Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Times tells you "Old Foes Soften to New Reactors" but fails to get "reaction"

Let's start out by noting Felicity Barringer who's done an amazing thing in the paper this morning -- and on the front page, no less. "Old Foes Soften to New Reactors" is worthy of attention because how often does the New York Times run, on the front page, an editorial? Or is it an adver-torial? Is it some combination between advertisement and editorial?

Whatever it is, it doesn't appear to pass the news test. Has Barringer been getting tips from Rudith Miller? Or maybe her article's been badly edited with whole parts, needed parts, being tossed aside? Maybe, it's been rewritten, by someone other than her, to allow it to speak in one rah-rah, Love a NUKE!, voice?

Several of the nation's most prominent environmentalists have gone public with the message that nuclear power, long taboo among environmental advocates, should be reconsidered as a remedy for global warning.
Their numbers are still small, but they represent growing cracks in what had been a virtual solid wall of opposition to nuclear power among most mainstream environmental groups. In the past few months, articles in publications like Technology Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Wired magazine have openly espoused nuclear power, angering other environmental advocates.

Where to begin? "Several." How about there? How about with "several." You know that group whose "numbers are still small?" Whose numbers are apparently, in fact, three.

"Several?" Three. It's like a line out of Shampoo. You can almost hear Julie Christie shooting back, "Three's not even several."

And did I miss the group memo? Apparently I did. Apparently Technology Review became the Green bible while I was out of the room. Someone should have brought me up to speed!

Oh, that's right, Technology Review is not an enivornmental publication. Nor is Wired. They are techonology publications. Who edited this article? Who decided to spin these magazines as though they were Mother Earth News?

Probably the same thinker or thinkers that felt Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense qualifies as an upstanding "environmentalist."

Let's go to In These Times, to Jeffrey St. Clair's September 4, 2000 article entitled "Cash and Carry: George W. Bush's environmental menace:"

Bush also has huddled with Fred Krupp, director of the conservative Environmental Defense Fund, which has been pushing market-oriented ideas, such as pollution credits, for years. EDF helped fashion the Clean Air Act revisions of 1990, which President Bush cited as one of the cornerstones of his presidency. This spring, Krupp advised the younger Bush on sweeping changes to Texas clean air standards, which for the first time attempted to regulate emissions from old, "grandfathered" power plants. In describing the bill, Bush said: "I believe government and industry, jobs and the environment can coexist. The old command and control school is not what I am for. I'm for setting standards and letting industry comply." But Bush left out a key word: "voluntarily." Those old power plants are on the honor system when it comes to meeting the new air standards, and there are no penalties for violating the rules.

Is the Times that stupid or just that willfully stupid?

I believe "several" just lost one valid voice. We could address the other two (the split in how Lash is seen, for example, with some seeing him as a visionary and others see him as a corporate lobbyist willing to sell out).

But where's the reaction from the environmental community? Where in the article do we hear any of those voices?

Is the issue so unimportant that there's no need for reaction among the community? It's "important" enough to front page, right? It goes on and on about "several" and John McCain and Joe Lieberman.

Why does it all come off so one-sided? Why does the article read like the decision's been made for you, so shut up and go along? (To quote Eddie from his e-mail this morning.)

Let's suspend any questions about the two remaining voices (Lash, Speth) and just think about the fact that they are proposing something that "breaks with the pack." Why is the "pack" not heard from?

The editors who ran with this article might want to study the recommendations made by the Times panel last week. They might also want to go over this article and ask themselves what and who got left out and why it reads as though an agenda is being pushed?

Finally, with the reports (including in the Times) that followed (but often didn't attribute) Anne-Marie Cusac "Fire Hazzard" (The Progressive, August 2004) why didn't the Times find the space to address that serious topic?

From the opening of Cusac's article:

On June 16, the commission charged with investigating the events of September 11 announced that Al Qaeda's early attack plans had included "unidentified nuclear power plants." You might think the Bush Administration would respond by doing all it could to prevent a terrorist-triggered disaster at these plants.
Think again.
The Bush Administration is actually relaxing the fire safeguards there.
Instead of insisting that the plants have heat-protected mechanical systems in place that will shut down reactors automatically in case of fire, which is the current standard, the Bush Administration would actually let the power companies rely on workers to run through the plants and try to turn off the reactors by hand while parts of the facilities are engulfed in flames.
"The result could be catastrophic," says a March 3 letter from Representative Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Representative John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, to Nils J. Diaz, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). "This would assign reactor personnel the duty of rushing directly to the shutdown equipment located throughout the reactor complex to shut down the reactors manually, and would potentially take place in station areas affected by smoke, fire, and radiation and possibly under attack by terrorists."

The e-mail address for this site is

On June 7, 2005, Felicity Barringer e-mailed this site. She did not note that she wanted to quote. I do not reply to e-mails from the Times in private to avoid issues of conflict. Instead, I discussed it at the top of an interview with Beth and community member Dallas was asked to advise her of the interview. On June 8, 2005, Barringer responded to Dallas via e-mail giving permission to be quoted and named. Dallas phoned me to advise me of that and Dallas forwarded the e-mail confirming her desire to be quoted. This is the only time Ms. Barringer has written the site (and the only time I'll ever note that for a Times reporter). I'm noting that because we've noted reporters have e-mailed to say the printed article bearing their byline wasn't what they wrote and that it was screwed up by someone else. We've also noted that Times reporters e-mailing this site enjoy gossiping about their co-workers. (No gossip has been passed on at this site from those e-mails.) Due to how the ethics code/guidelines of the Times is interpeted (how strictly) either of those could get a reporter in trouble. For Barringer and only for Barringer, I will note that she has never written this site before and that her remarks below are her remarks in full. "Who's leaking?" is a question that's been asked at the Times (passed on by a friend at the Times, not in an e-mail). Since Barringer is the only one who's gone on the record, I want to be very clear that Barringer is not one of the leakers and thanks to two former Times employees for listening this evening and weighing in that it did need to be noted that Barringer had not written before because, in the opinion of one former Times reporter, "upper management can be pretty damn petty."

Here are her remarks in full:

I have a small factual point on your blog of three weeks ago, on the nuclear power debate among environmentalists. (I just caught up with your piece.)

You say: "Is the issue so unimportant that there's no need for reaction among the community? It's "important" enough to front page, right? It goes on and on about "several" and John McCain and Joe Lieberman." Why does it all come off so one-sided? Why does the article read like the decision's been made for you, so shut up and go along? (To quote Eddie from his e-mail this morning.)"

The article includes the following paragraphs, which seem to me to be "reaction from among the community." So I'm a little unclear on the factual basis for your rhetorical questions.

"Now, groups like Greenpeace U.S.A., the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group argue with one voice that any more time or money spent on nuclear energy would unjustifiably divert resources from more promising solutions, like conservation and renewable energy."

It has been 32 years since the last nuclear reactor was ordered and built in the United States, and 1996 was the last year in which a civilian nuclear reactor -- the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar reactor -- was commissioned. Nuclear reactors, almost all of them the first generation of this technology, now provide about 20 percent of electric power in the United States.

"Aside from the environmental issues, it is still far from clear when the fundamental economics of energy generation would favor the construction of new nuclear plants in the United States. Officials of electric company officials and those of companies that design and build reactors have said recently that without substantial government help, the costs of winning regulatory approval and building nuclear plants would be dauntingly high for investors.

"The proposals that Senator McCain is considering would provide a 50-50 cost-sharing arrangement, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies, to gain federal certification for three new designs for nuclear plants. On Monday he met with Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chairman and chief executive of General Electric, which constructs nuclear plants.

"Such subsidies are still anathema to most environmental groups, which believe that the nuclear industry got far more than its fair share of government aid in the last generation, while their technologies of choice were left hungry."

''The notion out there from some of these deep thinkers is that we have to take our medicine and if only we could accept nukes, the global warming problem would be solved,'' said Anna Aurilio, the legislative director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. ''We have a whole bunch of solutions already that are not as risky.

''These include, Ms. Aurilio said, increasing national energy efficiency and investing in solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy, like ethanol."

Thomas B. Cochran, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's nuclear program said: ''The issue isn't: Do you support nuclear? The issue should be: Do you support massive subsidies to the tune of billions of dollars for nuclear power?'' He said, ''The answer is no.''

"The most frequent objection to nuclear reactors is that they may lead to the spread of nuclear weapons. In an era when hostile or potentially hostile governments like those in North Korea and Iran are gaining proficiency in nuclear weapons technology, opponents ask, why support a technology that would generate more weapons-grade fuel? They also balk at the notion that nuclear waste can be safely and economically stored.

Aren't the sentiments that are paraphrased and directly quoted above a reaction from the environmental community? Why, then, pose a question that implies these points of view were left out?


Felicity Barringer

[Note: Ms. Barringer's reply is also posted in a June 8th entry.]