What should passengers expect for their fare when they ride Metro-North? Heat? Lights? A safe ride? A seat?
Since the July stranding of hundreds of passengers on a train near Westport, the CT Rail Commuter Council has been discussing riders’ expectations, codifying them into a proposed “Rail Passengers Bill of Rights”.
“This is an idea we discussed maybe five years ago,” says Council Chairman Jim Cameron. “But it was really State Senator Toni Boucher who gave us the impetus to learn from July’s crisis and finalize this document.”
What started as a wish list of commuter expectations, based on input from the Council’s Facebook site, was distilled by the Commuter Council into a seven-point plan. But when the Council asked Metro-North and the CT DOT for their reaction to the draft, they got a surprise.
“Metro-North didn’t give us the courtesy of a reply,” says Chairman Cameron. “And when we asked them at our October 19th meeting for verbal comments, they had none. Further, they told us they were drafting their own Rail Passenger Bill of Rights… but would not give us a copy nor assure us that commuters would have any input to their document.”
“The CT Rail Commuter Council believes a Rail Passengers Bill of Rights should be written by passengers, not the railroad. It should reflect passengers’ expectations of service, not some watered-down promises from management,” said Cameron.
The Council stands ready to work with Metro-North and the CT DOT on creating a comprehensive Rail Passengers Bill of Rights but wants the process to be open and to include passenger input.
Created by the Connecticut legislature, the CT Rail Commuter Council’s members are Metro-North or Shore Line East commuters who serve, without compensation, as advocates of their fellow riders’ interests. The CT Rail Commuter Council meets monthly with Metro-North and Connecticut Dept of Transportation and testifies before state and regional boards and commissions in favor of affordable, reliable rail service in the state. 2011 marked the Commuter Council’s 25th anniversary.
- …Any law that fails to address the role poverty plays in education is doomed before the ink is dry on the president’s signature. When children are poor, hungry and living in homes without books, education becomes secondary in their lives…
- The cuts that have been made in state budgets across the U.S .have eliminated the programs that have helped keep young people off the streets and provide an opportunity for them to receive a quality education. At the same time, cuts to school districts have reduced the number of counselors, and those who are left have to spend most of their time administering and evaluating the endless stream of standardized tests and practice standardized tests that take up so much of the students’ and teachers’ time.
- A system that prizes those who invest over those who work. We have seen a change in emphasis in what our society prizes. We wonder why we are no longer producing as many scientists and engineers when all of society’s rewards are going to investment bankers, hedge fund owners, and CEOs. This is not a formula designed to help someone race to the top. It is also not a formula designed to foster an interest in education.
-A political financing system that allows those who would destroy public education so they can privatize learning or not have to pay for it to control the talking points on educational policy. Can there be any good reason why education is the only area in which replacing seasoned professionals with youngsters with no experience is considered to be a reform? Can anyone explain why the politicians who are so gung-ho on constructing ever-growing testing regimens for public schoolchildren are the first to enroll their own children in schools that do not have to jump through these bureaucratic hoops?…
I sit on the New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel. I and the other panelists are charged with developing recommendations to the Commissioner regarding rules that will hopefully safeguard New Yorkers from the kind of calamities caused by the natural gas industry to communities just across our border with Pennsylvania. We spend much of our time sorting truth from the web of myths spun about fracking by fast talking landsmen, smarmy CEOs, and federal regulators.
Recent studies have raised doubts about many of the industry’s fundamental presumptions:
The human health impacts of gas extraction on local communities may rival those associated with coal. A new study by Centers for Disease Control finds that breast cancer rates have dropped in every county in Texas, but have increased in the six counties with the heaviest natural gas air emissions.
The U.S. Geological Survey just slashed its estimate on the amount of gas in the Marcellus Shale by 80%, raising doubts about all the industry’s positive economic projections about jobs, royalties, and revenues. Industry based those projections on resource estimates that the federal government has now jettisoned.
In a devastating admission, the industry now acknowledges that it absolutely cannot afford to pay localities the costs of roads damaged from the thousands of truck trips per wellhead, leaving those ruinous costs to local taxpayers, many of whom will see no benefits from the shale boom, but only declines in their quality of life.
With several notable exceptions, like Southwest Energy, the industry has demonstrated a disturbing fervor for secrecy while advocating regulatory policies that favor the most irresponsible practices and the worst actors.
The shale gas industry’s campaign against The Times illustrates the difficulty in getting solid information upon which to base a regulatory scheme. The Times is doing an unusually rigorous job at covering this extremely important and complex issue. The paper’s ongoing series on natural gas drilling is one of the strongest pieces of investigative journalism this year from any news venue. Thankfully, The Times is covering this extremely important topic with rigor and balance. But it is also going the extra mile in the level of documentation it provides to bolster its stories, a move that raises the bar on public service journalism.
In an era when few papers or news outlets are still willing to take on very powerful interests, The Times has pursued very difficult questions about one of our country’s richest and most aggressive industries. At a time when accessing documents through open records requests faces an obstacle course of daunting roadblocks, the series has spent nearly a year using these flawed tools to collect and publish an extraordinary trove of original documentation. Archives published by The Times include thousands of pages obtained through leaks and/or public records requests. The Times reporters provide page-by-page annotations explaining the documents so that the reader can sift through them in guided fashion.
Among the revelations uncovered by The Times’ admirable reporting;
Sewage treatment plants in the Marcellus region have been accepting millions of gallons of natural gas industry wastewater that carry significant levels of radioactive elements and other pollutants that they are incapable of treating.
An EPA study published by The Times shows receiving rivers and streams into which these plants discharge are unable to consistently dilute this kind of highly toxic effluent.
Most of the state’s drinking water intakes, streams and rivers have not been tested for radioactivity for years — since long before the drilling boom began.
Industry is routinely making inflated claims about how much of its wastewater it is actually recycling.
EPA, caving to industry lobbyists and high level political interference reminiscent of the Bush/Cheney era, has narrowed the scope of its national study on hydrofracking despite vocal protests from agency scientists. The EPA had, for example, planned to study in detail the effect on rivers of sending radioactive wastewater through sewage plants, but dropped these plans during the phase when White House-level review was conducted.
Similar studies in the past had been narrowed by industry pressure, leading to widespread exemptions for the oil and gas industry from environmental laws.
The Times revealed an ongoing and red hot debate within the EPA about whether the agency should force Pennsylvania to handle its drilling waste more carefully and strengthen that state’s notoriously lax regulations and anemic enforcement.
The Times investigation also explodes the industry’s decade old mantra that a “there is not a single documented case of drinking water being contaminated by fracking.” The Times investigation of EPA archives exposes this claim as demonstrably false.
A second round of New York Times stories showed that within the natural gas industry and among federal energy officials, there were serious and disturbing reservations about the economic prospects of shale gas:
Government and industry officials made sure that all of their reservations were discussed privately and never revealed to the American public. Internal commentary by these officials is striking because it contrasts so sharply with the excited public rhetoric from the same agencies, lawmakers, industry officials and energy experts about shale gas.
Many industry experts have reservations over whether the wells produce as much gas as industry is claiming and whether companies may be misleading investors, landowners, and the public about the true costs of shale gas.
Shale gas wells often dry up faster than companies expected — sometimes several decades faster than predicted.
Rather than coming clean, the companies downplay how much it costs to keep these wells flowing and overstate how much profit companies can make by these wells.
Furthermore, only a small percentage of the land in each shale gas field turns out to be highly productive, even at the start. Nevertheless, companies routinely pretend that all of their acreage will be equally promising.
These emerging issues also sparked private discussion among federal energy experts, who expressed grave concern that their agency’s predictions were too heavily influenced by the natural gas industry’s over-optimism. The Times found that the EIA was heavily reliant on data provided by companies with shale-gas industry ties.
Last night, the Senate voted on one piece of President Obama’s jobs bill — $35 billion in funding for states to protect the jobs of teachers and first responders who might be laid off due to budget constraints. The measure failed to overcome a filibuster by a 50-50 vote. Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who voted against Obama’s entire jobs bill when it was put up for a vote earlier this month, voted against this more targeted measure. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) also broke ranks to join Nelson and Lieberman in voting against the bill last night.
Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4) has called attention to a report from Transportation for America that highlights the growing dangers and opportunities associated with Connecticut’s aging transportation infrastructure. The report found that over one million cars pass over defunct bridges in Southwest Connecticut every day. Rebuilding these bridges would make automobile traffic safer and create jobs.
“This report is a stark reminder that we urgently need to invest in refurbishing our crumbling national infrastructure,” said Himes. “We have an opportunity to fix our over-used and unsafe bridges and roadways, while simultaneously creating jobs right here in Southwest Connecticut. While there is no doubt that we need to rein in spending and make smart cuts to get our fiscal house in order, this should not come at the expense of targeted infrastructure investments.”
The report, The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Metro-Area Bridges, reveals that over 107 bridges in the Norwalk-Bridgeport-Stamford area are structurally deficient; this is nearly 13 percent of the bridges in the area. These bridges carry a total of 1,381,796 vehicles every day – the fourth-highest total nationally among all metro areas of the same size.
In 2009, Himes helped bring millions of transportation investment to Connecticut. This includes over $70 million for safety improvements, resurfacing, and bridge improvements to the Merritt Parkway; over $11 million for infrastructure improvements at the Steel Point project in Bridgeport; and $30 million for upgrades to Metro North’s Danbury Branch line. This crucial funding is helping revitalize deteriorating infrastructure in the district while creating hundreds of new jobs. Himes is also an original co-sponsor of the National Infrastructure Development Bank Act of 2011 (H.R. 402). This bill would establish the National Infrastructure Bank, which would help fund critical infrastructure projects and attract private investment in public works projects.
…The agitation of Occupy Wall Street begun to change the context of our discussion. Politicians and commentators who had been silent about economic inequality and the excesses of the financial sector are finally facing up to economic injustice and the irresponsibility of the financial elites. In the meantime, Obama’s moderation has won him absolutely nothing. Having done much to save Wall Street and the banks, he receives in return only ingratitude and criticism. Bankers and financiers who needed the rest of America to bail them out now respond arrogantly when the rest of America complains about the unpaid promissory note it holds.
…Dissatisfaction with the privileged that the demonstrators are expressing extends far beyond the left, and majorities share Occupy Wall Street’s inclinations on many issues, including the need for the wealthy to pay more in taxes.
In their time, the abolitionists were radicals, too. Lincoln, a shrewd politician, understood that public opinion in the North did not fully embrace their cause but was moving in their direction. Lincoln remained a moderate at heart, but he abandoned moderation on slavery when this proved to be morally and politically unsuited to the imperatives of his moment. By following Lincoln’s example and acting against the injustices of our time, Obama could also come to occupy the high ground.
…Here in Washington we feel the dark hand of the polluters tapping so many shoulders. And where there is power and money behind that dark hand, therefore, a lot of attention is paid to that little tap on the shoulder. What we overlook is that nature — God’s Earth — is also tapping us all on the shoulder, with messages we ignore at our peril. We ignore the messages of nature of God’s Earth and we ignore the laws of nature of God’s Earth at our very grave peril.
There is a wave of very justifiable economic frustration that has swept through our Capitol. The problem is that some of the special interests — the polluters — have insinuated themselves into that wave, sort of like parasites that creep into the body of a host animal, and from there they are working terrible mischief. They are propagating two big lies. One is that environmental regulations are a burden to the economy and we need to lift those burdens to spur our economic recovery. The second is the jury is still out on climate changes caused by carbon pollution, so we don’t need to worry about it or even take precautions. Both are, frankly, outright false.
Environmental regulation is well established to be good for the economy. It may add costs to you if you are a polluter, but polluters usually exaggerate about that.
For instance, before the 1990 acid rain rules went into effect, Peabody Coal estimated that compliance would cost $3.9 billion. The Edison Electric Institute chimed in and estimated that compliance would cost $4 to $5 billion. Well, in fact, the Energy Information Administration calculated the program actually cost $836 million, about one-sixth of the Edison Electric Institute estimate.
When polluters were required to phase out the chemicals they were emitting that were literally burning a hole through our Earth’s atmosphere, they warned that it would create “severe economic and social disruption” due to “shutdowns of refrigeration equipment in supermarkets, office buildings, hotels, and hospitals.” Well, in fact, the phaseout happened 4 years to 6 years faster than predicted; it cost 30 percent less than predicted; and the American refrigeration industry innovated and created new export markets for its environmentally friendly products.
Anyway, the real point is we are not just in this Chamber to represent the polluters. We are supposed to be here to represent all Americans, and Americans benefit from environmental regulation big time.
Over the lifetime of the Clean Air Act, for instance, for every $1 it costs to add pollution controls, Americans have received about $30 in health and other benefits. By the way, installing those pollution controls created jobs because they went to manufacturers to build the controls and to Americans to install them. But setting that aside, a 30-to-1 benefit ratio to keep our air clean sounds like a mighty wise investment to me. That 30-to-1 ratio doesn’t even count the intangible benefits — intangible but very real benefits — of clear air and clean water, the benefits of the heart and the soul, the benefits to a grandfather of taking his granddaughter to the fishing hole and still finding fish there or of the city kid being able to go to a beach and have it clean enough to swim there or the benefit to a mom who is spared the burden of worry, of sitting next to her asthmatic baby on the emergency room albuterol inhaler waiting for his infant lungs to clear.
Well, unfortunately, polluters rule in certain circles in Washington, and they emit propaganda as well as pollution, and they have been emitting too much of both lately.
Their other big lie the jury is still out on is whether human-made carbon pollution causes dangerous climate change and oceanic change. Virtually all of our most prestigious scientific and academic institutions have stated that climate change is happening and that human activities are the driving cause of this change. Many of us in Congress received a letter from those institutions in October 2009. Let me quote from that letter.
Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.
This letter was signed by the heads of the following organizations: the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Society of Agronomy, the American Society of Plant Biologists, the American Statistical Association, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, the Botanical Society of America, the Crop Science Society of America, the Ecological Society of America, the Natural Science Collections Alliance, the Organization of Biological Field Stations, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the Society of Systematic Biologists, the Soil Science Society of America, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
These are highly esteemed scientific organizations. They are the real deal. They don’t think the jury is still out. They recognize that, in fact, the verdict is in, and it is time to act.
More than 97 percent of the climate scientists most actively publishing accept that the verdict is actually in on carbon pollution causing climate and oceanic changes — 97 percent. Think of that…
How solid is the science behind this? Rock solid. The fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere absorbs heat from the Sun was discovered at the time of the Civil War. This is not new stuff. In 1863 the Irish scientist John Tyndall determined that carbon dioxide and water vapor trapped more heat in the atmosphere as their concentrations increased. A 1955 textbook, “Our Astonishing Atmosphere,” notes that nearly a century ago the scientist, John Tyndall, suggested that a fall in the atmospheric carbon dioxide could allow the Earth to cool, whereas a rise in carbon dioxide would make it warmer.
In the early 1900s, a century ago, it became clear that changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might account for significant increases and decreases in the Earth’s average annual temperatures and that carbon dioxide released from manmade sources, anthropogenic sources — primarily by the burning of coal — would contribute to those atmospheric changes. This is not new stuff. These are well-established scientific principles…
Let’s look at the facts that we actually observe in our changing planet. Over the last 800,000 years — 8,000 centuries — until very recently the atmosphere has stayed within a bandwidth of between 170 parts per million and 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That is not theory, that is measurement. Scientists measure historic carbon dioxide concentrations by, for example, locating trapped bubbles in the ice of ancient glaciers. So we know, over time — and over long periods of time — what the range has been.
What else do we know? We know since the industrial revolution, we — humankind — have been burning carbon-rich fuels in measurable and ever-increasing amounts. We know we release up to 7 to 8 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year. A gigaton, by the way, is 1 billion metric tons. So if you are going to release 7 to 8 billion metric tons a year into the atmosphere, predictably that increases carbon concentration in our atmosphere. “Put more in and find more there” is not a complex scientific theory. It is not a difficult proposition. And 7 to 8 billion metric tons a year into the atmosphere is a very big thing in the historical sweep.
So we now measure carbon concentrations climbing in the Earth’s atmosphere. Again, this is a measurement, not a theory. The present concentration exceeds 390 parts per million.
So 800,000 years and a bandwidth of 170 to 300 parts per million, and now we are over 390.
This increase has a trajectory. Plotting trajectories is nothing new either. It is something scientists, businesspeople, and our military service people do every day. The trajectory for our carbon pollution predicts that 688 parts per million will be in the atmosphere in the year 2095 and 1,097 parts per million in the year 2195. These are carbon concentrations not outside of the bounds of 800,000 years but outside of the bounds of millions of years. As Tyndall determined at the time of the Civil War, increasing carbon concentrations will absorb more of the Sun’s heat and raise global temperatures.
Let me end by reviewing the scale of the peril that we are facing if we fail to act. Over the last 800,000 years, as I said, it has been 170 to 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Since the start of the industrial revolution, that concentration is now up to 390 parts per million. If we continue on the trajectory that we find ourselves, our grandchildren will see carbon concentrations in the atmosphere top 700 parts per million by the end of the century, twice the bandwidth top that we have lived in for 8,000 centuries.
To put that in perspective, mankind has engaged in agriculture for about 10,000 years. It is not clear we had yet mastered fire 800,000 years ago. The entire development of human civilization has taken place in that 800,000 years, and within that 170 to 300 parts per million bandwidth. If we go back, we are back into geologic time…
The laws of physics and the laws of chemistry and the laws of science, these are laws of nature. These are laws of God’s Earth…
As regards these laws of nature, because we can neither repeal nor influence them, we bear a duty, a duty of stewardship to see and respond to the facts that are before our faces according to nature’s laws. We bear a duty to shun the siren song of well-paying polluters. We bear a duty to make the right decisions for our children and grandchildren and for our God-given Earth.
Right now I must come before the Chamber and remind this body that we are failing in that duty. The men and women in this Chamber are indeed catastrophically failing in that duty. We are earning the scorn and condemnation of history — not this week, perhaps, and not next week. The spin doctors can see to that. But ultimately and assuredly, the harsh judgment that it is history’s power to inflict on wrong will fall upon us. The Supreme Being who gave us this Earth and its abundance created a world not just of abundance but of consequence and that Supreme Being gave us reason to allow us to plan for and foresee the various consequences that those laws of nature impose.
There is no wizard’s hat and wand with which to wish this away. These laws of nature are known; the Earth’s message to us is clear; our failure is blameworthy; its consequences are profound; and the costs will be very high.