Consider it an Earth Day gift: yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency submitted its comments on the State Department's Keystone XL environmental review. In short, EPA officials say the review doesn't contain enough information on some critical areas, including greenhouse gas emissions, pipeline safety, and alternative routes.
The State Department oversees the approval process for the pipeline because the pipeline crosses the US-Canada border. And yesterday was the last day the department accepted comments on the draft environmental statement. In the current review, and a previous one, the State Department said that the pipeline would not have a significant environmental impact.
Keystone XL is a pipeline expansion, proposed by TransCanada, that would carry heavy crude from the Alberta tar sands to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. And the project's critics say it would have a significant environmental impact. They say that it would encourage continued exploitation of the tar sands, which are water and energy intensive and have a higher carbon footprint than other oil sources and types.
The pipeline, as proposed, would also pass through the Ogallala aquifer, a massive and important water source for some Great Plains and Western states. Critics say a spill from the pipeline could be catastrophic for the aquifer.
In an article published yesterday, the Los Angeles Times says that the EPA's comments could cause problems for the project. The article also says that the EPA's criticisms "could also end up as supporting evidence in litigation against the pipeline if it is approved."
Today is Earth Day: a day meant to focus the collective consciousness on the environment, locally and globally. And on Thursday and Friday, the Rochester chapter of the Sierra Club will hold its annual environmental forum.
This year’s event features keynote speaker Maude Barlow, a Canadian activist who’s well-known for advancing the concept of water as a human right. City’s interview with Barlow is available here.
The forum, titled “Protecting Our Great Lakes Forever,” will span two days. Thursday’s session is the usual environmental fair and forum, and will be held at Monroe Community College’s theater in Building 4. The fair starts at 5:15 p.m. and ends at 6:45 p.m. Barlow’s keynote address starts at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a panel discussion with Barlow; the Sierra Club’s state Conservation Director Roger Downs; and David Klein, who leads Lake Ontario conservation efforts for the Nature Conservancy of Central and Western New York.
Last year’s keynote speaker, Jim Olson, a Michigan attorney known for his legal work to protect Great Lakes water, will also participate on the panel.
Friday’s session, which will be held on the RIT campus and requires registration, includes several workshops geared toward water protection, preservation, and conservation.
You can register for the forum or get more information by going to http://newyork.sierraclub.org/rochester/
Four Democratic committees in the City of Rochester met earlier this week to endorse candidates for Rochester school board. The terms of incumbents Van White, Jose Cruz, and Cynthia Elliott are up, and all three are running again.
The top vote-getters overall were Jose Cruz, newcomer Candice Lucas, and Van White.
Here’s how it breaks down:
In the 21st committee the winners were: Joe Cruz, Van White, Candice Lucas.
23rd: Jose Cruz, Candice Lucas, Van White.
24th: Jose Cruz, Candice Lucas, Van White.
29th: Jose Cruz, Cynthia Elliott, and newcomer Ernest Flagler.
More committee news: The 7th, 26th, and 28th Legislative District Committees will meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 22, to make their endorsements for Rochester mayor and the city school board.
This week, the International Joint Commission, which handles issues involving water bodies located in both the United States and Canada, has been holding meetings in Washington, D.C. Previously, environmental groups had publicly urged the commission to move its proposed water levels plan, Bv7, forward by setting public hearings.
While not all of the meetings are finished, that request probably won't be met.
"While discussion of Plan Bv7 is ongoing, I don’t believe that the IJC will schedule public hearings this week," Frank Bevacqua, a spokesperson for the IJC, said in a e-mail.
The IJC has used the same lake levels management plan since 1963, according to its website. But the plan doesn't take environmental factors into account, and doesn't account for climate change's influence on water levels. Environmental groups back the Bv7 proposal because it'd restore some natural variability to Lake Ontario water levels, which would benefit coastal habitats, particularly wetlands, they say.
The plan is controversial, as were previous attempts to revise it. Lakeshore property owners have been the most vocal opponents, though many elected officials have also expressed concerns about or opposition to the plan. Opponents say the plan could lead to conditions that would ultimately cause a loss of property. But the IJC and plan proponents dispute those claims.
Rochester mayoral candidate Lovely Warren has staked out education as the centerpiece of her campaign. At a press conference earlier today, Warren said Rochester is facing many challenges, but "none of them is more important than the failure of our schools."
After citing some well-known statistics concerning the city’s grim educational outcomes, Warren put the situation in stark terms. The city will not survive if the crisis in education is not addressed, she said. And she introduced what she called her “seven-point education plan": initiatives that include expanding pre K, recruiting teachers trained to work with urban children, creating a scholarship bank to help students with college costs, and realigning city programs around the city’s educational needs.
But the thrust of Warren’s approach to improving education is offering parents more choice, largely by actively recruiting successful charter school management organizations.
Warren said she supports Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s efforts to increase reading proficiency and to clamp down on truancy. And she said her support for charter schools will supplement Vargas's work, not compete or conflict with it.
But she also said that parents in Rochester should not have to wait another 20 years for the city’s schools to improve.
Referring to a recent statement made by Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation, Warren said that the next mayor’s biggest challenge will be attracting middle-income families back to the city. But that task will be impossible if those families aren’t confident in the quality of city schools, she said.
Warren went so far as to say that she supported a close friend’s decision to sell her house and move to the suburbs rather than put her children’s education at risk in city schools.
Warren reiterated that she will not pursue mayoral control, a contentious issue that divided the city under Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy’s tenure as mayor. And she said she would not lobby to change the city’s annual contribution of $119.1 million to the district.
But the city could support charter schools, she said, by assisting charters with one of their biggest expenses: making city-owned building space available.
Some of Warren’s points smack of political campaign glee, but her focus on education is an astute decision. As a parent, Warren can make a passionate appeal to other city parents who share her concerns about education. She may be able to better connect with their fears and aspirations than her opponent, Mayor Tom Richards.
Warren said she doesn't dismiss city schools, but she defended without apology the right of city parents to choose the best education option for their children. And when asked whether she would send her child, now 2, to a city school, Warren firmly aligned herself with those mothers and fathers she wants to reach.
The public will have to wait and see, she said.
You can throw around all the statistics you want about crime rates being at historic lows, but if you live in a crime-ridden neighborhood, to you, the city is a violent place. I’ve heard Rochester officials say that more than once, and I experienced it myself last night at a campaign event for City Council candidate, the Rev. Marlowe Washington.
The focus of Washington’s forum was public safety, and it was held at New Bethel church in the Marketview Heights neighborhood in Rochester’s troubled Northeast quadrant. The crowd seemed to be made up mostly of longtime Marketview residents who said they’ve watched the neighborhood’s slide with dismay.
They also spoke about a disconnect between the police and the neighborhood. One lifelong Marketview resident said the police used to play basketball with children at a neighborhood rec center. But the police don’t interact like that anymore, he said, and the rec center closed.
“It felt like a family,” a resident said. “The police would come out and be involved. We lost it someplace. I don’t know where and I don’t even know when.”
Washington pushed for a return to the old precinct system and “community policing.” But community policing is a philosophy, and does not have anything to do with the number of police precincts operating in the city. Police Chief James Sheppard and many others in power will tell you that the RPD is practicing what can be considered community policing.
There was also talk about the possibility of forming a neighborhood council that would include Marketview residents and police, working together.
Harry Murray, a local activist and sociology professor at Nazareth College, spoke at the forum. He pointed out an obvious but salient point: if people are afraid, he said, it’s very difficult to build and keep a neighborhood.
“If you reduce people’s fear of crime, you change how they interact with one another,” Murray said.
Washington said he planned to hold more forums on different issues during the campaign.
A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like the US Senate might actually respond to the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans when it comes to sensible gun control. It seemed as if the Senate, the more deliberative body of Congress, would pass a bill that would at the very least help to prevent some felons and violent individuals from easily acquiring guns.
But yesterday, the Senate voted 54 to 46 on an amendment requiring background checks before a gun could be purchased, falling six votes short of the 60 needed to prevent a filibuster. The proposed legislation’s other amendments — banning high-capacity magazines and assault weapons suitable for military combat — were also defeated.
The Senate’s decision drew a swift and angry response from President Obama who referred to it as a “shameful day.” In a news conference after the vote, Obama said the National Rifle Association had successfully convinced some conservatives that the law would lead to a national registry for gun owners, even though the law specifically stated the opposite.
Hints of trouble surfaced when Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida made a whirlwind press tour last Sunday on all of the news shows. When asked about whether he would support universal background checks, he offered the obligatory sympathy to families of the victims of Newtown, Connecticut. Then he complained about the violent culture promoted by Hollywood filmmakers.
Florida should be outraged at his absurd response to such a serious problem. The citizens of Florida aren’t strangers to gun violence. But voters in many states should be outraged at the abdication of responsibility some elected officials showed concerning their chief responsibility: doing everything humanly possible to protect and ensure the safety of the American people.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote in his column about the lessons gleaned from the Senate’s vote: as horrified as the American public is by the Newtown massacre, it is not enough to stop business as usual in Washington.
And senators, most Republicans and some Democrats, saw the 2014 election in front of them and voted for job preservation.
We also know now that we can’t depend on this Congress to work together for sensible and pragmatic compromises on virtually anything — not immigration, the economy, or a balanced approach to resolving the nation’s debt crisis.
When elected officials vote in favor of aiding felons and violent individuals in their efforts to purchase high-powered weapons of war, something has gone terribly wrong.
A dysfunctional partisan government may pose a worst threat to the American people than anything to do with the Second Amendment.
It's not exactly an experience you'd expect people to line up for, but PETA wants to give University of Rochester students a taste of what it's like to be a pig confined in a factory farm.
Tomorrow, the organization's youth-oriented arm, peta2, will set up an inflatable tent on the campus's Wilson Quad. Inside the tent will be a sow gestation crate, which the organization says in a press release is so small that pregnant pigs can't turn around or take two steps inside of it.
Students will also be able to watch the anti-meat industry documentary "Glass Walls," and to receive samples of vegan food and pick up vegetarian-vegan starter kits. The exhibition is part of peta2's national tour of college campuses.
The peta2 representatives will be on the quad from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Lately, there’s been a lot of chatter about charter schools. Rochester, with some of the lowest-performing schools in the country, is a market ripe for an explosion of charters, according to some local educators.
Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has on multiple occasions talked about the decline in student population, which is largely attributable to charter schools. The district has lost about 3,200 students to charters, and a continued decline would have a serious impact on almost every aspect of city schools, he says.
Fewer teachers and non-teaching employees would be needed. Fewer schools would be needed, which raises questions about the massive $1.2 billion schools modernization project under way.
The big question: How many students could the district potentially lose? The answer could be thousands.
Most of the charter schools that have opened here are small schools developed by local educators, some of them expatriates of the city school district. But what if Rochester attracted more attention from the larger charter management organizations like Kipp, for example?
These are companies managing a portfolio of schools with resources, methodology, and a track record — something attractive to business leaders and investors.
Joe Klein, chair of Klein Steel and former treasurer of True North Rochester Preparatory Charter School, has created E3 Rochester, a company that could radically change the education landscape in the city. E3 recruits successful charter management organizations. Klein has so far attracted the interest of at least two organizations, and each has applied to open a school in Rochester in 2014.
Klein says E3 will be driven by quality, and not growth for growth's sake.
At a meeting last night, Vargas said he knows of seven more charter schools that will open in the district over the next two years. Rochester's hospitals aren't reporting a boom in the city's birthrate, so you can see where this is going.
Let’s assume Vargas is right, and let’s also assume that none of the existing charters close; the drop in the district’s student population could be substantial over the next decade.
It’s too early to say whether that’s bad or good.
The comment period for the state's Hemlock-Canadice forest management plan ended Monday. Now it's up to Department of Environmental Conservation officials to respond.
The DEC received more than 400 comments on the management plan for the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. Hemlock and Canadice are the only two Finger Lakes with undeveloped shorelines: a distinction they hold because the city uses them for its drinking water supply. The city bought up land along the shores starting in 1896, and sold it to the state in 2010 for permanent preservation.
But the management plan has brought scrutiny from environmentalists, lake users, and water consumers because of its language about gas and oil drilling. The draft plan doesn't directly state that drilling won't be permitted on the land, but rather suggests that it won't. Of the 400 comments the DEC received, the majority were about gas and oil drilling, says regional DEC spokesperson Linda Vera. She says that many of the comments were form letters. On Monday, anti-fracking activists rallied outside of the DEC's offices in Avon to urge changes to the plan.
The comments to the draft plan will be considered as the DEC develops the final unit management plan.
"The final UMP will clarify that the state has no intention of allowing any sort of drilling in the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest," Vera says.