Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Minnow-sota, Colorado, and the GOP shutdown of the federal government

cross-posted from MNPR:

Rachel Maddow last week (September 25, 2013) did a segment on her show on MSNBC about Duluth, Minnesota, and fat head minnows that are raised at the “EPA’s mid-continent Ecology Division’ operation.

THEY won’t be closing down, at least not entirely, during the government shut down.

Your first thought might be to wonder how in heck a bunch of minnows could possibly fall under the urgent side of government business that continues despite the shut down, over, say, tourists visiting the Statue of Liberty or other decisions.

She explained.
I regret I couldn’t get the embed codes for the video, which was much more entertaining, but I did get the transcript, which I will excerpt.  I encourage readers to follow this link to the whole thing, including a subsequent interview with the current head fo the EPA.
(It is worth noting that Maddow is an avid fan of fishing, and is from Massachusetts.  In an attempt to add a touch of levity to the depressing circumstances of the shut down, and in the larger context of the rest of this post: http://youtu.be/q7dGxVDwitE )
The smiling face of a male fat head minnow
NOT affected by the federal shut down.
What makes this transcript (video, if you can find it) worthwhile is that it illustrates WHY we should resist those who keep insisting, blindly, ideologically obsessively, that we should have smaller government – government so small, you can drown it in a bathtub.

It is because operations like this one, in Duluth, where Minnesotans get PAID to work, are essential not only for the employees, but profoundly so for the people in places like Colorado.  

There real people are drowning in CONTAMINATED floodwaters, not metaphorical government drowning in the tub, who need the kind government  help and expertise that can only exist over time.

It is NOT the kind of expertise readily available from private providers; it is not the kind of expertise that it is practical to operate at the purely state level – that would be inefficient and horribly redundant, and therefore far more costly.

The problem is – the conservatives don’t consider things like water toxicity from flooding, complicated by oil spills.  They operate on a far more superficial and overly simplistic level, usually one that in libertarian-think, at the furthest right extreme, comes down to a primitive version of every man woman and child for themselves, let the elderly die sooner than later, and the devil take the hindmost/me-first thinking.  

The right-wing corollary is that services like this one outlined below, which are essential, are “ROBBING US OF OUR FREE-DUMBS” somehow.

Which is stupid on the face of it, but the right-wing compensates for that by ginning up such hysteria that no one has apparently the energy or capacity to ask if they really are being “Robbed of our GOD-GIVEN FREE-DUMBS”, or if guaranteeing safe drinking water might not really be a socialist plot.

Intensify that several times over, if you are one of the John Birchers who still believe that fluoridating water is a communist plot to exert mind control by the long-non-existant-Stalinist-Soviet Union rather than an attempt safely to improve dental health.

Yup.  This is on a par with ‘dental health’ versus ‘dirty-commie-plot-to-take-over-the-world’ territory.  Only this instance involves Duluth, and federal fat-head minnows.

MADDOW: If you fish, if you`re a person who enjoys fishing, as I do,
you might be familiar with this tiny little guy. This is a fat head
If you are fishing for bass and you`re going to the bait shop, and you
are buying minnows, if you are lucky, you are probably getting this guy or
somebody he is related to. And yes, that is sad for him. But I come for
myself by telling myself that bait somehow does not know it is bait. I
realize I`m fooling myself.
Fat head minnows live all over North America. They are used as bait a
lot. People stock them as food fish, for the bigger fish that they want to
fish for in their lakes and ponds.
Fat head minnows are also used to help us figure out if our water is
In this building in Duluth, Minnesota, the Environmental Protection
Agency grows fat head minnows, we`re minnow ranchers, you and I. We grow
these little guys by the thankful, and the EPA uses them in testing about
whether there are toxic elements in the air and in the water. They are
specifically helpful apparently in helping sniff out toxic elements that
affect the endocrine system.
The EPA has been doing this kind of testing for a long time. They
have even this sort of awesome training videos that teach their employees
how to do it.
NARRATOR: The fat head minnow is used in toxicity tests at various
life stages. This video presents method developed over the last twenty
years at the EPA`s mid-continent ecology division in Duluth, Minnesota.
MADDOW: You know, 2009 does not sound like it was all that long ago
until you see a training video made in 2009, and it feels like, where is
the DeLorean?
Anyway, this 20 years worth of fat head minnow work at the EPA has
been kind of a low key thing. It`s not really been the subject of
headlines, until it started getting a few now. With the government
shutdown becoming more and more likely with each passing hour, the EPA and
several other government agencies, it had to make very granular decisions
about which daily functions of their part of the federal government they`re
going to keep doing.
It may seem like a small point in the grand scheme of shutting down
the largest government on earth. But honestly, a decision has to be made,
right, if the government shuts down, and people who work for the agencies
stay home and all the discretionary funding for everything does shuts off
like a tap, what happens to the minnows? Those minnows in Duluth may or
may not be enthralled with John Boehner and political arguments about
whether or not to shut down the government. But if John Boehner decides to
shut down the government, the minnows don`t have to eat.
It turns out the decision has been made, the minnows will be spared in
the shutdown. The EPA has found a way to keep at least someone on the job
in Duluth to not let all the fish die even if the government shuts down.
The rest of the EPA, though, pretty much will have to close.
The EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, said this week that a government
would effectively close the agency`s doors. The government doesn`t
automatically shutter every agency. You know, troops don`t necessarily get
recalled from their forward-operating bases or anything.
But the parts of the budget that are discretionary, like say the EPA,
those parts get hit the hardest. Without a budget deal to keep the
government open, the EPA, like many other agencies is not going to be able
to pay its employees. In the case of the EPA, that`s about 17,000 people.
So, the vast majority of those people will be sent home while their work
doesn`t get done.
And if you believe that the EPA ought to exist, you probably think
there is never a good time to shut it down. But even if you don`t usually
kind thoughts about the EPA, maybe this seems like a particularly bad time
for this particular agency to shut down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More spills emerging from a Colorado oil patch
ravaged by flooding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have learned of three additional oil spills
today, bringing the gallons spilled into the floodwaters to more that
34,000. That`s about 800 barrels. The state is tracking 11, quote-
unquote, “notable spills”.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: State officials say most of the oil is coming
from notable releases from the South Platte River. During the flood, 1,900
oil and gas wells were shut down in Northern Colorado, about a third has
since reopened.
MADDOW: Massive flooding that ravaged parts of the state of Colorado
last week happened to hit that part of the state that have been
experiencing an oil and gas boom in the last few years. There are 20,000
active oil and gas wells in that parts of Colorado that were hardest hit by
the floods.
Now, one of the many challenges facing lawmakers and residents in
Colorado is they start rebuilding is how to make sure their drinking water
is safe, how to make sure that those 11 notable oil spills leaking into
the flood waters are not going to make people sick, and not just now, but
in an ongoing way.
The EPA is one agency in Colorado trying to figure it out. A local
environmental activist in Colorado said yesterday, quote, “We have serious
concerns that because the state has so few inspectors and regulators, the
oil industry is out there self-policing. We need EPA to step in and make
sure the public and the environment are protected.”
We need the EPA to step in and make sure the public is protected.
That is just one environmental disaster in one state that makes you
feel like maybe it is a bad time for the EPA to have to pull down the
shutters and go home indefinitely. But even with the threat of shutdown
getting closer and closer, even with the hard decisions that that details,
everything from those federally owned live minnows in Duluth, and to the
dig out from the floods in Colorado, even with that bearing down on us in
general, and the EPA in particular, that agency is also in the middle of
making some of the highest high profile decisions in the past few years.
Just past week, the EPA made an announcement that people who believe
in science have been waiting for, for a long time. Ever since President
Obama elected and specifically ever since he promised in his State of the
Union addressed this year that he would act alone on climate change, even
if Congress would not act.
The EPA has just announced the first-ever regulation that limited how
much carbon pollution, power plants, can be belched into the air. And they
are tough new standards telling power plants to adhere to a lower level of
pollution than even the most efficient plants have achieve today.
But the new rules only apply to plants that don`t exist, plants that
are not built yet. The 6,500 power plants that are already operating in
the United States right now are not affected by the new rule at all.
So how much of a difference is this new rule going to make anyway?
When President Obama gave his big climate speech back in June of this
year, he vowed that his administration would enforce tough new standards on
all power plants, on new and existing power plants. He vowed that the old
ones wouldn`t just be grandfathered in, so they can continue to pollute as
much as they want, since after all, they pollute the most.
The rules for plants that do not exist are the new rules that are out
now. The rules for the thousands of plants that do exist, for those we`re
supposed to wait another year at least.
Why do we have to wait? If President Obama and the EPA are able to do
this without needing to seek the approval of the climate change denialist
caucus in Congress, why not just go all the way? Why not do it now?
Joining us now for the interview is our nation`s administrator of the
Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy.
It`s very nice to have you here. Thank you so much for being here.

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