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This week marks the 50th edition of the progressive state blogs feature.

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Just as states with progressive lawmakers and activists have themselves initiated innovative programs over a wide range of issues, state-based progressive blogs have helped provide us with a point of view, inside information and often an edgy voice that we just don't get from the traditional media. This week in progressive state blogs is designed specifically to focus attention on the writing and analysis of people focused on their home turf. Let me know via comments or Kosmail if you have a favorite state- or city-based blog you think I should know about. Inclusion of a diary does not necessarily indicate my agreement or endorsement of its contents.

At Appalachian Voices, Tom Cormons writes—Coal-related Spills Connect Us All:

You probably have a favorite waterway near your home where you like to cast a fishing line, paddle with friends, or swim with your children. For me, it’s the North Fork of the Moormans River, a lively mountain creek running off the Blue Ridge.
Appalachian Voice state blog
Over the last several weeks, with each report from our staff on the coal-related water crises in West Virginia and North Carolina, I couldn’t help but imagine the Moormans being poisoned by a mysterious chemical called MCHM, choked by toxic coal ash, or fouled by coal slurry.

In fact, it is my river that is threatened. And your river, too. We are all potential casualties of the kind of regulatory failures, political cronyism, and corporate avarice at the root of the three major water pollution crises that have occurred in our region in just the last six weeks.

By the same token, it’s our shared connection to the creeks and rivers running through our lives that unites us in the fight to protect our waters, and that’s what gives me hope.

First, the Freedom Industries chemical spill last month near Charleston, W.Va., left 300,000 people without safe tap water. Then one of Duke Energy’s coal ash dumps in North Carolina spilled into the Dan River, the third largest coal-ash spill in the U.S. Just a week later, a pipe at a Patriot Coal facility in West Virginia broke, oozing toxic coal slurry into a tributary of the Kanawha River.

Any one of these events would have served as a wake-up call about the vulnerability of our waters. Combined, they have touched off a national conversation about the widespread and deep cracks in the system that led to the disasters. [...]

At bluenc, Envirograham writes—Commercial Rooftop Solar Vast Untapped Resource:
On the heels of recent reports that solar power is growing in North Carolina, a new analysis from Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center demonstrates that commercial buildings in the state are a largely untapped resource for harnessing the power of the sun. The report, “Solar on Superstores,” shows how rooftop panels at shopping malls and big-box stores could increase solar capacity in the state by more than ten-fold.

“It’s great that North Carolina is already among the leaders in the country when it comes to solar. But we have so much more potential,” said Graham Givens, Environment North Carolina Clean Energy Associate. “North Carolina should be a place where solar panels cover every possible home, business and store. Taking advantage of the mostly unused roof space on large commercial buildings like big box stores just makes sense.”

Large commercial buildings, such as “big box” retail stores, supercenters and shopping malls in North Carolina are perfect locations for solar power due to their mostly flat, vacant roofs that are almost always fully exposed to the sun. Using available data to calculate the amount of available space for solar panels on commercial roofs and the amount of probable sunlight, the report finds that North Carolina could add more than 3,000 MW of rooftop solar PV capacity and offset the annual energy use of these building by as much as 60%.

That much solar power would equal roughly 9 percent of the state’s energy use. Currently, less than .5% of the state’s energy comes from the sun.

Below the orange gerrymander you can read more excerpts from progressive state blogs.

At Raging Chicken Press of Pennsylvania, Sean Kitchen writes—Sorry for Gas Well Explosion; Have One Free Pizza and Two Liter Bottle of Soda on Chevron Appalachia:

Raging Chicken Press
Not a hoax. Just got an email from Chevron rep Leanne Wainwright  that stated:
As part of our comprehensive response to the Lanco well fire that occurred last Tuesday, we have communicated with area residents to answer any questions or concerns. Our operational response has included construction activity, resulting in increased traffic and congestion in the area. As part of our meetings with a small group of immediate neighbors impacted by this activity, we have offered a token of appreciation for their patience during this time. We also wanted to support Bobtown Pizza, a local business that has been providing meals to our first responders and workers at the well site. Chevron’s priorities remain responding to this incident safely.  We appreciate the strong support we have received from nearby residents and our first responders.
UPDATE (5:20)—Will Bunch confirms that Chevron bought 100 of these certificates.

On Tuesday February 11, a Chevron owned gas well exploded in Dunkard, PA as a byproduct of America’s natural gas bonanza and the accident resulted with one employee injured and one unaccounted for. The ensuing fire at the gas well raged on for another six days, and to whitewash their image, Chevron Appalachia is giving out lots of free pizza’s and 2 liter bottle of sodas to those living around the explosion site.

At RI Future.org, Bruce Reilly writes—Cranston residents suing because prison ‘residents’ dilute political power:
Today marks the announcement that Cranston residents are filing suit because their voting rights are being violated.  Cranston!  You might be wondering: “Where do these lawsuits come from?” It turns out, good ol’ RIFuture played a part.
R.I. Future.org
About eight years ago I saw Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) founder Peter Wagner give a presentation on “Prison Based Gerrymandering” in New York State. He illustrated how taking thousands of men from, typically, New York City and sending them to live in cages Upstate shifted political power to those Upstate areas. They did this by counting the prisoners as “residents” who are then represented by politicians at the same rate as the free residents. Naturally, the politicians do not cater to the interests of the prison residents; in fact, the politicians interest is in getting more prisoners, to inflate their power. A tiny little district with a big warehouse full of cages will get the same vote in Albany as a place with twice as many people living in it.

About five years ago I did an analysis of Rhode Island, posted it on RIFuture (archive unavailable), and Peter Wagner took note. It turns out that Cranston, with its consolidated Adult Correctional Institutions, is one of the most impacted areas of the country. A small coalition formed on this esoteric elections issue, including Direct Action for Rights & Equality, PPI, ACLU, and Common Cause. Senator Harold Metts sponsored a bill to make this change, targeting the 2010 Census, but the bill was not passed before redistricting time.

At Cowgirl Blog, Cowgirl writes—Lincoln County TEA-GOP Commissioners Overtax Citizens by $2.2 Million:
The Western News reported this week that Lincoln County officials have been overtaxing residents to the tune of $2.2 million.  The county is home to less than 20,000 people.

The screw-up means nearly one fourth of the county’s income has been collected in error —and so the county is in the hole by more than $2 million. [...]

In December, for example, The Western News reported that taxes or “mills” were raised in four special taxing districts without asking permission from the people who live in those districts.  The county officials didn’t even know that this is not allowed – the local newspaper says it had to explain this to the commissioners.

Cowgirl of Montana logo
As The Western News wrote, presiding Commissioner Tony Berget “reluctantly admitted that the county commissioners were responsible for some vague portion of the mistakes – but only after members of the media repeatedly asked him whether the commissioners should have caught the error before it grew to such mammoth proportions.”

The local paper says ”the county lacks responsible supervision.” Lincoln County Commissioners include Ron Downey, Tony Berget the county commission’s presiding officer, and Mike Cole. Cole does not appear to be a TEA Partier. Berget is an Agenda 21, anti-environmentalist TEA Party type who formerly served as Libby’s mayor.  Berget once famously bragged about “taking a piece of the mine’s asbestos-contaminated vermiculite with him on a high school wrestling trip to Europe, delighting his companions when he set fire to it and caused a loud ‘pop.’”

In 2001, the Spokesman-Review reported that the asbestos mining company, W.R. Grace, was giving a building worth $250,000 to then-Mayor Berget–which some residents thought was a conflict of interest, according to the article, since Berget was supposed to be making sure the company did a good job with the clean-up.

At Bold Nebraska, Mark Hefflinger writes—Judge Sides With Landowners, Rules LB 1161 Unconstitutional:
Lancaster County District Court Judge Stephanie Stacy today sided with three Nebraska landowners and ruled that LB 1161—the law passed by the Nebraska legislature in 2012 that granted the power of eminent domain to Gov. Dave Heineman, and in turn TransCanada for its Keystone XL pipeline—is declared unconstitutional and void. The ruling includes a permanent injunction preventing Gov. Dave Heineman, and
Bold Nebraska
the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality from taking any further action to authorize or advance the pipeline under the unconstitutional law.  

Quote from Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska:
"Citizens won today. We beat a corrupt bill that Gov. Heineman and the Nebraska Legislature passed in order to pave the way for a foreign corporation to run roughshod over American landowners. We look forward to the Public Service Commission giving due process to a route that TransCanada will have to now submit to this proper regulatory body in Nebraska. TransCanada learned a hard lesson today: never underestimate the power of family farmers and ranchers protecting their land and water." [...]

Quote from Plaintiff and Nebraska rancher and landowner Randy Thompson:
"First of all I would like to express my gratitude to all of the people who have helped make this action possible, and Iwant to give a special thanks to our legal team of David Domina and Brian Jorde for doing an outstanding job of representing us in this case. [TransCanada] came out here like a bunch of bullies and tried to force it down our throats. They told us there was nothing we could do to stop it."

At KnoxViews, Stick writes—Third Way:
KnoxViews logo
Beyond all the rhetoric and political marketing of hope and change in the 2008 election cycle, I was never under the delusion that the Obama administration would be anything more than the latest iteration of Third Way politics, a political brand that is little more than Republican politics without all the hate of 'the other'. Still, I did hold out some hope (see what I did there?) that we'd see some reversals to the NCLB craziness, even if they were largely symbolic. It has therefore been depressing to see the Obama administration double down on NCLB and launch a full frontal assault on one of the republic's most successful institutions.
At Dirigo Blue of Maine, Gerald Weinand writes—Charter school group ranks Maine public schools 28th despite wildly outperforming 1st ranked Louisiana:
StudentsFirst, a proponent of charter schools founded by Michelle Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s public schools, has issued its second State Policy Report Card. The group ranks Maine public schools 28th overall, despite that Maine’s 4th and 8th graders wildly outperform their counterparts in the 1st ranked state, Louisiana, on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) standardized placement tests.
DirigoBlue
StudentsFirst used three “pillars” to assess each state: (1) whether the state includes comprehensive teacher evaluations, expanded pathways to teaching, merit pay for teachers, and prohibits seniority bumping during layoffs and tenure; (2) whether states issue a school report card, has a parent “trigger” option, voucher system, and promotes charter school creation and financing; (3) whether the state law allows for the state or municipalities to take-over “low-performing” schools, includes measures of fiscal “efficiency,” has removed all class size restrictions (except for grades K-3), and elimination of traditional teacher pension plans.

A map of how each state ranked is below. Maine received a D grade, as did all the other New England states, except for Rhode Island (4th), which received a C+ and Vermont (49th), which received an F.

Louisiana and Florida were the two highest ranked states, each receiving a B-.
This, despite that Maine’s 4th and 8th graders outperformed 4th and 8th graders in Louisiana in the NEAP tests.

In Maine in 2011, 30% of 4th graders scored below basic, while 70% were at or above basic (further broken down to 32% rated at or above proficient and 6% advanced). In Louisiana, 45% of 4th graders scored below basic, with 55% at or above (and 23% and 2%).

At Michigan Liberal.com, Grebner writes—Q: How many votes change do recounts change? A: About 5 per 1000.:
I’ve been thinking about building a statistical model of recounts, to make it possible to estimate probabilities that the outcome of an election would be reversed under various conditions.  It’s impossible to do a rigorous test, since it’s not clear what statistical model might be appropriate, and we haven’t have adequate data for a rigorous test anyway.
Now, an organization called the Michigan Election Reform Alliance has painstakingly conducted an unofficial recount of the ballots cast in two elections in Allegan County, as part of their larger examination of voting in Michigan.  Using Michigan’s FOIA, they obtained access to the ballots voted in the August 2008 and November 2012 elections, and they tallied some 135,000 individual votes, by hand,  and compared their totals to the official tallies.

MERA is interested in the big picture: reforming the entire election process, which is a wonderful idea.  But as a small-picture guy, I borrowed their data to try to estimate the probability that under various conditions a recount would reverse the initially announced results of a very close race.

Here’s the bottom line:  when the ballots are re-checked, there are about five random changes per thousand ballots.  Since some of the errors being corrected actually cancelled each other, the likely net change can be estimated to be: SQRT(ballots/200).

In addition, as large numbers of ballots are counted, the Democratic candidate in any given two-party contest tends to gain about 0.2 votes for each 1000.  In small recounts (say, fewer than 100,000 ballots) the random effect is the only thing that counts.  In larger recounts (congressional or statewide) the tendency for a recount to benefit the Democrat becomes more important while the random effects tend to cancel out.

At Green Mountain Daily of Vermont, Sue Dent writes—Epidemic cronyism and developer-driven decisions?:
The complaints sound entirely too familiar to me:  a project framed by big business that would forever affect the livability of a residential neighborhood; public concerns dismissed without full exploration by independent analysis; cronyism and developer-driven permit decisions; disrespect for those who dare disagree; political appointments used to "expedite" approval;  even open meeting violations.
Green Mountain Daily of Vermont
In this case, we are talking about Roseanne Greco's harsh criticism of the South Burlington City Council over its failure to uphold public opposition to the F-35 siting; but the way she characterizes the political culture over there in Chittenden County, certainly sounds a whole lot like what's going on right now in St. Albans with regard to redevelopment  of the Smith Homestead and reconfiguration of Maiden Lane.

How can members of a legislative body choose to remain uninformed?" Greco asked. "Educating oneself before making a decision should be an obligation."
Tell me about it, Roseanne!

Whether we're talking about environmental, health or traffic impacts, it's getting to the point where no one wants to hear the bad news if its going to disallow some project upon which the business establishment hangs its hopes for a bonanza.  

No argument is allowed to trump the economic one, even if that economic one is extremely weak, short-sighted and captive to private enterprise.

At Progress Illinois, Ashlee Rezin writes—Environmentalists Call For Stricter Regulations On Factory Farms:
state blogs, Progress Illinois
Factory farms are one of the leading causes of pollution in Illinois’ rivers and lakes, according to a group of environmental activists who called on the state to impose stricter regulations—and even a moratorium—on industrial livestock production.

“Clean water is critical to the environment, to public health, and to the quality of life in Illinois. Factory farms seriously threaten the health of our waterways,” said Lisa Nikodem, campaign director for Environment Illinois Research and Education Center.

Environment Illinois joined organic farmers Wednesday morning at the Heartland Café, located at 7000 N. Glenwood Ave. in Chicago, to put a spotlight on water pollution caused by the large-scale release of animal waste at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), commonly called factory farms.

There have been at least 80 “serious” cases of factory farms polluting Illinois waterways in the past 12 years, according to the environmental advocacy organization. But because of poor tracking and weak regulations, activists suspect there have been many other instances of pollution from CAFOs that have gone unreported and were therefore never prosecuted.

“Illinois has one of the highest concentrations of CAFOs in the country and we have notoriously lax regulations,” said Nikodem.

At The Left Hook of California, Gary Kremen writes—Tax Code Change Could Be a Win-Win:
Santa Clara County and, for that matter California, is missing out on millions of dollars that are right under its nose. The average hard-working resident in Silicon Valley pays his or her taxes and doesn’t think twice about it. But that’s certainly not the case for many Santa Clara County-based corporations. Those companies like Apple and Google, just to name the most highly recognized, are taking advantage of perfectly legal “loopholes” that allow them to stash hundreds of billions of dollars in untaxed cash in offshore havens.
For example, Apple has multiple shell subsidiaries providing a Caribbean tax haven in the British Virgin Islands as well as other similar arrangements that are too numerous to list whereby big chucks of Apple’s corporate profits end up being untaxed through a variety of perfectly legal schemes. Apple’s lawyers and lobbyists are even clever enough to park some of their US profits in tax-free Nevada tax havens under such obscure corporate entities as Braeburn (a type of apple) while minimizing the taxes paid in states such as California. It’s an understatement to say it’s not fair, but it’s also just not right.

While California has finally achieved a small budget surplus, we have grossly underfunded our schools, our roads, our resident’s low wages, while continuing to incur lots of debt and other unmet obligations. And while Washington political gridlock and highly paid lobbyists might make it hard to change things on a national level, it’s time to shake things up here in the Golden State where these companies are located.

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