kept the solar market from to its full potential or growing as quickly as it might.  ILSR’s new report, Hawaiian Sunblock: Solar Facing Unexpected Barriers Despite Low Cost, explores these barriers and how Hawaii’s experience might provide valuable lessons as the cost of solar makes it competitive across the country.

Learn more:

Download the report:
hawaiian-sunblock-report-ilsr-cover
View the infographic:[2]archaic utility rules barriers infographic ILSR[3] View presentation:
hawaiin sunblock presentation.001[4]
Read ebook[5] or iBook:
hawaiian sunblock ebook[6]

 

Executive Summary

[7]An island state reliant on imported oil for 83% of its electricity generation, Hawaii has become the pioneer for solar grid parity in the United States.  It had an early commitment to solar power in the name of energy independence and state energy mandates and incentives encouraged the development of more solar power.

A rapid rise in the price oil and a rapid decline in the cost of solar have suddenly removed the economic barrier to solar, but like a receding tide, it has also uncovered unexpected and previously hidden barriers.

Solar is Profitable

With abundant sunshine and falling solar costs, solar power in Hawaii can pay back in a remarkably short time.  Since 2010, electricity from solar has cost less than electricity from the utility, with the gap steadily growing.  Without any incentives, an investment in a residential solar project pays back in just 10 years while adding significant value to the property.  Adding in federal and state tax credits reduces that payback period to 5 years.  Payback periods for commercial solar are even better, thanks in part to federal accelerated depreciation.

[8]

(more…)[9]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. View the infographic:: http://www.ilsr.org/archiac-utility-rules-stall-local-solar-infographic/
  3. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/archiac-utility-rules-stall-local-solar-infographic/
  4. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/hawaiian-sunblock-presentation-barriers-cost-solar/
  5. Read ebook: http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/B008PWHPI0?tag=betteraddons-20
  6. [Image]: http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/B008PWHPI0?tag=betteraddons-20
  7. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/hawaii-residential-solar-crossover-2010.png
  8. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Simple-payback-solar-Hawaii-2012.png
  9. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/hawaiian-sunblock-solar-facing-unexpected-barriers-cost/#more-24817

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/hawaiian-sunblock-solar-facing-unexpected-barriers-cost/


The Chutzpah of Peter Orszag

by David Morris | July 26, 2012 10:27 am

[1]If chutzpah is killing your parents then throwing yourself on the mercy of the court because you’re an orphan then Peter Orszag is the poster child for chutzpah.  In his recent article[2] in Bloomberg News he insists the best fix for the post office is to take it private.  Where does the chutzpah come from?  Orszag was Director of the Office of Management Budget (OMB), an agency that played a key role in crippling the USPS with a manufactured financial crisis.

Here’s the back-story.  In 1970, after almost two centuries, the Post Office was transformed from a Cabinet agency to the quasi-independent US Postal Service (USPS).  In keeping with its new status, Congress eventually moved its finances off budget.  Yet, as I’ve discussed before[3], the OMB and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) ignored Congress and continued to include the USPS in the unified budget, the budget they use for “scoring” legislation to estimate its impact on the deficit.

Fast forward to 2001. The Government Accountability Office put the Postal Service on its list of “high-risk” programs because of rising financial pressures resulting from exploding demand from both the residential and commercial sectors.  Then in 2002 the anxiety level fell dramatically when the Office of Personnel Management found the Postal Service had been significantly overpaying into its retirement fund.

It seemed a simple matter to reduce future payments and tap into the existing surplus to pay for current expenses.  And would have been if the OMB and the CBO did not insist on adhering to their make-belief accounting system.

Several times between 2002 and 2005 Congress did overwhelmingly approved tapping into the existing surplus. Each time the White House nixed the idea because it would increase the deficit.

Finally, in 2006 the Post Office and Congress agreed to literally buy off the CBO and OMB.  Budget neutrality over a ten-year period was achieved by requiring the USPS to make ten annual payments of $5.4-5.8 billion. The level of the annual payments was not based on any actuarial determination.  They were produced by the CBO to equal the amounts necessary to offset the loss of the escrow payments. Under the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 the USPS was forced to prefund its future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years in ten years, something no other government agency or private corporation is required to do.

The Postal Regulatory Commission noted that those payments “transformed what would have been considerable profits into significant losses.”  Indeed, 90 percent or more of the current deficit is a result of these artificially created debts.

The Post Office is indeed in a financial crisis, but not one of its own making.

Enter Peter Orszag who still subscribes to the make believe world created by his old agency. His article lists three problems the USPS faces.   The artificial debt is not among them.  He lists three counterarguments people might use to oppose privatization.  The artificial debt is not among them.

A real world solution to the USPS fiscal crisis would be to remove the artificially generated financial noose from its neck and then build on its two most important assets:  its ubiquitous physical infrastructure and the high esteem in which Americans hold it.  In combination, these assets offer the post office an enviable platform upon which to generate many new revenue-producing services.

But for Peter Orszag the solution is to ignore the fraudulent financial burden imposed on the USPS and sell off and dismantle its ubiquitous infrastructure. “In addition to its 32,000 post offices, it has 461 processing facilities[4], monopoly access to residential mailboxes and an overfunded pension plan,” he writes. “These assets would attract bidders. Consider, for example, that many processing facilities and post offices sit on valuable real estate, and it may be smarter to sell many of them than to keep them.”

Did I forget to mention that Peter Orszag is currently vice chairman of corporate and investment banking at Citigroup?   Citigroup certainly be in the running to oversee the privatization of the post office, a process that would generate tens of millions of dollars in fees and undoubtedly handsomely benefit Mr. Orszag personally.

Now that’s chutzpah.

 

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/chutzpah-peter-orszag/post-office-300x262-2/
  2. article: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-24/best-fix-for-postal-service-is-to-take-it-private.html
  3. before: http://www.ilsr.org/phantom-accounting-destroying-post-office/
  4. 461 processing facilities: http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2012/pr12_058.htm

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/chutzpah-peter-orszag/


Texas Judge Rules The Sky Belongs To Us All

by David Morris | July 25, 2012 9:31 am

“Texas judge rules atmosphere, air is a public trust”, reads the headline in the Boston Globe[1].  A tiny breakthrough but with big potential consequences.  And as we continue to suffer from one of the most extended heat waves in US history, as major crops wither and fires rage[2] in a dozen states, we need all the tiny breakthroughs we can get.

Back in 2001, Peter Barnes, a co-founder of Working Assets (now CREDO) and On The Commons[3] and one of the most creative environmentalists around, proposed the atmosphere be treated as a public trust in his pathbreaking book[4], Who Owns the Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism (Island Press).

In 2007, in a law review article[5] University of Oregon Professor Mary Wood elaborated on the idea of a Nature’s Trust. “With every trust there is a core duty of protection,” she wrote. “The trustee must defend the trust against injury. Where it has been damaged, the trustee must restore the property in the trust.”

She noted that the idea itself is not new. In 1892 “when private enterprise threatened the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the Supreme Court said, ‘It would not be listened to that the control and management of [Lake Michigan]—a subject of concern to the whole people of the state—should . . . be placed elsewhere than in the state itself.’ You can practically hear those same Justices saying today that ‘[i]t would not be listened to’ that government would let our atmosphere be dangerously warmed in the name of individual, private property rights.”

In 2010 Wood, along with Julia Olson, Executive Director of Our Children’s Trust[6] “had the vision to organize a coordinated international campaign of attorneys, youth, and media around the idea that the climate crisis could be addressed as a whole system,” Barnes observes, replacing a situation in which “legal solutions were fragmented, focused on closing down a particular power plant or seeking justice for a particular endangered species, threatened neighborhood or body of water impacted by our fossil fuel abuse.”

On behalf of the youth of America, Our Children’s Trust, Kids Versus Global Warming and others began filing suits around the country, arguing the atmosphere is a public trust.   So far cases have been filed in 13 states.

The “public trust” doctrine is a legal principle derived from English Common Law. Traditionally it has applied to water resources.  The waters of the state are deemed a public resource owned by and available to all citizens equally for the purposes of navigation, fishing, recreation, and other uses. The owner cannot use that resource in a way that interferes with the public’s use and interest.  The public trustee, usually the state, must act to maintain and enhance the trust’s resources for the benefit of future generations.

In Texas, after a petition to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to institute proceedings to reduce greenhouse gases was dismissed, the Texas Environmental Law Center[7] sued on behalf of a group of children and young adults. The Center asserted the State of Texas had a fiduciary duty to reduce emissions as the common law trustee of a “public trust” responsible for the air and atmosphere

(more…)[8]

Endnotes:
  1. Boston Globe: http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2012/07/11/texas-judge-rules-atmosphere-air-public-trust/KidpxrAyYllPPnrijt3OjI/story.html
  2. rage: http://wildfiretoday.com/2012/07/01/list-of-the-26-largest-fires-currently-uncontained/
  3. On The Commons: http://www.onthecommons.org/
  4. book: http://www.skybook.org/
  5. article: http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1080&context=ealr
  6. Our Children’s Trust: http://ourchildrenstrust.org/
  7. Texas Environmental Law Center: http://www.texaselc.org/
  8. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/texas-judge-rules-sky-belongs/#more-24789

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/texas-judge-rules-sky-belongs/


Local Ownership Makes Communities Healthier, Wealthier and Wiser

by Stacy Mitchell | July 18, 2012 3:32 pm

When policymakers debate anything having to do with economic development — approving a new big-box store, say, or handing out tax breaks to large companies — most don’t imagine that the decision will have any effect on such things as voter turnout or the prevalence of chronic disease.

But a growing body of research is finding that scale and ownership of business matter in ways that extend far beyond economic outcomes.

A study[1] recently published in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, for example, found that people who live in communities where small, locally owned businesses are the norm are healthier than those who live in places where large corporations predominate. “We find that counties with a vibrant small-business sector have lower rates of mortality and a lower prevalence of obesity and diabetes,” conclude the study’s authors, Troy Blanchard, Charles Tolbert, and Carson Mencken.

They surmise that a high degree of local ownership improves a community’s “collective efficacy” — the capacity of its residents to act together for mutual benefit, to solve problems, and to further local goals. Previous research has identified a strong relationship between collective efficacy and population health, because high-functioning communities tend to build initiatives and infrastructure that foster healthier choices and prevent disease.

Another study[2], by Blanchard and Todd Matthews, found that counties dominated by a few big firms have lower levels of social capital and less engaged citizens than those in which economic activity is dispersed across many locally owned businesses. “We find that residents of communities with highly concentrated economies tend to vote less and are less likely to keep up with local affairs, participate in associations, engage in reform efforts or participate in protest activities at the same levels as their counterparts in economically dispersed environments,” they conclude.

Sociologists Stephan Goetz and Anil Rupasingha have linked this decline in civic participation to Walmart specifically.  With each Walmart store that opens, social capital erodes, their research[3] finds. Communities with more Walmart stores have lower voter turnout and fewer active nonprofit organizations. In their latest study[4], published in June, they’ve documented a correlation between Walmart and the presence of hate groups.

Still other research[5] has linked the regional market share of large retail chains with higher rates of poverty, infant mortality, and crime.

Why is local ownership so nourishing to the social and civic fabric of communities? (more…)[6]

Endnotes:
  1. study: http://cjres.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/12/14/cjres.rsr034.short?rss=1
  2. study: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/social_forces/v084/84.4blanchard.html
  3. research: http://www.ilsr.org/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail/#6
  4. study: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6237.2012.00854.x/abstract
  5. research: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/social_forces/v083/83.4tolbert.html
  6. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/local-ownership-healthier-wealthier-wiser/#more-24685

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/local-ownership-healthier-wealthier-wiser/


Living in Another Financial Reality

by admin | July 15, 2012 10:50 am

[1]Sally Sorbello, a grassroots organizer with the No Incinerator Alliance[2], is a small business women and citizen activist from Frederick, MD. Small business people and citizens have been fighting a proposed garbage incinerator in their County for seven years. Ms. Sorbello’s letter to her local newspaper captures the essence of the case against the incinerator. It is based on years of research and analysis of solid waste management in Frederick County and the state of Maryland.

The No Incinerator Alliance has an excellent web page[3] filed with information about the Frederick, MD anti-incinerator fight that can be applied to other locales fighting incineration of garbage.

ILSR is pleased to be part of the process in which citizen and small business activists get involved in anti-incineration organizing and emerge as leaders for other citizens in other communities. (more…)[4]
Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Smokestake.jpg
  2. No Incinerator Alliance: http://no-incinerator.org/
  3. web page: http://no-incinerator.org/
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/living-financial-reality/#more-24754

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/living-financial-reality/


Walmart Claims Its Stores are Magnets for Small Businesses; Not So, Research Finds

by Stacy Mitchell | July 13, 2012 8:15 am

Lately Walmart has taken to claiming that its stores are actually good for nearby small businesses, at least those that do not compete in the same product lines.  As Walmart tries to elbow its way into cities from New York to L.A., this assertion has become a standard part of the company’s PR rhetoric, repeated in media interviews and marketing materials.

On a website[1] set up to promote its expansion in Seattle, the company contends: “Walmart stores often serve as magnets for other new businesses, large and small. The small businesses that surround our stores generally have products and services we don’t offer or are strong in areas where we can’t compete.”

On a similar web site devoted to its Chicago plans, the retailer even provides a list of the types of small businesses[2] that supposedly thrive in the shadows of Walmart stores.  The list includes everything from appliance stores to specialty grocers.

The empirical evidence, though, indicates otherwise.

In a study[3] published in the Journal of Urban Economics[4], economists John Haltiwanger, Ron Jarmin, and C.J. Krizan analyzed about 1,200 big-box store openings and looked at the impact on two sets of independent businesses in the vicinity: those competing directly with the new big box and those offering different products and services.

For competing retailers, the study found “large, negative effects” on those within a 5-mile radius of the new big box, including a substantial number of store closures.  Although the impact was greatest in the immediate vicinity, the researchers also documented significant negative effects on competing businesses as far away as a 10-mile radius from the new store.

In addition to the closures, the number of new retail stores opening in the neighborhood dropped sharply.

As for non-competing businesses, the study found that big-box stores generate no positive spillover whatsoever.  Nearby businesses offering other products and services neither increased their growth nor expanded in numbers after the big box opened.

The  study found that small chains did not fare any better, with the exception of small chain restaurants, which experienced a modest positive effect when a big-box store opened nearby.

Most ominous for cities like Chicago, where about half a dozen Walmart stores have already been approved, the study found that big-box stores have a greater negative impact on local businesses in densely populated cities, compared to low-density suburbs, and the effects are worse still in low-income neighborhoods.

 

Endnotes:
  1. website: http://washington.walmartcommunity.com/community-impact
  2. list of the types of small businesses: http://chicago.walmartcommunity.com/small-businesses/
  3. study: http://ideas.repec.org/p/cen/wpaper/09-34.html
  4. Journal of Urban Economics: http://ideas.repec.org/s/eee/juecon.html
  5. Mom-and-pop Meet Big-box: Complements Or Substitutes?: http://ideas.repec.org/p/cen/wpaper/09-34.html
  6. Key Studies on Big-Box Retail & Independent Business: http://www.ilsr.org/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-claims-stores-magnets-small-businesses-so-research-finds/


Why We Pay Double for Solar in America (But Won’t Forever)

by John Farrell | July 10, 2012 5:24 pm

Update 12/21/12: Corrected chart.  Overhead and Sales Tax had been switched in the German data column.

I often get flak when I publish research on the cost trajectory for solar (e.g. my Rooftop Revolution report[1] estimates 100 million Americans reaching grid parity by 2021).  About half think I’m too conservative, and half think I’m too overconfident that solar will continue to drop in price by 7% per year indefinitely.

But I’m not alone in perceiving an enormous cost reduction opportunity for solar in the United States.  An article in Forbes last week suggested that we can “Cut The Price Of Solar In Half By Cutting Red Tape[2]“.  It provides a chart (reproduced below) like one I published in March[3], that shows how a similarly sized residential solar array in Germany costs 60% less than one built in the U.S.

[4]

This anecdote from a colleague illustrates the ridiculous disparity in red tape between the two nations (and consequently, the enormous opportunity):

There’s an article in the most recent issue of PHOTON describing a German family that got a 4.6 kW PV array installed and interconnected to their roof 8 days after calling a solar installer for the first time. The homeowner had a proposal from the installer within 8 hours. The installer called the utility the morning of the installation to request an interconnect that afternoon. The installer called at 10am, the utility came and installed 2 new meters and approved the interconnect at 2:37pm– the same day. The online registration of the PV system with Federal Grid agency and approval of the feed-in tariff took 5 minutes.

I’m sure that not every project gets completed that fast in Germany, but an interconnection and permitting process that takes less than a day?! 10 times that…would still be just incredible.

By comparison, New York City’s permitting goal under Solar America Cities was 100 days (before Solar America Cities it took 365 days).

[emphasis mine]

As I’ve mentioned before, the difference is mostly in “soft costs,” not hardware, and these cost barriers are solved by policy, not technological, innovation.  For example, soft costs include an enormous paperwork burden for U.S. solar installers, pictured at the top (photo taken from the Forbes post on cutting costs[5]), and already there are policy[6] ideas[7] that significantly reduce these costs.

So is it too ambitious to assume the price of solar continues to fall by 7% per year?  On the contrary, if the cost of solar continues at that pace, it will take the U.S. until 2025 – 13 years! – to match today’s cost of solar in Germany.  Can anyone honestly claim we’ll remain so far behind for so long?

When you add potential hardware innovations (e.g. like this[8]) to the soft cost reduction opportunity, the cost of solar is likely to keep falling rapidly in the United States.

Endnotes:
  1. Rooftop Revolution report: http://www.ilsr.org/rooftop-revolution-changing-everything-with-cost-effective-local-solar/
  2. Cut The Price Of Solar In Half By Cutting Red Tape: http://www.forbes.com/sites/toddwoody/2012/07/05/cut-the-price-of-solar-in-half-by-cutting-red-tape/
  3. one I published in March: http://cleantechnica.com/2012/03/20/german-policy-could-make-solar-in-america-wunderbar/
  4. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/gchart-US-vs-German-solar-cost-2012-revisedDec2012.png
  5. photo taken from the Forbes post on cutting costs: http://www.forbes.com/sites/toddwoody/2012/07/05/cut-the-price-of-solar-in-half-by-cutting-red-tape/
  6. policy: http://www.sunrunhome.com/solar-lease/cost-of-solar/local-permitting/
  7. ideas: http://www.ilsr.org/vermonts-streamlined-solar-permitting/
  8. like this: http://t.co/ycl7CJm5

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/why-pay-double-solar-america/


Walmart: 50 Years of Gutting America’s Middle Class

by Stacy Mitchell | July 5, 2012 12:08 pm

This op-ed is cross-posted from Other Words, which distributes commentary articles to newspapers.  It is licensed for use under a Creative Commons “Attribution-No Derivatives Work[1]” license.

Sam Walton opened the first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas, 50 years ago this month. Sprawled along a major thoroughfare outside the city’s downtown, that inaugural store embodied many of the hallmarks that have since come to define the Walmart way of doing business. Walton scoured the country for the cheapest merchandise and deftly exploited a loophole in federal law to pay his mostly female workforce less than minimum wage.

That relentless focus on squeezing workers and suppliers for every advantage has paid off since July 1962. Walmart is now the second-largest corporation on the planet. It took in almost half-a-trillion dollars last year at more than 10,000 stores worldwide[2].

Walmart now captures one of every four dollars Americans spend on groceries. Its stores are so plentiful that it’s easy to imagine that the retailer has long since reached the upper limit of its growth potential. It hasn’t. Walmart has opened over 1,100 new supercenters since 2005 and expanded its U.S. sales by 35 percent. It aims to keep on growing that fast. With an eye to infiltrating urban areas, Walmart recently introduced smaller “neighborhood markets” and “express” stores.

While the big-box business model Sam Walton pioneered half a century ago has been great for Walmart, it hasn’t been so great for the U.S. economy.

Walmart’s explosive growth has gutted two key pillars of the American middle class: small businesses and well-paying manufacturing jobs.

Between 2001 and 2007, some 40,000 U.S. factories closed, eliminating millions of jobs. While Walmart’s ceaseless search for lower costs wasn’t the only factor that drove production overseas, it was a major one. During these six years, Walmart’s imports from China tripled in value from $9 billion to $27 billion.

Small, family-owned retail businesses likewise closed in droves as Walmart grew. Between 1992 and 2007, the number of independent retailers fell by over 60,000, according to the U.S. Census.

Their demise triggered a cascade of losses elsewhere. As communities lost their local retailers, there was less demand for services like accounting and graphic design, less advertising revenue for local media outlets, and fewer accounts for local banks. As Walmart moved into communities, the volume of money circulating from business to business declined. More dollars flowed into Walmart’s tills and out of the local economy.

In exchange for the many middle-income jobs Walmart eliminated, all we got in return were low-wage jobs for the workers who now toil in its stores. To get by, many Walmart employees have no choice but to rely on food stamps and other public assistance.

Walmart’s history is the story of what has gone wrong in the American economy. Wages have stagnated. The middle class has shrunk. The ranks of the working poor have swelled. Whatever we may have saved shopping at Walmart, we’ve more than paid for it in diminished opportunities and declining income. (more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. Attribution-No Derivatives Work: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0/
  2. 10,000 stores worldwide: http://www.walmartstores.com/pressroom/news/10821.aspx
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-50-years-gutting-americas-middle-class/#more-24344

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-50-years-gutting-americas-middle-class/


Twenty Jobs Created at Bridgeport Mattress Refurbishing Plant

by Neil Seldman | July 3, 2012 8:03 pm

ILSR, working under a recycling and economic development grant from US EPA Region 1 and the Office of Mayor Bill Flint of Bridgeport, CT, facilitated the development of a mattress refurbishing and recycling plant that opened for business on June 27. (more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/twenty-jobs-created-bridgeport-mattress-refurbishing-plant/#more-24334

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/twenty-jobs-created-bridgeport-mattress-refurbishing-plant/


Justice Department Abets Amazon’s E-Book Monopoly

by Stacy Mitchell | June 20, 2012 3:30 pm

For years, Amazon has used its size and market power to bully publishers and keep other retailers from competing in the e-book market.  And, for years, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has done nothing to constrain Amazon’s abuses or bring about a more competitive marketplace.

So it was quite a shock last month when the Justice Department decided to intervene in the book industry, but, instead of going after Amazon, filed suit against five publishers that had dared to challenge Amazon’s dominance and Apple, an e-book retailer with a modest market share. In filing the case, the DOJ moved from ignoring concentrated market power to actively abetting a monopolist.

Two of the publishers and Apple plan to fight the lawsuit in court, but the other three publishers, facing sizeable legal costs, have agreed to settle.  If the DOJ’s proposed settlement is accepted by a federal judge, it could spell disaster for the book industry.  The proposed settlement would return control of e-book pricing to Amazon.  It would likely push the online giant’s only viable e-book competitors, including about 400 independent bookstores, out of the market, helping Amazon regain the 90 percent market share it held as recently as two years ago.

(Public comment on the proposed settlement is being taken through Monday, June 25th.  We urge you to submit comments.  More details on how to do so at the end.)

E-Book Pricing

The case alleges that the five publishers (HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster), with Apple’s help, colluded to fix e-book prices.  The activities in question took place as Apple was preparing to launch the iPad in early 2010.  At the time, Amazon was essentially the only outlet for e-books, and it was selling new releases at a steep loss in order to maintain its monopoly.  Amazon paid publishers a wholesale price of about $12-14 for top new titles and then retailed them for $9.99.  Other retailers, including Barnes & Noble, did not have the cash to sustain similar losses and were thus locked out of the growing e-book market.

Publishers feared Amazon’s tactics would ultimately destroy competing retailers, leaving the industry in the hands of a single dominant player.  With the launch of the iPad and the iBookstore, they saw an opportunity to renegotiate terms. They signed deals with Apple to sell e-books through an “agency” pricing model, under which publishers set the retail price of their books and retailers collect a 30 percent commission on each sale.  Publishers then insisted on the same terms with Amazon.

There is nothing illegal about agency pricing.  In fact, it’s a common pricing model for electronic goods.  It is, for example, the same approach that Apple uses with its App Store: app makers set the retail price and Apple keeps a commission.  It’s also the way both electronic and print books are sold in many European countries[1]. (more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. both electronic and print books are sold in many European countries: http://www.ilsr.org/why-publishers-not-amazon-should-set-book-prices/
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/dojs-lawsuit/#more-24120

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/dojs-lawsuit/


Crowdfunding for Community Power?

by John Farrell | June 19, 2012 6:24 am

Back in April, President Obama signed the JOBS Act and one of the most-heralded elements was so-called crowdfunding. The law sought to solve a major problem: it’s hard to finance small-scale business ventures.  Wall Street only cares about multi-million dollar plays and securities regulations make small-dollar projects rather difficult (and costly) to jointly fund.

The Act could have big implications for community-based renewable energy projects.

Right now, there are two kinds of community-based renewable energy projects, the charitable or the persistent.  Solar Mosaic, for example, was founded and funded on the concept that many environmentally-motivated people would help finance local solar projects with 0% interest loans.  They succeeded in building several projects, but the model is constrained by the limited universe of people who have money at hand and are willing to let it be used for no reward.

The other kind of renewable energy project allows participants to get some kind of financial reward through sheer persistence, overcoming enormous regulatory and legal barriers to success (some of which I covered in this 2007 report[1]).  It means finding a complex legal structure to capture federal tax credits despite needing investors with “passive tax liability” or sacrificing federal incentives for simple ownership structures like cooperatives or municipal utilities.  It means having “accredited” (rich) investors or only soliciting investors through personal relationships.  This community wind project is an illustration[2], as are several solar projects in this report[3].

The JOBS Act may finally allow thousands of regular folks to make a modest return (5-10%) by investing in local renewable energy projects.  The Act allows for crowdfunding under the following circumstances:

The $1 million limit is the approximate cost of a 200 kW solar project, so crowdfunding could mean a significant boost for community-based solar arrays, especially in states with virtual net metering (allowing those potential investors to share the electricity output).

Crowdfunding won’t mean much for wind projects, where a single turbine costs well over the dollar limit, but the JOBS Act also opened the door for more community-based wind with changes to SEC exemption Regulation A.  (For more on this, read my 2007 report on wind energy ownership[4] and then this article on the changes to Regulation A[5]).

It’s not all roses and unicorns.  There are still several potential hangups for the crowdfunding model:

I’ll be interested to see how it develops.

 

Photo credit[7]

Endnotes:
  1. this 2007 report: http://www.ilsr.org/broadening-wind-energy-ownership-changing-federal-incentives/
  2. community wind project is an illustration: http://www.ilsr.org/change-federal-incentive-enables-cooperative-own-wind-project/
  3. several solar projects in this report: http://www.ilsr.org/community-solar-power-obstacles-and-opportunities/
  4. 2007 report on wind energy ownership: http://www.ilsr.org/broadening-wind-energy-ownership-changing-federal-incentives/
  5. this article on the changes to Regulation A: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/on-small-business/beyond-crowdfunding-why-regulation-a-reform-is-the-most-vital-piece-of-the-jobs-act/2012/06/13/gJQAHnVQaV_story.html
  6. information disclosure requirements: http://www.thecorporatecounsel.net/Blog/2012/04/more-on-the-jobs-act-crowdfunding.html
  7. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hepburnwind/6317368974/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/crowdfunding-community-power/


U.S. CLEAN Programs: Where Are We Now? What Have We Learned?

by John Farrell | June 11, 2012 8:00 am

This report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance identifies all of the existing CLEAN (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now) programs in the United States (also known as feed-in tariffs) and examines the lessons learned from the early adopters.

Download the report [pdf]

Read on the Kindle[1], Nook[2], or Apple iBooks[3]

Executive Summary

CLEAN programs (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now) provide long-term contracts with utility companies whose price is set to guarantee a modest return for investors.  They have long been used in Europe (as “feed-in tariffs”) to spur renewable energy development, often with remarkable success.  In Germany for example, CLEAN contracts have been credited with developing over 50,000 megawatts of wind and solar power.  Indeed, so successful have these contracts been that Germany recently all but eliminated the premium paid for solar energy and re-directed the premium to encourage innovation in on-site use and storage systems.

While late to the game, Americans are finally in the game.  In 2012, all or part of fourteen American states have adopted CLEAN contracts for renewable energy.  Many more are in development.

U.S. States With CLEAN or Similar Program

[4]

The recent surge in popularity coincides with the recognition that on-again, off-again federal tax incentives undermine renewable energy investments and that the falling price of solar energy creates a need for a more flexible and regionally tailored transitional incentive.

But U.S. CLEAN programs still suffer from four common shortcomings.

Program Caps: A key shortcoming of U.S. programs is very small program size, especially given that these are multi-year, cumulative caps.  Evidence from other countries is that larger scale programs achieve greater cost reductions.

Scant Support for Small Scale: Another shortcoming, as discussed in greater detail in the full report, is the lack of support for on-site residential solar.  Sacramento, for example, allocated almost all of its 100 megawatt (MW) allocation to projects 1 MW and larger.  Palo Alto’s program is restricted to projects 100 kilowatts (kW) and larger.  Although there may be some cost savings involved in focusing on larger projects, these are modest.  On the other hand, the benefits of having tens of thousands of households with on-site solar and therefore an economic self-interest in supporting expanded renewable energy far outweigh the possible increased costs.  Europe has found this to be the case.  Nearly 90% of Danish wind turbines are locally owned, as is most of German solar and half its wind power. (more…)[5]

Endnotes:
  1. Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008BKQRCQ
  2. Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/us-clean-programs-john-farrell/1111565421
  3. Apple iBooks: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/u.s.-clean-programs/id536284681?mt=11
  4. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/CLEAN-states-map.png
  5. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/u-s-clean-programs-now-learned/#more-23911

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/u-s-clean-programs-now-learned/


Solar Power for Minnesota

by John Farrell | June 8, 2012 3:26 pm

This report, done for the Solar Works for Minnesota[1] campaign, explores the value of solar power on schools, libraries, and other public buildings in Minnesota.  It was co-authored by John Farrell[2] of ILSR[3] and Christina Mills[4] of IEER[5].

Download the Report

Highlights

What Policies Would Help

Endnotes:
  1. Solar Works for Minnesota: http://www.solarmn.org/
  2. John Farrell: http://www.ilsr.org/john-farrell/
  3. ILSR: http://www.ilsr.org
  4. Christina Mills: http://ieer.org/about-ieer/staff/
  5. IEER: http://ieer.org/
  6. solar energy standard: http://www.solarmn.org/
  7. local permitting process: http://www.ilsr.org/rule/solar-permitting/
  8. net metering law: http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=MN01R&re=1&ee=1

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/solar-power-minnesota/


Amazon Infographic: How a Single Company Gained a Stranglehold over Online Shopping and the Future of Retail

by Stacy Mitchell | June 5, 2012 5:10 pm

[1]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/amazon-infographic.png

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/amazon-infographic/


Business Can’t Win the Privatization Game Without a Handicap

by David Morris | June 4, 2012 5:31 pm

Handicapping occurs in sports to equalize the winning chances of contestants of varying abilities. Sometimes, as in horse racing, superior horses, based on past performance, are required to carry more weight.  Sometimes, as in golf, poorer players are allowed more strokes.

Unbeknownst to most of us, the competition between the public and private sectors is also handicapped.  But contrary to the popular wisdom, it is the private sector that often cannot compete without being given more strokes.

Everywhere we look this principle seems to hold true.

School busing

About 75 percent of Pennsylvania’s school districts now use private firms to bus their students. Yet according to a new report[1] by the Keystone Research Center (KRC), “Contracting out substantially increases state spending on transportation services. We estimate that if all districts switched to the self-supply of transportation services, total spending on student transportation services would fall by $78.3 million dollars…”

Despite the higher costs school districts continue to contract out.  Why? Because, to use the golf analogy, the private sector receives a handsome handicap. Back in 1970 the Pennsylvania School Code added a provision requiring the state to reimburse school districts that contract out at a higher rate.  Legislators knew the private sector couldn’t compete without a handicap.

The result is that while bus privatization costs Pennsylvania taxpayers more, the state subsidy often slightly reduces the cost to the contracting school district itself.

Medicare

In 1994 the Republicans took over the House of Representatives and immediately began to privatize Medicare.  Their first step, achieved in 1997 with the support of President Clinton was Medicare+Choice.   But the Republicans made a serious tactical mistake.  They were so confident in the inherent superiority of the private sector they didn’t ask for a handicap.  Private insurers received the same amount as the service cost under Medicare.

The private sector lost the race. Badly. Private insurers began pulling out en masse. In 2000, more than 900,000 patients were dropped from the program.

No one should have been surprised.  Private insurers overhead costs-marketing, profits, etc.—dwarf[2] those of Medicare: Slightly under 17 percent compared to about 5 percent for Medicare.  So to become competitive the private sector required at least a 12 percent handicap.

(more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. report: http://keystoneresearch.org/sites/default/files/RunawaySpending.pdf
  2. dwarf: http://www.cahi.org/cahi_contents/resources/pdf/CAHIMedicareTechnicalPaper.pdf
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/private-sector-isnt-competitive-subsidy/#more-23776

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/private-sector-isnt-competitive-subsidy/


How Phantom Accounting Is Destroying The Post Office

by David Morris | May 29, 2012 5:23 pm

As every 6 year old learns, there is real and there is make believe. The massive Post Office deficit that is driving management to commit institutional suicide by ending 6 day delivery, closing half of the nations’ 30,000 or so post offices and half it’s 500 mail processing centers, and laying off over 200,000 workers, is make believe.

Here’s why.  In 1969 the federal government changed the way it did accounting.  It began to use what was and is called a unified budget that includes trust funds like social security previously considered off budget because they were self-sustaining through dedicated revenue.

At that time the Post Office was, as it had been since 1792, a department of the federal government like the Department of Energy or the Department of Agriculture.  While generating most of its revenue from postage it also received significant Congressional appropriations.

In 1970 Congress transformed the Post Office into the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The new quasi-public agency was intended to put the Postal Office on a more business like footing.  The Postal Service was allowed to borrow to make needed capital investments and was given more flexibility in how it spent its money.  In return Congress required the Postal Service to become self-sufficient.  The subsidy, at that time running about 15 percent of total revenues (close to $10 billion a year in 2012) was phased out over the next 15 years.  After the mid 1980s the only taxpayer funds involved, amounting today to $100 million a year, subsidizes mail for the blind and official mail to overseas voters.

In keeping with the new philosophy that the Postal Service should be independent Nixon’s Office of Management and Budget administratively moved its finances off budget in 1974.  In 1989 Congress did it by statute.

None of this made any difference, as exhaustively detailed by the USPS Inspector General in a 2009 report[1].  The OMB and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) continued to treat the postal service as part of the unified budget, the budget they use for “scoring” legislation to estimate its impact on the deficit.

And that’s where the make believe comes from.

(more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. report: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=federal+budget+treatment+of+the+postal+service&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CFkQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.uspsoig.gov%2Ffoia_files%2FESS-WP-09-001.pdf&ei=Zo2-T4mnCsSSgwfx4sS4Dw&usg=AFQjCNENSx5V1GF2O-mnIaggUsMZjQH-gA
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/phantom-accounting-destroying-post-office/#more-23596

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/phantom-accounting-destroying-post-office/


The Euro and Local Self-Reliance: A Flashback

by David Morris | May 24, 2012 2:27 pm

In May 1998 the European Union voted to adopt a single European currency.  A few days later David Morris set down his thoughts about that momentous decision from a local self-reliance perspective.  Fourteen years later, as Greece and Europe revisit the costs and benefits of the Euro, we thought it appropriate to offer that column on our front page.   Not to say “we told you so” but to demonstrate that in an age of globalization, local self-reliance can still be a powerful analytical tool.

A Single European Currency: High Risk, Low Returns

David Morris

Saint Paul Pioneer Press. May 7, 1998.

“A man is wise with the wisdom of his time only and ignorant with its ignorance”, Henry David Thoreau wrote. “Observe how the greatest minds yield in some degree to the superstition of their age.”

What is the superstition of our age? Globalization. In its name we are willing to take any risk, no matter how great, to achieve benefits no matter how small.

Consider what happened last weekend. Eleven nations, in an unprecedented political and economic leap of faith, formally adopted a single European currency. A New York Times headline accurately describes the experiment, “The euro: High Wire Without a Net”.

On January 1, 1999, the euro will come into existence. National currencies will begin to disappear. New government bonds will be issued in euros; old ones will be redenominated. Stocks and other financial assets will be redenominated as well. European businesses will keep their books in eros. On January 1, 2002, euro notes and coins will enter general circulation. On July 1, 2002, national currencies will cease to be legal tender within participating countries.

The transition to a single currency is expected to cost as much as half a trillion dollars.

(more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/euro-local-self-reliance-flashback/#more-23559

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/euro-local-self-reliance-flashback/


Distribution of Bank Assets by Size of Institution, 2011 vs. 2007

by Stacy Mitchell | May 18, 2012 3:59 pm

Distribution of Bank Assets by Size of Institution, 2011[1]

More than three years after their reckless greed triggered the Great Recession, the nation’s biggest banks have paid almost no penalty and are bigger than ever, as these two graphs illustrate.

In 2007, the top four banks — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo — held assets of $4.3 trillion*, which amounted to 33 percent of the all assets held by U.S. depository institutions (commercial banks and credit unions). By the end of 2011, they controlled $5.9 trillion, or 40 percent of assets.

Overall, in the space of just four years, the share of assets held by these four banks plus another 15 giant banks (defined those with more than $100 billion in assets) rose from 49% to 56%. Meanwhile, the share held by small and medium-sized banks and credit unions declined.

* These figures count only the assets held by the banks’ FDIC-insured subsidiaries and do not reflect nondeposit subsidiaries.

Distribution of Bank Assets by Size of Institution, 2007[2]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/share-assets-2011.png
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/share-assets-2007.png

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/distribution-bank-assets-size-institution-2011-vs-2007/


Walmart Heirs Quietly Fund Walmart’s Environmental Allies

by Stacy Mitchell | May 16, 2012 7:21 pm

A few weeks ago, The New York Times ran a story on the front page of the business section under the headline “Unexpected Ally Helps Walmart Cut Waste[1].” The retailer’s accomplice, readers of the article learned, is the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the largest and most influential environmental groups in the country. EDF has been working closely with Walmart on its sustainability efforts since 2005, and has even opened an office in Bentonville, Ark., where Walmart is headquartered.

The Times noted that EDF “does not accept contributions from Walmart or other corporations it works with.” EDF itself often mentions this when the subject of Walmart comes up, making note of it on its website[2], as well as in blog posts and other communications about its work with the company.

But, while it’s true that Walmart does not fund EDF (either directly or through its internal, company-run foundation[3]), the environmental group does receive an awful lot of money from the Walton Family Foundation. Since 2004, the foundation has given EDF more than $53 million. Last year, the foundation’s $13.7 million grant to the group amounted to about 15 percent of EDF’s budget[4]. After readers brought this to the attention of The Times[5], the newspaper amended its story and ran a correction noting the Walton foundation’s grants to EDF.

Established by Walmart founder Sam Walton in 1987 and run today by his children and grandchildren, the Walton Family Foundation has quietly grown into one of the largest foundations in the country. Last year, it ranked second in the nation based on total giving, behind only the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It’s impossible to untangle all the connections between the Walton Family Foundation and the Walmart corporation. They are separate entities, but the Waltons pull the strings within both — the family has complete control over the foundation and significant control over the corporation.

The foundation’s board is made up entirely of Waltons. Walmart’s board includes three family members: Rob Walton, who’s been a director since 1978 and chair since his father Sam died 20 years ago; Jim, another of Sam’s sons; and Greg Penner, who is married to Rob Walton’s daughter, Carrie, one of the more visible and active directors of the foundation.

More important than board seats is stock: The Waltons own about 50 percent[6] of Walmart’s stock. Yes, it’s mind-boggling, but a single family owns half of the second-largest company[7] on the planet, a corporation whose revenues last year exceeded the GDP of all but 23 countries. (more…)[8]

Endnotes:
  1. Unexpected Ally Helps Walmart Cut Waste: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/14/business/wal-mart-and-environmental-fund-team-up-to-cut-waste.html?_r=3
  2. website: http://business.edf.org/projects/walmart
  3. foundation: http://www.walmartstores.com/CommunityGiving/203.aspx
  4. EDF’s budget: http://www.edf.org/finances
  5. brought this to the attention of The Times: http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/nyt_obscures_wal-mart_edf_link.php
  6. about 50 percent: http://blogs.wsj.com/marketbeat/2012/04/23/wal-mart-shares-slump-after-mexican-bribe-investigation/
  7. second-largest company: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2012/snapshots/2255.html
  8. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-heirs-quietly-fund-walmarts-environmental-allies/#more-23461

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-heirs-quietly-fund-walmarts-environmental-allies/


Are Lightly Regulated States Really More Friendly to Small Businesses?

by Stacy Mitchell | May 9, 2012 6:39 pm

Number of Small Firms per 1,000 People, By State[1]

 

A new ranking of states based on “small business friendliness” was released this week by Thumbtack[2], in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation[3]. Thumbtack, an online directory that helps people find local service providers, surveyed over 6,000 small business owners who list their services on its site and, based on their responses, assigned letter grades to each state.

The survey-takers were asked to rate their state across several measures of small business friendliness. Many of the questions dealt with regulations. Business owners were asked how friendly or unfriendly their state is with regard to environmental, labor, health & safety, licensing, and land use regulations.

In the final results, which you can see in this interactive map[4], states that have more regulations tend to rank low, while those with fewer and looser rules top the list. The five states deemed least friendly to small businesses are Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii, California, and New York. The five most friendly are Idaho, Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, and Louisiana.

In a press release, Thumbtack put a point on the findings by quoting the owner of a roofing business in Texas:  “With comparatively few regulations or government oversight on small businesses, Texas is truly a small-business-friendly state.”

The trouble with this analysis, though, is that many of the “unfriendly” states are actually home to much larger numbers of small businesses than the “friendly” states. (more…)[5]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/sm-biz-by-state.png
  2. Thumbtack: http://www.thumbtack.com
  3. Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation: http://www.kauffman.org/
  4. this interactive map: http://www.thumbtack.com/survey#states
  5. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/lightly-regulated-states-friendly-small-businesses/#more-23329

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/lightly-regulated-states-friendly-small-businesses/


Romney, Hoover, Eisenhower and that Pipeline

by David Morris | May 9, 2012 6:17 pm

After winning the Illinois primary, Mitt Romney delivered a victory speech[1] in which he deplored America’s lost “can do spirit”.  Unsurprisingly, he blamed it on government.  If elected he promised, “We’re going to get government out of the way”.   Then he offered a few examples of what he meant.  “We once built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam. Now we can’t even build a pipeline.”

Romney liked the line, and the thunderous applause it generated so much that a few weeks later at a Tea Party gathering in Pennsylvania he used it again[2].

Rachel Maddow[3] and many others have pointed out the fundamental flaw in Romney’s argument.  The government built both the Hoover Dam and the interstate highway system.   Republican administrations championed both projects. They were testaments to the can-do spirit of government, grand collective undertakings that benefited generations to come.

How grand?  The Hoover Dam cost the equivalent of $24 billion in today’s dollars, notes Steve Benen[4].  Congress appropriated $25 billion to build the first 40,000 miles of the interstate highway system, equivalent to $830 billion in today’s dollars.

Few have commented on Romney’s second sentence. “Now we can’t even build a pipeline”.  Having cited two examples that contradicted his thesis that government lacks the can do spirit, he offered an example of how government is preventing the private sector from having the can do spirit that may be even more problematic.

Romney, as everyone in his audience and most of the country knew, was talking about the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama had delayed construction while a detailed environmental impact study is completed, generating universal Republican outrage.

If completed, the pipeline will transport crude oil extracted from Canadian tar sands through the United States and to Gulf Coast refineries where it will then be exported. Demonstrating that private sector can-do spirit Romney so exalts, TransCanada, the company that owns the pipeline, is continuing to acquire land to construct the pipeline despite Obama’s decision. “We don’t need a presidential permit in order for us to obtain the easements that we need for the right of way for this project,” says[5] TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha.

Apparently, the foreign corporation also doesn’t think it needs permission of the landowners to move ahead.  When some farmers refused to sell their land, TransCanada began the process of seizing their private property.   Which has led many of Mitt Romney’s most ardent supporters to rebel.

A month before Romney’s speech this major story appeared[6] in the Texas Tribune, “Keystone Pipeline Sparks Property Rights Backlash”.  The reporter conveyed the anger of Julia Trigg Crawford who manages a 600-acre farm in Lamar County that’s been in her family since 1948. “I’m just an angry steward of the land. A foreign-owned, for-profit, non-permitted pipeline has taken a Texan’s land. Doesn’t sound right, does it?”

Does it?  The Texas Constitution requires that eminent domain, that is, the right to seize private property, can only be exercised for “public use.”  In the past courts have routinely dismissed challenges to pipelines by landowners.

But last year the Texas Supreme Court ruled[7] that a company that wanted to build a CO2 pipeline for its own use was a private carrier and couldn’t use eminent domain to get an easement on a Houston-area rice farm.  In his opinion[8] for the majority, Justice Don Willett wrote that “even when the Legislature grants certain private entities ‘the right and power of eminent domain,’ the overarching constitutional rule controls: no taking of property for private use.”

“The ruling sent shockwaves through the oil and gas lobby, which is now urging the Supreme Court to rehear the case,” the Texas Tribune observes.

Ms. Crawford successfully obtained a rare restraining order from the courts that halted any further encroachment on her land until questions surrounding TransCanada’s right to condemn her property are resolved.

The case is going to court.   There will be a hearing in June and possibly a trial in July. I hope they are televised.  Texas’ two Republican Senators and its Republican Governor have come out against the Crawford Family

The Hoover Dam and the interstate highway system were built by the people for the people.  They were and are public assets, huge public undertakings that have generated huge public benefits. The Keystone XL pipeline is proposed by a private company for private gain. The private company insists it has the right to seize private land to enhance the value of its private asset.

Perhaps an enterprising reporter on the campaign trail could ask Mitt Romney if he would like to revisit his comments?

 

This article first appeared on On The Commons.  www.onthecommons.org[9]

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. speech: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/03/20/mitt_romneys_illinois_victory_speech_113565.html
  2. again: http://www.politicspa.com/romney-critical-of-obama-war-on-economic-freedom-at-philadelphia-tea-party-gathering/34228/
  3. Rachel Maddow: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=rachel%20maddow%20hoover%20dam%20video&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CFIQtwIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Ds0gNga6v9EY&ei=-6iqT4SCHIOy8ATqiPDFAw&usg=AFQjCNGantBuvQuMwakuR2UH4QpvwNH9Vg
  4. Steve Benen: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=equivalent%2C%20hoover%20dam%2C%20steve%20benen&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CFIQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmaddowblog.msnbc.msn.com%2F_news%2F2012%2F03%2F22%2F10810874-hoover-dam-political-metaphor%3Flite&ei=rKaqT9SCJo2I8QS6n4zJDA&usg=AFQjCNG8UpKzqOmmTFwFBvXps9igEZXoxQ
  5. says: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=we%20don%E2%80%99t%20need%20a%20presidential%20permit%20in%20order%20for%20us%20to%20obtain%20the%20easements%20that%20we%20need%20for%20the%20right%20of%20way%20for%20this%20project&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CF4QFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.oilandgaslawyerblog.com%2F2012%2F02%2Ftexas-debate-over-pipeline-con.html&ei=r6eqT9GODZCQ8wTir_meAw&usg=AFQjCNFYS5xTkhUlNz8ZEpHKIZcUGrFn1w
  6. appeared: http://www.texastribune.org/texas-energy/oil-and-natural-gas/keystone-pipeline-sparks-property-rights-backlash/
  7. ruled: http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/08/30/3324738/ruling-on-denbury-resources-pipeline.html
  8. opinion: http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/2011/oct/30/court-makes-it-harder-to-claim-eminent-domain/?print=1
  9. www.onthecommons.org: http://onthecommons.org/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/romney-hoover-eisenhower-pipeline-2/


Profiles in Political Courage

by David Morris | May 3, 2012 7:12 pm

A few weeks ago Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA who is retiring from the House this year, gave a memorable interview[1] to New York magazine in which he criticized President Obama for aggressively pushing health care reform.  Frank says he warned Obama the Democratic Party would pay “a terrible price.”

Apparently Frank was not alone in counseling Obama to take health care off the front burner. “At various points, Vice President Joe Biden, senior advisor David Axelrod and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel advised the President to focus entirely on the economy and leave comprehensive health care for another day,” Jonathan Alter, senior editor of Newsweek reports[2]. “‘I begged him not to do this’, Emanuel told me when I was researching my book about Obama’s first year in office.”

After the law passed Alter asked Obama why he overruled his team.  The President responded,  “‘I remember telling Nancy Pelosi that moving forward on this could end up being so costly for me politically that it would affect my chances’ in 2012.”  But he and Pelosi agreed that if they didn’t move at the outset of the his Presidency “it was not going to get done.”

In 2009 Obama put country above party.  Bringing health security to over 30[3] million Americans, strengthening the social compact and laying the foundation for a major restructuring of our health system were sufficient rewards for him to accept the political risks.

Almost exactly 45 years before Obama’s decision we witnessed another profile in political courage. Former Texas Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, after becoming President on the death of JFK, aggressively and decisively ended the south’s filibuster against a Civil Rights Act, ensuring its passage in July 1964.  In 1965 he secured enactment of the Voting Rights Act.

As is the case with the health care law, the Constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act was tested.  Southern states argued the federal government had no right to force the private sector to treat blacks and whites the same.  The Supreme Court ruled it did.

One hundred years after the Civil War, millions of southern blacks effectively gained the right to vote.  LBJ also put country above party, at least the country that strives to honor the foundational moral values of the Declaration of Independence.

(more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. interview: http://nymag.com/print/?/news/features/barney-frank-full-transcript-2012-4/
  2. reports: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=Vice%20President%20Joe%20Biden%2C%20senior%20advisor%20David%20Axelrod%20and%20Chief%20of%20Staff%20Rahm%20Emanuel%20advised%20the%20President%20to%20focus%20entirely%20on%20the%20economy%20and%20leave%20comprehensive%20health&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmobile.bloomberg.com%2Fnews%2F2012-04-19%2Fbarney-frank-makes-a-misdiagnosis-on-obamacare%3Fcategory%3D&ei=LtSiT8zlMYPq9AS3qIDoCA&usg=AFQjCNE-12ijHKfW2vGDz4XM2j4j1ES4Ww
  3. 30: http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2012/apr/08/eric-hovde/newcomer-and-wisconsin-gop-senate-candidate-eric-h/
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/profiles-political-courage/#more-23195

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/profiles-political-courage/


Local Solar Could Solve ‘Massive Supply-Demand Imbalance’ in Renewable Energy Financing

by John Farrell | May 1, 2012 9:12 pm

In the next two years, the U.S. may get a lot less solar and wind power than it could.

It’s not a shortage of solar panels or the cost of turbines.  Rather, it’s a problem of the perverse nature of federal incentives for renewable energy.  Right now, the owner of a solar or wind energy project can get a federal tax credit based on the value of the project or the electricity it produces.  But many owners don’t have enough tax liability to make use of the entire credit, and their search for a “tax equity” partner has created a logjam in the renewable energy market.

As reported in Greentechmedia[1],

CITI calculates there is a need in solar for $10 billion to $12 billion in tax equity for 2012 through 2014,  but not more than $5 billion in tax equity is available. That, Salant said, is “a massive supply-demand imbalance” that is not “going away anytime soon.” [emphasis mine]

The following graphic (from the article) illustrates:

[2]

A big part of this big money problem is a focus on big projects (and technologies that can’t economically be done at small scale):

“PV can be done on a much smaller scale and be economic, and a large project can be done in phases. It’s a lot easier to finance $250 million or $500 million than it is to get $3 billion all at once.” [Concentrating solar power] requires vital economies of scale “so you’ve got to raise $2 billion all at once. That’s a lot harder to do than to raise $500 million four times.”

That’s a small-scale solution to a big problem.  There may be a handful more folks who can invest $500 million than $2 billion.

But there are millions more Americans who could invest a few thousand dollars in community-based solar and wind power.  In 2009, American taxpayers cumulatively paid $865 billion in federal income taxes[3].  If just 1 in 100 could invest in a renewable energy project, it would nearly quadruple the tax equity market (from $3.2 billion to ~$12 billion).  And since 1 in 3 Americans will be able to get electricity from rooftop solar for less than their utility provides in the next decade[4], policy makers should find a way to open the small investor floodgates

The answer is community-based solar and wind projects, for three reasons:

  1. Economies of scale (without excessive size)
  2. Smaller investment increments (financed with bank loans and paid back with energy savings)
  3. Much greater political support[5]

 

But there are three policy solutions needed to enable community power:

  1. Community net metering – to allow project owners to share the project’s electricity output.  Right now, most state policies require utilities to allow net metering, but only for a solar or wind project on your own property.
  2. Simplified securities law – to make community-based projects easier.  Right now, there’s little difference between setting up a mutual fund and setting up a community solar project, and both take a lot of lawyers.  (Learn more in this report[6])
  3. Smarter federal tax incentives – to allow community-based institutions to host community-based projects.  Non-profits, cooperatives, cities and counties are logical entities to build projects, but they can’t (easily) use federal tax incentives for solar and wind power.  This raises the stakes for problem #2.

 

Some of these policy solutions are already in play.  As many as eight states already offer community net metering.  The federal 1603 cash grant (now expired) was one of the best tools for community-based projects (like this one[7]); President Obama has proposed another solution[8].

The U.S. could spend the next few years letting wind and solar power development lag because of artificial financing constraints.  Or policy makers could use two or three carefully crafted tools to open the floodgates to a massively democratic investment in local, clean energy.

Endnotes:
  1. reported in Greentechmedia: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Solar-Banking-Part-1-Smart-Financial-Engineering-Funds-the-Big-Solar-Proj/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed:+greentechsolar+%2528GreentechSolar%2529
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/3SmithersFinanc.jpg
  3. American taxpayers cumulatively paid $865 billion in federal income taxes: http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/250.html
  4. 1 in 3 Americans will be able to get electricity from rooftop solar for less than their utility provides in the next decade: http://www.ilsr.org/rooftop-revolution-changing-everything-with-cost-effective-local-solar/
  5. Much greater political support: http://www.ilsr.org/political-and-technical-advantages-distributed-generation/
  6. this report: http://www.ilsr.org/broadening-wind-energy-ownership-changing-federal-incentives/
  7. like this one: http://www.ilsr.org/change-federal-incentive-enables-cooperative-own-wind-project/
  8. President Obama has proposed another solution: http://www.ilsr.org/refundable-federal-tax-credit-remove-barrier-community-wind/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/massive-supply-demand-imbalance-for-solar-and-wind-project-financing/


The Walmart de Mexico Scandal: Here’s a Punishment that Befits the Crime

by Stacy Mitchell | April 27, 2012 12:33 pm

This article originally appeared on Grist[1].

Walmart spent much of last week burnishing its green image[2] and touting its progress “toward becoming a more sustainable, responsible company.” All the while, those at the very top of the company, including CEO Mike Duke, knew that The New York Times was about to publish an explosive story[3] that would lay to waste the notion that Walmart cares about anything other than its own growth.

The Times story presents credible evidence that Walmart’s Mexican subsidiary spent millions of dollars bribing local officials in order to speed up permits for new stores, get “zoning maps changed,” and make “environmental objections vanish.” When top executives, including Duke, learned of the bribes in 2005, they declined to notify U.S. and Mexican law enforcement, shut down Walmart’s own internal investigation, and continued to lavish promotions on the alleged ringleader, Eduardo Castro-Wright, who currently serves as Walmart’s vice chair.

In the days since the Times story broke, attention has turned to the potential punishment Walmart might face. A criminal investigation is underway at the U.S. Department of Justice, which, under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, could pursue prosecutions that might lead to substantial fines and even jail time for Duke and others implicated. The Mexican government, meanwhile, has initiated its own inquiry.

If justice is to be served in this case, though, Walmart must not only face fines and prison terms, but also be forced to sell off a sizeable number of its ill-gotten Mexican stores. By bribing officials, Walmart was able to crush its competitors, opening new stores so fast they had no time to react. In just a few years, Walmart came out of nowhere to dominate the Mexican economy.

But, as any athlete or other competitor knows, if you’re caught cheating your way to a win, then you most certainly do not get to keep the prize.

Walmart’s expansion into Mexico began in earnest in 1997 when it bought a controlling stake in one of the country’s largest retail chains. Walmart then began to build new stores with stunning speed. By the time the bribery allegations reached executives at the company’s Arkansas headquarters in the fall of 2005, Walmart had more than 750 stores in Mexico and was opening new ones at the rate of almost two per week.

As Walmart grew, Mexico’s traditional vendors, open-air markets, and independent businesses declined. Competing supermarket chains were left in the dust too, unable to match Walmart’s speed and financial muscle.

Although Walmart’s expansion plans often encountered strong grassroots opposition, as its stores frequently do in the U.S., the company consistently outmaneuvered local residents, in part, we now know, by using bribes to skirt land-use rules and quickly win approvals. (more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/business-technology/the-walmart-de-mexico-scandal-heres-a-punishment-that-befits-the-crime/
  2. burnishing its green image: http://grist.org/business-technology/top-10-ways-walmart-is-failing-on-sustainability/
  3. explosive story: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/business/at-wal-mart-in-mexico-a-bribe-inquiry-silenced.html
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-de-mexico-scandal/#more-23119

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-de-mexico-scandal/


The More Local the Energy, the More Valuable

by John Farrell | April 24, 2012 8:38 pm

[1]

Local ownership of a wind project accounts for half of its lifetime economic value to the community!

 

From: Value Creation for Local Communities through Renewable Energies[2] [pdf]

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Screen-Shot-2012-04-24-at-3.32.14-PM.png
  2. Value Creation for Local Communities through Renewable Energies: https://encrypted.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=value%20creation%20for%20local%20communities%20through%20renewable%20energies&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CC4QFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.germany.info%2Fcontentblob%2F3097466%2FDaten%2F1196468%2FRenewsSpecial_DD.pdf&ei=pA2XT5jLHoa08ASWzqyYDg&usg=AFQjCNGXZILKB5u-4X4mX3wFeAWtrFt2JA&cad=rja

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/local-energy-valuable/


Are Republican Governors Truly Representing Their Citizens on Health Care?

by David Morris | April 16, 2012 4:14 pm

A few days ago 26 states argued before the Supreme Court that the health law’s dramatic extension of Medicaid coverage constitutes unconstitutional federal coercion.  ”Congress easily could have designed an act that encouraged rather than forced states to expand their Medicaid programs,” their brief submitted[1] to the Court argues. “By making a conscious decision to deprive states of any choice in the matter, Congress has effectively forced this court’s hand.”

Since virtually all these states are headed by Republican Governors, we can consider this the Republican Party position.

What form does this coercion take?   According to the states, it is the unprecedented federal generosity[2] that allows them to achieve the required expansion at virtually no cost. They believe the federal government is making them an offer they can’t refuse, which rises to the level of an unconstitutional invasion of state prerogatives.

A little background may be in order.  Medicare guarantees health care to those over 65.  It is funded from payroll taxes.  Enacted at the same time as Medicare, Medicaid is aimed at lower income households.  It is funded out of general revenues.  State participation is voluntary but if states offer minimum levels of coverage, the federal government will pay the majority of the costs.  Currently the average federal share[3] is 57 percent but it can be much higher for specific states.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires participating states to extend Medicaid eligibility to all households with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (in 2012 about $15,000 for an individual and $30,000 for a family of four). In return for their doing this the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs of Medicaid for new entrants for the first three years.  Then states will pick up a tiny share of the cost, gradually growing to 10 percent by 2020, and remaining there.

I have a question for these 26 mostly Republican Governors.  Whom do you think you are representing?  It’s hard to believe it’s the citizens of your states.

Consider the impact of the law on Alabama, one of the signatories to the Supreme Court brief. Medicaid in Alabama is a $6 billion-a-year program. The federal government covers[4] more than $4 billion of that.  Under the new law, the number of Alabamans covered by Medicaid, currently about 1 million of its 5 million residents, would rise by 500,000. That may increase[5] Medicaid spending between 2014 and 2019 by $470 million but federal expenditures in Alabama would increase by $10.3 billion. For every additional dollar Alabama will spend on health care for new Medicaid enrollees out of its general budget, federal spending in the state on health care will increase by more than $20.

(more…)[6]

Endnotes:
  1. submitted: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=congress%20easily%20could%20have%20designed%20an%20act%20that%20%22encouraged%20rather%20than%20forced%20states%20to%20expand%22%20their%20medicaid%20programs&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCsQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fblog.al.com%2Fsweethome%2F2012%2F03%2Falabama_opposes_medicaid_expan.html&ei=li6MT_iOD4jM9QTwvunSCQ&usg=AFQjCNGgRvcW9aEEGRxG63b9Gjk9GK-2Hw&cad=rja
  2. generosity: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=p%5Baul%20clement%2C%20generosity%20of%20federal%2C%20medicaid&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDwQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Flawprofessors.typepad.com%2Fconlaw%2F2012%2F03%2Fcourt-equally-skeptical-or-more-on-medicaid-expansion.html&ei=ES-MT8boG4uW8gS_5bC6CQ&usg=AFQjCNGhtBDRKYEmGcKhT2lKeTwbevmycA&cad=rja
  3. share: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=average%20federal%20share%20is%2057%20percent%20%2C%20medicaid&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCsQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.kff.org%2Fmedicaid%2Fupload%2F8193.pdf&ei=NS-MT8yyMI-i8gTAxuW3CQ&usg=AFQjCNFdKUG4YrsbsC77YzMAyTS2xP097g&cad=rja
  4. covers: http://blog.al.com/sweethome/2012/03/alabama_opposes_medicaid_expan.html
  5. increase: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=2014%2C%202019%2C%20%24470%20million%2C%20alabama&source=web&cd=2&sqi=2&ved=0CCQQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.kff.org%2Fhealthreform%2Fupload%2FMedicaid-Coverage-and-Spending-in-Health-Reform-National-and-State-By-State-Results-for-Adults-at-or-Below-133-FPL.pdf&ei=hjGMT7z9Como8QTq8dDjCQ&usg=AFQjCNFCELDpSgAiD65jabm0DaGdPBkg1g&cad=rja
  6. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/republican-governors-representing-citizens-health-care/#more-22169

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/republican-governors-representing-citizens-health-care/


Post Offices: Too Important To Be Stamped Out

by admin | April 10, 2012 7:11 pm

Star Tribune, April 9, 2012

In this piece in the Star Tribune[1] David Morris speaks out on the need to stop the tidal wave of post office closings that will occur when the Post Office’s self-imposed moratorium ends in mid May.

Last year, 3,600 communities, about 90 in Minnesota, were notified that they’ll probably lose their local post office. Last December, a popular uprising persuaded members of Congress to speak out, which led U.S. Postal Service management to impose a 6-month moratorium on further closings.

That ends in mid-May. We need to demand that it be extended indefinitely. Our local post offices are too valuable to lose.

Tens of millions of Americans will be negatively affected by the closures, while the Postal Service’s own estimates are for savings that are trivial. Closing all 3,600 would save $200 million — 0.03 percent of its $64 billion budget.

“We’re not the only ones going through this trend,” insists Dean Granholm, vice president of delivery and post office operations for the Postal Service. “All sorts of retailers are trying to find ways to do this.”

But the post office is not Starbucks or McDonalds or Wal-Mart. It is a commons, a public service — and a significant part of that service is the ubiquity of post offices themselves.

Postal Service management is deciding which post offices live or die using a cost-benefit methodology almost identical to that used by private retailers. Only half the equation is included: the savings to the USPS. The other half, the costs to the community, is ignored.

Consider the post office closure in Prairie City, S.D. It saved the Postal Service $19,000 a year. The community it served will spend far more each year to travel to a more distant post office.

But it is the qualitative costs that haunt the community. The Prairie City post office was a gathering place where people could keep up with one another and with the local news. Prairie City postal clerks kept a pot of coffee brewing and posted birth and death notices.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the area’s only major hospital and pharmacy is in Hettinger, N.D., 40 miles away. Before, when an elderly person or farmer in Prairie City quickly needed an antibiotic or other medication, a pharmacist in Hettinger would rush prescriptions to the Hettinger post office, catching the mail carrier who each day traveled from Hettinger to the Prairie City post office.

The closing eliminated that direct route, and now Prairie City mail is sorted and delivered on a rural route out of Bison, S.D., delaying the delivery of medicine from Hettinger by two or three days.

The Postal Service is our most ubiquitous and admired public institution. Six days a week, it delivers an average of 563 million pieces of mail, 40 percent of the entire world’s volume, often directly to our front doors.

For the price of a 44-cent stamp, the lowest postal rate in the world, you can mail a letter anywhere within the nation’s borders. And if the recipient can’t be found, the Postal Service will return it at no extra charge. Business Week calls it “the greatest bargain on earth.”

After the 1970s, the Postal Service became its own agency. Congress eliminated its taxpayer subsidy. Productivity soared. By the 1990s, it often generated a profit. As of 2005, it was free of debt.

So how is it that today the service is being forced to decimate itself to pay off a huge deficit?

Here’s the back story. The Postal Service pays into several retirement and health funds. Almost everyone agrees that in the past it has vastly overpaid, some estimate by as much as $100 billion.

One would think it a simple matter for Congress to allow the USPS to tap into these excess funds to pay current health benefits. One would be wrong. The Congressional Budget Office counts the surplus funds as part of the existing budget.

Thus if the Postal Service were to use its own money, it would increase the deficit. In 2006, it finally agreed to buy off the CBO. Budget neutrality over a 10-year period was achieved by requiring the USPS to make annual payments of $5.4 billion to $5.8 billion.

This manufactured financial crisis legitimized the privateers attack on the Postal Service. Proposals include ending Saturday delivery, which would open the door to private companies; divesting half the service’s physical infrastructure, and even ending door-to-door delivery.

Eventually the Postal Service plans to close more than 15,000 post offices. A nationwide grass-roots resistance has emerged that cuts across party lines, uniting rich and poor, rural and urban, black, white and Hispanic.

They are fighting to save a government institution that fundamentally contributes to their sense of community, of social cohesion, of well-being.

We need to demand that Congress end the manufactured financial crisis and cease forcing the transformation of the nation’s oldest public institution into an increasingly private enterprise that looks to strengthen its internal balance sheet by weakening the balance sheets of hundreds of millions of Americans it serves.

This is a public institution worth fighting for.

Endnotes:
  1. Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/146482875.html

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/post-offices-important-stamped/


Democracy Under Attack

by David Morris | April 4, 2012 2:33 pm

For its first 200 years the American Republic slowly, sometimes infuriatingly slowly and at horrific human cost (e.g. the Civil War) expanded the franchise.

In 1870 the 15th Amendment gave blacks the right to vote.  In 1920, the 19th Amendment extended the franchise to women. In 1924 Congress granted Native Americans citizenship and thus the right to vote.  In 1961 the 23rd Amendment gave the residents of the District of Columbia the right to vote for President.  In 1971 the 26th Amendment gave l8 year olds the vote.  In 1986 Congress gave military personnel and other US citizens living abroad the right to use a federal write-in absentee ballot for voting for federal offices.

The right to vote, however, did not ensure that one could vote.  Beginning at the end of the 19th century, states began passing legislation directed at restricting minority voting with often dramatic effect, especially in the South where turnout fell[1] from 64.2 percent in 1888 to 29.0 percent in 1904.

For 100 years after the Civil War the Supreme Court ruled that even where state voting rules were discriminatory, the federal government had no right to intervene.  Then in 1965 Congress finally gave blacks and other minorities the effective vote by passing the Voting Rights Act, eliminating most voting qualifications beyond citizenship for state and federal elections, including literacy tests and poll taxes.  In 1966 the Supreme Court affirmed that law.

Since 1970 federal and state voting reforms have all moved in one direction: facilitating access. In 1993 the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) offered citizens the opportunity to register or re-register to vote at many public facilities, including Motor Vehicle offices and post offices.

Between 1973 and 2009 nine states enacted[2] Election Day registration laws. States made provisions for early voting and eased the rules on absentee voting.  Some allowed voting by mail. Between 1997 and 2010 twenty-three states either restored[3] voting rights or eased the restoration process of voting rights for those convicted of felonies.

Virtually all these laws were passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law by Republican and Democrat Governors alike.

(more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. fell: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=south%20where%20turnout%20fell%20from%2064.2%20percent%20in%201888%20to%2029.0%20percent%20in%201904&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCMQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.vote.caltech.edu%2Fdrupal%2Fnode%2F16&ei=Xex1T8_qDsq4tweoqondDg&usg=AFQjCNGCCzvfhTV2ZT2CPqvkyyDsu2hcYQ&cad=rja
  2. enacted: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=nine%20states%20enacted%20election%20day%20registration%20&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CC4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.projectvote.org%2Felection-day-reg.html&ei=n-x1T6iKMM6btwfjruzyDg&usg=AFQjCNHFzHFnBVd7KHQ-IkgcR03n9a6GRA&cad=rja
  3. restored: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=between%201997%20and%202008%20twenty-three%20states%20either%20restored%20voting%20rights%20&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCUQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sentencingproject.org%2Fdoc%2Fpublications%2Fpublications%2Fvr_ExpandingtheVoteFinalAddendum.pdf&ei=xOx1T9TjJcjftgeDyOHQDg&usg=AFQjCNEBB9clmso5qtLss4pqXzl-ekfPkg&cad=rja
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/democracy-attack/#more-21831

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/democracy-attack/


What Happened to the New Rules Project?

by admin | April 2, 2012 5:54 pm

New Rules logo[1]It’s all still here. We have reorganized the NewRules.org and ILSR.org websites to better coordinate and publicize our work. All of the project’s activity, research, and information continues here, on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s new web site[2].

The New Rules Project’s primary focus areas — Energy[3], Banking[4], Broadband[5], Independent Business[6], and The Public Good[7] — are now organized as Initiatives, under which you will find the full depth of news, research, publications, and policy models as before.

The project’s extensive collection of rules — policies, bills, regulations, and ordinances — has also been transferred here. These policy models can be found under the Rules Library[8], where you can filter your search by both level of government (local, state, etc.) and sector (agriculture, banking, etc.).  The rules for each Initiative can be found under that Initiative as well.

We hope you’ll find the new site a useful and easy-to-use resource. As always, we welcome your questions and feedback[9].

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/newrules_logo_21.jpeg
  2. Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s new web site: http://www.ilsr.org
  3. Energy: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/energy/
  4. Banking: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/banking/
  5. Broadband: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/broadband/
  6. Independent Business: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/independent-business/
  7. The Public Good: http://www.ilsr.org/initiatives/the-public-good/
  8. Rules Library: http://www.ilsr.org/rules/
  9. we welcome your questions and feedback: http://www.ilsr.org/contact/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/what-happened-to-the-new-rules-project/


Banking For the Rest of Us

by admin | April 1, 2012 4:01 pm

Soujourners Magazine, April 1, 2012

In this cover story for Sojourners Magazine[1], Stacy Mitchell writes that there is remarkably little evidence to support the idea that bigger banks are superior and calls for a new set of rules—banking policies for the 99 percent.

One meaning of the word “occupy” involves asserting sovereignty over a place. For the demonstrators who set up camp in lower Manhattan last fall, “occupying” was a reassertion of popular sovereignty at the very epicenter of our economic system. It was a challenge to the power that giant corporations—and Wall Street banks in particular—have amassed. It was a challenge to the way these firms have captured the levers of government and rigged policy to protect their own positions and profits at the expense of everyone else.

More than three years after their reckless greed triggered the Great Recession, the nation’s biggest banks have paid almost no penalty and are bigger than ever. In 2007, the top four banks—Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo—held assets of $4.5 trillion, which amounted to 37 percent of U.S. bank assets. Today, they control $6.2 trillion, or 45 percent of bank assets, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. For them, the recession was a brief hiccup, promptly ameliorated by a public bailout and a return to robust profitability. Last year, these four firms, together with the next two largest banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, paid out $144 billion in compensation, making 2011 their second highest payday ever. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average bank teller made $24,980 in 2010. Such rank-and-file employees didn’t benefit from the big bonuses and compensation packages which were heavily concentrated at the top of the corporate ladder.

Meanwhile, joblessness, staggering debt, and foreclosure have devastated countless families. Many have shared their stories on the We Are the 99 Percent Tumblr website, which should be required reading for the 1 percent. It provides a heart-breaking account of living in a society “made for them, not for us,” of drowning in debt and struggling merely to secure a means of keeping food on the table.

The Occupy movement brought this injustice to the forefront and reawakened American populism. It set the public discourse in a new direction and launched a conversation about the scale and structure of our banking system. Many Americans seem quite eager to have this conversation, and to act on it. Last fall, more than 600,000 people, citing the issues raised by Occupy, closed their accounts at big banks and moved to small local banks and credit unions. (more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. cover story for Sojourners Magazine: http://sojo.net/magazine/2012/04/banking-rest-us
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/banking-for-the-rest-of-us/#more-16405

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/banking-for-the-rest-of-us/


New Report: Walmart’s Greenwash

by Stacy Mitchell | March 7, 2012 7:05 pm

Report: Company Fails to Deliver on Much-Publicized Sustainability Campaign

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Stacy Mitchell, ILSR, 207-774-6792, smitchell@ilsr.org[1]

March 7, 2012 | Minneapolis, MN — In a report released today, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance documents how Walmart’s heavily promoted sustainability initiatives are falling short. The report, “Walmart’s Greenwash”, examines all aspects of the major retailers environmental impact to see how sustainable Walmart really is.

Download the Report: Walmart’s Greenwash[2]

“Walmart’s sustainability campaign has done more to improve the company’s image than to help the environment,” said Stacy Mitchell, the report’s author and a senior researcher at ILSR. Since Walmart unveiled its sustainability campaign in 2005, the number of Americans with an unfavorable view of the company has fallen by nearly half, from 38 to 20 percent.

The report’s key findings include:

— At its current pace, Walmart will need roughly 300 years to reach its goal of 100 percent renewable energy. As of 2011, Walmart was deriving only 2 percent of its U. S. electricity from its wind and solar projects.

— Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions are increasing rapidly. Its energy efficiency and renewable projects are too modest to match the scale of the company’s operations.

— Walmart’s price pressure on manufacturers is undermining the quality and durability of consumer goods, which has contributed to a sharp increase in the amount of stuff Americans buy and a doubling of the trash households generate.

— Walmart has not addressed the habitat and climate impacts of its land development practices. The retailer continues to build sprawling stores on undeveloped land, often just a few miles from older, vacated Walmart stores.

— Walmart has made little progress toward its goal of developing a Sustainability Index to rate consumer products. (more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. smitchell@ilsr.org: mailto:smitchell@ilsr.org
  2. Download the Report: Walmart’s Greenwash: http://www.ilsr.org/downloads/Walmart%27s+Greenwash
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/new-report-walmarts-greenwash/#more-15639

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/new-report-walmarts-greenwash/


Where is Kropotkin When We Really Need Him?

by David Morris | February 10, 2012 6:13 pm

On February 8, 1921 twenty thousand people, braving temperatures so low that musical instruments froze, marched in a funeral procession in the town of Dimitrov, a suburb of Moscow. They came to pay their respects to a man, Petr Kropotkin, and his philosophy, anarchism.

Some 90 years later few know of Kropotkin. And the word anarchism has been so stripped of substance that it has come to be equated with chaos and nihilism.  This is regrettable, for both the man and the philosophy that he did so much to develop have much to teach us in 2012.

I am astonished Hollywood has yet to discover Kropotkin. For his life is the stuff of great movies.  Born to privilege he spent his life fighting poverty and injustice.  A lifelong revolutionary, he was also a world-renowned geographer and zoologist.  Indeed, the intersection of politics and science characterized much of his life.

His struggles against tyranny resulted in years in Russian and French jails.  The first time he was imprisoned in Russia an outcry by many of the world’s best-known scholars led to his release.  The second time he engineered a spectacular escape and fled the country.  At the end of his life, back in his native Russia, he enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the Tsar but equally strongly condemned[1] Lenin ’s increasingly authoritarian and violent methods.

(more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. condemned: http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/kropotkin/kropotlenindec20.html
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/where-is-kropotkin-when-we-really-need-him/#more-12839

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/where-is-kropotkin-when-we-really-need-him/


Challenging the Republican’s Five Myths on Inequality

by David Morris | February 3, 2012 3:34 pm

Recent comments by Mitt Romney, the probable Republican nominee for President all but guarantee the inequality issue will remain front and center this election year.

When asked whether people who question the current distribution of wealth and power are motivated by “jealousy or fairness” Romney insisted, “I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare.” And in this election year he advised that if we do discuss inequality we do so “in quiet rooms” not in public debates.

A public debate, of course, is inevitable. And welcome. To help that debate along I’ll address the five major statements that comprise the Republican argument on inequality.

1. Income is Not All That Unequal

Actually it is. Since 1980 the top 1 percent has increased its share of the national income by an astounding $1.1 trillion. Today 300,000 very rich Americans enjoy almost as much income as 150 million.

Since 1980, the income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans has increased a meager $303 or 1 percent. The top 1 percent’s income has more than doubled, increasing by about $500,000. And the really, really rich, the top 10th of 1 percent, made out, dare I say, like bandits, quadrupling their income to $22 million.

Meanwhile a full-time worker’s wage was 11 percent lower in 2004 than in 1973, adjusting for inflation even though their productivity increased by 78 percent. Productivity gains swelled corporate profits, which reached an all time high in 2010. And that in turn fueled an unprecedented inequality within the workplace itself. In 2010, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, the average CEO in large companies earned 325 times more than the average worker.

2. Inequality doesn’t matter because in America ambition and hard work can make a pauper a millionaire.

This is folklore. A worker’s initial position in the income distribution is highly predictive of how much he or she earns later in the career. And as the Brookings Institution reports “there is growing evidence of less intergenerational economic mobility in the United States than in many other rich industrialized countries.”

The bitter fact is that it is harder for a poor person in America to become rich than in virtually any other industrialized country.

(more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/challenging-the-republicans-five-myths-on-inequality/#more-7602

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/challenging-the-republicans-five-myths-on-inequality/


Four Ways Enviros Can Keep Walmart in the Hot Seat

by Stacy Mitchell | February 2, 2012 10:37 pm

This is the ninth and final article in a special 9-part series written by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell and published by Grist[1].  You can read the whole series here[2].

Walmart’s sustainability campaign is not your typical corporate greenwash. It is more complex and clever than that. It has enough substance mixed in with the spin to draw you in. It’s easy to get swept up in the big numbers Walmart can roll out — like the 30 tons of plastic hangers it recycles every month — and to be charmed by the very fact of this giant company, with its hard-nosed corporate culture, using a word like “sustainability.”

More than a few environmentalists have been won over. With their endorsements and the flood of positive press that seems to follow each of Walmart’s green announcements, the company has managed to turn around flagging poll numbers[3], shift its labor practices out of the limelight, and, most crucially, crank up its expansion machine.

The environmental consequences of Walmart’s ongoing growth far outweigh the modest reductions in resource use that the company has made. Walmart’s business model and its future success depend on further accelerating the cycle of consumption[4], industrializing our food supply[5], and exacerbating sprawl[6]. It’s not just Walmart, but also Target, Home Depot, and other big chains. The big-box model is “efficient” only to the degree that many of its costs are borne by the planet and the public at large. As these retailers take over an ever-larger share of the economy, more sustainable enterprises and systems of production and distribution are squeezed out.

Walmart’s expansion is not inevitable. The rise of Big Retail, much like Big Ag, has been aided and abetted by government policies and a host of hidden and not-so-hidden subsidies (which I detail in my book Big-Box Swindle[7]).

Lately, though, instead of advocating for new and better policies, mainstream environmental groups having been abetting Walmart’s growth and helping to secure its future supremacy. It’s time to drop that failing strategy.

(more…)[8]

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  2. here: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  3. turn around flagging poll numbers: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  4. accelerating the cycle of consumption: http://grist.org/business-technology/2011-11-11-is-your-stuff-falling-apart-thank-walmart/
  5. industrializing our food supply: http://grist.org/food/2011-12-30-eaters-beware-walmart-is-taking-over-our-food-system/
  6. exacerbating sprawl: http://grist.org/business-technology/2011-11-29-can-you-say-sprawl-walmarts-biggest-climate-impact-goes-ignored/
  7. Big-Box Swindle: http://www.bigboxswindle.com/
  8. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/four-ways-enviros-can-keep-walmart-in-the-hot-seat/#more-14702

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/four-ways-enviros-can-keep-walmart-in-the-hot-seat/


Independent Businesses Report Strong Holiday Sales

by Stacy Mitchell | January 26, 2012 9:56 pm

“Buy Local” on the minds of more shoppers, businesses report

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: (Additional contacts below)Stacy Mitchell, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 207-774-6792

MINNEAPOLIS, MN (Jan. 26, 2012) – An annual survey has found that independent businesses had strong sales growth over the holidays and appear to be benefitting from growing public interest in supporting locally owned retail stores, banks, restaurants, and other enterprises. (more…)[1]

Endnotes:
  1. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/independent-businesses-report-strong-holiday-sales/#more-12048

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/independent-businesses-report-strong-holiday-sales/


Eaters, Beware: Walmart is Taking Over our Food System

by Stacy Mitchell | December 30, 2011 10:28 pm

This is the eighth article in a special 9-part series written by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell and published by Grist[1].  You can read the whole series here[2].

Aubretia Edick has worked at a Walmart store in upstate New York for 11 years, but she won ’t buy fresh food there. Bagged salads, she claims, are often past their sell-by dates and, in the summer, fruit is sometimes kept on shelves until it rots. “They say, ‘We’ll take care of it,’ but they don ’t. As a cashier, you hear a lot of people complain,” she said.

Edick blames the problems on the store’s chronic understaffing and Walmart’s lack of respect for the skilled labor needed to handle the nation ’s food supply. At her store, a former maintenance person was made produce manager. He’s often diverted to other tasks. “If the toilets get backed up, they call him,” she said.

Tracie McMillan[3], who did a stint working in the produce section of a Walmart store while researching her forthcoming book, The American Way of Eating[4], reports much the same. “They put a 20-year-old from electronics in charge of the produce department. He didn ’t know anything about food,” she said. “We had a leak in the cooler that didn’t get fixed for a month and all this moldy food was going out on the floor.” Walmart doesn’t accept the idea that “a supermarket takes any skill to run,” she said. “They treated the produce like any other kind of merchandise.”

That’s plenty to give a shopper pause, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons to be concerned about Walmart’s explosive expansion into the grocery sector.

Growth of a giant

In just a few short years, Walmart has become the most powerful force in our food system, more dominant than Monsanto, Kraft, or Tyson.

It was only 23 years ago that Walmart opened its first supercenter, a store with a full supermarket inside. By 1998, it was still a relatively modest player with 441 supercenters and about 6 percent of U.S. grocery sales. Last year, as its supercenter count climbed above 3,000, Walmart captured 25 percent of the $550 billion Americans spent on groceries.

As astonishing as Walmart’s national market share is, in many parts of the country the chain is even more dominant. In 29 metro markets, it accounts for more than 50 percent of grocery sales.

Seeking an even bigger piece of the pie, Walmart is campaigning to blanket New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other big cities with its stores. It has made food the centerpiece of its public relations strategy. In a series of announcements over the last year, Walmart has deftly commandeered high-profile food issues, presenting itself as a solution to food deserts, a force for healthier eating, and a supporter of local farming.

It is a remarkably brazen tactic. On every one of these fronts, Walmart is very much part of the problem. Its expansion is making our food system more concentrated and industrialized than ever before. Its growth in cities will likely exacerbate poverty, the root cause of constrained choices and poor diet. And the more dominant Walmart becomes, the fewer opportunities there will be for farmers markets, food co-ops, neighborhood grocery stores, and a host of other enterprises that are beginning to fashion a better food system – one organized not to enrich corporate middlemen, but to the benefit of producers and eaters.

The big squeeze

[5]Walmart’s rise as a grocer triggered two massive waves of industry consolidation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. One occurred among supermarkets, as regional titans like Kroger and Fred Meyer combined to form national chains that stood a better chance of surviving Walmart’s push into groceries. Today, the top five food retailers capture half of all grocery sales, double the share they held in 1997.

The second wave of consolidation came as meatpackers, dairy companies, and other food processors merged in an effort to be large enough to supply Walmart without getting crushed in the process. The takeover of IBP, the nation’s largest beef processor, by Tyson Fresh Meats is a prime example. “When Tyson bought IBP in 2001, they said they had to do that in order to supply Walmart. We saw horizontal integration in the meat business because of worries about access to the retail market,” explained Mary Hendrickson, a food systems expert at the University of Missouri. Four firms now slaughter more than 80 percent of cattle. A similar dynamic has played out in nearly every segment of food manufacturing.

“The consolidation of the last two decades has created a food chain that’s shaped like an hourglass,” noted Wenonah Hauter[6], executive director of Food & Water Watch, explaining that a handful of middlemen now stand between 2 million farmers and 300 million eaters.

Their tight grip on our food supply has, rather predictably, come at the expense of both ends of the hourglass. Grocery prices have been rising faster than inflation and, while there are multiple factors driving up consumer costs, some economic research points to concentration in both food manufacturing and retailing as a leading culprit.

Farmers, meanwhile, are getting paid less and less. Take pork, for example. Between 1990 and 2009, the farmers’ share of each dollar consumers spent on pork fell from 45 to 25 cents, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. Pork processors picked up some of the difference, but the bulk of the gains went to Walmart and other supermarket chains, which are now pocketing 61 cents of each pork dollar, up from 45 cents in 1990.

Another USDA analysis[7] found that big retailers have used their market power to shortchange farmers who grow apples, lettuce, and other types of produce, paying them less than what they would get in a competitive market, while also charging consumers inflated prices. In this way, Walmart has actually helped drive overall food prices up.

What Walmart means when it says “local”

Last year, Walmart announced that it would double the share of local produce it sells, from 4.5 to 9 percent, over six years.

This doesn’t necessarily mean shoppers will soon find a variety of local produce at their nearest Walmart, however. Walmart counts fruits and vegetables as local if they come from within the same state. It can achieve much of its promise by buying more of each state’s major commodity crops, such as peaches in Georgia and apples in Washington, and by using big states like California, Texas, and Florida, where both supercenters and large-scale farming are prevalent, to pump up its national average.

“It speaks to the weakness that we’ve all known about, which is that ‘local’ is an inadequate descriptor of what we want,” said Andy Fisher, former executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition. “It’s not just geography; it’s scale and ownership and how you treat your workers. Walmart is doing industrial local.”

Walmart’s sourcing is becoming somewhat more regional, but the change has more to do with rising diesel prices than a shift in favor of small farms. It’s a sign that Walmart’s Achilles heel – the fossil-fuel intensity of its far-flung distribution system — might be catching up with it. According to The Wall Street Journal[8], trucking produce like jalapeños across the country from California or Mexico has become so expensive that the retailer is now seeking growers within 450 miles of its distribution centers.

“They see the writing on the wall. They know the cost of shipping from California back to Georgia and Mississippi is high now,” said Ben Burkett, a Mississippi farmer who noted that Walmart is now meeting with producers in his region. He’s hoping to sell the chain okra through a cooperative of 35 farmers. “We’ll see. My experience in the past with Walmart is they want to pay as little as possible.”

That skepticism is shared by Anthony Flaccavento, a Virginia farmer and sustainable food advocate. “If multimillion-dollar companies like Rubbermaid and Vlasic can be brought to their knees by the retail behemoth, how should we expect small farmers to fare?” he asks.

Walmart’s promise to increase local sourcing is reminiscent of its pledge five years ago to expand its organic food offerings. “They held true to their corporate model and tried to do organics the same way,” said Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute. For its store-brand organic milk, for example, Walmart turned to Aurora Organic Dairy, which runs several giant industrial milking operations in Texas and Colorado, each with as many as 10,000 cows. In 2007, the USDA sanctioned Aurora for multiple violations of organic standards. Earlier this year, the agency stepped in again, this time revoking the organic certification for Promiseland Livestock, which had been supplying supposedly organically raised cows to Aurora.

These days, Walmart’s interest in organic food seems to have ebbed. “Our observation is that they sell fewer organic products and produce now than four years ago,” said Kastel. Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association agrees. Today, he says, “the proportion of their sales that is organic is the lowest of any major supermarket chain.”

Leveraging food deserts

Walmart has renewed its push to get into big cities, after trying and failing a few years ago. This time the company has honed a fresh strategy that goes right to the soft underbelly of urban concerns. In July, Walmart officials, standing alongside First Lady Michelle Obama, pledged to open or expand as many as 300 stores “in or near” food deserts[9].

Walmart sees underserved neighborhoods as a way to edge its camel’s nose under the tent and then do what it’s done in the rest of the country: open dozens of stores situated to take market share from local grocers and unionized supermarkets. Stephen Colbert dubbed the strategy Walmart’s “Trojan cantaloupe[10].” For example, an analysis by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office estimates that if Walmart opens in Harlem, at least 30 supermarkets, green grocers, and bodegas selling fresh produce would close.

For neighborhoods that are truly underserved, it seems hard to argue with the notion that having a Walmart nearby is better than relying on 7-11 and McDonald’s for meals. But poor diet, limited access to fresh food, and diet-related health issues are a cluster of symptoms that all stem from a deeper problem that Walmart is likely to make worse: poverty. Poverty has a strong negative effect on diet quality, a 15-year study[11] recently concluded, and access to a supermarket makes almost no difference.

Neighborhoods that gain Walmart stores end up with more poverty and food-stamp usage than communities where the retailer does not open, a study[12] published in Social Science Quarterly found. This increase in poverty may owe to the fact that Walmart’s arrival leads to a net loss of jobs and lowers wages, according to research[13] [PDF] by economists at the University of California-Irvine and Cornell.

Walmart has also been linked to rising obesity. “An additional supercenter per 100,000 residents increases … the obesity rate by 2.3 percentage points,” a recent study[14] concluded. “These results imply that the proliferation of Walmart supercenters explains 10.5 percent of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s.”

[15]

Check out the whole series on Grist.

The bottom line for poor families is that processed food is cheaper than fresh vegetables — and that’s especially true if you shop at Walmart. The retailer beats its competitors on prices for packaged foods, but not produce. An Iowa study found that Walmart charges less than competing grocery stores for cereals, canned vegetables, and meats, but has higher prices on most fresh vegetables and high-volume dairy foods, including milk.

The future of food?

We stand to lose a lot if Walmart keeps tightening its grip on the grocery sector. Signs of a revitalized food system have been springing up all over — farmers markets, urban gardeners, neighborhood grocers, consumer co-ops, CSAs — but their growth may well be cut short if Walmart has its way.

“People need to keep an eye on the values that are at the root of what is driving so much of this activity around the food system,” said Kathy Mulvey, policy director for the Community Food Security Coalition.

Walmart is pushing us toward a future where food production is increasingly industrialized, farmers and workers are squeezed, and the promise of fresh produce is used to conceal an economic model that leaves neighborhoods more impoverished. Are we going to let it happen, or are we going to demand better food and a better world?

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  2. here: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  3. Tracie McMillan: http://grist.org/people/Tracie+McMillan
  4. The American Way of Eating: http://www.powells.com/biblio/9781439171950?&PID=25450
  5. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/grist-7.jpg
  6. Wenonah Hauter: http://grist.org/people/Wenonah+Hauter
  7. USDA analysis: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/AER825/
  8. According to The Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304223804576448491782467316.html
  9. pledged to open or expand as many as 300 stores “in or near” food deserts: http://grist.org/food/2011-07-21-walmart-michelle-obama-and-the-future-of-food
  10. Trojan cantaloupe: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/372963/february-01-2011/wal-mart-collaborates-with-obama-administration---leslie-dach
  11. study: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/171/13/1162
  12. study: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6237.2006.00377.x/abstract
  13. research: http://www.newrules.org/neumarkstudy.pdf
  14. study: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1263316
  15. [Image]: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/eaters-beware-walmart-is-taking-over-our-food-system/


Walmart spends big to help anti-environment candidates

by Stacy Mitchell | December 23, 2011 10:20 pm

This is the seventh article in a special 9-part series written by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell and published by Grist[1].  You can read the whole series here[2].

In 2006, Walmart made headlines when its vice president for corporate strategy and sustainability, Andrew Ruben, told a congressional committee that the company “would accept a well-designed mandatory cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases.” Other major U.S. companies had spoken favorably of cap-and-trade, but Walmart made a bigger splash. Not only was it America’s second-largest corporation; it also had deep roots in the country’s coal-burning heartland.

But even as Ruben was delivering his testimony, Walmart’s political action committee (PAC) was funneling a river of campaign cash into the coffers of lawmakers who would ensure that the U.S. did absolutely nothing to curb its greenhouse gas emissions. During the 2007-2008 election cycle, 80 percent of Senate campaign contributions that came from Walmart’s PAC and large donors employed by the company went to senators who helped block the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill, according to data on political giving published by the Center for Responsive Politics. (When the bill arrived on the floor in 2008, it came up 12 votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.) (more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  2. here: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-spends-big-to-help-anti-environment-candidates/#more-12068

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-spends-big-to-help-anti-environment-candidates/


Key Studies on Big-Box Retail & Independent Business

by Stacy Mitchell | December 22, 2011 9:27 pm

[1]

Last update: June 28, 2013

Below are summaries and links to key studies that examine the impact of large retail chains and the benefits of locally owned businesses. For ease of use, we’ve organized these studies into the following categories, although they do not all fit neatly into one category.

(In addition to these studies, see the book Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses[2] for a look at the far-reaching impacts of large retail chains and the advantages that accrue to communities that opt for locally owned, independent businesses instead.)

1. ECONOMIC IMPACT OF LOCAL BUSINESSES VS. CHAINS The following studies have found that locally owned stores generate much greater benefits for the local economy than national chains do.

Independent BC: Small Business and the British Columbia Economy[16] — by Civic Economics, February 2013

Commissioned by the British Columbia division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, this study analyzes the market share and economic impact of the province’s independent retailers and restaurants.  It finds that BC’s independent retailers captured just over half of all retail sales as recently as 2003, but have since lost ground.  By 2010, independents accounted for 45 percent of BC’s overall retail sales and only 34 percent of the market with automobile and gasoline sales excluded.  Although BC has a reputation for innovative planning initiatives, on this measure it lags the rest of Canada, where independents account for 42 percent of retail spending.  Among restaurants, BC’s independent sector accounts for 72 percent of full-service dining and 19 percent of limited-service dining.  With regard to economic impact, the study finds that, for every $1,000,000 in sales, independent retail stores generate $450,000 in local economic activity, compared to just $170,000 for chains.  Among restaurants, the figures are $650,000 for independents and $300,000 for chains.  Across both sectors, this translates into about 2.6 times as many local jobs created when spending is directed to independent businesses instead of chains. The study concludes that a shift of just 10 percent of the market from chains to independents would produce 31,000 jobs paying $940 million in annual wages to BC workers.

Indie Impact Study Series: Salt Lake City, Utah[17] — Civic Economics, August 2012

In this study, Civic Economics analyzed data from fifteen independent retailers and seven independent restaurants, all located in Salt Lake City, and compared their local economic impact with four national retail chains (Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, Office Max, and Target) and three national restaurant chains (Darden, McDonald’s, and P.F. Chang’s). The study found that the local retailers return a total of 52 percent of their revenue to the local economy, compared to just 14 percent for the national chain retailers.   Similarly, the local restaurants recirculate an average of 79 percent of their revenue locally, compared to 30 percent for the chain eateries.  What accounts for the difference? In a handy graphic, Civic Economics shows the breakdown. Independent businesses spend more on local labor, goods procured locally for resale, and services from local providers. This means a much larger share of the money you spend at a locally owned store stays in your local economy, supporting a variety of other businesses and jobs.

Going Local: Quantifying the Economic Impacts of Buying from Locally Owned Businesses in Portland, Maine [18]— by Garrett Martin and Amar Patel, Maine Center for Economic Policy, December 2011

On a dollar-for-dollar basis, the local economic impact of independently owned businesses is significantly greater than that of national chains, this study concludes. Analyzing data collected from 28 locally owned retail businesses in Portland, Maine, along with corporate filings for a representative national chain, the researchers found that every $100 spent at locally owned businesses contributes an additional $58 to the local economy.  By comparison, $100 spent at a chain store in Portland yields just $33 in local economic impact. The study concludes that, if residents of the region were to shift 10 percent of their spending from chains to locally owned businesses, it would generate $127 million in additional local economic activity and 874 new jobs.

Thinking Outside the Box: A Report on Independent Merchants and the Local Economy[19] -by Civic Economics, September 2009

This study examined financial data from 15 locally owned businesses in New Orleans and compared their impact on the local economy to that of an average SuperTarget store. The study found that only 16% of the money spent at a SuperTarget stays in the local economy. In contrast, the local retailers returned more than 32% of their revenue to the local economy. The primary difference was that the local stores purchase many goods and services from other local businesses, while Target does not. The study concludes that even modest shifts in spending patterns can make a big difference to the local economy. If residents and visitors were to shift 10% of their spending from chains to local businesses, it would generate an additional $235 million a year in local economic activity, creating many new opportunities and jobs. Likewise, a 10% shift in the opposite direction – less spending at local stores and more at chains – would lead to an economic contraction of the same magnitude. Another noteworthy finding of the study is that locally owned businesses require far less land to produce an equivalent amount of economic activity. The study found that a four-block stretch of Magazine Street, a traditional business district, provides 179,000 square feet of retail space, hosts about 100 individual businesses, and generates $105 million in sales, with $34 million remaining in the local economy. In contrast, a 179,000-square-foot SuperTarget generates $50 million in annual sales, with just $8 million remaining in the local economy, and requires an additional 300,000 square feet of space for its parking lot. See our New Rules article[20] for more background on this study.

Local Works: Examining the Impact of Local Business on the West Michigan Economy[21] – by Civic Economics, September 2008

This study concludes that if residents of Grand Rapids and surrounding Kent County, Michigan, were to redirect 10 percent of their total spending from chains to locally owned businesses, the result would be $140 million in new economic activity for the region, including 1,600 new jobs and $53 million in additional payroll. The study calculates the market share of independent businesses in four categories: pharmacy (41%), grocery (52%), restaurants (50%), and banks (6%). It analyzes how much of the money spent at these businesses stays in the area compared to national chains. Local restaurants, for example, return more than 56% of their revenue to the local economy in the form of wages, goods and services purchased locally, profits, and donations. Chain restaurants return only 37%. Measuring the total economic impact of this difference, including indirect and induced activity, the study estimates that $1 million spent at chain restaurants produces about $600,000 in additional local economic activity and supports 10 jobs. Spending $1 million at local restaurants, meanwhile, generates over $900,000 in added local economic activity and supports 15 jobs. The study also analyzes the economic impact of independent vs. chain businesses on a square footage basis, noting, “In a largely built-out city like Grand Rapids, policy dictates seeking the highest and best use of available properties, and this analysis strongly supports the idea that local firms should be the preferred tenants for city sites.”

The San Francisco Retail Diversity Study[22] - By Civic Economics, May 2007

This study finds that San Francisco remains a stronghold for locally owned businesses, which generate sizable benefits for the city’s economy. The study has three parts. The first calculates market shares for independents and chains in several categories: bookstores, sporting goods stores, toy stores, and casual dining restaurants. In all four categories, independent businesses capture more than half of sales within the city of San Francisco, a much larger share than they have nationally. The second part examines the economic impact of locally owned businesses versus chains. It finds that local businesses buy more goods and services locally and employ more people locally per unit of sales (because they have no headquarters staff elsewhere). Every $1 million spent at local bookstores, for example, creates $321,000 in additional economic activity in the area, including $119,000 in wages paid to local employees. That same $1 million spent at chain bookstores generates only $188,000 in local economic activity, including $71,000 in local wages. The same was true in the other categories. For every $1 million in sales, independent toy stores create 2.22 local jobs, while chains create just 1.31. The final part of the study analyzes the impact of a modest shift in consumer spending. If residents were to redirect just 10 percent of their spending from chains to local businesses, that would generate $192 million in additional economic activity in San Francisco and almost 1,300 new jobs.

The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics[23] – By Civic Economics, October 2004

This compelling study, commissioned by the Andersonville Development Corporation, finds that locally owned businesses generate 70 percent more local economic impact per square foot than chain stores. The study’s authors, Dan Houston and Matt Cunningham of Civic Economics, analyzed ten locally owned restaurants, retail stores, and service providers in the Andersonville neighborhood on Chicago’s north side and compared them with ten national chains competing in the same categories. They found that spending $100 at one of the neighborhood’s independent businesses creates $68 in additional local economic activity, while spending $100 at a chain produces only $43 worth of local impact. They also found that the local businesses generated slightly more sales per square foot compared to the chains ($263 versus $243). Because chains funnel more of this revenue out of the local economy, the study concluded that, for every square foot of space occupied by a chain, the local economic impact is $105, compared to $179 for every square foot occupied by an independent business.

The Economic Impact of Locally Owned Businesses vs. Chains: A Case Study in Midcoast Maine[24] – by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Friends of Midcoast Maine, September 2003.

Three times as much money stays in the local economy when you buy goods and services from locally owned businesses instead of large chain stores, according to this analysis, which tracked the revenue and expenditures of eight locally owned businesses in Midcoast Maine. The survey found that the businesses, with had combined sales of $5.7 million in 2002, spent 44.6 percent of their revenue within the surrounding two counties. Another 8.7 percent was spent elsewhere in the state of Maine. The four largest components of this local spending were: wages and benefits paid to local employees; goods and services purchased from other local businesses; profits that accrued to local owners; and taxes paid to local and state government. Using a variety of sources, the analysis estimates that a national big box retailer operating in Midcoast Maine returns just 14.1 percent of its revenue to the local economy, mostly in the form of payroll. The rest leaves the state, flowing to out-of-state suppliers or back to corporate headquarters. The survey also found that the local businesses contributed more to charity than national chains.

Economic Impact Analysis: A Case Study[25] – by Civic Economics, December 2002.

This study examines the local economic impact of two locally owned businesses in Austin, Texas—Waterloo Records and Book People—and compares this with the economic return the community would receive from a Borders Books store. The study finds that spending $100 at Borders creates $13 worth of local economic activity, while spending $100 at the local stores generates $45 in local economic activity. The difference is attributed to three factors: a higher local payroll at the independent stores (because, unlike Borders, none of their operations are carried out a an out-of-town headquarters office); the local stores purchased more goods and services locally; and the local stores retained a much larger share of their profits within the local economy.

2. RETAIL EMPLOYMENT Studies conclude that the arrival of a big-box store decreases the number of retail jobs in a region.

The Effects of Wal-Mart on Local Labor Markets[26] - by David Neumark (University of California-Irvine), Junfu Zhang (Clark University), and Stephen Ciccarella (Cornell University),  Journal of Urban Economics, Mar. 2008

This study presents the most sophisticated analysis to date of Wal-Mart’s impact on retail employment and wages. Analyzing national data, the study found that the opening of a Wal-Mart store reduces county-level retail employment by 150 jobs. Because Wal-Mart stores employ an average of 360 workers, this suggests that for every new retail job created by Wal-Mart, 1.4 jobs are lost as existing businesses downsize or close. The study also found that the arrival of a Wal-Mart store reduces total county-wide retail payroll by an average of about $1.2 million. This study improves substantially on previous studies by convincingly accounting for the endogeneity of the location and timing of Wal-Mart’s entry into a particular local market. That is, Wal-Mart presumably does not locate stores randomly. When expanding into a particular region, it may, for example, opt to build in towns experiencing greater job growth. Unless this location selection bias is accounted for, one might compare job growth in towns that gained Wal-Mart stores versus those that did not and erroneously conclude that Wal-Mart caused an expansion in employment. The authors of this study have devised a persuasive method of accounting for this bias. They also argue that the method developed by Basker (see next item below) to account for this bias is flawed and therefore her conclusion that Wal-Mart has a small positive impact on retail employment is not reliable.

Job Creation or Destruction? Labor-Market Effects of Wal-Mart Expansion[27] – By Emek Basker, University of Missouri, Review of Economics & Statistics, February 2005

Often cited and typically misrepresented by Wal-Mart supporters, this study examines the impact of the arrival of a Wal-Mart store on retail and wholesale employment. It looks at 1,749 counties that added a Wal-Mart between 1977 and 1998. It finds that Wal-Mart’s arrival boosts retail employment by 100 jobs in the first year—far less than the 200-400 jobs the company says its stores create, because its arrival causes existing retailers to downsize and lay-off employees. Over the next four years, there is a loss of 40-60 additional retail jobs as more competing retailers downsize and close. The study also finds that Wal-Mart’s arrival leads to a decline of approximately 20 local wholesale jobs in the first five years, and an additional 10 wholesale jobs over the long run (six or more years after Wal-Mart’s arrival). (Wal-Mart handles its own distribution and does not rely on wholesalers). This works out to a net gain of just 10-30 retail and wholesale jobs, and the study does not examine whether these jobs are part-time or whether they pay more or less than the jobs eliminated by Wal-Mart. The study also found that, within five years of Wal- Mart’s arrival, the counties had lost an average of four small retail businesses, one midsized store, and one large store. It does not estimate declines in revenue to retailers that survive. Basker looked at the effect of Wal-Mart on retail employment in neighboring communities, but found that the confidence intervals were too large (meaning the results showed wide variation) to draw any conclusion about Wal-Mart’s impact. (Her initial working paper, published in 2002, reported an average decline of 30 retail jobs in surrounding communities, but, after correcting an error, she determined the confidence intervals were too large to produce a precise result.)

3. WAGES & BENEFITS Studies have found that big-box retailers, particularly Wal-Mart, are depressing wages and benefits for retail employees, and that median incomes have risen faster in places with more small businesses compared to those dominated by big businesses.

Does Local Firm Ownership Matter?[28] — by Stephan Goetz and David Fleming, Economic Development Quarterly, April 2011.

Goetz and Fleming analyze 2,953 counties, including both rural and urban places, and find that, after controlling for other factors that influence growth, those with a larger density of small, locally owned businesses experienced greater per capita income growth between 2000 and 2007. The presence of large, non-local businesses, meanwhile, had a negative effect on incomes.

 

Living Wage Policies and Big-box Retail: How a Higher Wage Standard Would Impact Wal-Mart Workers and Shoppers[29] – UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, April 2011.

About 900,000 Wal-Mart workers, or 65 percent of its U. S. workforce, are paid less than $12 an hour. More than one-fifth earn less than $9 an hour. Overall, Wal-Mart’s hourly workers earn 12.4 percent less than retail workers as a whole. This study finds that raising their pay to a minimum of $12 an hour would lift many out of poverty, reduce their reliance on public assistance, and cost the average consumer, at most, $12.49 a year.

A Downward Push: The Impact of Wal-Mart Stores on Retail Wages and Benefits[30] – By Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester, and Barry Eidlin, UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, December 2007

This study analyzes the impact of the opening of Wal-Mart stores on the earnings of retail workers. (It uses a similar technique to account for possible biases in Wal-Mart’s store location decisions as the study described in the RETAIL EMPLOYMENT section above, “The Effects of Wal-Mart on Local Labor Markets.”) This study focuses on stores that opened between 1992 and 2000 and concludes, “Opening a single Wal-Mart store lowers the average retail wage in the surrounding county between 0.5 and 0.9 percent.” Not only did Wal-Mart lower average wage rates, but “every new Wal-Mart in a county reduced the combined or aggregate earnings of retail workers by around 1.5 percent.” Because this number is higher than the reduction in average wages, it indicates that Wal-Mart not only lowered pay rates, but also reduced the total number of retail jobs. The study goes on to look at the cumulative impact of Wal-Mart store openings on retail earnings at the state level and nationwide. “At the national level, our study concludes that in 2000, total earnings of retail workers nationwide were reduced by $4.5 billion due to Wal-Mart’s presence,” the researchers find. Most of these losses were concentrated in metropolitan areas. Although Wal-Mart is often associated with rural areas, three-quarters of the stores it built in the 1990s were in metropolitan counties.

What Do We Know About Wal-Mart?[31] – By Annette Bernhardt, Anmol Chaddha, and Siobhán McGrath, Brennan Center for Justice, August 2005

This scrupulously fact-checked and footnoted report outlines what we know about Wal-Mart, in terms of its wages, health insurance benefits, compliance with labor laws, and cost to states. It details average starting wages for various job classifications. It reports that Wal-Mart employees earn 20 percent less than retail workers on average. It outlines the out-of-pocket costs, coverage limitations, and eligibility requirements for the retailer’s health insurance plan, and compiles information on what various states are spending to provide Medicaid to uninsured Wal-Mart employees and their children. The report also summarizes Wal-Mart’s record of labor law violations.

Reviewing and Revising Wal-Mart’s Benefits Strategy[32] – Memo to the Wal-Mart Board of Directors from Susan Chambers, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president for benefits, Oct. 2005

This internal memo leaked to Wal-Mart Watch assesses Wal-Mart’s current health care benefits and offers strategies to both reduce the company’s health insurance costs and neutralize criticism of its employment practices. The memo reports that only 48 percent of the company’s employees are enrolled in its insurance plan, compared to an average of 68 percent for national employers. Excessive out-of-pocket costs, including expensive premiums and high deductibles, are to blame. “Our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of Associates and their children on public assistance,” the memo notes. Employees enrolled in Wal-Mart’s insurance plan spend an average of 8 percent of their income on health care, nearly twice the national average. Almost 40 percent spend more than 16 percent of their income, a crippling cost for workers who earn less than $20,000 a year on average. The memo also reports that Wal-Mart has a larger share of its employees and their children enrolled in Medicaid compared to other companies. “In total, 46 percent of Associates’ children are either on Medicaid or are uninsured,” it notes. The memo offers strategies for reducing Wal-Mart’s health care costs, including increasing the percentage of part-time employees and “design[ing] all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g., all cashiers do some cart gathering).” The latter recommendation aims to “dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart.”

4. EXISTING BUSINESSES These studies look at how the arrival of a large chain impacts local retailers and other nearby businesses.

The Impact of an Urban Wal-Mart Store on Area Businesses[33] – by Julie Davis, David Merriman, Lucia Samayoa, Brian Flanagan, Ron Baiman, and Joe Persky, Economic Development Quarterly, October 2012. (Here’s a earlier free version[34] of the study.)

The opening of a Wal-Mart on the West Side of Chicago in 2006 led to the closure of about one-quarter of the businesses within a four-mile radius, according to this study by researchers at Loyola University. They tracked 306 businesses, checking their status before Wal-Mart opened and one and two years after it opened. More than half were also surveyed by phone about employees, work hours, and wages. By the second year, 82 of the businesses had closed. Businesses within close proximity of Wal-Mart had a 40 percent chance of closing. The probability of going out of business fell 6 percent with each mile away from Wal-Mart. These closures eliminated the equivalent of 300 full-time jobs, about as many Wal-Mart added to the area. Sales tax and employment data provided by the state of Illinois for Wal-Mart’s zip code and surrounding zip codes confirmed that overall sales and employment in the neighborhood did not increase, but actually dipped from the trend line. Although Wal-Mart claims its urban stores recapture dollars leaking to the suburbs, the findings of this study suggest that urban Wal-Mart stores primarily displace sales from other city stores. “There is no evidence that Wal-Mart sparked any significant net growth in economic activity or employment in the area,” the researchers conclude. The study also examines Wal-Mart’s Job and Opportunity Zones initiative, which provided marketing for five local businesses, and found it largely ineffective.

Business Churn and the Retail Giant: Establishment Birth and Death from Wal-Mart’s Entry[35] — by Carlena Cochi Ficano, Social Science Quarterly, 2012.

Within 15 months of a new Walmart store opening, between 4.4 and 14.2 existing retail establishments close, while at most 3.5 new retail establishments open, according to this study.  The study’s methodology accounts for Walmart’s expansion strategy and controls for a variety of other economic and demographic factors likely to influence the birth or death of businesses.  The author notes that, while the findings on store closures are robust, those on new store openings are not and should be interpreted cautiously.  Also, the study only accounts for Walmart’s effect on businesses that have at least one employee and does not track the impact after the first 15 months.  The results explain the seeming discrepancy in other studies finding that Walmart has a relatively modest effect on retail employment, but causes a substantial increase in poverty rates.   This study suggests that Walmart triggers significant churn in the local labor market, with large numbers of people laid off, facing periods of unemployment followed by new jobs that may be only part-time or lower paying.

Mom-and-pop Meet Big-box: Complements Or Substitutes?[36] — by John Haltiwanger, Ron Jarmin, and C.J. Krizan, Journal of Urban Economics, 2010.

In this study, economists John Haltiwanger, Ron Jarmin, and C.J. Krizan analyzed about 1,200 big-box store openings and looked at the impact on two sets of independent and small chain businesses in the vicinity: those competing directly with the new big box and those offering different products and services. For competing retailers, the study found “large, negative effects” on those within a 5-mile radius of the new big box, including a substantial number of store closures, and smaller but still significant impacts on those in a 5-10 mile radius. As for non-competing businesses, the study found that big-box stores generate no positive spillover.  Nearby businesses offering other products and services neither increased their growth nor expanded in numbers after the big box opened.

Major Flaws Uncovered in Study Claiming Wal-Mart Has Not Harmed Small Businesses [PDF][37] – by Stacy Mitchell; Institute for Local Self-Reliance, December 2008

A new and widely publicized study, “Has Wal-Mart Buried Mom and Pop?”, claims that there is no evidence that Wal-Mart has had an overall negative impact on the small business sector. A close inspection of the study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, however, found major flaws. The authors failed to use the correct U. S. Census data when attempting to show that “mom and pop” businesses have not experienced a net decline over the past two decades. When the correct data set is used, it is clear that the small business sector is much less robust now than it once was, with the number of retail businesses with fewer than 10 employees declining by one-fifth from 1982-2002. This decrease is even more drastic when measured relative to the population. During the 20-year period, the number of retail firms with 1-4 employees per 1 million people fell by 38% and retail firms with 5-9 employees per 1 million people declined by 30%.

The Impact of ‘Big-Box’ Building Materials Stores on Host Towns and Surrounding Counties in a Midwestern State[38] – by Economics Professor Kenneth E. Stone and Extension Program Specialist Georgeanne M. Artz, Iowa State University, 2001.

This study examines several Iowa communities where big box building supply stores, such as Menards and Home Depot, have opened in the last decade. Sales of hardware and building supplies in the host community and surrounding counties are tracked over several years to test what the authors call the “zero-sum-game theory,” namely that the retail sales gains generated by big box stores are offset by sales losses at existing, often locally owned, retail stores. The results confirm the theory, finding that sales of hardware and building supplies grow in the host communities, but at the expense of sales in smaller towns nearby. Moreover, after a few years, many of the host communities experienced a reversal of fortune: sales of hardware and building supplies declined sharply, often dropping below their initial levels, as more big box stores opened in the surrounding region and saturated the market.

What Happened When Wal-Mart Came to Town? A Report on Three Iowa Communities with a Statistical Analysis of Seven Iowa Counties – by Thomas Muller and Elizabeth Humstone, National Trust For Historic Preservation, 1996.

This study examined the impact of Wal-Mart on several Iowa communities. It found that 84 percent of all sales at the new Wal-Mart stores came at the expense of existing businesses within the same county. Only 16 percent of sales came from outside the county—a finding which refutes the notion that Wal-Mart can act as a magnet drawing customers from a wide area and benefiting other businesses in town. “Although some suggest that the presence of Wal-Mart outside of, but near to, the downtown area results in additional activity downtown, both sales data and traffic data do not show this gain,” the study concludes. “None of the nine case studies was experiencing a high enough level of population and income growth to absorb the Wal-Mart store without losses to other businesses.” The study documents losses in downtown stores after Wal-Mart opened. “General merchandise stores were most affected,” the study notes. “Other types of stores that closed include: automotive stores, hardware stores, drug stores, apparel stores, and sporting goods stores.” The supposed tax benefits of Wal-Mart did not materialize either: “Although the local tax base added about $2 million with each Wal-Mart, the decline in retail stores following the opening had a depressing effect on property values in downtowns and on shopping strips, offsetting gains from the Wal-Mart property.”

Competing with the Discount Mass Merchandisers[39] – By Dr. Kenneth Stone, Iowa State University, 1995

The basic premise of this study and others by Ken Stone is that the retail “pie” is relatively fixed in size (it grows only incrementally as population and incomes grow). Consequently, when a company like Wal-Mart opens a giant store, it invariably captures a substantial slice of the retail pie, leaving smaller portions for existing businesses, which are then forced to downsize or close. This study of Wal-Mart’s impact on Iowa towns found that the average superstore cost other merchants in the host town about $12 million a year in sales (as of 1995), while stores in smaller towns nearby also suffered substantial revenue losses. These sales losses resulted in the closure of 7,326 Iowa businesses between 1983 and 1993, including 555 grocery stores, 291 apparel stores, and 298 hardware stores. While towns that gained a Wal-Mart store initially experienced a rise in overall retail sales, after the first two or three years, retail sales began to decline. About one in four towns ending up with a lower level of retail activity than they had prior to Wal-Mart’s arrival. Stone attributes this to Wal-Mart’s strategy of saturating regions with multiple stores.

St. Albans, Vermont State Environmental Board Act 250 Decision, 1994

A cost/benefit analysis of a proposed Wal-Mart store in St. Albans, Vermont, found that the store would cause dozens of existing businesses to close, leading to a net loss of 110,000 square feet of retail space. The 214 jobs created by the new superstore would be offset by the loss of 381 jobs at other businesses. The analysis also found that the overall tax losses expected from the small business failures would be greater than the tax revenue generated by the new Wal-Mart. Moreover, the city would incur a variety of new costs to provide roads, sewers, police, and fire protection to service the sprawling new development. The analysis concluded that for every dollar in tax benefit created by the superstore, there would be 2.5 dollars in tax losses and public costs.

5. POVERTY RATES Counties that have gained Wal-Mart stores have fared worse in terms of family poverty rates, according to this study.

Wal-Mart and County-Wide Poverty[40] – by Stephan Goetz and Hema Swaminathan, Social Science Quarterly, June 2006

The presence of a Wal-Mart store hinders a community’s ability to move families out of poverty, according to this study. After controlling for other factors that influence poverty rates, the study found that U.S. counties that had more Wal-Mart stores in 1987 had a higher poverty rate in 1999 than did counties that started the period with fewer or no Wal-Mart stores. The study also found that counties that added Wal-Mart stores between 1987 and 1998 experienced higher poverty rates and greater usage of food stamps than counties where Wal-Mart did not build, all other things being equal. Although the study does not attempt to draw a conclusion about why Wal-Mart expands poverty, the study’s authors suggest several possible factors, including a loss of social capital that occurs when locally owned businesses close and the shift from comparatively better paying jobs at independent retailers to lower paying jobs at Wal-Mart (an earlier, unpublished draft can be downloaded for free here.)[41] Many university libraries also carry Social Science Quarterly.

6. SOCIAL CAPITAL AND WELL-BEING These studies find that a community’s level of social capital and well-being is positively related to the share of its local economy held by local businesses, while Walmart’s presence undermines social capital and civic participation. (See this[42] for more background.)

The Health and Wealth of US Counties: How the Small Business Environment Impacts Alternative Measures of Development[43] – by Troy C. Blanchard, Charles Tolbert, and Carson Mencken, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy, and Society, 2011.

This is one of several studies that have drawn a link between an economy of small-scale businesses and improved community well-being, including lower rates of crime and better public health.  “Counties with a vibrant small-business sector have lower rates of mortality and a lower prevalence of obesity and diabetes” compared to places dominated by big firms, the authors conclude.  They surmise that a high degree of local ownership improves a community’s “collective efficacy” — the capacity of its residents to act together for mutual benefit. Previous research has linked collective efficacy to population health, finding that engaged communities tend to create the kinds of infrastructure that foster healthier choices.

Street Survey of Business Reopenings in Post-Katrina New Orleans[44] – by Richard Campanella, Tulane University, January 2007

To understand how businesses respond to catastrophe, Campanella, a geographer at Tulane, surveyed 16 miles of three major commercial arteries in New Orleans for the 15 months after Hurricane Katrina.  He found that national chains were much slower to reopen than locally owned businesses.  Almost half of locally owned businesses reopened within a month, compared to one-quarter of chains.  After 15 months, 75 percent of locally owned businesses had reopened, compared to only 59 percent of national chains.  By reopening promptly, locally owned businesses helped neighborhoods recover by providing goods and services, as well as creating community gathering spots for residents to commiserate and find mutual aid.

Wal-Mart and Social Capital[45] – by Stephan J. Goetz and Anil Rupasingha, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Dec. 2006.

The presence of a Wal-Mart store reduces a community’s level of social capital, this study found. The study examined communities that had or gained Wal-Mart stores in the 1990s and controlled for other variables known to affect social capital stocks in a community, such as educational attainment. “Both the initial number of [Wal-Mart] stores and each store added per 10,000 persons during the decade reduced the overall social capital measure,” Goetz and Rupasingha found. Communities that gained a Wal-Mart had fewer non-profit groups and social capital-generating associations (such as churches, political organizations, and business groups) per capita than those that did not. Wal-Mart’s presence also depressed civic participation and is associated with lower voter turnout in the 2000 presidential election. Goetz and Rupasingha hypothesize that the drop in social capital is owned to the disappearance of local businesses and the decline of the downtown following Wal-Mart’s arrival.

The Configuration of Local Economic Power and Civic Participation in the Global Economy[46] – by Troy Blanchard and Todd L. Matthews, Social Forces, June 2006.

This study finds that residents of communities with highly concentrated economies tend to vote less and are less likely to keep up with local affairs, participate in community organizations, engage in reform efforts or participate in protest activities at the same levels as their counterparts in communities with dispersed economies composed predominantly of locally owned small businesses.

7. CITY COSTS These studies find that the cost of providing big-box stores with city services — road maintenance, police, fire, etc. — can exceed the local tax revenue generated by these stores, resulting in a net loss to taxpayers.

Ro[47]lling Back Property Tax Payments: How Wal-Mart Short-Changes Schools and other Public Services by Challenging Its Property Tax Assessments[48] by Philip Mattera, Karla Walter, Julie Farb Blain and Colleen Ruddick, Good Jobs First, October 2007

This first-ever investigation of Wal-Mart’s local property tax records finds that the retail giant systematically seeks to minimize its payment of taxes that support public schools and other vital local government services. Online appendices with lists of stores and distribution centers examined.

Understanding the Fiscal Impacts of Land Use in Ohio[49] – by Randall Gross, Development Economics, August 2004

This report reviews and summarizes the findings of fiscal impact studies conducted in eight central Ohio communities between 1997 and 2003. In seven of the eight communities, retail development created a drain on municipal budgets (i.e., it required more in public services, such as road maintenance and police, than it generated in tax revenue). On average, retail buildings produced a net annual loss of $0.44 per square foot. “The concept that growth is always good for a community does not seem to correlate with the findings from various fiscal analyses conducted throughout central Ohio,” the report concludes. It cautions cities not to be taken in by the promise of high tax revenue from a new development without also considering the additional costs of providing services. Unlike retail, office and industrial development, as well as some types of residential, produced a net tax benefit.

Fiscal Impact Analysis of Residential and Nonresidential Land Use Prototypes[50] – by Tischler & Associates, July 2002.

Big box retail, shopping centers, and fast-food restaurants cost taxpayers in Barnstable, Massachusetts, more than they produce in revenue, according to this analysis. The study compares the tax revenue generated by different kinds of residential and commercial development with the actual cost of providing public services for each land use. The study found that big box retail generates a net annual deficit of $468 per 1,000 square feet. Shopping centers likewise produce an annual drain of $314 per 1,000 square feet. By far the most costly are fast-food restaurants, which have a net annual cost of $5,168 per 1,000 square feet. In contrast, the study found that specialty retail, a category that includes small-scale Main Street businesses, has a positive impact on public revenue (i.e., it generates more tax revenue than it costs to service). Specialty retail produces a net annual return of $326 per 1,000 square feet. Other commercial land uses that are revenue winners include business parks, offices, and hotels. The two main factors behind the higher costs for big box stores, shopping centers, and fast-food outlets, compared to specialty retail shops, are higher road maintenance costs (due to a much greater number of car trips per 1,000 square feet) and greater demand for public safety services.

Understanding the Tax Base Consequences of Local Economic Development Programs[51] – by RKG Associates, 1998

The city of Concord, New Hampshire provides an example of what can happen when a community allows massive commercial growth while failing to protect its existing economic assets. Over the last 12 years, Concord added 2.8 million square feet of new commercial and industrial development. Yet tax revenue has actually declined by 19 percent. To make up for lost revenue, the town now has one of the highest property tax rates in the state. This study by RKG Associates, an independent economic consulting firm, found that there were several reasons for the declining tax base. One was that new retail development, primarily big box stores, had harmed local businesses. Property values, and subsequently tax revenue, in the older shopping areas had declined sharply. Another factor was that the new development had eroded the value of residential property, probably due in part to increased traffic and noise. The end result was that the city actually experienced a declining tax base despite all of the new growth.

Impacts of Development on DuPage County Property Taxes – Prepared by DuPage County Development Department for the County Regional Planning Commission, Illinois, October 1991.

This study demonstrated that the costs of encouraging new commercial development— extending highways and utilities, expanding municipal services like police and fire protection, and providing development financing and incentives—exceeded the new property and sales tax revenues the new development generated. The study concluded “… there is a significant statistical relationship between new development (both residential and nonresidential) and increases in personal property taxes.”

8. STATE COSTS Because many of their employees do not earn enough to make ends meet, states are reporting high costs for providing healthcare (Medicaid) and other public assistance to big-box employees.

In addition to the following studies, see Good Jobs First’s web page[52] detailing states that have disclosed how much they are spending on providing health insurance for employees of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target, and other big-box retailers.

Employers Who Had Fifty or More Employees Using MassHealth, Commonwealth Care, or the Health Safety Net in State Fiscal Year 2010[53] — by Commonwealth of Massachusetts, February 2013.

This report from the state of Massachusetts discloses the 50 companies that have the most employees enrolled in the state’s Medicaid and other publicly funded health insurance programs for low-income people.  About half of the 50 companies identified are retail and restaurant chains.  Walmart ranks third overall, with 4,327 employees, approximately one-fifth of its Massachusetts workforce, relying on state health care assistance at a cost to taxpayers of $14.6 million per year.  Target ranks fourth with 2,610 employees enrolled, approximately 36 percent of its Massachusetts workforce, at a cost of $8.3 million per year.  Other retailers on the list include CVS, Shaw’s, Home Depot, May Department Stores, Sears, Kohl’s, Walgreen, Lowe’s, Best Buy, and Whole Foods.

(Also see similar reports released in 2013 from Wisconsin[54] and Missouri[55].)

Wal-Mart’s Low Wages and Their Effect on Taxpayers and Economic Growth[56] — by the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, May 2013.

Extrapolating from data released by the state of Wisconsin on the number of Walmart employees and their dependents enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program, this analysis estimates that Walmart employees require an average of about $3,000 per year in public assistance, such as Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance.  That works out to a taxpayer cost of about $4.2 billion per year for all of Walmart’s U.S. stores.  Covering that cost would require Walmart to forgo about one-quarter of its profits or raise prices at its U.S. stores by 1-2 percent.

Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs[57] – by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Industrial Relations, August 2004

California taxpayers are spending $86 million a year providing healthcare and other public assistance to the state’s 44,000 Wal-Mart employees, according to this study. The average Wal-Mart worker requires $730 in taxpayer-funded healthcare and $1,222 in other forms of assistance, such as food stamps and subsidized housing. Even compared to other retailers, Wal-Mart imposes an especially large burden on taxpayers. Wal-Mart workers earn 31 percent less than the average for workers at large retail companies and require 39 percent more in public assistance. The study estimates that if competing supermarkets and other large retailers adopt Wal-Mart’s wage and benefit levels, it will cost California’s taxpayers an additional $410 million a year in public assistance.

9. SUBSIDIES These studies document the massive public subsidies that have financed the expansion of big-box stores and how this subsidized development has failed to produce real economic benefits for communities.

An Assessment of the Effectiveness and Fiscal Impacts of the Use of Local Development Incentives in the St. Louis Region[58] By East-West Gateway Council of Governments; January 2011

This study finds that over the last 20 years local governments in the metropolitan St. Louis region have diverted more than $5.8 billion in public tax dollars to subsidize private development.  About 80 percent of these subsidies supported the construction of big-box stores and shopping malls, mostly in affluent suburbs.  Despite this large public expenditure, the region has seen virtually no economic growth.  “The number of retail jobs has increased only slightly and, in real dollars, retail sales or per capita have not increased in years,” the authors conclude.  The subsidies have almost exclusively benefitted large chains, the study finds, and the region’s retail sector has grown increasingly concentrated.  More than 600 small retailers (under 10 employees) have closed in the last ten years.  “Both municipal finance and quality of life suffer when a city loses its base of small retail establishments,” the study notes.  While some municipalities have seen gains in revenue as a result of luring retail development, these gains have come entirely at the expense of neighboring municipalities.  Today, most of the region’s local governments are in financial trouble.   “A significant number of municipalities faced budget deficits, lay-offs and service cuts between 2000 and 2007, even though that was a period of time when the economy had generally fared well,” the study finds.

Fishing for Taxpayer Cash[59] by Andrew Stecker and Kevin Conner, Public Accountability Initiative, June 2010

This report documents how Bass Pro, an outdoor sporting goods chain, has won over $500 million dollars in taxpayer subsidies from cities and states by promising jobs, tourism and growth. But as this report shows, in city after city, Bass Pro has failed to deliver on its promises. In Mesa, AZ, for example, taxpayers put up $84 million for a development anchored by Bass Pro, but a year after opening the project was described as a “ghost town” that had done little more than undermine the viability of other retail areas. A taxpayer-subsidized Bass Pro in Harrisburg, PA, meanwhile, created only one-third of the jobs promised.

 

Skimming the Sales Tax: How Wal-Mart and Other Big Retailers (Legally)Keep a Cut of the Taxes We Pay on Everyday Purchases [PDF][60] By Philip Mattera with Leigh McIlvaine; Good Jobs First; November 2008

This study highlights little-noticed laws in 26 states that allow retailers to keep a portion of the sales taxes they collect from shoppers. The stated purpose of these policies is to compensate retailers for the costs they incur collecting the tax. However, while half of these states cap the amount retailers can keep, the other 13 states have no cap. Because the cost of collecting sales taxes declines with volume, states without caps are providing big retailers with outsized compensation that bears little relationship to their actual costs. This practice is costing states over $1 billion a year and lining the pockets of large chains, notably Wal-Mart. The report breaks down the losses for each state. Additionally, this study exposes how local governments subsidize the large chains by giving them sales tax rebates or funding part of their projects with sales tax increment financing. Using these two strategies, Wal-Mart has received $130 million in sales tax diversion over the past decade.

Shopping for Subsidies: How Wal-Mart Uses Taxpayer Money to Finance Its Never-Ending Growth[61] – by Good Jobs First, August 2004

This study identifies 244 Wal-Mart stores and distribution centers in 35 states that have received state and local development subsidies totaling just over $1 billion. The subsidies took many forms, including property tax rebates, free or reduced-priced land, and funding of site preparation and on-site infrastructure. Tax increment financing (TIF) ranked as one of the most common mechanisms used by local governments to underwrite Wal-Mart’s growth. The total value of public giveaways to Wal-Mart is undoubtedly much higher than the $1 billion documented by the report. Obtaining complete data on subsidies is virtually impossible. In most states, local governments and state agencies are not required to report subsidies, and there is no centralized record or database. Good Jobs First relied primarily on the online archives of local newspapers to assemble the list of subsidy deals, the details of which were confirmed by interviews with local officials.

10. CONSUMERS & PRICES These studies find that chains are not always a bargain. 

Same Generic Drug, Many Prices[62] – by Consumer Reports, May 2013

Average prices for common generic prescription drugs are lower at independent pharmacies than many national chains, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid, according to this Consumer Reports analysis.

Wrestling with Wal-Mart: Tradeoffs Between Profits, Prices, and Wages[63] – By Jared Bernstein, Josh Bivens, and Arindrajit Dube, Economic Policy Institute, June 15, 2006

This analysis refutes the findings of a 2005 study by Global Insights (GI) that found that Wal-Mart saves U.S. consumers $263 billion annually, or $2,329 for the average household. The Economic Policy Institute concludes that the GI study is “fraught with problems.” It identifies major internal inconsistencies in GI’s figures and finds that the firm’s statistical analysis “fails the most rudimentary sensitivity checks.” The authors state, “Once we addressed these weaknesses the statistical and practical significance of Wal-Mart’s price effects effectively vanished.”

Time to Switch Drugstores?Consumer Reports, October 2003.

“If you’re among the 47 percent of Americans who get medicine from drugstore giants such as CVS, Eckerd, and Rite Aid, here’s a prescription: Try shopping somewhere else. The best place to start looking is one of the 25,000 independent pharmacies that are making a comeback throughout the U.S.” opens this article, which presents the results of a year-long survey of more than 32,000 readers about their drugstore experiences. The survey found that, by “an eye-popping margin,” independent drugstores outranked all other pharmacies– –including drugstore chains, supermarkets, mass merchandisers (e.g., Wal-Mart), and internet companies—in terms of providing personal attention, offering health services such as in-store screenings, filling prescriptions quickly, supplying hard-to-find drugs, and obtaining out-of-stock medications within 24 hours. Prices at independent pharmacies were lower than at chain pharmacies, but higher than at mass merchandisers and internet companies.

11. TRAFFIC This study examines the traffic impact of supercenters.

Trip Generation Characteristics of Free-Standing Discount Superstores[64] - by Georgiena M. Vivian, ITE Journal, August 2006

This study found that supercenters of 200,000 square feet or more generate an average of 42 percent more traffic than the rate listed in the Institute of Transportation Engineers Trip Generation manual. Traffic engineers, developers, and city officials use the figures in this manual to estimate the traffic impact of development projects. This study, which relies on traffic counts conducted at five supercenters in Oklahoma and Texas, indicates that the manual significantly underestimates the traffic generated by large supercenters (stores that combine general merchandise and a full grocery department) and that traffic analyses based on it are unreliable indicators of the actual traffic impact of a supercenter development.

12. CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS Small businesses donate about twice as much per employee to charitable organizations as large businesses, according to this study.

Business Contributions to Community Service[65] – by Patricia Frishkoff, Small Business Administration, 1991

In 1991, Dr. Patricia Frishkoff, Director of the Family Business Program at Oregon State University, completed this study of charitable giving by 182 businesses in four communities. She combined cash donations with the value of in-kind contributions and found that the small businesses were more generous. Companies with fewer than 100 employees gave an average of $789 per employee, compared to $334 per employee at firms with more than 500 employees.

Endnotes:
  1. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/placeholder.png
  2. Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses: http://www.bigboxswindle.com
  3. Economic Impact of Local Businesses vs. Chains: #1
  4. Retail Employment: #2
  5. Wages & Benefits: #3
  6. Existing Businesses: #4
  7. Poverty Rates: #5
  8. Social and Civic Well-Being: #6
  9. City Costs: #7
  10. State Costs: #8
  11. Subsidies: #9
  12. [Image]: http://ilsr.us5.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=ebfe77c732e7192553aef5712&id=5c034248dd
  13. Consumers & Prices: #10
  14. Traffic: #11
  15. Charitable Contributions: #12
  16. Independent BC: Small Business and the British Columbia Economy: http://www.civiceconomics.com/app/download/7120042004/Independent+BC+for+Screen.pdf
  17. Indie Impact Study Series: Salt Lake City, Utah: http://www.localfirst.org/images/stories/SLC-Final-Impact-Study-Series.pdf
  18. Going Local: Quantifying the Economic Impacts of Buying from Locally Owned Businesses in Portland, Maine : http://www.mecep.org/view.asp?news=2003
  19. Thinking Outside the Box: A Report on Independent Merchants and the Local Economy: http://civiceconomics.com/app/download/5841600904/Magazine+Street+2009.pdf
  20. New Rules article: /retail/news/local-businesses-key-rebuilding-new-orleans-economy-study-finds
  21. Local Works: Examining the Impact of Local Business on the West Michigan Economy: http://civiceconomics.com/app/download/5841655104/GR+Local+Works+Complete.pdf
  22. The San Francisco Retail Diversity Study: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/SFRDS-May07-2.pdf
  23. The Andersonville Study of Retail Economics: http://civiceconomics.com/app/download/5841713404/AndersonvilleStudy.pdf
  24. The Economic Impact of Locally Owned Businesses vs. Chains: A Case Study in Midcoast Maine: /wp-content/uploads/files/midcoaststudy.pdf
  25. Economic Impact Analysis: A Case Study: http://civiceconomics.com/app/download/5841748704/Lamar+Retail+Analysis.pdf
  26. The Effects of Wal-Mart on Local Labor Markets: http://www.socsci.uci.edu/~dneumark/walmart.pdf
  27. Job Creation or Destruction? Labor-Market Effects of Wal-Mart Expansion: http://www.missouri.edu/~baskere/papers/
  28. Does Local Firm Ownership Matter?: http://edq.sagepub.com/content/25/3/277.abstract
  29. Living Wage Policies and Big-box Retail: How a Higher Wage Standard Would Impact Wal-Mart Workers and Shoppers: http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/retail/bigbox_livingwage_policies11.pdf
  30. A Downward Push: The Impact of Wal-Mart Stores on Retail Wages and Benefits: http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/retail/walmart_downward_push07.pdf
  31. What Do We Know About Wal-Mart?: http://walmartwatch.com/img/documents/brennan_center.pdf
  32. Reviewing and Revising Wal-Mart’s Benefits Strategy: /walmarthealthmemo.pdf
  33. The Impact of an Urban Wal-Mart Store on Area Businesses: http://edq.sagepub.com/content/26/4/321.abstract
  34. earlier free version: http://www.luc.edu/curl/pdfs/Projects/WalMartReport2009122.doc
  35. Business Churn and the Retail Giant: Establishment Birth and Death from Wal-Mart’s Entry: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6237.2012.00857.x/abstract
  36. Mom-and-pop Meet Big-box: Complements Or Substitutes?: http://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/15348.html
  37. Major Flaws Uncovered in Study Claiming Wal-Mart Has Not Harmed Small Businesses [PDF]: /wp-content/uploads/files/wm-smallbusiness.pdf
  38. The Impact of ‘Big-Box’ Building Materials Stores on Host Towns and Surrounding Counties in a Midwestern State: /wp-content/uploads/files/stone-study.pdf
  39. Competing with the Discount Mass Merchandisers: http://www.econ.iastate.edu/faculty/stone/1995_IA_WM_Study.pdf
  40. Wal-Mart and County-Wide Poverty: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1540-6237.2006.00377.x
  41. downloaded for free here.): http://cecd.aers.psu.edu/policy_research.htm
  42. this: http://www.ilsr.org/locally-owned-businesses-communities-thrive-survive-climate-change/
  43. The Health and Wealth of US Counties: How the Small Business Environment Impacts Alternative Measures of Development: http://cjres.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/12/14/cjres.rsr034.short?rss=1
  44. Street Survey of Business Reopenings in Post-Katrina New Orleans: http://cbr.tulane.edu/PDFs/campanella3.pdf
  45. Wal-Mart and Social Capital: http://www.nercrd.psu.edu/BigBoxes/WalMartandSocialCapital2.pdf
  46. The Configuration of Local Economic Power and Civic Participation in the Global Economy: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/social_forces/v084/84.4blanchard.html
  47. Ro: http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/publications/rolling-back-property-tax-payments-how-wal-mart-short-changes-schools-and-other-public-
  48. lling Back Property Tax Payments: How Wal-Mart Short-Changes Schools and other Public Services by Challenging Its Property Tax Assessments: http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/publications/rolling-back-property-tax-payments-how-wal-mart-short-changes-schools-and-other-public-
  49. Understanding the Fiscal Impacts of Land Use in Ohio: http://www.morpc.org/pdf/fiscalimpacts.pdf
  50. Fiscal Impact Analysis of Residential and Nonresidential Land Use Prototypes: /wp-content/uploads/files/barnstable-study.pdf
  51. Understanding the Tax Base Consequences of Local Economic Development Programs: /concordtaxstudy.pdf
  52. Good Jobs First’s web page: http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/
  53. Employers Who Had Fifty or More Employees Using MassHealth, Commonwealth Care, or the Health Safety Net in State Fiscal Year 2010: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/massachusetts-50-plus-employers.pdf
  54. Wisconsin: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/badgercareplus/enrollmentdata/enrolldata.htm
  55. Missouri: http://dss.mo.gov/mhd/general/pdf/emp-match.pdf
  56. Wal-Mart’s Low Wages and Their Effect on Taxpayers and Economic Growth: http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/sites/democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/files/documents/WalMartReport-May2013.pdf
  57. Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs: http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/retail/walmart.pdf
  58. An Assessment of the Effectiveness and Fiscal Impacts of the Use of Local Development Incentives in the St. Louis Region: http://www.ewgateway.org/DIRR/dirr.htm
  59. Fishing for Taxpayer Cash: http://www.public-accountability.org/reports/fishing_for_tax_cash_finalc.pdf
  60. Skimming the Sales Tax: How Wal-Mart and Other Big Retailers (Legally)Keep a Cut of the Taxes We Pay on Everyday Purchases [PDF]: http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/sites/default/files/docs/pdf/skimming.pdf
  61. Shopping for Subsidies: How Wal-Mart Uses Taxpayer Money to Finance Its Never-Ending Growth: http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/sites/default/files/docs/pdf/wmtstudy.pdf
  62. Same Generic Drug, Many Prices: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2013/05/same-generic-drug-many-prices/index.htm
  63. Wrestling with Wal-Mart: Tradeoffs Between Profits, Prices, and Wages: http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/wp276
  64. Trip Generation Characteristics of Free-Standing Discount Superstores: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/ite_article.pdf
  65. Business Contributions to Community Service: http://www.ntis.gov/search/product.aspx?ABBR=PB92112028

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail/


Occupy Economics Departments

by David Morris | December 13, 2011 10:49 am

On November 2nd nearly 70 students walked out of an introductory economics class at Harvard in solidarity with the Occupy movement. The mainstream media largely ignored the protest.  That’s regrettable since the economics profession has provided the intellectual framework and justification for the inequality and centralization of corporate power the Occupiers are challenging.

“You can ’t get into so disastrous a situation as we are in now without extraordinarily bad thinking and the economics departments were the source of that bad thinking,” observes[1] Steven Keen, Professor of Economics at the University of Western Sydney and author of Debunking Economics[2].

The Harvard students were protesting EC 10.  The course is taught by Professor N. Gregory Mankiw, author of the world’s best selling[3] economics textbook, Principles of Economics, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush and regular New York Times columnist.  A prerequisite for social studies and economics majors, the class may be taken by nearly half[4] of all Harvard students before they graduate.

“Today we are walking out of your class, Economics 10, in order to express our discontent with the bias inherent in this introductory economics class,” the protestors explained in a letter[5] to Mankiw. The course “espouses a specific—and limited—view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today.”

On December 3rd Mankiw responded[6] in the Times.  He expressed “sadness at how poorly informed the Harvard protesters seemed to be”.  “If my profession is slanted toward any particular world view, I am as guilty as anyone for perpetuating the problem.  Yet, like most economists, I don ’t view the study of economics as laden with ideology.”

Quoting Keynes, Mankiw maintained he teaches “a method rather than a doctrine, an apparatus of the mind, a technique for thinking, which helps the possessor to draw correct conclusions.”

Regarding Mankiw’s insistence that his textbook and course simply instruct students in “a method rather than a doctrine” Moshe Adler, Professor of Economics at Columbia University and author of Economics for the Rest of Us[7] notes the singularly consistent conclusions that result from the application of that “technique of thinking”.  “(W)henever it is necessary to choose sides between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the powerless, or between workers and corporations, economists are all too often of one mind…”

The Consistent Conclusions of Conventional Economics

Consider the issue of inequality. “We economists can try to estimate the cost of redistribution —that is, the negative impact on efficiency that comes with attempts to achieve more equality,” writes[8] Mankiw. “But in the end, picking the best point on the tradeoff between efficiency and equality comes from policy preferences about which we, as economist must be agnostic.”

Translation.  The economist’s role is to help us understand that we will all be poorer if we reduce inequality but to abstain from advocating specific polices. Of course, no economist worth his or her salt, including Professor Mankiw would refrain from advocating specific policies.

“Reasonable people can disagree about whether and how much government should redistribute income,” Mankiw’s observes[9]. “But don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that when the government taxes the rich, only the rich bear the burden.” We can tax the rich but the result will be a smaller overall economic pie.

In 2001 Mankiw wrote[10] a blistering Op Ed in the Boston Globe decrying a student sit-in aimed at gaining a living wage for janitorial staff. “The living wage campaign wants to repeal the law of supply and demand”, Mankiw insisted, as if the “law” of supply and demand were actually a law and thus more incontrovertible than, say the theories of evolution or gravity.  If Harvard were to pay its janitors more, Mankiw predicted, the result would be lost jobs, more teenagers dropping out of school and fewer adults making the transition from welfare to work.

In his Presidential Address to the Eastern Economics Association (AEA) Mankiw used economics-speak to explain[11] why janitors don’t deserve a living wage while Wall Street executives deserve billions. “Under a standard set of assumptions, a competitive economy leads to an efficient allocation of resources…it is also a standard result that in a competitive equilibrium, the factors of production are paid the value of their marginal product.  That is, each person’s income reflects the value of what he contributed to society’s production of goods and services.  One might easily conclude that, under these idealized conditions, each person receives his just deserts.”  Oh.

Before Mankiw, EC 10 was taught by Martin Feldstein former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Ronald Reagan.  Feldstein used Mankiw’s book as his text. In 2004 Feldstein’s Presidential Address to the AEA focused on health insurance.  He informed[12] his colleagues that the principal problem facing the health system isn’t its lack of universal coverage but low deductibles and copayments that encourage people to visit the doctor too often.  In economics jargon, “They (low payments)…lead to an increased demand for care that is worth less than its cost of production.”

Professors Mankiw and Feldstein, of course, would not consider any of these conclusions biased or ideologically driven.  That they always favor the rich and powerful and disfavor the poor and weak must be chalked up to simple coincidence.

The Conclusions From Unconventional Economics

Those who rely on a different “way of thinking” often arrive at diametrically opposite and far more equitable conclusions.

Consider Feldstein’s thesis. Americans actually visit doctors less[13] often than their counterparts in countries with universal health coverage.  Yet the level of medical spending in those countries is 30-50 percent less than ours and achieves better outcomes.  Might one conclude that enabling Americans to visit their doctors more rather than less could improve the efficiency of the overall system?  If people don’t see a doctor they can end up in vastly more expensive hospital beds.  Sometimes common sense trumps complex models.

In his 2001 column, Mankiw dismissed the widely disseminated finding by economists David Card and Alan Krueger in Myth and Measurement[14] that raising the minimum wage does not reduce employment.  Mankiw considered them outliers and noted that many economists had “attacked their data, methods and results”.  Indeed they did, often and aggressively.  For as John Cassidy pointed[15] out, “Card and Krueger didn’t just question the conventional wisdom; they attacked it in a novel and powerful way. Instead of concocting a mathematical model and `testing’ it with advanced statistical techniques, which is what most economists call research, they decided to test the theory in the real world.”

Recently Arindrajit Dube, Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an expert in studies of the effects of minimum wage policies reviewed[16] the impact of Card and Krueger’s work.  Their methodology as well as their empirical results have stood the test of time, he concludes. Indeed “today, writing a paper arguing that moderate increases in minimum wage do not have any appreciable effect on jobs because the labor market exhibits search friction is not a conversation stopper or a career ender.” Perhaps raising the minimum wage reduces turnover and hiring and training costs?  Just a theory.  Not a law.

Mankiw insists[17] that workers are paid based on how productive they are. “Our real wages are ultimately determined by our productivity.” Yet the evidence argues that the proportion of the wealth generated by increased productivity that accrues to labor is highly dependent on the percentage of the work force that belong to unions. As union membership has dwindled and workers are forced to negotiate as individuals with ever-more-powerful and mobile corporations that proportion has plummeted while corporate profits are at an all time high.

Mankiw and other conventional economists argue that increasing taxes on the rich reduces economic growth and dismiss the idea that lowering taxes on the wealthy has played a significant role in increasing inequality.  Recently two Professors of Economics, Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez examined[18] data from 18 OECD countries and came to the opposite conclusions.  They found little evidence that low taxes on the rich raise productivity and economic growth. And they found “a strong correlation between the reductions in top tax rates and the increases in top 1% pre-tax income shares from 1975–79 to 2004–08”.   For example, the U.S. slashed the top income tax rate by 35 percent and witnessed a large ten percent increase in its top 1% pre-tax income share. “By contrast, France or Germany saw very little change in their top tax rates and their top 1% income shares during the same period.”

And in what can only be considered a direct repudiation of virtually all conventional economic theory, the researchers’ rigorous analysis estimated the top tax rate could be as high as 83% without slowing economic growth.

The Economic Crisis And Conventional Economics

How has the economic crisis changed what Mankiw offers in his freshman course? “…not as much as you might think,” he answers[19].  “Despite the enormity of recent events, the principles of economics are largely unchanged.”

Mankiw does admit that the precipitous collapse of most western economies has convinced him to entertain some “subtle” changes.  For example, he might introduce a few overlooked factors into his course such as the role of FINANCE or the importance of LEVERAGE.

Many economists who are not slaves to conventional economic models with their “standard assumptions” and “idealized conditions” recognized the importance of these issues long before the crisis.  In 1994, for example, Marxist economist Paul Sweezy told[20] Harvard economic graduate students.  “In the old days finance was treated as a modest helper of production. By the end of the decade (1980s) the old structure of the economy, consisting of a production system serving a modest financial adjunct, had given way to a new structure in which a greatly expanded financial sector had achieved a high degree of independence and sat on top of the underlying production system.”

In 2001, economist Steven Keen bluntly challenged[21] conventional economics. “An economic theory that ignores the role of money and debt in a market economy cannot possibly make sense of the complex, monetary, credit based economy in which we live.”

What about the failure of the economics profession to forecast the economic collapse?  Mankiw concedes[22], “It is fair to say that this crisis caught most economists flat-footed.”  But he insists; “Yet this is no reason for embarrassment….Some things are just hard to predict.”

Mankiw is certainly correct that most conventional economists were caught flat-footed.  Indeed, many boasted that their “method not a doctrine” had led to policies that had achieved enduring prosperity and stability.  The “central problem of depression-prevention has been solved,” declared[23] Nobel Prize winner Robert Lucas in his 2003 Presidential Address to the AEA.

Before 2008, conventional economic theory championed the deregulation and expansion of the financial sector as a strategy to enhance economic efficiency and lower risk. It taught us that speculation is not a problem because all of the actors have all the information necessary to make the right decision.

It ignored the tsunami of increasing private debt while concentrating its attention and disapproval on a much slower growing public debt.

“The problem is that economists (and those who listen to them) became over-confident in their preferred models of the moment:  markets are efficient, financial innovation transfers risks to those best able to bear it, self-regulation works best and government intervention is ineffective and harmful,” Dani Rodrik, Professor of Economics at Harvard comments[24].

Again Keen is more blunt. “Neoclassical economists were effectively trained to not see this crisis coming, by theoretical fallacies that led them to ignore crucial real-world phenomena like the ballooning levels of private debt, and rampant speculation and fraud in the private sector.”

In 2003, when Feldstein taught EC 10, students first rose up against its perceived bias.  Some 700 students and alumni signed a petition asking Harvard to offer an alternative economics course.   After much deliberation, Harvard agreed, but refused to allow economics majors to receive credit for taking the alternative course.

Economics Professor Stephen Marglin teaches the alternative class.  The author of The Dismal Science he believes the methods of economists do embody a doctrine. Their assumptions embody certain values and predetermine outcomes.

In an interview Marglin points[25] out several potentially fatal flaws in conventional models.

It is highly misleading about how society actually works. Not only do you have to leave out all the fine print about monopoly and oligopoly, externalities, public goods, asymmetric information…you have to separate individuals, focus on the individual, and leave out of the analysis the connections between individuals. You have to leave aside the limits of rational calculation. You have to assume that it is human nature always to want more, never to be satisfied with ‘enough.’ … you have to assume these rational, isolated individuals are completely self-interested. Because as soon as they are not self-interested anymore-even if that non-self-interest takes the benign form of altruism-then the theorems about Pareto optimality, the efficiency of markets, break down.

Marglin addresses an issue ignored by most economists:  the effect of their models and the policies derived from them on our sense of community. How Thinking Like An Economist Undermines Community is the subtitle of his book.

“Community is important to a meaningful life,” he maintains[26].  “Community is about human connections; we need community to foster and maintain these connections.  And we are diminished as our human connections are diminished.”  “The economics we have constructed makes it virtually inevitable that we will leave community out of consideration when we ask questions about economic policy.”

He offers students advice that would be considered heretical in a conventional economics course. “Choose very carefully which markets you will allow and which you will not in terms of what they do to communities.”

Remember. It’s the Bank of Sweden Economics Prize not the Nobel Prize

A few weeks ago the Nobel Prize for Economics was announced.  The press dutifully noted that it wasn’t  one of the official Nobel Prizes inaugurated in 1901.  Yet the media continue to call it the Nobel Prize rather than by its actual name: The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

Knowing that the prize is issued by a bank might help people understand why, since its inception in 1969, 70 percent of these economics prizes have been awarded[27] to Americans compared[28] to only 39 percent of the real Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics, literature and medicine.  And why ten have been won by University of Chicago faculty.

The study of economics may indeed help us understand the world and design appropriate policies.  But we need to drop the pretense that economics is a science based on laws and objective models and accept that it is a normative discipline.  We need to own up to the bias inherent in conventional economic models and the social damage policies based on those models has wrought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. observes: http://www.thepaltrysapien.com/2011/11/thus-spoke-the-merchant-of-gloom-2/
  2. Debunking Economics: http://debunkingeconomics.com/
  3. best selling: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDkQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FEconomics-McGraw-Hill-Campbell-McConnell%2Fdp%2F0073375691&ei=6mvnTt2AM4bi0QGSqpH1CQ&usg=AFQjCNEaa0m2Zb5CL-L6Fiztozg48p0bOg
  4. half: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CC4QFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dollarsandsense.org%2Farchives%2F2003%2F0703dimaggio.html&ei=KGznTtrONOnl0QHGiKz0CQ&usg=AFQjCNGgkJAhX3NuA17AicsuPnYXdY2_eg
  5. letter: http://www.livingindiversity.org/2011/11/15/walkout-in-harvard-an-open-letter-to-greg-mankiw/
  6. responded: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCYQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2011%2F12%2F04%2Fbusiness%2Fknow-what-youre-protesting-economic-view.html&ei=g2znTuLoEKPb0QGKoZDvCQ&usg=AFQjCNGeuGR7IaBE_NbgtlnH4n-Y0vsVJA
  7. Economics for the Rest of Us: http://thenewpress.com/index.php?option=com_title&task=view_title&metaproductid=1581
  8. writes: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&ved=0CEAQFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.economics.harvard.edu%2Ffiles%2Ffaculty%2F40_Spreading%20the%20Wealth%20Around.pdf&ei=6WznTvbKMMTL0QG4scSPCg&usg=AFQjCNEZls9Um-baZWqF_NgvMnH8xykNmw
  9. observes: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2010%2F10%2F10%2Fbusiness%2Feconomy%2F10view.html&ei=KW3nTpOgAseAgweturnMCA&usg=AFQjCNHKe9VaBDuQ6GM3nkwnoG4BFySrpw
  10. wrote: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.economics.harvard.edu%2Ffiles%2Ffaculty%2F40_bglobejune01.html&ei=Sm3nTv-2C4qbgwfnyrj1CA&usg=AFQjCNFczBA304foPKDnqHrSvwTT-ry8Xw
  11. explain: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CEEQFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.economics.harvard.edu%2Ffiles%2Ffaculty%2F40_Spreading%20the%20Wealth%20Around.pdf&ei=bm3nTpi4BI3pggeq6ezLCA&usg=AFQjCNEZls9Um-baZWqF_NgvMnH8xykNmw
  12. informed: http://books.google.com/books?id=CxVa0zM3y9kC&pg=PA40&lpg=PA40&dq=feldstein,+health,+lead+to+an+increased+demand+for+care+that+is+worth+less+than+its+cost+of+production&source=bl&ots=6UhoohN7y2&sig=sCN1dHqIigU4unwZqd12iQH6IRk&hl=en&ei=n23nTo79HYSKgwfk9ejwCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAA
  13. less: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwikileaks.org%2Fwiki%2FCRS%3A_The_U.S._Health_Care_Spending%3A_Comparison_with_Other_OECD_Countries%2C_September_17%2C_2007&ei=7W3nTvDVOMWSgwfouqDzCA&usg=AFQjCNHNBV4NXsNseSyw8ksNF-B8TRUoWQ
  14. Myth and Measurement: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/5632.html
  15. pointed: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fpup.princeton.edu%2Ftitles%2F5632.html&ei=MnrnTvqMGcnO2gWK1s3KCA&usg=AFQjCNHU-RFYAJKgru1I2GjJct9A2dy94g
  16. reviewed: http://www.newdeal20.org/2011/09/01/minimum-wage-laws-and-the-labor-market-what-have-we-learned-since-card-and-kruegers-book-myth-and-measurement-57160/
  17. insists: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fgregmankiw.blogspot.com%2F2006%2F05%2Foutsourcing-redux.html&ei=HXvnTo3IDITo2gWtxKCGCg&usg=AFQjCNEnLyr-zvVI7MAqpSFZIuLTzhpEsQ
  18. examined: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.voxeu.org%2Findex.php%3Fq%3Dnode%2F7402&ei=SnvnToTKJbO_2QXd8IXMCA&usg=AFQjCNFnHtK2E_2pcoWkn0gaa9NoxAAtew
  19. answers: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fopeneconomicsnd.wordpress.com%2F2009%2F05%2F24%2Fgreg-mankiw-on-the-future-of-econ-101%2F&ei=bXvnTq68FYrY2gXp5dmsCQ&usg=AFQjCNHveIzKbrZ4-9SJBbSL8EY_0vZRew
  20. told: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCQQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Ftomweston.net%2FFinancialization.pdf&ei=mXvnTpKgOdPs2AXRoejICA&usg=AFQjCNHh1adH-CLypNkNHPWjeAmjZ27-7Q
  21. challenged: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCUQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdebunkingeconomics.com%2Fsamples%2Fpredicting-the-unpredictable%2F&ei=xHvnTsGSBIPY2QW2ytG8CQ&usg=AFQjCNEJaR4zCNC7Ok14B5nBosAQC8jNxw
  22. concedes: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCAQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.economist.com%2Fblogs%2Ffreeexchange%2F2009%2F05%2Frevisiting_economics_101&ei=83vnTuq8LYz-2QXotr3RCA&usg=AFQjCNFae3UTBb6Ll8PChIZRL2vuC6lAyg
  23. declared: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDYQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2009%2F09%2F06%2Fmagazine%2F06Economic-t.html%3Fpagewanted%3Dall&ei=FXznTqn_KfO42gXilY2ECg&usg=AFQjCNH6VYpoAl9gbk80mdOD37JRn8YoeQ
  24. comments: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CCsQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aeaweb.org%2Feconwhitepapers%2Fwhite_papers%2FDani_Rodrik.pdf&ei=QHznTtekI8OI2gWR_-HUBw&usg=AFQjCNG9bcRaObxm55xzUXkIWHYzC6Z4XQ
  25. points: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.challengemagazine.com%2Fextra%2F013_026.pdf&ei=gnznTt7rNsWe2wWn-oywCQ&usg=AFQjCNFxnqLxkoVh_7pJyOXr0npsezOVcg
  26. maintains: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CCsQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fca.vlex.com%2Fvid%2Fgiving-gift-blood-builds-community-65093688&ei=z3znTvrZCIi02gWehJ3cCA&usg=AFQjCNGV672_QhzrxQ8UFI8W8j0emQBFEw
  27. awarded: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Feconbonus.blogspot.com%2F2011%2F09%2Fforecasting-2011-nobel-prize-in.html&ei=F33nTvbdGMrO2AWOxenBCQ&usg=AFQjCNFAVAAWSF15s31bPCsU-4a0KR4vGg
  28. compared: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&sqi=2&ved=0CEsQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.jinfo.org%2FUS_Nobel_Prizes.html&ei=OH3nTt7DN-be2AXdxpXMCA&usg=AFQjCNEyT8w2l5883hdQ11AL_MBAeLEaJw

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/occupy-economics-departments/


Can you say ‘Sprawl’? Walmart’s Biggest Climate Impact Goes Ignored

by Stacy Mitchell | November 29, 2011 10:53 pm

This is the sixth article in a special series written by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell and published by Grist[1].  You can read the whole series here[2].

Earlier this year, the New Jersey Sierra Club[3] and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance[4] tried but failed to block a permit for a new Walmart supercenter in the small coastal town of Toms River. The development, now moving forward, will destroy habitat for the threatened northern pine snake. What’s especially frustrating about the project, local environmentalists say, is that Walmart already has a store in Toms River. It’s just a mile down the road and will be shuttered when the new supercenter opens.

The Toms River site is one of several environmentally sensitive areas Walmart aims to pave over in the coming months. Many follow a similar pattern. In Copley, Ohio, Walmart wants to develop 40 acres of fields and wetlands, and then close another store a mile away. In Davie, Fla., the chain is seeking permission to destroy 17 acres of wetlands to build in a location that’s just a 15-minute drive from six other Walmart stores.

The chain now has 698 million square feet of store space in the U.S., up from 530 million in 2005, plus another 287 million around the globe. Its U.S. stores and parking lots cover roughly 60,000 acres.

Walmart’s imprint on our landscape is “their most serious legacy for the environment,” according to Kaid Benfield[5], director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program[6] at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “In terms of global warming, it’s a huge issue,” he notes. “Our per-person emissions are much higher in sprawl locations than they are in more walkable locations.”

In fact, it’s likely that Walmart’s land-use impacts indirectly contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere than all of its reported greenhouse gas emissions combined, including those from the electricity that powers its stores and the fuel that runs its trucks.

And, yet, land use is utterly absent from Walmart’s sustainability program. Its 2007 sustainability assessment briefly mentions “the unintended consequences associated with land development.” But annual sustainability reports[7] since then have been silent on the issue. Words and phrases like sprawl, compact, mixed-use, pavement, impervious, runoff, auto-oriented, household driving, transit, and pedestrian do not appear anywhere in these reports.

Vacant Walmarts litter the landscape

Next year, Walmart plans to open at least 210 new stores in the U.S. A handful of these will be its new Express stores[8], which, at 10,000-15,000 square feet, are about the size of a Walgreen’s; they sell groceries and pharmacy items, and are designed to fit into dense urban areas without triggering a zoning review. But almost all of its new stores will be 185,000-square-foot supercenters built on virgin land at the edge of sprawling communities. Even in cities, Walmart still favors a big suburban-style store with a moat of parking. It only resorts to Express stores where necessity dictates. “They are not replacing the suburban model, but adding to it,” says Benfield.

Walmart’s development projects often encounter a host of local and state environmental regulations, but the retailer is remarkably adept at getting around them. In California, for example, Walmart has been using the initiative process to evade the requirements of the state’s Environmental Quality Act[9]. As Will Evans recently reported[10] on California Watch, by gathering signatures and submitting its development proposals as ballot initiatives, Walmart ensures they won’t be subject to the act. Under the initiative process, city governments must either approve the projects outright, with no conditions, or spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to hold a special election. Facing daunting budget problems, most cities just give in. Over the last two years, Walmart has used this technique to secure approval for at least seven new supercenters across the state.

The last thing the U.S. landscape needs is more retail space. At more than 40 square feet per capita, we now have twice as much retail space as we did in the early 1990s and nearly three times as much as Europe — and a shocking amount of it now sits empty. Even before the recession, Americans were unable to spend enough to support all of this development. The Denver metro area, which currently has at least 70 vacant big-box stores[11] and a swelling supply of defunct malls, is typical of many American cities.

Walmart’s commitment to “zero waste,” which has led it to recycle a growing share of waste at its stores, does not, unfortunately, extend to reusing cast-off retail space — not even its own. The company’s realty website[12] lists 150 available Walmart stores, some less than a decade old and most located barely a stone’s throw from a new supercenter. Apparently, Walmart has found there’s more profit to be made by building shiny new stores than by updating and expanding existing ones.

Walmart has signaled that it plans to continue treating its buildings as disposable. Last year, when it negotiated with SolarCity[13] to put solar panels on some of its California stores, Walmart insisted on 10-year power-purchase agreements, rather than the usual 20 years, because it would not commit to occupying these locations for more than a decade.

How Walmart’s sprawl drives climate change

New Walmart stores are made mostly of cement and steel, two materials with high levels of “embodied” carbon, meaning they require a lot of energy to manufacture. These emissions are not counted in Walmart’s annual tally of its contribution to climate change. Nor does the company count the impact of turning CO2-absorbing forests and fields into asphalt.

Far more significant, though, is how Walmart’s development patterns change our communities, reconfiguring their geography so that day-to-day errands require ever more driving. Between 1990 and 2009 – a period when Walmart grew from a regional chain to a national juggernaut — the number of miles the average American household logged each year for shopping grew by more than 42 percent, according to the National Household Travel Survey[14]. By 2009, the average household was driving nearly 1,000 miles more to and from stores each year than it did in 1990.

Driving in general increased during these years as more people moved to the suburbs, but shopping-related driving expanded six times faster than driving for all other purposes, including work, school, and recreation. Indeed, almost half of the total increase in driving in this period can be attributed to errands. It’s not that we’re taking more trips to the store. Households still report about 9 shopping trips each week on average. But each of those trips is about 2 miles longer. For the country as a whole, that’s an extra 149 billion miles on the road each year.

Not all of this extra driving can be attributed to the rise of Walmart and other big-box retailers, but a sizeable chunk of it can. There used to be many more small and medium-sized stores — independent grocers, pharmacies, hardware stores, and so on – dispersed across city neighborhoods and town centers. Most people only had to go a short distance to pick up something for dinner or buy a can of paint.

This more sustainable pattern, rooted in a time before most families had cars, began to fray with the advent of malls in the 1950s and ’60s. But it was the growth of retailers like Walmart, Home Depot, and Target that really decimated neighborhood businesses. While malls mainly sell clothing, the big boxes compete more directly with local stores catering to the day-to-day needs of a community. Today, retail is concentrated in a much smaller number of giant stores, each serving a larger geographic region than the many small stores it replaced. The inevitable result is that most households must drive a few miles more for most errands.

Walmart affects more than just shopping. Its arrival often shifts traffic patterns so dramatically that other businesses, and even institutions like churches and schools, are compelled to abandon older neighborhoods and move to the new center of activity, making every aspect of life more auto-dependent. “What they do on the landscape is hugely influential,” notes Kaid. “In many cases, [Walmart] went early to a location, not late. It’s partly a result of how much land they want to use. From their point of view, they couldn’t follow suburban development and still get that much land at a price that they wanted to pay. They go early and more sprawl comes in around them.”

The climate implications of all this are huge. To get a sense of the magnitude, say we attribute 10 percent of the increase in shopping-related driving since 1990 to Walmart. That’s probably conservative given how fast the company grew and the degree to which its stores have altered land use and traffic patterns, but 10 percent is Walmart’s current share of retail spending, so it’s a fair number to use. That would mean Walmart’s share of the extra miles driven is resulting in more than 5 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year in the U.S. That’s almost a quarter of the company’s reported global CO2 emissions, which were at 21 million tons in 2009. Add in all of the other untallied climate effects of Walmart’s sprawl strategy and you can see how the company’s true carbon footprint balloons.

So, while Walmart claims to be taking a leadership role on climate change, it is refusing to address — or even acknowledge — one of the most significant ways its practices affect the earth’s atmosphere.

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://www.grist.org/article/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable
  2. here: http://www.grist.org/article/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable
  3. New Jersey Sierra Club: http://newjersey.sierraclub.org/
  4. Pinelands Preservation Alliance: http://www.pinelandsalliance.org/protection/work/currentissues/development/walmarttomsrivermanchester/
  5. Kaid Benfield: http://www.grist.org/people/Kaid+Benfield
  6. Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program: http://www.nrdc.org/smartgrowth/
  7. annual sustainability reports: http://walmartstores.com/Sustainability/7951.aspx
  8. Express stores: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-07-27/business/ct-biz-0727-walmart-express-20110727_1_wal-mart-stores-walmart-express-walmart-supercenter
  9. Environmental Quality Act: http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/more/faq.html
  10. recently reported: http://californiawatch.org/money-and-politics/wal-mart-ramps-ballot-threats-speed-new-stores-13678
  11. 70 vacant big-box stores: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_18773673
  12. realty website: http://walmartrealty.com/
  13. SolarCity: http://www.grist.org/article/wal-mart-says-thin-solar-is-in
  14. National Household Travel Survey: http://nhts.ornl.gov/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/can-you-say-sprawl-walmarts-biggest-climate-impact-goes-ignored/


Walmart’s promised green product rankings fall off the radar

by Stacy Mitchell | November 22, 2011 1:56 pm

This is the fifth article in a special 9-part series written by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell and published by Grist[1].  You can read the whole series here[2].

In 2009, Walmart created a stir when it announced that it would develop a Sustainability Index to assess the environmental impacts of every item on its shelves and provide an easy rating system to help shoppers make greener choices. CEO Mike Duke described[3] [PDF] the index as “a simple tool that informs consumers about the sustainability of products” and helps them “consume in a more sustainable way.” This, in turn, would induce Walmart’s 100,000 suppliers to shrink their footprints.

The company set a five-year timetable. Many commentators gushed. The New York Times found the news so momentous that it dedicated an editorial[4] to it, noting, “Given Wal-Mart’s huge purchasing power, if it is done right it could promote both much-needed transparency and more environmentally sensitive practices.”

More than two years on, this ambitious project doesn’t have much to show for itself. A consumer label “is really far off and maybe not a reality,” according to Elizabeth Sturcken, a managing director at Environmental Defense Fund, which has partnered with Walmart on its sustainability initiatives. “This information is really complex. Getting it reduced into a simple label for consumers is very challenging.”

Still, Sturcken thinks the project could produce valuable information for Walmart and manufacturers, and drive product improvements behind the scenes. “I think getting it into a system that product buyers and suppliers could use is much more attainable,” she said.

But even that seems to be proving elusive.

To do the necessary product analysis, Walmart founded the Sustainability Consortium[5], a university-hosted group. It has since attracted 75 corporate members[6], including Monsanto and McDonald’s, each of which must contribute at least $100,000 to the effort. To run the consortium, Walmart chose two academic institutions with which it has close ties: the Applied Sustainability Center, which is part of the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business and was established in 2007 with a grant from the Walmart Foundation, and Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability, whose board of directors is co-chaired by Rob Walton, son of Walmart founder Sam Walton and chair of Walmart’s own board.

Barbara Kyle, director of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, is skeptical that such an industry-dominated endeavor could produce a meaningful rating scheme. “You end up with manufacturers voting only for criteria that they already meet,” she said, adding that many critical issues, such as the durability of products[7] and the impact of toxic inputs on factory workers, are excluded when corporations define sustainability. Kyle, who was on the task force that developed the EPEAT[8] environmental rating system for computers, volunteered to take part in a Sustainability Consortium meeting on electronics last year, but was rebuffed. “They have all this stuff on their website about transparency and accountability, but they are anything but,” she said.

In the first year or two after its founding in July 2009, the Sustainability Consortium was close-lipped about its progress. In the last few months, the consortium has finally said that it is not in fact developing a rating system or even product-specific information. It is assembling general lifecycle data for types of products – a typical environmental footprint for orange juice or detergent, say, but not for specific brands within those categories. Spokesperson Jon Nicol says this data could be a starting point for a rating system should a company wish to develop one. So far, the consortium has finished just 10 assessments. A Walmart supercenter carries roughly 140,000 items across thousands of product types.

Was Walmart woefully naive about what it would take to create the kind of Sustainability Index it promised? Was it a miscalculation to have corporations play a big role in developing environmental standards for their own products? Should Walmart have put its efforts instead into refining and adapting an existing rating system, one not controlled by industry, such as GoodGuide[9]? Was the index just a PR ploy from the start?

Raising questions about Walmart’s sustainability questionnaire

Although the Sustainability Index may never materialize, Walmart has been taking environmental issues to manufacturers in other ways. The company sent all of its suppliers a “sustainability assessment[10]” [PDF] last year, asking them to answer 15 questions about their practices. But that survey has been criticized by some sustainable business experts. Joel Makower, a green business strategist, described the questions[11] as “superficial at best, voluntary in nature, and the answers are largely yes-or-no, self-reported, and unverified.” Some suppliers privately grumbled that the survey was merely a tool for Walmart to better understand their cost structures and use that knowledge against them.

In China, where Walmart sources roughly 70 percent of everything it sells, the company has been undertaking other efforts. In 2008, Walmart organized a Sustainability Summit for its Chinese suppliers. Both outgoing CEO Lee Scott and incoming CEO Mike Duke gave speeches[12] to the more than 1,000 attendees. Much of the coverage of the event framed it as Walmart getting tough with suppliers: You had better dramatically reduce the environmental impact of your factory or we’ll stop buying your goods.

What the company’s executives actually said was that Walmart had two main environmental goals[13] [PDF] for its Chinese suppliers. The first: “we will require all our suppliers here to clearly demonstrate their compliance with Chinese environmental laws and regulations.” In other words, Walmart will no longer look the other way when its suppliers violate water-pollution and air-pollution laws. It’s good that Walmart is now on the side of the law, but then what are we to make of the company’s previous assertions over the years that its sourcing practices were ethical?

Walmart’s second stated objective was: “By 2012, our goal is for the top 200 factories we source from directly in China to achieve 20 percent greater energy efficiency.” There is plenty of low-hanging fruit when it comes to energy efficiency in China’s industrial sector and Walmart seems to be picking some of it. It has a clear financial incentive: Reducing energy use cuts costs, which presumably could result in Walmart paying suppliers less. Last December, the Environmental Defense Fund, which, at the time, was working in China to help Walmart achieve these reductions, reported that the company was on track to meet this goal by next year. Among the success stories that Walmart likes to highlight is the towel-maker Loftex, which has cut its electricity use by 25 percent and water use by 35 percent.

But the top 200 factories in China constitute less than 1 percent of the 30,000 factories in the country supplying Walmart, so a key question going forward is whether the others will follow in large numbers and in a way that can be verified. “[E]nergy efficiency in supplier factories still seems to be viewed as extracurricular by Walmart managers. It is not, in the lexicon of the Walmart world, seen as a ‘core activity,’” wrote Andrew Hutson, a project manager for corporate partnerships at EDF, in a blog post[14] last December. Hutson said the program lacked mandates for supplier participation and a solid system for measuring progress. “For the program to be impactful and meet its potential, it needs to up its game. Dedicating sufficient resources to get the job done would be a good place to start,” he wrote.

So far, there’s no evidence that Walmart’s purchasing patterns have been changed at all by the answers it’s received to its questionnaire, by its energy-efficiency efforts with Chinese suppliers, or by the Sustainability Index program. Aside from a handful of examples like concentrated laundry detergent and CFL bulbs, it doesn’t appear that greener products are edging out more damaging ones on Walmart’s shelves. The company has not established incentives for its buyers to favor more environmentally friendly products; their performance continues to be measured on sales volume and profit margins. Walmart also refuses to make longer-term purchasing commitments to its suppliers, which leaves many wary of investing in new technologies that may take years to pay off.

While Walmart may have made sustainability part of its conversation with manufacturers, so far this has done little to alter business as usual.

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  2. here: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  3. described: http://walmartstores.com/download/3880.pdf
  4. editorial: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/07/opinion/07fri4.html?scp=10&sq=%2522sustainability%20index%2522&st=cse
  5. Sustainability Consortium: http://www.sustainabilityconsortium.org/
  6. 75 corporate members: http://www.sustainabilityconsortium.org/members/
  7. durability of products: http://www.grist.org/business-technology/2011-11-11-is-your-stuff-falling-apart-thank-walmart
  8. EPEAT: http://www.epeat.net/
  9. GoodGuide: http://www.goodguide.com/
  10. sustainability assessment: http://walmartstores.com/download/4055.pdf
  11. described the questions: http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2010/07/19/walmart-and-sustainability-index-one-year-later?page=full
  12. speeches: http://walmartstores.com/Sustainability/8685.aspx
  13. two main environmental goals: http://walmartstores.com/download/3271.pdf
  14. blog post: http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2010/12/17/energy-efficiency-aint-rocket-science-it-could-use-boost?page=full

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/walmarts-promised-green-product-rankings-fall-off-the-radar/


Think Walmart uses 100% clean energy? Try 2%

by Stacy Mitchell | November 18, 2011 2:08 pm

This is the fourth article in a special 9-part series written by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell and published by Grist[1].  You can read the whole series here[2].

Context is critical to understanding Walmart’s sustainability initiatives and their impact on the retailer’s overall environmental footprint. But context has been sorely absent in the news media’s coverage of Walmart’s green efforts. Even within the environmental community, conversations about Walmart tend to miss the big picture.

Walmart’s renewable-energy activities provide a perfect example. Six years ago, the company announced that it was setting a goal of being “supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.” Succinct, powerfully stated goals are a signature of Walmart’s sustainability campaign — in part, it seems, because journalists often repeat these goals verbatim, so they function like stealth marketing slogans that infiltrate media coverage. Walmart’s renewable-energy goal has been especially effective on this front, appearing in thousands of newspaper articles and countless blog posts. Many of these stories use the goal as a jumping-off point to highlight the retailer’s renewable-energy projects, which include putting solar panels on 130 stores in California and buying 180 million kilowatt-hours of wind power in Texas annually. These stories create the overall impression that Walmart is making great progress on renewable energy.

But what if, rather than repeating Walmart’s stated goal of 100 percent renewable power, these news stories had instead reported that the company currently derives less than 2 percent of its electricity from its solar projects and wind-power purchases? That’s not a figure Walmart has published, and journalists have done little to bring it to light. At its current pace of converting to renewables, it would take Walmart about 300 years to get to 100 percent clean power. Some of its competitors are already there. Kohl’s and Whole Foods (both of which, I should add, have their own problems when it comes to the gap between their environmental PR and reality) have fully converted to renewable power, as have many independent retailers.

What’s holding Walmart up? It doesn’t want to spend the money.

“Because wind and solar power generally cost more than electricity from coal, nuclear or natural gas in most places, Walmart can’t or won’t buy clean energy on a scale that matters,” sustainable-business reporter Marc Gunther wrote earlier this year[3]. Walmart, which reported operating profits of $25.5 billion last year, said as much in its latest sustainability report[4]: “it has sometimes been difficult to find and develop low-carbon technologies that meet our ROI [return-on-investment] requirements.”

This a very different picture from the one the media have presented so far, which has portrayed Walmart as taking a leadership role on renewable power.

Another step back adds even more context: While the company has been talking big about renewable energy, its greenhouse gas emissions have been rising steadily. Between 2005 and 2009, Walmart’s reported emissions in the U.S. grew by roughly 7 percent. In Asia, they doubled. The company says its operations produced 21 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2009, and it expects 30 million metric tons of cumulative growth in emissions by 2015.

Neither Walmart’s renewable-energy projects nor its efficiency efforts are operating at a scale even remotely in league with the company’s size and growth trajectory. In the U.S., Walmart’s energy-efficiency steps have reduced energy use in stores built before 2006 by 10 percent, on average, saving about 1.5 million metric tons of CO2 annually. But new stores built in the U.S. since 2006 have added at least 3.5 million metric tons to Walmart’s yearly CO2 output.

The big payback

Commentators often note that cutting use of fuel and electricity saves Walmart money. But this is small change compared to the real payoff: a greener image and an enormous amount of positive publicity. This PR boost has enabled Walmart to accelerate the pace of its expansion. Six years ago, even the retailer’s own customers were starting to avoid its stores, while its development plans in cities like New York and Washington faced an impenetrable wall of opposition. Today, public opinion has shifted. Walmart’s store proposals, especially in the environmentally conscious Northeast and West Coast, are moving forward with less friction than before.

With fewer obstacles in its way, Walmart is anticipating big growth[5] over the next couple of years. In the fiscal year that will end on Jan. 31, 2012, Walmart expects to have added between 36 and 39 million square feet of store space worldwide, and over the next year, between 45 and 49 million more — altogether, the equivalent of up to 470 average-sized supercenters. It also expects, next year, to grow sales by 5 to 7 percent, or $21 to $29 billion.

The company’s growth and sales goals always have specific time frames attached, of course, while its renewable-energy goal remains as undefined as ever. So as Walmart expands, thanks in part to goodwill generated by its green campaign, its environmental footprint will keep expanding right along with it.

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  2. here: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  3. wrote earlier this year: http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2011/04/25/walmarts-csr-report-shows-power-limits-efficiency
  4. latest sustainability report: http://walmartstores.com/Sustainability/7951.aspx?sourceid=sustainabilityreport&ref=http%3a%2f%2fwww.google.com%2furl%3fsa%3dt%26rct%3dj%26q%3d%26esrc%3ds%26source%3dweb%26cd%3d1%26ved%3d0CDYQFjAA%26url%3dhttp%3A%2F%2Fwalmartstores.com%2Fsustainabilityreport%26ei%3d8ALEToSiBojc0QHW7qXEAQ%26usg%3dAFQjCNFmZa_OT9InaqC6RlBqDIDoTzS0Xg%26sig2%3dplkl2D4fZr2Y-39ea8Wv4w
  5. anticipating big growth: http://investors.walmartstores.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=112761&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1616558&highlight=

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/think-walmart-uses-100-clean-energy-try-2/


Is your stuff falling apart? Thank Walmart

by Stacy Mitchell | November 11, 2011 2:19 pm

This is the third article in a special 9-part series written by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell and published by Grist[1].  You can read the whole series here[2].

My friend Tony’s closet is as good a place as any to begin an investigation of Walmart’s environmental impact. Tony has a pair of Levi’s that date back to high school more than 20 years ago. They still fit him and they’re still in rotation. The fabric has a smooth patina that hints at its age, but, compared to another pair of Levi’s he bought only a couple of years ago, this pair actually looks far less worn. The denim is sturdier, the seams more substantial, the rivets bigger.

Tony’s old pair of Levi’s may well have been made in the U.S, and they likely cost more than his new pair. The new ones were manufactured abroad — Levi’s closed its last U.S. factory in 2003 — and, though Tony didn’t buy them at Walmart, their shoddy construction can be blamed at least in part on the giant retailer and the way it’s reshaping manufacturing around the world.

Since 1994, the consumer price of apparel, in real terms, has fallen by 39 percent. “It is now possible to buy clothing, long a high-priced and valuable commodity, by the pound, for prices comparable to cheap agricultural products,” notes Juliet Schor[3]. Cheapness — and the decline in durability that has accompanied it – has triggered an astonishing increase in the amount of clothing we buy. In the mid-1990s, the average American bought 28 items of clothing a year. Today, we buy 59 items. We also throw away an average of 83 pounds of textiles per person, mostly discarded apparel, each year. That’s four times as much as we did in 1980, according to an EPA analysis of municipal waste streams[4] [PDF].

Most consumer products have followed a similar trajectory over the last two decades. Walmart has done more than any other company to drive these changes, though other retailers have since followed its model. Where once we measured value when we shopped, Walmart trained us to see only price. Its hard bargaining pushed manufacturers offshore and drove them, year after year, to cut more corners and make shoddier products. As union-wage production jobs and family-owned businesses fell by the wayside, many Americans could no longer afford anything but Walmart’s cheap offerings.

Today Walmart says it wants to reduce the amount of pollution involved in making some of the stuff it sells. That seems like a good thing – except that everything else Walmart does is designed to undermine the durability of consumer goods, accelerate the flow of products from factory to landfill, and get us to buy more stuff. Even if Walmart does succeed in reducing the resources used to make a T-shirt or a television set, those gains will be more than outstripped by growth in the number of T-shirts and TVs we’re consuming.

The six-dollar toaster

On a recent visit to Walmart store No. 2659, just outside of Portland, Maine, I tried to find evidence of a shift to more sustainable products, but I didn’t see much beyond CFL bulbs and reusable shopping bags. There were no Seventh Generation cleaning supplies or organic cotton clothes, for example.

I did, however, spot a toaster[5] that retails for $6.24 — a price that renders its longevity virtually irrelevant. If it breaks, just buy another.

Prices on general household goods have fallen by about one-third since the mid-1990s. Given how awash in stuff we were in those boom years, it’s shocking just how much more we buy now. Since 1995, the number of toasters and other small electro-thermal appliances sold in the U.S. each year increased from 188 million to 279 million. The average household now buys a new TV every 2.5 years, up from every 3.4 years in the early 1990s. We buy more than 2 billion bath towels a year, up from 1.4 billion in 1994. And on and on.

While there are certainly factors beyond Walmart that have contributed to this ever-expanding avalanche of consumption, the company has been a major driver of the trend. Its growth and profitability rest on fueling an ever-faster churn of products, from factory to shelf to house to landfill.

In a paper[6] [PDF] that came out last year, three business professors illustrate how inducing manufacturers to cut product quality enhances Walmart’s competitive position. “Because lower quality products are usually cheaper to produce, it is often argued that discount retailers induce lower quality in order to drive down prices. Our model suggests, however, that the competitive and bargaining position effects provide incentives to induce lower quality regardless of changes in production costs,” the authors write.

In other words, getting manufacturers to make shoddier products doesn’t just mean that Walmart can offer super-cheap wares; it also helps Walmart marginalize its competitors and gain more dominance over its suppliers. By using its market power to drive down the quality of manufacturing, Walmart gains an advantage over department stores and independent retailers because quality (and the knowledgeable service that typically goes with it) is no longer an important factor in a consumer’s choice about where to shop. If you are going to end up with a crappy to mediocre blender anyway, then why bother spending more or availing yourself of the advice and service of a specialty retailer? Reducing the overall quality of products thus destroys a key competitive advantage of Walmart’s smaller rivals.

Even when a manufacturer responds to Walmart’s cost-cutting pressure by producing a separate, cheaper line to sell only in big-box stores — as many name-brand companies now do — the brand’s reputation for quality can suffer, making it hard for specialty retailers to persuade customers that the higher-quality, longer-lasting versions they offer are worth more.

As local stores and other competing retailers are weakened, manufacturers become more dependent on Walmart. Many major consumer products companies now rely on Walmart for one-quarter or more of their business. According to the study, this gives the chain greater bargaining power over its suppliers, who have fewer options for bringing their wares to market and thus little leverage to resist the retailer’s demands.

Walmart is also a master at getting shoppers to buy more than they came for. It employs all of the techniques that have been shown to spur “unplanned buying,” according to a recent study[7] [PDF] in the Journal of Marketing. The study found that large stores that promote the concept of one-stop shopping and can only be reached by car generate the most impulse buys. Marketing messages that evoke abstract shopping goals are also highly effective at inducing people to put more stuff in their carts. The authors cite Walmart’s “Save Money, Live Better” slogan as a leading example.

According to the study, the least amount of unplanned buying occurs when a shopping trip involves multiple stores, each with a specific product focus, and the customer arrives on foot or by mass transit – in other words, when you shop at small neighborhood and downtown retailers.

A low-tar cigarette

Walmart has a powerful incentive to increase the scale of consumption. Sustainability will never be more than a modest sideshow to this larger endeavor. Nowhere in Walmart’s pronouncements about greening its supply chain does the company mention the durability of products or the pace at which households burn through the stuff its stores sell.

As consumers, we’re hardly innocent in all of this, of course. With prices falling below the real human and environmental costs of production, we have been happy to upgrade to a bigger TV or buy four T-shirts when one would suffice. But imagining that Walmart might be part of the cure is like putting tobacco companies in charge of ending smoking. Walmart’s sustainability plan is the low-tar cigarette of the environmental movement: it admits there’s a problem, but offers a kind of pseudo solution that’s really aimed at keeping us all puffing.

As Walmart takes over an ever-larger share of the global economy, companies that favor a more durable and sustainable model of production are squeezed to the margins. The business press is replete with tales of storied U.S. brands, like Levi’s, which held out against Walmart for years before finally giving in, moving overseas, and figuring out how to make a $10 pair of jeans. Some still resist. Stihl, for example, the world’s leading maker of chain saws, has been vocal about retaining the quality of its products by not selling to the big boxes[8]. But if Walmart and those that follow its model continue to grow, there may soon come a day when no producer can escape its dictates.

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  2. here: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  3. notes Juliet Schor: http://ideas.repec.org/a/eee/ecolec/v55y2005i3p309-320.html
  4. EPA analysis of municipal waste streams: http://grist.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/msw2009rpt.pdf
  5. toaster: http://www.walmart.com/ip/Rival-2-Slice-Toaster-White/15231388
  6. paper: http://grist.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/dukes16_retailincentivesforquality_02-17-10.pdf
  7. study: http://grist.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/bell_corsten_knox_%282011%29.pdf
  8. vocal about retaining the quality of its products by not selling to the big boxes: http://www.stihlusa.com/corporate/corporate_become-an-authorized-stihl-dealer.html

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/is-your-stuff-falling-apart-thank-walmart/


Crowdfunding Bill Would Allow People to Invest in Local Businesses

by Stacy Mitchell | November 8, 2011 3:11 pm

Under a measure that passed the House last Thursday, you may soon be able to invest in a portfolio of your favorite independent businesses. The bill[1], which won bipartisan support and cleared the House on a 407-17 vote, would overturn long-standing Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules that make it nearly impossible for small businesses to raise capital (or borrow money) from their customers and communities.

Current SEC rules divide investors into two categories. Wealthy people (“accredited” investors) are assumed to have a certain degree of financial sophistication. Businesses are free to approach them for funding. The rest of us are covered by safeguards that bar businesses from soliciting our investments without registering a public offering of securities with the SEC, an arduous and expensive legal process that is well beyond the reach of a neighborhood restaurant or start-up clothing maker. The current rules do exempt some small investment offerings, but these exemptions are too narrow for most independent businesses to use without running afoul of the law.

The result is that, even as enthusiasm for independent businesses and locally produced goods has grown, the savings of almost all American households remains invested in the stocks and bonds of large corporations. We may buy local, but we invest transnational. There are few alternatives.

Many independent businesses, meanwhile, are short of the capital and credit they need. The rise of giant banks over the last twenty years has sharply reduced the ranks of local banks[2], making it harder for small businesses to obtain credit[3]. For those that cannot secure a bank loan, but have an avid following, raising funds in small increments from the public can be a viable option. Some that have managed to do so without violating SEC rules, like Greenlight Books (read their story[4]), have also discovered that grassroots financing has it advantages. It helps to build the relationships and community loyalty that can be so critical to surviving in the age of Amazon and Walmart.

Crowdfunding is further along in Europe, where the rules about offering small securities are more generous, according to Amy Cortese, whose new book Locavesting[5] provides an inspiring look at the many ways our investment dollars might be redirected locally. One active platform is the UK-based Funding Circle[6]. Since its inception in August 2010, Funding Circle has facilitated about £15 million ($24 million) in loans to 404 businesses. The site features a list of loan requests that have been vetted by Funding Circle’s underwriters and rated according to risk. Individuals can lend to as many as they like. A single loan may involve hundreds of lenders. Lenders are encouraged to join Circles, which are groups of people that have a common investing interest. Many are geographically focused — businesses in Edinburgh or Bristol, for example. So far, there have been two defaults and no cases of fraud.

Hoping to legalize crowdfunding in the U. S., the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC)[7] sent a petition to the SEC in July of 2010 requesting that the agency establish an exemption for businesses seeking up to $100,000 with individual investments capped at $100. Although the SEC received more 150 letters of support for the petition, nothing much happened until September of this year, when President Obama endorsed an exemption for crowdfunding and said that he would work with the SEC to change the rules.

Within weeks, Representative Patrick McHenry had organized a committee hearing on the issue and introduced HR2930[8], which sailed through the House at breakneck speed. The legislation requires the SEC to exempt businesses seeking to raise up to $1 million, with the amount an individual could invest limited to no more than 10 percent of his or her income, a much higher threshold than the SELC proposed. The measure establishes disclosure and other standards for the companies soliciting funding, as well as third-party intermediaries that link borrowers and lenders.

Although the crowdfunding bill won overwhelming support in the House, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate. The SEC opposes the bill, saying it would create too many openings for fraud. But, as some in Congress have noted, it’s hard to defer to an agency whose oversight failed to protect investors from Bernie Madoff and a mountain of toxic mortgage-backed securities. “It’s a legitimate concern, but we feel that the regulatory focus should be happening more at the top [of the market], not at the grassroots,” says Jenny Kassan, co-director of the SELC.

Another source of opposition is state regulators. Their laws and rules governing offerings under $1 million would be preempted by McHenry’s bill. While states play an important role in securities oversight, Kassan says that their specific regulations vary so widely that it’s prohibitively expensive for an expanding small business or start-up to comply with 50 different sets of requirements.

Perhaps a more significant concern about McHenry’s bill is whether it would allow crowdfunding to stray too far from its community roots. This kind of financing works well when it’s grounded in real relationships — when those investing are also the company’s suppliers, customers, or neighbors. Nothing in the bill so far requires borrowers and investors to have a connection or something in common beyond the financing (a shared geography, say). Should McHenry’s legislation open the way for crowdfunding to become more national, web-based, and anonymous, the risk of defaults and fraud may grow.

Although Kassan, Cortese, and other advocates of community-based crowdfunding share this concern, they say that the legislation is still a good move on balance. As Cortese notes, “This could tap a huge pool of capital for companies that need it, and allow people to invest in companies they love.”

Endnotes:
  1. bill: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:h.r.02930:
  2. sharply reduced the ranks of local banks: http://www.newrules.org/news/charts-distribution-deposits-size-and-type-financial-institution-1995-2010
  3. harder for small businesses to obtain credit: http://www.newrules.org/banking/news/banks-and-small-business-lending
  4. read their story: http://www.ilsr.org/grassroots-financing-underwriting-new-crop-neighborhood-businesses/
  5. Locavesting: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780470911389
  6. Funding Circle: http://www.fundingcircle.com/
  7. Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC): http://www.theselc.org/
  8. HR2930: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:h.r.02930:

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/crowdfunding-bill-would-allow-people-to-invest-in-local-businesses/


Walmart by the Numbers

by Stacy Mitchell | November 8, 2011 2:32 pm

This is the second article in a special 9-part series written by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell and published by Grist[1].  You can read the whole series here[2].

Walmart’s six-year-old sustainability campaign has helped improve its public image[3], enabling the company to grow bigger and faster. That growth, ironically, has dramatically increased the retailer’s environmental footprint, and hurt local economies and the U.S. job market along the way.

2005 — year Walmart launched its sustainability campaign

38 — percentage of Americans who had an unfavorable view of Walmart in 20051

20 — percentage of Americans who had an unfavorable view of Walmart in 20102

530 million — total square footage of Walmart’s U.S. stores in 20053

698 million — total square footage of Walmart’s U.S. stores in 20114

641 million — approximate area of the island of Manhattan in square feet

1,587 — number of Walmart stores outside of the U.S. in 20055

4,557 — number of Walmart stores outside of the U.S. in 20116

60,000 — approximate number of acres covered by Walmart’s U.S. stores and parking lots7

0 — number of times since 2007 that Walmart’s annual sustainability reports have referenced the company’s impact on land-use patterns and household driving

152 — number of abandoned Walmart stores in the U.S. listed as available for lease or sale on the company’s realty website8

210 — minimum number of new stores Walmart plans to open in the U.S. in 20129

1.5 million — approximate metric tons of CO2 saved each year by energy-efficiency improvements Walmart has made to U.S. stores built before 200610

3.5-3.9 million — approximate metric tons of CO2 emitted each year by Walmart stores built in the U.S. since 200611

<2 — percentage of Walmart’s U.S. electricity consumption that currently comes from its solar projects and specially purchased wind energy12

300 — approximate number of years it would take for Walmart to reach 100 percent renewable energy at its current pace

1988 — year Walmart opened its first supercenter selling a full line of groceries

25 — percentage of U.S. grocery sales now captured by Walmart13

29 — number of U.S. metro areas where Walmart captures more than half of all grocery spending14

196,000 — number of U.S. jobs lost from 2001 to 2006 as a result of Walmart’s imports from China15

1,940 — number of small retail firms (fewer than 20 employees) per 1 million population in the U.S. in 199216

1,455 — number of small retail firms per 1 million population in the U.S. in 200717

$312 billion — Walmart’s revenue in 200518

$419 billion — Walmart’s revenue in 201019

$8.81 — average hourly wage at Walmart’s U.S. stores20

$943 — average annual cost to taxpayers of providing Medicaid, food stamps, and cash assistance for each Walmart employee, based on data from Ohio21

 

Sources and footnotes:

1. Zogby International poll[4] conducted in November 2005.

2. Walmart data as reported by the American Prospect in May 2011.

3. Walmart 2005 Annual Report[5] [PDF] (figure includes Sam’s Club).

4. Walmart 2011 Annual Report[6] (figure includes Sam’s Club).

5. Walmart 2005 Annual Report[5] [PDF].

6. Walmart 2011 Annual Report.[7]

7. Author’s calculation based on store data in Walmart’s annual reports and the typical number of parking spaces provided per 1,000 square feet of retail store space.

8. Site[8] searched on Oct. 28, 2011.

9. Walmart press release[9], Oct. 12, 2011.

10. Author’s calculation based on data in Walmart’s annual sustainability reports.

11. Author’s calculation based on data in Walmart’s annual sustainability reports.

12. Author’s calculation based on data reported in Walmart’s annual sustainability reports. A small percentage of the electricity delivered by utilities around the country is also from wind and solar, so Walmart does get some additional renewable power that way, as we all do.

13. Estimates range from 22 to 28 percent.

14. Data reported for the year 2009 by Metro Market Studies, a commercial market share data provider.

15. Robert E. Scott, “The Wal-Mart effect: Its Chinese imports have displaced nearly 200,000 U. S. jobs[10],” Economic Policy Institute, June 2007.

16. U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Census[11].

17. U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Census[11].

18. Walmart 2006 Annual Report[12] [PDF].

19. Walmart 2011 Annual Report.[7]

20. “Is Wal-Mart Worse?[13]” Gotham Gazette, Feb 14, 2011, citing wage data supplied by the independent market research firm IBISWorld.

21. Data provided by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and published in a report by Policy Matters Ohio, “Public Benefits Subsidize Major Ohio Employers: A 2008 Update[14],” July 31, 2008.

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  2. here: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  3. helped improve its public image: http://www.ilsr.org/walmarts-greenwash-why-the-retail-giant-is-still-unsustainable/
  4. Zogby International poll: http://www.zogby.com/news/2005/12/01/new-national-zogby-poll-finds-americans-hold-diverse-strong-increasingly-negative-opinions-about-wal/
  5. Walmart 2005 Annual Report: http://grist.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/2005annualreport.pdf
  6. Walmart 2011 Annual Report: http://walmartstores.com/sites/annualreport/2011/
  7. Walmart 2011 Annual Report.: http://walmartstores.com/sites/annualreport/2011/
  8. Site: http://www.walmartrealty.com/
  9. press release: http://investors.walmartstores.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=112761&p=irol-newsArticle_pf
  10. The Wal-Mart effect: Its Chinese imports have displaced nearly 200,000 U. S. jobs: http://www.epi.org/publication/ib235/
  11. Economic Census: http://www.census.gov/econ/census12/
  12. Walmart 2006 Annual Report: http://grist.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/2006_annual_report.pdf
  13. Is Wal-Mart Worse?: http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/searchlight/20110214/203/3463
  14. Public Benefits Subsidize Major Ohio Employers: A 2008 Update: http://www.policymattersohio.org/PublicBenefits2008.htm

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-by-the-numbers/


Walmart’s greenwash: Why the retail giant is still unsustainable

by Stacy Mitchell | November 7, 2011 2:55 pm

This is the first article in a special 9-part series written by ILSR’s Stacy Mitchell and published by Grist[1].  You can read the whole series here[2].

Walmart adopted sustainability as a corporate strategy in 2005. It was struggling mightily at the time. Bad headlines stalked the chain, as its history of mistreating workers and suppliers finally caught up with it. One analysis found that as many as 8 percent of Walmart’s customers had stopped shopping at its stores. Grassroots groups were blocking or delaying one-third of its development projects. Stockholders were growing nervous. Between 2000 and 2005, Walmart’s share price fell 20 percent.

As then-CEO Lee Scott told The New York Times[3], improving labor conditions would cost too much. It would also mean ceding some control to employees and perhaps even a union. Going green was a better option for repairing the company’s image. It offered ways to cut costs and, rather than undermining Walmart’s control, sustainability could actually augment its power over suppliers. Environmentalism also had strong appeal among urban liberals in the Northeast and West Coast — the very markets Walmart needed to penetrate in order to keep its U.S. growth going.

Since Scott first unveiled Walmart’s sustainability program, the company’s head office in Bentonville, Ark., has issued a steady stream of announcements about cutting energy use, reducing waste, and, more recently, selling healthier food. Most of these announcements declare goals, not achievements. But the goals sound audacious enough to reliably produce sweeping headlines and breathless accounts of how Walmart could remake the world by bending industrial production to its will.

By 2010, the number of Americans reporting an unfavorable view of Walmart had fallen by nearly half, from a peak of 38 percent in 2005, to 20 percent.

What the news media haven’t reported

As I started to work on this series, I looked back at the coverage of Walmart’s sustainability campaign over the last six years and was shocked by just how much of a public relations boost the media have given the company and how little public accountability they have demanded in return.

Some of the most serious environmental consequences of Walmart’s business model simply aren’t on the table. Walmart doesn’t talk about them and, despite expending a lot of ink and airtime on the company’s green activities, the news media don’t either. Indeed, journalists rarely stray beyond the parameters of what Walmart has put in front of them.

More surprising is the absence of basic information essential to evaluating what Walmart is actually accomplishing. Take, for example, the share of Walmart’s electricity that comes from renewable sources. There have been thousands of news stories and blog posts on the company’s renewable energy activities since 2005, so one would think this number would be reported often. I couldn’t find it anywhere. (I did eventually dig up enough data to figure it out myself. The answer: less than 2 percent[4] of the company’s electric power in the U.S. comes from its wind and solar projects.)

Or take the case of the Sustainability Index, Walmart’s much-publicized effort to put a green rating on every product it sells. Two years after the media fanfare surrounding the announcement, no journalist, as far as I can tell, has investigated what progress, if any, Walmart has actually made. (According to my research: not much.)

This series aims to fill in some of these gaps and, hopefully, inspire other writers and journalists to take a closer look at what Walmart is and isn’t doing.

What environmentalists haven’t paid attention to

“Walmart is here to stay” — that’s the refrain I often hear from the many environmental organizations and green-business advocates who have applauded the company’s sustainability efforts. The world’s largest retailer isn’t going away, the thinking goes, so anything it does to reduce its footprint is a good thing.

But Walmart circa 2005 is, in fact, long gone. Today’s Walmart is much, much bigger. It sells 35 percent more stuff in the U.S., and its international store count has almost tripled, from about 1,600 to 4,600 stores.

For Walmart, sustainability is a growth strategy — and a highly effective (and darkly ironic) one at that. Six years ago, Walmart was facing widespread opposition, including legislation that would have required better labor practices and limited the company’s growth. Thanks at least in part to its sustainability campaign, and the warm reception from many environmentalists, those roadblocks have eroded and Walmart’s expansion is once again rolling at full speed.

As it grows, Walmart pushes out existing enterprises and local economic systems and replaces them with its own, often far more polluting, global supply chain and sprawling stores. If any single fact could sum up what’s at stake, it would be that Walmart now controls one-quarter of our country’s grocery sales and aims to capture half — a prospect with disastrous implications for the environment, social justice, and local economies.

So far, though, most mainstream environmental organizations have focused on the small bits of good that Walmart could do — reduce PVC in packaging, for example — while ignoring the much larger consequences of its ever-expanding business model.

This series will mark, we hope, the beginning of a more comprehensive and critical response to Walmart’s sustainability initiatives.

Read the articles in the series:

Endnotes:
  1. Grist: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  2. here: http://grist.org/series/2011-11-07-walmart-greenwash-retail-giant-still-unsustainable/
  3. told The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/25/business/25walmart.htm?pagewanted=all
  4. less than 2 percent: http://grist.org/business-technology/2011-11-17-walmarts-progress-on-renewables-has-been-very-slow
  5. Walmart by the numbers: Green vs. growth: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-by-the-numbers/
  6. Is your stuff falling apart? Thank Walmart: http://www.ilsr.org/is-your-stuff-falling-apart-thank-walmart/
  7. Think Walmart uses 100% clean energy? Try 2%: http://www.ilsr.org/think-walmart-uses-100-clean-energy-try-2/
  8. Walmart’s promised green product rankings fall off the radar: http://www.ilsr.org/walmarts-promised-green-product-rankings-fall-off-the-radar/
  9. Can you say ‘sprawl’? Walmart’s biggest climate impact goes ignored: http://www.ilsr.org/can-you-say-sprawl-walmarts-biggest-climate-impact-goes-ignored/
  10. Walmart spends big to help anti-environment candidates: http://www.ilsr.org/walmart-spends-big-to-help-anti-environment-candidates/
  11. Eaters, beware: Walmart is taking over our food system: http://www.ilsr.org/eaters-beware-walmart-is-taking-over-our-food-system/
  12. Four ways enviros can keep Walmart in the hot seat: http://www.ilsr.org/four-ways-enviros-can-keep-walmart-in-the-hot-seat/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/walmarts-greenwash-why-the-retail-giant-is-still-unsustainable/


It’s Labor vs. Capital, Stupid

by David Morris | October 6, 2011 2:18 pm

A few months ago Nassim Taleb, author of the Black Swan, an influential book about the crucial importance of unpredictable, unforeseen events on our financial system was asked whether the hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in Greece was a Black Swan event. He replied[1], “No. The real Black Swan event is that people are not rioting against the banks in London and New York.”

They are now.  Not rioting perhaps but vigorously protesting.  Occupy Wall Street is moving into its second month.  Twenty thousand strong demonstrated in New York City this week.  Similar demonstrations are spreading nationwide.

In the 1976 movie, Network, anchorman Howard Beale tells his viewers,

Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore. That is the message of the sit-ins by U.S. Uncut, the protests against Bank of America, the occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. to protest the war, Occupy Wall Street and the growing numbers of #Occupy demonstrations around the country. (more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. replied: http://news.firedoglake.com/2011/06/21/greek-citizens-head-into-streets-by-hundreds-of-thousands-to-protest-austerity/
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/its-labor-vs-capital-stupid/#more-530

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/its-labor-vs-capital-stupid/


How State Banks Bring the Money Home

by Stacy Mitchell | September 15, 2011 9:39 am

This article originally appeared in Yes! Magazine[1].

One of the most significant, but least noticed, consequences of the rapid and dramatic consolidation of the banking industry over the last decade is how much it has hindered the U.S. economy’s ability to create jobs.

To begin to understand this, take a look at each end of the banking spectrum. On one end are the nation’s 6,900 small, locally owned, community banks. These institutions control $1.4 trillion in assets. That’s 11 percent of all bank assets. They currently have $257 billion in loans to small businesses and farms on their books.

On the other end, four giant banks—JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, and Wells Fargo—now command $5.4 trillion in assets, or 40 percent of the total. Given that they are nearly four times as large as all local banks combined, one might expect that they would have made four times the small-business loans, or about $1 trillion. In fact, these banks have a mere $85 billion in small-business and farm loans on their balance sheets.  (See this graph[2].)

Why do giant banks make so few small-business loans? Automation is the short answer. The only way these sprawling institutions can function efficiently is by taking a mass production approach to lending: Plug credit score, income, and appraisal into the computer—out comes the loan. That’s why the mortgage business was supposed to be so safe. The economic meltdown of 2007 shows that it’s actually very risky.

Small-business loans are not so easily mechanized. Each is a custom job, requiring human judgment to evaluate the risk associated with a particular entrepreneur, a particular business plan, and a particular market. Community banks excel at this. Their lending decisions are made locally, informed by face-to-face relationships with borrowers and an intimate understanding of their hometown economies. Big banks, whose decision-making is long-distance and dictated more by computer models than judgment, are pretty bad at it. So they don’t make many small-business loans.

(more…)[3]

Endnotes:
  1. Yes! Magazine: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/new-livelihoods/how-state-banks-bring-the-money-home
  2. graph: /news/charts-small-banks-small-business-lending
  3. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/how-state-banks-bring-money-home/#more-3179

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/how-state-banks-bring-money-home/


And the Winner is….The Public Sector

by David Morris | May 18, 2011 9:51 am

Unlike the public sector, the private sector is bred for efficiency. Left to its own devices, it will always find the means to provide services faster, cheaper, and more effectively than will governments.
James Jay Carafano, Private Sector, Public Wars[1]

I suspect the vast majority of Americans would agree with Mr. Carafano.  They probably consider the statement self-evident.  The facts, however, lead to the opposite conclusion.  When not handicapped by regulations designed to subsidize the private sector, the public sector often provides services faster, cheaper and more effectively.

Consider the results of recent privatization initiatives in three key sectors:  health, education and national defense.

Health

Alone among all industrialized nations, the US relies on private for profit insurance companies to manage its health care system.  The result?  The US has by far the most expensive health care system in the world both in total cost and as a percentage of GDP.

But we don’t have to look abroad to evaluate the comparative costs of private and public health systems. Consider Medicare.

Small privatization efforts under Medicare began in the 1980s but did not become full-borne until 1997 when the Republican Congress, with the support of President Clinton, created Medicare+Choice.   Secure in their faith that the private is always superior to the public the Republicans agreed to a program in which private insurers would receive the same amount as the service cost under Medicare.

[2]The public sector proved uncompetitive. Private insurers began pulling out en masse. In 2000, more than 900,000 patients were dropped from the Medicare+Choice program.

No one should have been surprised.  Private insurers have a huge handicap.  Their overhead[3] costs-marketing, profits, etc.—dwarf those of Medicare: slightly under 17 percent compared to about 5 percent for Medicare.

How did the Republican Party react to this real world challenge to their foundational belief in the efficiencies inherent in a private enterprise system?  They changed the rules. Having proven unable to win in a fair fight, private insurers were now given a handsome subsidy when Medicare Advantage replaced Medicare+Choice. The federal government now pays private insurers on average 14 percent[4] more per member than the same care would cost under traditional Medicare.

The huge subsidy allowed private insurers not only to make a profit but to offer some low cost goodies, like membership to gyms, Medicare doesn’t offer.  Today, about 8.5 million Medicare beneficiaries nationwide are enrolled in some form of private Medicare plan—nearly 20 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries.

[5]Astonishingly, having proven that private health insurance costs more Republicans have now made the further privatization of Medicare the centerpiece of their budget deficit plan.  Instead of directly insuring seniors their new plan would have the government give them a voucher to buy private insurance.  The government would save money because the value of the vouchers would rise at a slower rate than health care costs.

New Yorker business writer James Surowiecki sums[6] up the conclusions of an analysis of the plan by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office[7], “seniors would have to spend more and more of their income on private insurance and out-of-pocket expenses, or go without… Ryan’s plan would actually increase the amount of money Americans spend on health care, since private insurers aren’t as good at curbing costs as Medicare.  But taxpayers would pay less.”

Education

In 1958, the federal government established a student loan program.  The federal Treasury made the loan directly.  In 1965, as part of his Great Society initiative, LBJ wanted to dramatically expand the program, but ran up against budget rules that discriminated against direct lending. A direct loan showed up as a total loss in the year it was made, even though most of it would be paid back with interest in future years.  A guaranteed loan, on the other hand, which placed the full faith and credit of the United States behind a private bank loan, would appear to have no up front budget cost at all because the government’s payments for defaults and interest subsidies would not occur until later years.

Knowing that a major direct loan program would show up as increasing a deficit already growing because of the expanding Vietnam War, the Democratic Congress opted to replace direct loans from the government with bank loans guaranteed by the government.

For the next 27 years, the direct loan program disappeared.  Finally, in 1990 Congress eliminated the unfair rules.  The new unbiased regulations led the Bush Administration to conclude that direct loans would be less costly and simpler to administer.  In 1992, Congress created a direct lending pilot program.  In 1993, President Clinton proposed replacing the guarantee program with direct loans as part of his own deficit reduction plan.

But in 1994 Republicans took over the House of Representatives.  And as conservatives are wont to do, they refused to let facts get in the way of ideology. Led by Newt Gingrich, they tried to completely eliminate direct lending. To their surprise, college and university officials, frustrated by a guaranteed loan system the Government Accountability Office labeled[8] a “complicated, cumbersome process” involving thousands of middlemen, fought back.

Ultimately, Congress stopped short of eliminating direct lending. Instead, it prohibited the Department of Education from encouraging colleges to switch to the direct loan program.   Even without such encouragement, colleges recognized a good deal when they saw one and began shifting to direct loans.  By 1998, about 35 percent of all student loans were direct loans from the government.

The private sector, having tasted the profits of guaranteed loans, fought back, led by Sallie Mae, the former Student Loan Marketing Agency.  Set up in 1972 as a non-profit, government sponsored enterprise (GRE) supervised by the US Treasury, in 1997 Sallie Mae obtained Congressional approval to privatize.  That allowed it to originate its own loans and acquire other companies. The new private profit making company quickly bought out its two major rivals.

 

Sallie Mae also purchased student loan collection companies.  By 2006 it dominated all aspects of the student loan industry. According to CBS[9] News, in 2005 nearly a fifth of its revenue came from collection agencies.  Sallie Mae’s fee income increased[10] by 228 percent between 2000 and 2005, from $280 million to $920 million while its stock price increased 1,600 percent from 1995 to 2005.

Colleges began to shift back to guaranteed loans.  Wondering why they would do so to the detriment of their students, U.S. News and World Report[11] investigated.  It found that private lenders were supplying college official with free meals and drinks, golf outings and sailboat cruises. “Lenders offer the prospect of millions of dollars in profits to universities–if they drop out of the Education Department’s direct-loan plan.

 

A 2006-2007 investigation by New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo uncovered a pattern of kickbacks and bribes to universities.

Private lenders worked not only to maximize their share of the market but to maximize their profits from each loan by changing the rules.  U.S. News and World Report noted, the student loan industry “used money and favors, along with their friends in Congress and the Department of Education, to get what they wanted.”

In 1998, Congress allowed massive penalties and fees to be imposed on delinquent student loans, making it more profitable for the lenders and guarantors when students defaulted than when they repaid the loan on time.  Congress also allowed for collection rates of up to 25 percent to be applied to the debt.

[12]In 1999, lawmakers created[13] a new interest-rate formula that boosted the lenders profits.

 

Student loans were specifically exempted from state usury laws and from coverage under the Truth in Lending Act.

Adding insult to injury, in 2005, the private lenders convinced Congress to make all student loans non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.

 

The loss to the taxpayers ran into the tens of billions of dollars.  The loss to students may have run even higher.

In 2005 the Congressional Budget Office compared[14] the impact on taxpayers of a guaranteed loan and a direct loan.  For every $1 of loan guarantee the federal government incurred taxpayers lost 15 cents.  For every $1 loans made directly by the federal government, taxpayers made 2 cents.

On a $3,000 student loan repaid in 10 years, the CBO estimated the cost to taxpayer for a guaranteed loan would be $450.  A direct loan, however, would benefit taxpayers by $63.

The 2008 elections gave us a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President.  In 2010, they ended 40 years of giveaways to the private sector and eliminated the guarantee loan program.  Today all federal student loans are direct loans. The Congressional Budget Office estimates[15] this will generate almost $68 billion in savings over the next ten years.

Military

 

As early as the late 1970s the federal government began contracting out but privatization took center stage with Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s Reinventing Government initiative.

From then on politicians would boast about how much they had reduced federal payrolls while at the same time avoiding the unpleasant fact that on their watch the number of private contractors had increased even faster.

The Pentagon embraced privatization most eagerly, contracting out for a wide variety of services, including weapons engineering, security enforcement, training, tech support, food and outfitting management, and even frontline military strength to a new entity,  the Private Military Company (PMC).

 

Secretary of Defense William Cohen led the effort. “During the summer of 1997 he assembled a committee that included leading executives from private industry to offer their wisdom about the road ahead”, Duke law professor Laura Dickinson writes in Outsourcing War & Peace[16].  “Cohen then proceeded to pursue a reform path that aimed to modernize defense by embracing the rhetoric, practices, and methodologies of American businesses. This embrace is perhaps most apparent in his Defense Reform Initiative, which he launched in the fall of 1997 as an effort to ‘aggressively apply to the Department those business practices that American industry has successfully used to become leaner and more flexible in order to remain competitive.’

The Pentagon has always employed contractors for specialized functions that were not large in scope and not fundamental to regular military operations. This changed in the early 1990s.  Peter Singer writes[17], ”In 1992 a relatively little-known, Texas-based oil services firm called Halliburton was awarded a $3.9 million Pentagon contract. Its task was to write a classified report on how private companies, like itself, could support the logistics of U.S. military deployments into countries with poor infrastructure. … it is hard to imagine that either the company or the client realized that 15 years later this contract (now called the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program or LOGCAP) would be worth as much as $150 billion.”

The number of private military contractors soared, exceeding by 1999 the total combined number of active military troops, civilian employees, reserves and National Guards.

[18]The result?  An unmitigated mess.   Contracts were shoveled out the door so fast the military lacked even basic information about the burgeoning force of private contractors. This was clearly evident when Congress asked the Army how many contract service workers it had.  The Army’s answer?  Somewhere between 124,000 and 605,000!

Did privatization save money? Usually not.  One Congressional study found[19] that contracts for intelligence support cost, on average, almost twice as much as in-house work.

Almost all of today’s logistics firms operate under “cost-plus” contracts–a structure ripe for abuse.

But privatizing the military has cost us more than just money.  As Maj Kevin P. Stiens and Lt. Col. (Ret.) Susan L. Turley observed[20], “Not only did the cost savings fail to materialize, outsourcing caused other tangible losses.  The government lost personnel experience and continuity, along with operational control, by moving to contractors.”

Walter Pincus opined in the Washington Post[21], “Particularly frustrating for organizations that require specialized expertise and experience, such as intelligence agencies, are organic personnel who leave for better pay with contractors after the government has trained them, obtained their security clearances, and given them experience…The government pays to get the worker qualified, then ends up leasing back . . . former employees.”

Our national security now depends on millions of workers with divided loyalties. “Private employees have distinctly different motivations, responsibilities and loyalties than those in the public military, Air Force Colonel Steven Zamperelli writes[22], “[T]hey are hired, fired, promoted, demoted, rewarded and disciplined by the management of their private company, not by government officials or the public.”

“The privatized military industry introduces very real contractual dilemmas into the realm of international security”, Peter Singer maintains[23],  “For governments, the public good and the good of the private companies are not identical . . . [and] these two parties’ interests will never exactly coincide.”

In 2008 at least 12 U.S. soldiers were accidentally electrocuted inside their bases in Iraq.  Later it was discovered that the private contractor, KBR, knew there were potentially serious electrical problems in the facility’s construction. But its contract didn’t cover “fixing potential hazards.” It only required repairing items already broken!

Singer offers[24] another reason many are concerned about our increasing reliance on private contractors,  “Many worry that the lack of control due to outsourcing could weigh even heavier and even put an entire military operation at risk. Consider what happened during the 2004 Sadr uprising, where a spike in attacks on convoys caused many companies to either withdraw or suspend operations, causing fuel and ammunition stocks to dwindle.”

 

It may be too late to turn the clock back on private military companies so long as government officials boast about reducing the size of the federal workforce while actually increasing it and lack the political courage to reinstitute a draft that would bring troop and troop support levels back to where they need to be.

Nevertheless, the pendulum seems to be swinging back. For the first time in 30 years, the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act encouraged what has come to be known as “insourcing”, bringing back in house tasks that have been outsourced.  Stiens and Turley drily assert, “one of the primary benefits of insourcing is to undo outsourcing efforts that brought neither cost savings nor improved mission performance.”

So there we have it.   Three disparate examples of privatization, all leading to the same conclusion. Privatization hurts.  Unlike the public sector, the private sector is bred to maximize profits.  Left to its own devices, it will always find a more profitable way to provide services even when that means increasing their cost, reducing their effectiveness and endangering the national security.

 

 

 

Endnotes:
  1. Private Sector, Public Wars: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CDQQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FPrivate-Sector-Public-Wars-Contractors%2Fdp%2F0275994783&rct=j&q=james%20carafano%2C%20private%20sector%2C%20public%20war&ei=J6nOTfqoNImWtwf0jqH9DQ&usg=AFQjCNFRVqQ6YdGpZokCLOtNpIa3p7hREg&cad=rja
  2. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/health-as-percent-of-gdpfull-size.png
  3. overhead: http://tinyurl.com/5tptv87
  4. 14 percent: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/10/the_medicare_advantage_scam.html
  5. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/percent-overhead-in-insurance.jpg
  6. sums: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBYQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.newyorker.com%2Ftalk%2Ffinancial%2F2011%2F05%2F02%2F110502ta_talk_surowiecki&rct=j&q=As%20a%20result%2C%20seniors%20would%20have%20to%20spend%20more%20and%20more%20of%20their%20income%20on%20private%20insurance%20and%20out-of-pocket%20expenses%2C%20or%20go%20without.%20&ei=vo_NTaG8MdG3tgffuNiKDg&usg=AFQjCNF7K8Db84gW0-iRBrkYLXUDJGnEGQ&cad=rja
  7. Congressional Budget Office: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=4&sqi=2&ved=0CDUQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cbo.gov%2Fftpdocs%2F121xx%2Fdoc12128%2F04-05-Ryan_Letter.pdf&rct=j&q=congressional%20budget%20office%2C%20ryan%20budget%20plan%2C%20medicare&ei=PYDRTYmNEIiFtgeWsfz6DQ&usg=AFQjCNGWHgl4uyxQLmztJsqj0mmDZGPgZw
  8. labeled: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0CBYQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcshe.berkeley.edu%2Fpublications%2Fdocs%2FROP.Shireman.Loans.10.04.pdf&rct=j&q=gao%2C%20%E2%80%9Ccomplicated%2C%20cumbersome%20process%E2%80%9D%2C%20guaranteed&ei=0oLNTdP-KMm2twebwYD9DQ&usg=AFQjCNEAgnIP_tkxdT03UPoHJDGuwV66jQ&cad=rja
  9. CBS: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CCYQFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cbsnews.com%2Fstories%2F2006%2F05%2F05%2F60minutes%2Fmain1591583_page2.shtml&rct=j&q=sallie%20mae%2C%20in%202005%20nearly%20a%20fifth%20of%20its%20revenue%20came%20from%20collection%20agencies.&ei=ooTNTb_FKoa3twfLr8DkDQ&usg=AFQjCNHVHe5QWS5FAsbCg8s4yXJSXFhXtg&cad=rja
  10. increased: http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2014
  11. U.S. News and World Report: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/articles/031027/27loans.htm
  12. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/taxpayer-cost-or-benefit-in-loan1.jpg
  13. created: http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/articles/031027/27loans.htm
  14. compared: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cbo.gov%2Fdoc.cfm%3Findex%3D6874&rct=j&q=comparing%20subsidy%20for%20direct%20loan%20and%20guaranteed%20loan%20student&ei=uanOTZnkNpK5tweSsbzuDQ&usg=AFQjCNGEnl34QPn7JFuiJfJLnfKp4VoV3Q&cad=rja
  15. estimates: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBYQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Ffebp.newamerica.net%2Fbackground-analysis%2Ffederal-student-loan-programs-history&rct=j&q=Congressional%20Budget%20Office%20estimates%20that%20the%20elimination%20of%20the%20FFEL%20program%20under%20the%20law%20would%20generate%20%2468.7%20billion%20in%20savings%20over%20the%20next%20ten%20years.%20%20&ei=aI_RTZzWKoTAtgfMrfXjDQ&usg=AFQjCNGppqu4yCyw0IXFmhHLoXXG9RfPEA&cad=rja
  16. Outsourcing War & Peace: http://www.law.duke.edu/news/story?id=5180&u=26
  17. writes: http://www.privateforces.com/content/view/1134/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2164
  18. [Image]: http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/private-contracts-outpacing-public.jpg
  19. found: http://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/OP240.html
  20. observed: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CCYQFjAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Flitigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com%2Fwebcd%2Fapp%3Faction%3DDocumentDisplay%26crawlid%3D1%26doctype%3Dcite%26docid%3D65%2BA.F.%2BL.%2BRev.%2B145%26srctype%3Dsmi%26srcid%3D3B15%26key%3Dbf73240d21a5e31cc3617bb13382efc4&rct=j&q=Not%20only%20did%20the%20cost%20savings%20fail%20to%20materialize%2C%20outsourcing%20caused%20other%20tangible%20losses.%20%20&ei=nqfOTca0PJOjtgf73JH1DQ&usg=AFQjCNGW4sG3s0bLm3RQgaQmWpNeTo0Qyg&cad=rja
  21. Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/19/AR2006031900978_pf.html
  22. writes: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CDgQFjAF&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.afresearch.org%2Fskins%2Frims%2Fq_mod_be0e99f3-fc56-4ccb-8dfe-670c0822a153%2Fq_act_downloadpaper%2Fq_obj_758c95ac-e44c-4ca8-bef2-7597eb9e3457%2Fdisplay.aspx%3Frs%3Denginespage&rct=j&q=Private%20employees%20have%20distinctly%20different%20motivations%2C%20responsibilities%20and%20loyalties%20than%20those%20in%20the%20public%20military&ei=LqLOTdX7G4TAtgfMrfXjDQ&usg=AFQjCNGMdFIw40IhlSYn18DcpHcIxgHFTA
  23. maintains: http://books.google.com/books?id=IOQjNuxMrOEC&pg=PA151&lpg=PA151&dq=The+privatized+military+industry+introduces+very+real+contractual+dilemmas&source=bl&ots=Sgu3kJNVaj&sig=HPuTCbNg9ez0_AcgoLkebjj-zYo&hl=en&ei=HqXOTfGdHoWUtwffppiIDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=The%20privatized%20military%20industry%20introduces%20very%20real%20contractual%20dilemmas&f=false
  24. offers: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_detail.taf?ti_id=4846

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/and-the-winner-is-the-public-sector/


All Hail the PUBLIC Library

by David Morris | April 29, 2011 2:15 pm

“The word “public” has been removed from the name of the Fort Worth Library. Why? Simply put, to keep up with the times.“From the Media release[1] on the rebranding of the Fort Worth Library

Fort Worth, you leave me speechless.  You’re certainly correct about one thing.  The public library is indeed an institution that has not kept up with the times.  But given what has happened to our times, why do you see that as unhealthy?  In an age of greed and selfishness, the public library stands as an enduring monument to the values of cooperation and sharing.  In an age where global corporations stride the earth, the public library remains firmly rooted in the local community.  In an age of widespread cynicism and distrust of government, the 100 percent tax supported public library has virtually unanimous and enthusiastic support.

(more…)[2]

Endnotes:
  1. release: http://tinyurl.com/6aoyofq
  2. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/all-hail-the-public-library/#more-384

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/all-hail-the-public-library/


Why Republicans Hate Warren’s CFPB But Love Another Bank Regulator

by Stacy Mitchell | March 18, 2011 4:03 pm

Stepping up their attacks on Elizabeth Warren and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week, House Republicans painted a picture of an all-powerful agency — Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus called it “the most powerful agency that’s ever been created in Washington”– whose director will rule the banking industry by fiat, be accountable to no one, and even determine her own budget.

Many have already pointed out how factually untrue these claims are. What’s also striking about them is how accurately they describe another financial regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The OCC is the nation’s top dog in charge of overseeing banks. Its powers are vastly broader than those of the CFPB and subject to far less oversight. Yet the OCC is well-liked by many of these very same Republicans, so much so that they went to bat last year to ensure that its authority would not be constrained in the slightest by the Dodd-Frank Act.

The difference between the two agencies is that the OCC sees its mission as protecting, not consumers, but big banks. Over the last two decades, the OCC has used its powers to ensure that the nation’s largest banks don’t have to play by the same rules that govern small community banks, can operate outside the jurisdiction of state attorneys general, and are immune from many consumer protection laws.

Unlike the CFPB, whose rules can be vetoed by the newly created Financial Stability Oversight Council, a panel of nine federal regulatory agencies (including the OCC), the OCC is subject to little in the way of checks and balances. It operates unilaterally and has spent much of the last two decades preempting state laws that big banks don’t like, including rules on credit card disclosures, payday lending, bank fees, and more. Most disastrously, in early 2000s, the OCC overturned numerous state laws that outlawed certain risky and predatory mortgage practices[1].

Throughout all of this, the OCC has been accountable to no one. When Congress reprimanded the OCC for its “inappropriately aggressive” preemption practices, the agency thumbed its nose and continued to obliterate state laws. When states sought relief through the courts, they ran headlong into a precedent that forces judges to defer to the opinions of the OCC. Nor has there been any accountability to citizens. Between 1995 and 2007, the OCC brought just 13 enforcement actions against banks for consumer protection violations. Even now, consumers in throes of the mortgage foreclosure debacle report that the OCC does not respond to their calls.

As with other major financial regulatory agencies, neither the CFPB’s budget nor the OCC’s are subject to the Congressional appropriations process. What does distinguish the two agencies’ budgets is where the money comes from. The CFPB’s expenses will be paid through a transfer from the Federal Reserve (with its budget capped and subject to annual GAO audits and reports to Congress), while the OCC derives almost all of its funding directly from the very banks it regulates. The largest 20 banks contribute two-thirds of the agency’s revenue.

What makes this set-up problematic is that banks can choose either a state or national charter. By giving nationally chartered banks a green-light to ignore state laws, the OCC has made its charter highly desirable and, indeed, its budget has soared as more banks have switched to a national charter. In other words, preempting consumer protections and running roughshod over state authority has profited both banks and the OCC itself.

All of this goes to show that what’s really at issue in the fight over the CFPB is not how the agency is structured or how much power it will have, but whose interests it serves. As Bachus himself put it recently, “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

 

Endnotes:
  1. the OCC overturned numerous state laws that outlawed certain risky and predatory mortgage practices: http://www.ilsr.org/what-big-banks-fear-more-cfpa/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/why-republicans-hate-warrens-cfpb-love-another-bank-regulator/


And The Academy Award for Cowardice Goes To….

by David Morris | March 1, 2011 10:49 am

From all accounts, Charles Ferguson’s acceptance speech was the highlight of the Oscars. After winning an Oscar for Best Documentary for Inside Job, a compelling and searing indictment of Wall Street’s role in the economic crisis, Ferguson injected some much-needed real world relevance amidst the fabulously glitzy proceedings. “Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail — and that’s wrong.”

That bears repeating.  Not a single financial executive has gone to jail.

The government was not always so cowed by Wall Street.  In the 1980s, after deregulation led to the takeover of Savings and Loans by aggressive entrepreneurs who committed fraud on a massive scale, the federal government swung into action.

Joe Nocera in the New York Times[1] recalls, “There were a dozen or more Justice Department task forces. Over 1,000 F.B.I. agents were involved. The government attitude was that it would do whatever it took to bring crooked bank executives to justice.”

Nearly 1,000 savings and loans — a third of the industry — collapsed, costing taxpayers over $200 billions. And the Department of Justice won 1,000 felony convictions in major cases.

The Department of Justice still prosecutes cases of financial malfeasance, as long as the perpetrators are not heads of major financial institutions. Consider its vigorous prosecution of Martha Stewart, who was convicted in March 2004, not even of insider trading but of lying to the SEC and the FBI about insider trading.  She served five months in a West Virginia federal prison.

Compare that to the way the Department of Justice approached the investigation of John Mack that same year.  Mack had just stepped down as President of Morgan Stanley and would soon become its CEO and Chairman of its Board.   Matt Taibbi relates the story in the most recent of what are rapidly becoming iconic pieces of an era in Rolling Stone[2].

One day, with no advance research or discussion, Samberg had suddenly started buying up huge quantities of shares in a firm called Heller Financial. “It was as if Art Samberg woke up one morning and a voice from the heavens told him to start buying Heller,” Aguirre recalls. “And he wasn’t just buying shares — there were some days when he was trying to buy three times as many shares as were being traded that day.” A few weeks later, Heller was bought by General Electric — and Samberg pocketed $18 million.

Aguirre identified Mack, a close friend of Samberg’s, as the person most likely to have tipped Samberg off. Mack had been begging Samberg to cut him into a potentially lucrative deal involving a spinoff of the tech company Lucent.  “Mack is busting my chops” to give him a piece of the action, Samberg told an employee in an e-mail.” A few days after Samberg sent that e-mail, Mack flew to Switzerland to interview for a top job at Credit Suisse First Boston. Among the investment bank’s clients was Heller Financial.

As soon as Mack returned from that trip, he called Samberg. The next morning, Mack was cut into the Lucent deal, an investment that made him more than $10 million. And as soon as the market reopened after the weekend, Samberg started buying every Heller share he could, right before it was snapped up by GE.

The deal looked like a classic case of insider trading. But in the summer of 2005, when Aguirre told his boss he planned to interview Mack, things started getting weird. His boss told him the case wasn’t likely to fly, explaining that Mack had “powerful political connections.” (The investment banker had been a fundraising “Ranger” for George Bush in 2004, and would go on to be a key backer of Hillary Clinton in 2008.)

Aguirre was contacted by Morgan Stanley’s regulatory liaison, a former top aide to Eliot Spitzer. A few days later, another of the firm’s lawyers, Mary Jo White, formerly U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York, called the SEC director of enforcement.

Taibbi caustically and accurately assesses the situation.

Pause for a minute to take this in. Aguirre, an SEC foot soldier, is trying to interview a major Wall Street executive — not handcuff the guy or impound his yacht, mind you, just talk to him. In the course of doing so, he finds out that his target’s firm is being represented not only by Eliot Spitzer’s former top aide, but by the former U.S. attorney overseeing Wall Street, who is going four levels over his head to speak directly to the chief of the SEC’s enforcement division — not Aguirre’s boss, but his boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. Mack himself, meanwhile, was being represented by Gary Lynch, a former SEC director of enforcement.

Aguirre didn’t stand a chance. A month after he complained to his supervisors that he was being blocked from interviewing Mack, he was summarily fired, without notice. The case against Mack was immediately dropped: all depositions canceled, no further subpoenas issued.

In 2011 neither Congress nor the White House has much stomach for prosecuting Wall Street.  Indeed, the four Republicans on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) voted to strip the following words from its report: “Wall Street,” “deregulation”.

As Finance Guy[3] writes on his blog, “Which is sort of like writing the history of apartheid in South Africa and not being allowed to use the words “race,” “white,” “black” and “prejudice.””

President Obama did not use the words Wall Street in his State of the Union Address.  The final report of the FCIC did.  But it drew the line at using the “F” word:  fraud. William Black, currently Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri – Kansas City and formerly the key person in the prosecutions of S&L executives in the 1990s slammed the FCIC, telling Real News[4], “They’ve drawn the picture of the horse, but they refuse to call it a ‘horse’”.  Black notes that by the Commission’s own evidence, the financial crisis could only have occurred with fraud by the most senior ranks of the big banks.  He estimates the incidence of fraud on their liars loans, mortgage where the lender does not verify the borrower’s income, was upwards of 90 percent and insists, “The only reasons you’d have millions of liars loans was to create fictional accounting income and loot the institutions

This latest financial crisis is some forty times as large as the S&L crisis. But the number of FBI agents assigned to look at white collar crime is only a fraction of those working in this area in 1992.

As for the Executive Branch, in January President Obama named William M. Daley as his Chief of Staff.  Until his appointment, Daley had served on J.P. Morgan & Co’s Executive Committee since 2004.

At a November 2010 conference attended by hundreds of Wall Street lawyers, Robert Khuzami the SEC’s current director of enforcement, who had served as general counsel for Deutsche Bank proudly announced to Mary Jo White who introduced him,  “You’ve spawned all of us”.  Recall that White, the former U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York, one of the top cops on Wall Street., was a Morgan Stanley lawyer in 2005 when she intervened to stop the investigation of John Mack.  In December 2005, in an interview with Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter[5], she effectively said that criminal cases should not be brought against financial corporations.  “In the vast majority of cases, they should not be seeking anything from the company itself except its cooperation.

Lynn Turner, the former chief accountant for the SEC, told Taibbi,  “I think you’ve got a wrong assumption—that we even have a law-enforcement agency when it comes to Wall Street.”

As the successful prosecutions of Savings and Loan executives in the early 1990s proves, the federal government has the tools to put in jail dozens if not hundreds of those responsible for millions of foreclosures, millions more unemployed and unprecedented federal and state deficits.  It simply lacks the inclination to do so.

The Academy Award for Cowardice must be shared.

Endnotes:
  1. New York Times: http://tinyurl.com/4komgyt
  2. Rolling Stone: http://tinyurl.com/4vxkg89
  3. Finance Guy: http://tinyurl.com/4vnempt
  4. Real News: http://tinyurl.com/4lnbkpx
  5. Corporate Crime Reporter: http://corporatecrimereporter.com/maryjowhiteinterview010806.htm

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/and-the-academy-award-for-cowardice-goes-to/


Taking Financial Reform into Our Own Hands

by Stacy Mitchell | July 14, 2010 8:20 am

Note: This article originally appeared on Huffington Post[1] as part of a partnership with their Move Your Money campaign[2].

With the now-expected passage of the financial reform bill, giant banks see a golden opportunity to finally put the financial crisis, along with their culpability for wrecking our economy, in the rearview mirror.

“We are very pleased to have this certainty and closure,” declared Steve Bartlett when the House-Senate conference committee had finished negotiating. Bartlett is the president of the Financial Services Roundtable, a powerful big bank lobbying group that would like nothing more than to make this legislation the one and only policy response to the banking system’s catastrophic failure.

It’s up to all of us to make sure that it is not.

The economic crisis is not over, and the rot and malfunctioning at the heart of our banking system remains. Indeed, since the collapse, giant banks have only grown bigger and more powerful, and less responsive to the needs of the real economy. While the financial reform bill includes several worthwhile measures, it will not set the industry right or entail a fundamental alteration of its scale and structure.

It leaves us at best only modestly less vulnerable to another meltdown. And it fails utterly to confront a deeper problem: even in the best of times, our banking system does not serve us very well. The two main reasons to have banks, after all, are to facilitate the growth of businesses and help families build assets and financial security. Yet, its hard to find more than a trace of these core functions on the balance sheets of the giant banks that now dominate the industry.

Instead, much of what big banks have been up to over the last two decades has involved devising ways to extract ever more wealth from households and the real economy. They’ve saddled their own customers with high fees and dangerous products, swindled borrowers and investors, orchestrated corporate mergers that harmed employees and even shareholders, and cut off the flow of credit to small businesses while channeling ever more investment capital into derivatives and other complex gambling schemes.

In short, big banks have not been facilitating the real economy so much as consuming it.

What would a banking system truly aligned with the interests of households and businesses look like? For one, it would be composed primarily of small, locally owned banks and credit unions. Unlike big banks, local financial institutions devote nearly all of their resources to core banking activities, namely taking deposits and making loans. Their fortunes are thus inextricably linked to the well-being of their depositors and borrowers. They prosper only when their communities do.

It wasn’t that long ago that most Americans banked at local institutions. As recently as the 1980s, they held a majority of our deposits. But big banks and their allies in Congress have spent 25 years rewriting the nation’s laws to their own benefit. By 1995, the share of U.S. deposits held by small banks and credit unions had dropped to 34 percent and a brand-new class of supersized banks had emerged. Today, these giant banks — there are 19 of them, each with more than $100 billion in assets — have taken over nearly half of U.S. deposits[3], while the share held by small banks and credit unions has fallen to 21 percent.

This transformation succeeded because so many in Congress, undoubtedly predisposed by campaign cash from Wall Street, bought into the bigger-is-better dogma pedaled by Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and the like.

But it turns out that small is in fact superior by nearly every measure.

Take, for example, small business lending, the lack of which is now impeding economic recovery. Although the crisis made it worse, the availability of credit for small businesses has been shrinking for some time. That’s because big banks do relatively little small business lending (see this graph[4]). One reason is that they are not all that good at it: the computer models these vast corporations must rely on to evaluate loan applications are not very adept at gauging the nuances of risk associated with a particular local enterprise in a particular local market.

Local banks generally excel at this. Their lending decisions are made by people who are intimately familiar with local market conditions and who spend time getting to know the borrower and his or her enterprise. This enables them to better assess risk and to successfully extend credit to a broader range of small businesses. Indeed, research has found that, all else being equal, regions with more small banks are home to more small firms.

Or consider the idea, often touted in 1994 and 1999 as Congress dismantled long-standing rules restricting the growth of banks, that bigger banks would lower costs for consumers. In fact, interest rates are generally better at small banks and credit unions, studies have found, and fees are an astonishing 20-30 percent lower[5] on average than at big banks. And most offer the same array of sophisticated services[6], from online banking to credit cards, that big banks do.

How can it be that small banks are such a better deal? Bigger is suppose to deliver economies of scale, after all. But economists have found that, in fact, banks peak in efficiency when they reach the size of roughly $5 billion in assets. Beyond that they become weighted down by bureaucracy and actually operate less efficiently.

Today’s giant banks are orders of magnitude larger than what economies of scale alone would dictate. Bank of America is 468 times that optimal size — which suggests that it is not market forces that have spawned these behemoths. Rather, their dominance owes more to their political power and the many subsidies that flow to those deemed too-big-to-fail.

So how do we change course and revive a banking system that is more local and responsive to the needs of communities? Ultimately, Congress must deliver another round of reform that tackles the problem of bigness head-on. That may seem a tall order given the current political dynamics, but it’s worth remembering that the stronger aspects of the reform bill actually gained support as the process wore on. That’s highly unusual and may bode well for future rounds. It’s also worth noting that it took Franklin Roosevelt years to enact his full suite of banking reforms.

The best way to spur Congress to act, however, isn’t to wait around for it to do so. We can and should take financial reform into our own hands.

That means moving our money[7] — and not just our savings, but our borrowing too[8]. Tens of thousands of people have already broken up with big banks and moved to locally owned institutions. Although the cascade has not yet been large enough to make a sizable dent in the finances of big banks, it has already been a boon to many small banks and credit unions, which are seeing a surge in deposits and lending.

Second, we must rally our state governments. Despite intense lobbying by big banks, the financial reform bill preserved a fair degree of state regulatory authority over banks. States should hold banks to a higher standard. Good policy models can be found in Vermont and, believe it or not, Texas, which have long prohibited many of the mortgage shenanigans that precipitated the crisis. Both states have suffered fewer foreclosures as a result and now have unemployment rates well below the national average.

Another smart move some states are beginning to consider is establishing a publicly owned “bankers’ bank” modeled on the Bank of North Dakota[9]. By serving as a secondary market for loans, BND has helped North Dakota’s community banks thrive. The state has more local banks per capita than any other. And while that’s not the only reason North Dakota escaped the Great Recession, it hasn’t hurt.

As much as Citigroup, Goldman, and Chase may wish it to be, the overhaul of our banking system is not over. Round two begins now: in our wallets, our communities, and our state governments.

Endnotes:
  1. Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stacy-mitchell/taking-financial-reform-i_b_645587.html
  2. Move Your Money campaign: http://www.moveyourmoney.info/
  3. nearly half of U.S. deposits: /news/charts-distribution-deposits-size-and-type-financial-institution-1995-2010
  4. graph: /news/charts-small-banks-small-business-lending
  5. astonishing 20-30 percent lower: /chart-average-consumer-fees-size-financial-institution-2009/
  6. offer the same array of sophisticated services: http://ilsr/chart-consumer-services-available-community-banks/
  7. moving our money: http://www.moveyourmoney.info/
  8. our borrowing too: /move-your-borrowing-along-your-money-2/
  9. Bank of North Dakota: /rule/bank-of-north-dakota-2/

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/taking-financial-reform-our-own-hands/


Tools for Starting a Local Move Your Money Campaign

by Stacy Mitchell | April 19, 2010 12:11 pm

We have compiled the following resources to help community groups, including Independent Business Alliances and Local First organizations, develop local public educational campaigns that convey the benefits of choosing a locally owned community bank or credit union and help people make the switch.

Please let us know[1] if you have questions, suggestions on what else to include here, or campaign materials from your community to share. We’ll be adding more to this page over time, so please check back or sign-up for periodic updates[2].

We also encourage you to visit the Move Your Money[3] site.

(more…)[4]

Endnotes:
  1. let us know: http://www.ilsr.org/contact/
  2. sign-up for periodic updates: mailto:info@ilsr.org?subject=Community%20Banking%20Initiative%20Updates
  3. Move Your Money: http://www.moveyourmoney.info
  4. (more…): http://www.ilsr.org/resources-starting-local-banking-campaign-your-community/#more-2990

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/resources-starting-local-banking-campaign-your-community/


Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses

by Stacy Mitchell | December 1, 2009 3:39 pm

Where to Buy Big-Box Swindle:

Reviews

One of the top ten business books of the year.
— Booklist

“. . . a galvanizing eye-opener that deserves the widest possible audience. This is one of those urgent, revelatory volumes that could change how many readers conduct their daily lives, since it illuminates a stunning collection of business outrages, government favoritism, environmental damages, hidden economic and societal costs, debunked myths and a rising swell of consumer activism against big-box blight. . . Big-Box Swindle could have been a downer to read, but Mitchell devotes the final quarter of her powerful book to. . . inspiring lessons from places that are turning the tide.”
—John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“This is the ultimate account of the single most important economic trend in our country—the replacement of local businesses, and all they represent, with the big boxes. What Nickel and Dimed did for the Wal-Mart worker, Stacy Mitchell does for the community threatened by mega-retailers.”
— Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

Continue reading reviews…[3]

 

From the book jacket:

In less than two decades, large retail chains have become the most powerful corporations in America. In this deft and revealing book, Stacy Mitchell illustrates how mega-retailers are fueling many of our most pressing problems, from the shrinking middle class to rising pollution and diminished civic engagement—and she shows how a growing number of communities and independent businesses are effectively fighting back.

Mitchell traces the dramatic growth of mega-retailers —from big boxes like Wal-Mart and Home Depot to chains like Starbucks and Old Navy—and the precipitous decline of independent businesses. Drawing on examples from virtually every state in the country, she unearths the extraordinary impact of these stores and the big-box mentality on everything from soaring gasoline consumption to rising poverty rates, failing family farms, and declining voting levels. Along the way, Mitchell exposes the shocking role government policy has played in the expansion of mega-retailers and builds a compelling case that communities composed of many small, locally owned businesses are healthier and more prosperous than those dominated by a few large chains.

More than a critique, Big-Box Swindle provides an invigorating account of how some communities have successfully countered the spread of big boxes and rebuilt their local economies. Since 2000, over 200 big-box development projects have been halted by groups of ordinary citizens, and scores of towns and cities have adopted laws that favor small-scale, local business development which limit the proliferation of chains. From cutting-edge land-use policies to innovative cooperative small-business initiatives, Mitchell offers communities concrete strategies that can stave off mega-retailers and create a more prosperous and sustainable future.

Endnotes:
  1. buy online from an independent bookstore near you: http://www.indiebound.org/aff/newrulesproj09?product=0807035017
  2. ILSR: mailto:info@ilsr.org
  3. Continue reading reviews…: http://www.bigboxswindle.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6&Itemid=

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/bigbox-swindle-true-cost-megaretailers-and-fight-americas-independent-businesses/


Fashioning Minnesota Energy Policy: The Legislature’s Role

by David Morris | February 7, 2002 2:42 pm

Fashioning Minnesota Energy Policy: The Legislature’s Role
By David Morris
February 7, 2002

Testimony before the Minnesota Senate Telecommunications, Energy and Utilities Committee
On S.F. 2672 – Minnesota Economic, Environmental and Energy Security Act of 2002

My name is David Morris. I am Vice President of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I have worked on energy policy for almost 30 years. I have been a consultant or advisor to the federal energy departments of Presidents Ford, Carter, Clinton and the current Bush administration. I have been actively involved in Minnesota energy policy work since consulting with Mark Dayton when he was Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Economic Development in the early 1980s. I am the author of three books and over a dozen monographs on energy technologies and energy policies at the local, state and national policies.

Having, I hope, presented my bona fides to discuss this issue with the Committee, I want to spend my few minutes talking about the bill before you in a larger context.

This Committee and its predecessors have been making energy policy in incremental fashion for several decades. In the last few years the focus has been on electricity. The legislature has appropriated and presumably spent over $500,000 to intensively educate its members about electricity technologies and regulatory changes in order to inform your policymaking initiatives.

That education did inform this Committee last year when it developed and passed an energy bill that developed a more expedited and coherent system for transmission line planning. Unfortunately, the state’s utilities decided last October not to use that new planning process. As a result, the Public Utilities Commission has delayed by a year or more the implementation of this expedited process.

The Committee would do well to understand the problems attendant to developing an expedited approval process it has already designed before imposing another type of expedited process in this bill.

Often this Committee has acted in reactive fashion and crafted bills designed to benefit a single company or technology without examining the implications of those bills on overall state energy policy. The result is an incremental, often contradictory and sometimes just plain incoherent state energy policy.

Last year this Committee, if memory serves me right, unanimously passed out a bill that declared that the highest and best use of turkey manure was for generating electricity and formally declared this to be in the public interest. Although developed in response to a state biomass mandate, the bill was consciously designed so that only one company could qualify.

This bill before you today is another case of incremental decision making in response to the interests of an individual company. This time however, an incremental decision could profoundly affect the structure and direction of Minnesota electricity policy for the next decade or longer.

The title of the bill is broad, the Minnesota Economic, Environmental and Energy Security Act but it is written so as to allow only one technology and one company to qualify. It declares by legislative fiat that the state will need some 2,000 MW of new baseload capacity by 2012, when I am aware of no projection by utilities or regional power pools that Minnesota will need such an increase in baseload capacity as opposed to peak load capacity. Moreover, this bill states, also by fiat, that state policy is to give very large scale centralized electrical generation a priority over decentralized electricity generation. This is the implication of the sections that allow the coal gasification plant to bypass existing public review and require an unusually long power contract of 25 years and allow a premium of 10 percent in the price utilities pay for the electricity generated.

The gasification plant is being justified as an economic development project. But the premium permitted in the bill translates into $40-60 million a year in subsidies when the plant becomes fully operational, or about a billion dollars in subsidy over the life of the power contract. Power plants are the most capital intensive business in the economy. Thus if jobs were indeed the goal, the $40-60 million in subsidies would be better spent on other economic ventures in northern Minnesota.

I may surprise you by saying that I am in favor of coal gasification as a way to avoid an increasing reliance on natural gas. We have hundreds of years of coal supply in the upper midwest. If we can harness the energy the coal contains in a way that is environmentally benign, I would favor it. The gasification process is indeed far less polluting than the conventional coal combustion process.

But there’s no reason to support a 2,000 MW coal gasification plant. It would be the largest such power plant in the world. And would constitute the largest single electric generation facility in Minnesota. It would require an entirely new transmission infrastructure from northern Minnesota to southern Minnesota. It would inhibit the development of decentralized and renewable electric generation in the state for some time to come.

I would favor a much smaller coal gasification project, something in the order of 200 MW, the size of existing gasification plants in Tampa, Florida and Wabash, Indiana. Such a plant would not require an extensive new transmission system.

I would also strongly recommend that the plant also be required to store the carbon emitted underground. Carbon dioxide is the single largest greenhouse gas and coal gasification only marginally reduces CO2 emissions. Underground storage of CO2 has been done in Canada by natural gas pipeline companies and in Norway by electric power companies. It will raise the cost of electricity generation modestly, but it is a premium that Minnesotans may well be glad to pay for a project that demonstrates that coal can be used to generate electricity with little or no greenhouse gas impact. Indeed, the commercial trading of “carbon offsets” has already begun around the world. We can expect that as it expands, power plant owners that store carbon emissions will be rewarded. Thus the premium paid could be tied to the value of the stored carbon and as the latter goes up, the former would go down.

Thank you.

David Morris
Vice President
Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Source URL: http://www.ilsr.org/17037/


Three New Companies Move to the Silicon Bayou

by Lisa Gonzalez | September 22, 2014 5:42 pm

In the past few months, Lafayette has drawn in three high tech companies that will create approximately 1,300 well-paying positions. In addition to the community's commitment to boost its high-tech workforce, better connectivity offered by LUS Fiber helped attract the new businesses.

According to a Daily World article, the most recent addition is Perficient, Inc. The information technology and management consulting company is based in St. Louis. Perficient will add 50 new positions by the end of 2015 and another 245 over the next 6 years; average annual salary will be $60,000. The area should also see 248 additional indirect jobs. Perficient leadership intends to recruit from South Louisiana Community College and University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

This past spring, CGI announced it would employ 400 high-tech employees in a new finance facility in Lafayette. CGI will also recruit from the local high-tech educational programs. James Peake from CGI told the Advocate that the company has made an effort to keep tech positions "onshore" rather than sending them overseas. From the article:

CGI Vice President Dave Henderson cited UL-Lafayette’s top-ranked computer science program and Lafayette’s growing workforce and fiber-optic network.

This past summer, start-up Enquero announced it would open a tech center in Lafayette. The Milpitas, California company plans to hire 350 new employees by the end of 2017. City officials also expect to see 354 new indirect positions. According to Bloomberg Business Week, Enquero executives considered New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and four other states.

From City-Parish President Joey Durel's official statement:

"These are exactly the kinds of jobs we had in mind when we launched Lafayette's fiber-optic initiative in 2004, so I am thrilled to see that companies are starting to recognize what Lafayette has to offer with its affordable, gigabit speeds...I know Enquero will not regret their decision to locate in Lafayette. This community’s investment in itself is paying off.”

Source URL: http://www.muninetworks.org/content/three-new-companies-move-silicon-bayou


Community Broadband Media Roundup – September 19, 2014

by Rebecca Toews | September 21, 2014 10:48 am