Sunday, December 8, 2013

Keystone XL Pipeline, Prevent Future Tragedy Now: Qingdao Pipeline Explosion Kills 62 (& other energy news updates)

While this post started out as an anti Keystone XL Pipeline article, related fights continue and I am reporting some as they occur.

[Jan. 2018]  The price of crude oil is creeping up again from a long spell of lows.  Now it is near $65 a barrel above which it again can be profitable to ship crude from Canada.  Thus TransCanada has announced it is again preparing to push construction of the controversial pipeline.  The lively comments at the above link point out we will take a $10billion hit on our balance of payments with Canada, and Trump didn't even ask for the concessions Obama had tried to negotiate.  Apparently, we will have to pay for any accidents and clean-up like the $1billion+ in costs cleaning the 2010 Kalamazoo River spill.  In 2017 final monetary claims were approved with many criticisms of the small settlement.
[1/24/17  President Donald Trump has just signed executive actions on Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. is leading the effort to fight them and submitted the following information I am condensing.  Another hopeful thought is that Canada now has a pro environment leader who may have his own powers on the XL issue.
     "Already more than 50,000 people have pledged to fight these projects to the end.
Trump made it seem he was approving these pipelines, but he didn't. Both Dakota Access and Keystone XL face legal, procedural and financial hurdles -- not to mention the multi-million person opposition to his administration.
Here's what you need to know about Trump's actions Tuesday:
  • He did *not* approve Keystone XL or Dakota Access. He briefly succeeded in confusing a lot of people on this point (including me, I will admit).
  • On Dakota Access, he told the Army Corps of Engineers that the pipeline is in our "national interest" and told them to "consider" revoking the environmental review placed on it by the Obama Administration.
  • On Keystone XL, he invited TransCanada to re-apply...mandated a final decision on the pipeline within 60 days and waived input from environmental agencies.
  • And when TransCanada does re-apply, they no longer have permits in Nebraska, and their permits in South Dakota are being challenged.
  • Trump also placed conditions on approval of the pipelines -- like limiting oil exports, and determining where the steel comes from -- that the oil companies might not accept.
If either pipeline moves forward, they will face fierce, mobilized resistance from Indigenous communities and landowners who will bear the biggest impacts of spills and toxic pollution on their lands.
In other words: it ain't over until it's over -- and it's definitely not over. Every pledge is a demonstration that this mass movement is prepared and ready to resist. We, the signers, are a warning to any company, bank, or politician who chooses to support fossil fuel projects that will further tip our climate past its limits. 
These pipelines will transport more oil we don't need, and our climate can't bear. We have the solutions to transform our energy system and the power and will to fight for them.
Onwards, Duncan
Sources: 1) "Significant Obstacles Remain in Building Keystone XL" National Resources Defense Council.  2) "The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Litigation on the Dakota Access Pipeline" EarthJustice"
[12/13/16] - With the election of Donald Trump, and his selection of Texas governor, Rick Perry, for Energy Secretary we can expect rough sailing ahead.  Already Trump's Energy Department transition team has asked for the names of people who have worked on climate change as well as professional society membership of lab workers.  The US Energy Dept. said Tuesday it will not comply with this request which includes 74 questions.  One asks for a list of all department employees and contractors who in the last 5 years attended annual global climate talks hosted by the United Nations.  "This feels like the first draft of an eventual political enemies list," said one DOE employee who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal. 

[12/13/16] - This site has a 42 minute podcast detailing aspects of the protest.  Here are 6 other links to articles and maps on the Dakota situation, other leak - spill, and protester's stories.  While researching the Dakota issue I encountered this very pro First Americans background story on their shameful historical treatment.   Surprisingly, I found the link to this article at the oil industry information site  I also found the exciting story on how First Nation residents of Nova Scotia are adding over 20 Megawatts of renewable wind energy to the grid as part of their $1 billion+ contribution to the overall economy.
[11/22/16] - Brutality has continued at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest area as protesters are shot with water cannons in sub-freezing weather.  One protester may loose her arm after being illegally hit with a concussion grenade.  Protesters met in Washington, DC on 11/27/16 to march from the Dept. of Justice (1201 Pennsylvania Ave., NW) at noon to a 1pm rally at Sylvan Theater a little south of the Washington Monument at the intersection of Independence Ave., SW and 15th St.  This follows an 11/15/16 rally at the Army Corp of Engineers in DC urging denial of a permit to continue the pipeline in Sioux territory.
[9/9/16] - The most recent anti oil action is being led by the Standing Rock Sioux whose area in North Dakota is being overrun by the Dakota Access Pipeline's 1,172-mile conduit planned to carry crude from ND to southern Illinois.  Other potentially affected tribes also object, and over 1,000 people have joined a protest encampment. A possible ancient Indian burial ground was plowed up before the state historic preservation office could evaluate it.  The pipeline will cross their essential water source multiple times.  Remember what happened to the Kalamazoo River when a pipeline broke, covered earlier in this blog.  This summer penalties over $100 million were finally ordered.
     Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party national candidate for President is facing an arrest warrent for spray-painting a Dakota Access bulldozer after a video of this activity was posted online.  Other protesters have experience numerous macings and been attacked and bitten by dogs.  The federal government has stepped in to help after a Judge ruled against the protesters.

[5/11/16] - Irony strikes the tar sands oil industry a devastating blow as an overheated late winter in Canada leads to destructive forest fires.  On May 1st, the 80,000 city of Fort McMurray was severely threatened and areas were burning leading to TOTAL evacuation of the city and 20% of houses burned (good charts and maps).  This May 21st article suggests people MIGHT be able to move back on June 1st if the weather improves fire conditions.  This June 5th technical article updates production info.

[3/15/16] - President Obama has just ruled out oil exploration off the Atlantic Coast.  However, he did approve some drilling in the Caribbean and Alaska.  As commentor, Drop_the_GOP, at the above link observed, "Three simple points:
1) Obama can abandon anything he likes, but in about 8 months is irrelevant.
2) Obama might be able to block some drilling for a while, but that is all.
3) Oil companies drill for oil and oil companies have not given up drilling in Atlantic."
     In other words this is no time to sit back and relax as oil company interest continues.  [especially now that Trump has been elected]  Apparently this ruling may run to 2022, and the Pentagon played a part because of their concern for Navy activities at the Atlantic Coast.  This British article does a particularly good job of identifying the many players.

12/13/15 - For the moment this issue is quiet.   Oil prices are falling through the floor, natural gas prices are at record lows, many oil wells are being mothballed, addition oil storage is being created for the overflow, and it is not currently economic to produce tar sands oil.  Beware of future changes in this picture and renewed activity by the tar sands developers.  The dangers of pipelines and oil trains continue. [especially with the surprise election of Donald Trump]

First information here.  Once again the Keystone XL Pipeline issue is heating up.  It is even worse now the newly elected Republicans control both Houses of Congress.  More and more pressure has been applied to President Obama to have the State Department approve building the Pipeline from Canada to Oklahoma.  The portion from the giant oil hub at Cushing, OK to Houston refineries is already under construction.  I asked a pro environment person from Texas how serious that was.  His said that area is already so damaged by the oil industry an additional pipeline makes little difference.  This link describes 45 oil disasters in 2013 the industry doesn't want you to know about. 

President Obama has exercised his promised veto, and hopefully neither house has the 2/3rd vote to overturn the veto.  Call your Congressman (202-224-3121, and ask to be transferred to your Representative or Senator).  When you reach them ask for the staff person dealing with this issue, and ask if they will read this article, then get their email address and send the link.  If they are Democrats ask them to try to persuade the defectors to support the President and the environment.

10/19/15 - This just in.  Conservative, pro oil, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just lost election to Liberal Justin Trudeau.  Hopefully, he will be able to institute much better pro environment policies, and the XL Pipeline issue will fade away.  The link has many comments discussing implications of this victory

Here is the list of 28 Democrats who have just voted with Republicans to approve the Pipeline (Jan. 2015).  Call their staff person responsible for this issue and email this link if they will give you an email address, and some of the horror photos of pipeline  and oil transport disasters.  Here is a Congressional contact list with phone numbers and web sites.We need lots more renewables ASAP.
Brad Ashford (NE-02)
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Bob Brady (PA-01)
Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Jim Clyburn (SC-06)
Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Mike Doyle (PA-14)
Gwen Graham (FL-02)
Al Green (TX-09)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Dan Lipinski (IL-03)
David Loebsack (IA-02)
Sean Maloney (NY-18)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Rick Nolan (MN-08)
Donald Norcross (NJ-01)
Colin Peterson (MN-07)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
David Scott (GA-13)
Terri Sewell (AL-07)
Albio Sires (NJ-08)
Marc Veasey (TX-33)
Filemon Vela (TX-34)
Tim Walz (MN-01)
Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15) and Bennie Thompson (MS-02) were not in attendance but probably would have also voted YES had they been there.
Recently I heard there were two problems that ought to sway Republican opinion.  Apparently, Canada, a foreign country, is being given the right to exercise eminent domain against American citizens' property.  Also the Canadian tar sands oil companies are NOT being required to pay into a fund all other oil companies do, to pay for accidents and spills.  Republicans are saying that if we don't allow Canada to build here, then they will build to their west coast and ship oil to China.  First of all their native Americans are fighting this tooth and nail, and secondly Republicans are saying the oil is going to be used here in the US and lower gas costs.  Used in China or here, make up your minds guys!

[9/23/2015]  Hillary Clinton has now followed Sanders in declaring herself to be against the XL Pipeline.  Now all we have to do is get one of them elected.

Here is a spill which occurred in North Dakota on March 20, 2014.  There are a lot of comments.  People are beginning to realize that once the pipelines are built, most of the jobs will actually be for repairing the damage these pipeline spills and breaks cause. Here is an interesting analysis of the impact, good and bad, of major oil development in North Dakota.  I wonder how many jobs were created by the $1 billion+ Kalamazoo River spill of tar sands oil (dilbit) from a 6 foot diameter pipe?  A recent follow-up reports a mixed outcome on this 2010 mess, and that at one time 300 people were working on the clean-up.  

A recent spill (Jan. 19, 2015) has deposited 50,000 gallons of ND oil near and in the Yellowstone River.  The many comments are so interesting regarding environmental impact, I plan a separate blog article to highlight this issue.  There are beautiful photos of the Yellowstone.  A map shows the Keystone XL Pipeline route in that area.

Here is another North Dakota spill which is larger than all spills there in the past 10 year. Photos and a detailed description show how much work is involved in correcting this leak from a quarter-sized hole.  This recent gas pipeline spill in Michigan has resulted in the evacuation of 500 people who are being sheltered outside their homes [Sept. 2014].  It was a 24 or 36 inch pipe and people have not even begun to assess how much harm it has caused.  The line is owned by Trans Canada and runs from Canada to Texas.

Two years ago the North Dakota oil patch had grown so much that in this space night photo it is as large and bright as the largest US metropolitan complexes.  The light produced by flare-off burning (waste) of natural gas from fracking processes, is permitted by the government and produces large quantities of air pollution. 

The significant drop in gasoline prices starting in November 2014 should also impact the XL Pipeline issue.  According to this article, 92% of tar sands oil production needs a per barrel price of $95 to be profitable, and the rest needs $75.   Light crude for Jan. 2015 is around $63, and futures don't even break $73 until Dec. 2021.  The heavier Brent crude is currently (Dec. 2014) below $67 and is still expected to be below $83 in Dec. 2021.  As of Jan. 6, 2015, crude is around $50 a barrel. Thus, for the moment, they may have a poor argument for building the pipeline.  Be sure the new Congresspeople know this.

Recently (Nov. 2014), New Jersey has approved allowing a Perth Amboy facility to handle larger amounts of tar sands oil by train shipment.  This is approval for the area around the Perth Amboy location which is flat land and probably does not have the grade risks that led to the Lac Megantic disaster.  New Jersey also has a good record regarding safe oil handling.  On the other hand, overland transport is not covered by the current approval and no doubt needs thorough evaluation.

[11/4/15 - A conference will be held this month on the subject of oil train disasters.  Although there have been agreements to use stronger oil cars, this probably will not be enough to prevent additional problems.  See below for horrific photos and more information on the deadly Lac Megantic tragedy.]

From April 22 to 27, 2014 the Cowboy and Indian Alliance descended on DC for a week of stop Keystone XL action.  Reject and Protect brought tribal communities, ranchers, farmers and friends to DC to call on Pres. Obama to reject the pipeline with it's threat to climate, land, water, and tribal rights.  People wishing to support their efforts should click the link above to their site.  The Hip Hop Caucus with Rev. Yearwood also had a DC event as part of their Act on Climate Tour, on April 22, 2014. This short video from The Washington Post shows the Mall encampment.  This link shows the severity of environmental damage in tar sands country, Canada.  No wonder the Indians are up in arms!

The latest information is that now the Senate may do an end run around the President.  [May 2014] Here is a list of current climate change deniers in the House and Senate. Contact your Senators, send them disaster photos from the links listed below.  Use these photos with the new Congresspeople.  Also use with all your state and local elected representatives if they need to make oil related decisions.  Convince them more pipelines especially with this unusually dangerous oil are a really bad idea.  Urge them to pass legislation that will encourage more solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.  This should include R & D for cellulosic ethanol rather than using corn for ethanol production.

Over 100 people died in 2013, primarily from two major oil shipment disasters--one is a pipeline in China, the other an oil tanker car train on the US/Canada border.  Cleanup of a toxic dilbit (tar sands) oil spill on the Kalamazoo River has already cost over $1 billion and is still not clean.  This link has a number of articles detailing this spill as well as other pipelines of major concern, including a 60 year old one in the Mackinac Straits between the US and Canada Your elected leaders need to know how you feel about this.  Anyone who says transporting this oil is harmless, I DARE you to look at the photos in the two links further down and this one.
While Canadian tar sands oil and the pipelines or trains to carry it can contribute to long range climate disaster, people who are not climate activists are more likely to be persuaded to care by immediate disaster scenarios.  The massive, mile long, Qingdao oil pipeline explosion that killed 62 people has received very little media coverage in the US, and is being suppressed in China. This link explains Qingdao censorship by China, as does this one.  Is it also being suppressed in our country?  This China based follow-up report on the Qingdao disaster outlines the Social, Environmental and Economic effects of the disaster as well as ideas for prevention and mitigation.

[11/2/15]  This February 2014 article laments the death of so many people because of carelessness after the initial leak was detected.  The repair team discovered a hole about two hand-spans in size and crude oil was leaking into a sewage pipe.  No one including EPA workers there had considered the possibility of explosion, even though crude oil vapor was visibly mixing with highly-flammable sewage methane gas.  No fire department officials were there to advise.  The area was not sealed off and all 20 repair people died in the explosion which turned the crossroads into a smoking crater.  This report suggested that the agencies and personnel responsible would not be held accountable as the deaths are simply an embarrassment to both industry and politicians.

Commentary on one Chinese netizen site even suggests the late 2013 flap about flying over certain islands was a ruse to distract Chinese people from the disaster and focus anger on Japan.  Was Vice President Biden aware of this prior to his China visit??  There seems to be no recent Qingdao news at Google, and the Chinese and South Korea are now making nice, with SK helping to return bodies of Chinese soldiers buried in SK during the Korean War.

On Nov. 27, 2013, China's Ruler visited Qingdao where stories praised the lovely emergency shelters and good food provided by the military.  The same day, China, without warning announced an expanded defense zone off its coast, which prompted angry responses from Japan, South Korea, and the US as is shown in this link.  I predict that soon after Biden's visit, they will relax this crisis as they hold trials for those "responsible" for this disaster and promised major reforms.  A more recent story shows the damage to sea life from oil that flowed into the bay.  The latest articles for 2014 at this Google site mention that 63 people will be punished and that Sinopec (the company in charge) will pay damages.

The disaster happened on Nov. 22, 2013,in the port city of Qingdao. A 15 minute leak, failure to evacuate nearby people, and 7 hours later a huge explosion occurred.  [See horrific photos in 3rd link below.]  The most recent/final? count is 62 dead and 136 hospital treated.  Nine arrested, a national day of morning, and near silence except for nice human interest stories.  Very little meat with the potatoes.  See below.

This article points out that China plans to do a major infrastructure study throughout the country.  Should we do the same with our oil pipeline system, some of which are decades old, like the Enbridge pipline that caused the $billion plus Kalamazoo River toxic spill?  Do we have dangerous infrastructure siting issues here in the US, and specifically here in DC?  Yes we do, see last paragraph for details and link on a significant current issue that our Council has not addressed.  This link looks at important urban planning issues and danger to the public.

This link on Dec 7, 2013, has many youtube short clips and a long detailed explanation of how the disaster unfolded if you click "show more".  The following material includes two links with scores of photos from both the Qingdao pipeline disaster and the Lac Megantic oil train disaster.  Please forward these terrible pictures to as many movers and shakers as possible.  The danger is here and now, costly in lives and clean up, not just in some questioned (not by us) distant future.  Both disasters cost around 50 deaths. Moving certain kinds of oil including tar sands and some types of Bakken shale oil is far more dangerous than conventionally recovered oil types as explained here. These oils are also far more corrosive to the tank cars and pipelines transporting them.  Moreover, recent investigations show that these problems have been known for several years, and shipping is still being poorly regulated.  The material below was written 4 days after the Qingdao disaster when I first heard about it. 

"In watching US news sources, I have failed to see the most recent major pipeline disaster in Qingdao, China mentioned.  It helps to look at the TV 30 channels, especially those from China.

This pipeline leak, fire, and explosion has killed at least 55 people, wounded over 150, with others still missing, and some arrested by the government for neglect and other (non terrorist) charges.  See links below:  the second with a huge number of photos makes a powerful impression."

I have participated in a number of Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline events, including the one at the State Dept. where 70 people had committed to being arrested.  This is one more massive piece of evidence of why we need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.  First we had the tar sands oil pipeline spill at the Kalamazoo River costing more than $1 billion to clean, so far unfinished, forcing people to abandon their lovely riverfront homes.  Wikipedia has an excellent article on the spill, explaining that Enbridge (the pipeline owner) knew in 2005 there were safety issues with this 40 year old pipe.  The Michigan Coalition Against the Tar Sands (MICATS) has been mobilizing activism:  Students at McGill and elsewhere are urging universities, as are people in cities, to divest their investments in oil companies and related industries.  Washington, DC, has an active Divest effort.

Then we had the horrific run-away train derailing and exploding in the Canadian border town of Lac Megantic, incinerating 47 people and a big chunk of downtown.  A recent update reports that although safety rules/laws have been changed, there are big loopholes with bigger dangers:
A Jan. 1, 2014 editorial by the Montreal Gazette calls for a mandated judicial inquiry, as it appears the government can't be trusted with the regulator process or investigation.  I Googled for more follow-up in 2014.  If you skip the first few stories regarding reopening the Lac Megantic library, there are a number of likely looking articles.
There has even been a more recent (2014) explosion in rural Alabama from a train carrying similar ND volatile Bakken oil.  For those who have forgotten, or for those who should see them, like our legislators, hundreds more horror photos.

Some suspect there may have been sabotage by pipeline interests to show how dangerous rail shipping is, the bottom line is that oil is dangerous to ship by whatever method, and some oils much more so than others.  Solar and wind can never cause the catastrophic damage and death already caused by oil, gas and coal.  We must move as quickly as possible away from carbon fuels (some will always be needed) and embrace the full potential of solar, wind, and super insulation.  

Please use these links to further environmental activism and alert our people and politicians to the very current dangers.  Now we can compare visually the impact of oil train versus oil pipeline catastrophe and human error.  On Dec. 30, 2013, another oil train explosion occurred in a small (under 2,500) town 20 miles from Fargo, ND.  A grain train derailed hitting the oil train and exploding cars.  Fifty of the 104 cars have been pulled away, but the fire is so intense they are just letting it burn and debating whether to evacuate the entire town.  Should we think, oh, no, we must use pipelines, here is a recent summary of big pipeline problems.  And this Wiki article on 21st Century accidents lists 34 just for 2013.

Here is the best argument I have seen to use against those who would say these oil train explosions are a good reason to build Keystone, plus an excellent comment.
"Keystone supporters will try to use these dreadful Bakken tank car explosions to make the case for the Tar Sands pipeline. Here's why that's way off base: These rolling bombs from Bakken contain condensate, the extremely light crude oil that comes out of fracked wells.... This product is highly explosive and it is a huge problem. Ask Quebec. [Lac Megantic disaster]  Tar Sands dilbit is a mixture of putty-like bituminous oil thinned with...condensate. But rail cars can haul bituminous oil thinned down with only 15 percent condensate. Still dangerous, but it does not create mushroom clouds. Keystone will require 30 percent condensate to make it thin enough to flow, making these pipelines potentially more explosive than rail cars from Canada. Most of the reasons for approving Keystone don't hold up. The rail safety argument is not only bogus, it is an implied threat from a foreign power: build our pipeline, or we'll run these rolling bombs through your towns. Maybe Nebraska is the only place in the country with enough brass to stand up to this."

A critical issue is that these recent train accidents mostly involved the newer stronger oil cars which were supposed to greatly lower risk.  They don't seem to be doing the job, and many question if grateful politicians can ever be persuaded to insist that the oil industry institute serious improvements.

One last word--what exactly do we know about the dangers of having freight hauled through our own Washington, DC?  What kinds of toxic, flammable or explosive materials are allowed on DC railroad tracks?  How good are our emergency response plans and responders?  Would they wait 7 hours before evacuating DC residents in a dangerous situation?  Does anyone have an informative comment?  In 2013 I decided not to wait for information from others and found this link.  It describes current planned rail construction in DC which Eleanor Holmes Norton has viewed with alarm.  Our City Council held hearings in 2014, but with a new Council and a lawsuit, perhaps another look is advisable.  Our Council must demand certainty regarding types of cargo carried.  Philadelphia has now (Feb. 2015) decided to take a good look at rail dangers to that city. Unanswered questions were also asked in Olympia, Washington.

A major urban train fire occurred in Baltimore, MD in 2001, there was also a problem in DC that same year.  Both are reported on in this study prepared for the US Dept. of Transportation.  This link includes a number of articles detailing problems that still exist more than 10 years after the accident.  Here are a large number of photos on this fire and others.  DC residents are very concerned about the potential dangers of the DC tunnel reconstruction, especially for the 5 years it will be open to the sky.

While viewing various links about the recent oil train derailment and fire in West Virginia, I came across the information that CSX, which was the responsible party for this accident and another one in April 2014, is running their trains through DC.  While there is a voluntary agreement that they will not run hazardous cargo through DC, is that really acceptable?  Transporting this highly flammable ND Bakken oil through our nation's capital should be absolutely forbidden!  View these links and imagine such a disaster in the heart of DC.

Is this our future?  [62 dead]  Qingdao, China

Have Chinese hackers removed this picture?  See this link, Comment below and insert the photo that I should use to replace this blank.  Further down in this list of images you will find other disasters shown as well.

Damage caused by the Qingdao pipeline explosion

Or is this?  [47 dead]  Lac Megantic, Canada

Monday, November 18, 2013

Can Our Middle Class be Saved by DC Tax Revision Commission?

During over 50 years spent living in Washington, DC, I've seen very clearly that there are a large number of barriers preventing the poor, especially the black poor, from gaining Middle Class economic security.  Four years serving on a Mayor's Task Force on Street Vending was especially frustrating as I watched big business and our city administration cooperate to make Street Vending much harder for the poor to attempt.  We pro vending people who attended these weekly 3 hour meetings struggled to prevent the total elimination of street vending, but still were only able to save about half the available slots.  In the late 1990s one only needed $35 to register, and paid sales taxes on goods sold.  Then during the Kelly administration it was decided that vendors were not paying enough taxes, and a $1500 annual Fee in Lieu of Taxes was approved.  Many small neighborhood vendors did not have $26,000 in annual sales that made this a fair tax rate, and thus were forced out (see Issue 5 and 6). Ignorance of tax law should not be used as an excuse to oppress the poor.

In 2014 I will probably be running for public office as a DC Statehood Green Party candidate.  Our Party has decided that concern for "Returned Citizens" will be a major issue.  With over 60,000 mostly black DC citizens who have served time in prison, plus their families, this issue has major impact.  Paul Zuckerberg raised the issue of marijuana arrest records harming the future of young people.  There are 2 1/2 times as many of those arrests as graduates from high school each year.  Our own 2013 At Large Council candidate Perry Redd strongly supported the decriminilization of marijuna arrests during his campaign.  It looks as if our Council may actual adopt this stance with a new law.  For many jobs you have to check a box regarding a criminal record. Street Vending was one work possibility that did not have this barrier to employment.  In my own campaigning I will stress the importance of encouraging basic entrepreneurship as a path from poverty to the middle class.

Testimony before DC Tax Revision Commission (TRC), Nov. 12, 2013 
by G. Lee Aikin

First let me thank you for all your hard work on this complex topic. My testimony will emphasize two issues—harm from failure to index, and saving the middle class. The middle class is in serious trouble, you are in a position to help. People hate taxes and ignore them if possible. Therefore serious inequities creep into DC and the Federal tax codes with little public notice. Often by failure to index, as is true of several DC tax problems. I am most familiar with the D-40 and D-30 forms, but urge that others be examined carefully. Three minutes allows little time to present other concerns--Class 2, 3, and 4 taxes; the $1500 Fee in Lieu of Taxes for street vendors; the Basic Business License; Homestead property tax deductions; and hardship exemptions--so I hope you will read my entire testimony and attachments. These inequities and other factors locally and nationally have seriously diminished the middle and lower middle class. Without much possibility of achieving middle class status, the lower classes can loose hope and respect for the Social Contract. This can have dangerous results.

Issue 1)  Most distressing is failure to preserve the equality of Deductions and Exemptions when Home Rule was achieved in1973-4, and they were comparable to the Federal rates. Federal rates have annual COLAs. DC changes had to be voted annually, but were not. By 1991 taxpayers had lost 50% of this benefit. In 2004 my DC taxes had doubled relative to Federal taxes, I discovered NO added change had been made in 13 years. David Catania agreed it made sense to “couple” our D&E's with the Federal rate. But, no Council actions took effect until 2006 and 2008. Since then nothing.  [I am gratified to report that the Tax Revision Commission has recommended using the Federal Deduction and Exemption rates.  This would keep about $85 million in the pockets of our taxpayers.]

In 2012, a family of 4 would typically subtract $10,700 in D&E's from Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on the D-40 form. If our D&E's were coupled with the Federal rate, they could have subtracted $27,100 in D&E's from AGI. This is a difference of $16,400. Thus, the family would have paid $786 on D-40 Taxable Income of $16,400. Using the Federal D&E's they would have paid ZERO. A similar family with $56,400 income would pay $1,394 less in D-40 taxes. Others have testified about serious inequities with Schedule H, used to help low income renters and homeowners.

Issue 2)  The D-30 needs major overhaul. Instructions are opaque [i.e. DC Apportionment Factor: “Multiply the total income by a fraction. The numerator is the property factor plus the payroll factor plus the sales factor. The denominator is three, reduced by the number of factors without a denominator.] I'm told this is a tax attorney make work project. To change that, examples should be given as they are in the Federal 1040 instructions. Many very small Unincorporated Businesses only have a little rental income, or sell a few things. If all income is DC earned, why not allow inclusion of the Federal Schedule C and/or E, and skip filling out redundant facts in D-30 Schedules A,C, E, and G, not to mention most of the rest of the form. In 1986 the D-30 became required of all Gross Income above $12,000 with a $100 fee even if there was a NET LOSS. Now a $250 fee is required. To be fair, the Gross Income should rise to at least $30,000. [A $5,000 deduction is allowed, and up to 30% for personal labor to operate the business, so an adjustment could be made in the D-40 to allow these benefits with an increase to $30,000.]

Issue 3)  The idea that D-40 should add “taxed Social Security” to income is unconscionable. SS, first taxed in 1983 under Reagan, had a tax calculator “benefits worksheet” allowing singles a $25,000 deduction, and couples $32,000. This is unchanged in 30 years. According to the CPI calculator, the 2013 figures should be $58,427 and $74,787. Unadjusted a person with $20,000 SS and $40,000 AGI will pay tax on almost half their SS; $50,000 AGI and above, on 85% of their SS, another assault on the middle class. DC's current D-40 deduction for Federally taxed SS helps rectify this gross unfairness.

Issue 4)  The Class 2 Business Property tax and Class 3 and 4 Vacant Property taxes need serious changes.  Reducing the $1.85 Class 2 rate to $1.65 for property assessed under $3 million is a help, but really does not fix business in blighted areas. Businesses in Anacostia and upper Georgia Ave. often minimally improve their property. Taxes in PG Co. are much lower, and Montgomery Co. has variable rates. Why can't DC have variable rates or considerably smaller rates on low assessed properties?

 The Vacant Property tax rates are outrageous, far greater than any in the US, and violate at least the spirit of DC Code 47-817 Comparison of rates and burdens, “ is the intention of Congress, that the tax burdens in the District be reasonably comparable to those in the surrounding jurisdictions...” [See attachment] The one month vacancy registration rule is way outside the one year vacancy norm elsewhere. [In addition, as soon as you register, your tax is immediately jumped 6 or 12 times the old rate. One 60+ person I know lost her row house because she didn't realize she should file for an exemption and thus received a $105,000 tax bill.]

Issue 5)  The $1500 Fee in Lieu of Taxes is an outrage against street and truck vendors. It is far above the tax small part-time neighborhood vendors might pay on sales. And some highly successful truck vendors are probably not paying their fair share. A half day of tax training upon licensing should solve this problem and be much fairer. This would be similar to the kind of training certification provided for food handlers in restaurants and on food trucks. In the late 1980s one could get a vending license for $35 dollars and pay actual income taxes and 6% on sales. The $1500 has to be paid even when one has almost no income such as in January, February and March. There is also a moratorium on renewing a dropped license. Here too, poor and middle class entrepreneurs are being harmed and disincentivized.

Issue 6)  Another unfair and counterproductive tax related matter is the Basic Business License. Requiring licensing of all businesses is another serious disincentive to business formation by our younger and poorer potential entrepreneurs. The BBL should not be required below a certain gross income level, such as $100,000.. A rule could be made that businesses below that would also take a half day of tax training on how to prepare their business taxes including the Federal Schedules C and E that pertain to business income. A simple registration fee of $25 could cover this cost. This could exempt them from the BBL and improve tax collection. In addition, the “clean hands self-certification” that says one does not owe the city $100 or more in taxes or fines is big problem. I know people who in 2010 used the Tax Amnesty to clean up their tax situations, and then the following year received OTR bills in the $hundreds and even $thousands saying they owed taxes which in fact had been resolved. Sometimes it takes months to clear up these OTR errors, to finally allowing the BBL to be granted.

More on Issue 1)  Regarding the Deductions and Exemptions issue I would like to add the following. As pointed out above, with “coupled” rates a family of 4 would pay taxes on $16,400 less income. Thus no tax would be paid unless the Adjusted Gross Income was above $27,100. [$27,100 IRS1040 D&E - $10,700 D-40 D&E's = $16,400] Without this $16,400 reduction, the 2012 tax is $786. A family of 4 with Taxable Income of $26,400 or with $36,400 would save $984 with coupling. At $46,400 the saving is $1,144. At $56,400 and above the savings are $1,394.

An educated guess suggests that around $100,000,000 might remain in the pockets of taxpayers with coupling. [The TRC's estimate is $85 million.]  Imagine what this would do to our local economy where it could be spent on food, housing, clothing and other merchandise. These “high velocity dollars” would then generate additional sales and income taxes for the city, considerably lowering the initial loss. Moreover, with recent tax income surpluses ranging near $300 to $500 million we can afford to do this. A small increase of top tax rates could rectify any revenue problems created. [The top earning bracket rate of 8.95% is due to expire 12/31/15 and drop to 8.5%.  The TRC recommends lowering to 8.75% in 2016 permanently for singles above $200,000 and marrieds above $350,000.  Since they calculate the total revenue given their recommendations will have a $30.8 million shortfall, should there be a slightly higher rate for the very well off, perhaps those above $1 million?]  Has all this inequity and tax neglect helped drive lower middle class families out of the city to PG County? This should be studied and analyzed.

Issue 7)  Another concern involving COLA's is Homeowner exemptions. While there have been increases in the Homestead Exemption amounts over the years, this too seems not to have kept up with inflation. Analyzing several cases known to me, it appears that the Homestead Exemption percent is only about 2/3rds what it was years ago. The 50% Property Tax reduction allowed for senior citizens is now threatened by the maximum allowed Household Income. A $100,000 maximum was established in 1992. For 2013, the CPI calculator shows $166,892. However, The Age-in-Place and Equitable Senior Citizen Real Property Act of 2011 only increased it to $125,000. If children with good incomes come to live and care for Mom and Dad in their failing years, they are seriously penalized if they still have to maintain their original home. Once again, the middle class is being hurt.

Issue 8)  Another concern, also related to D&E's is the Exemption for “over 65” or “blind.” After caring years for my husband who died of Alzheimers, I can tell you blind care would have been much easier. Let us lead the nation by allowing an exemption for anyone who is medically certified as being at least as handicapped as a blind person, i.e., wheelchair bound, dementia, etc.

While studying posts by the TRC, I was thoroughly puzzled by inclusion of Figure II-h showing “Current Law and Changes Recommended by the D.C. Tax revision Commission as Shares of 1998 Family income for all Taxpayers” and 3 more related Figures. This seemed to be part of a recent report of TRC recommendations, and I wondered why you did not use the 1-30-13 ITEP Table 1 which is also attached. If the 1998 Recommended total taxes is what I saw, then it is clear it recommended that the middle 89% should pay the most, ranging from 10.1% to 11.3%, while the richest 1% would pay 9.4% and the poorest 20% pay 8.9%.

If this is actually the current thinking, that is even worse. The Institution for Taxation & Economic Policy (ITEP) uses 2010 income levels which shows (after a Federal deduction offset) that the middle 20% paid the most—11%. On either side 9.8% and 9.4% was paid. Thus the middle class again paid the most. The poorest 20% paid 6.6%, but the richest 1% were the winners, paying only 6.3%. Surely this Commission can do better.

In sum, I strongly urge you to do your best to reverse national and local efforts causing the systematic evisceration of Middle Class prosperity and hope for those even farther behind economically.

ITEP 1-30-13 Release, Table 1 of 2010 tax rates by Quintiles

* * * * * *
I have covered a number of these issues in detail in earlier blog articles here.  See the Sept. 3, 2013 post: INDEX of all Posts, Recent to Oldest, Dates, Titles

Articles related to taxes are dated in red, and the articles in early 2012 are related to DC taxes. There is an October 21, 2012 post on saving Social Security, which also is oriented toward saving the Middle Class.

G. Lee Aikin, DC Statehood Green Party

Thursday, September 5, 2013

$12 Minimum Wage Sought for Montgomery Co., MD; & DC Mayor's $12.50 LRAA Decision

Will our Mayor and Council surrender to Walmart blackmail?  [UNFORTUNATELY, YES]

Final revote -- Alas, the Council was unable to override the Mayor's veto.  In fact Anita Bonds actually dropped her support and voted NOT to override.  Does this indicate a split between her and Marion Barry??  If she runs for At Large again will this cost her support among poorer workers who might have been able to earn enough to barely support their families with $12.50?
Here is a detailed article about the final votes.

In separate but related developments, significant increases in minimum wages are being proposed and fought for throughout the country.  How much thought is being given to a maximum wage?

9/12/13  This just in, as anticipated, the Mayor has indeed vetoed the $12.50 for LRAA.  9/23/13   The Council has been unable to override the veto, and David Catania has introduced a $10.50 minimum wage bill.   His Mayoral opponent, Muriel Bowser (she of the 2 Walmarts in one ward) voted against the $12.50 wage.

In Washington, DC, the proposed law requiring large stores to pay their workers $12.50 is a topic of immediate interest and emotion.  Eight of 13 members in the DC City Council have voted YES on this measure including declared Mayoral candidate Jack Evans.  Unfortunately Mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser (whose Ward 4 has 2 Walmarts already under construction) and Tommy Wells, somehow believe that a wage of $26,000 for a 40 hour, 52 week job is sufficient to raise a family.  Since part time work is often the lot of workers in these kinds of job, they need to consider that the gross wages of someone working 30 hours for 50 weeks is only $18,750.  All this, of course, is before any taxes, Medicare or FICA has been deducted.  Mary Cheh, (Ward 4), who is up for election in 2014, Yvette Alexander (Ward 7) who squeaked into office again with a scant 40% vote, and David Catania (At Large) who is also up for election in 2014 are the remaining NO votes.

Please note that Council members' salaries a year ago ranged from $125 to $128 thousand, and a number also hold well paid outside jobs.  Phil Mendelson, who supports the $12.50 minimum, earns around $190,000.  Most of their staffers earn more than twice $12.50 an hour and some earn more than the Council members. See details below.

Now Mayor Gray, who has not yet declared for Mayor and is facing a $600,000 issue of campaign finance irregularities, has only a few more days to give this measure a YES or NO vote.  It has been reported that he lives near a proposed Walmart store location, but surely there are other retailers who could be motivated to choose this location.  No Mayor or Council should allow themselves to be blackmailed the day before a major vote by a threat by Walmart or any other business, to cancel their planned stores.  Of course, there are many who question why we should want 6 Walmarts in DC, given their questionable labor practices and  bribery conducted in other countries.  One also wonders whether Walmart has behaved here as they have elsewhere.

Charges of corruption and bribery are being investigated in Mexico, India and Brazil.  The New York Times has been following this story and "reveals that Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business. Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals. Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited. It used bribes to subvert democratic governance — public votes, open debates, transparent procedures. It used bribes to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction. It used bribes to outflank rivals.   

The above is a quote from, a detailed review of corruption and bribery involving a number of US companies.  Alas, Walmart is not the only company engaging in illegal bribes and corruption, but after reviewing some of the others, it seems to be the biggest wanting to play in our DC sandbox.  Furthermore, as you can see from the information below copied from Walmart's own site:, they definitely envision that they will have closed stores, and that there will also be closed businesses around these stores.  In fact this has been a major complaint--that they undersell other stores, even their own nearby Walmarts, to force neighboring businesses to fail and then buy them for redevelopment.  It seems logical that this is what they are doing in Ward 4, which is poised for economic takeoff, with their two stores.

Welcome To Walmart Realty
Walmart Realty, a division of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., is a real estate company that offers many development opportunities nationwide. Walmart Realty concentrates on commercial real estate located in or around our current and former locations.  Walmart Realty's mission is to find businesses to open in our former stores and clubs and to locate in available property around our stores. At Walmart Realty, we believe we have a responsibility to work with communities to find a use that generates economic growth and opportunity. We work at the local level with local brokers, economic development officials and elected leaders to find partners that best suits the needs of each local community.

In March 2014, I decided to go look at the upper Georgia Av. Walmart and the surrounding businesses. This Walmart is one story with ample parking.  The businesses across the street are also one story.  When asked if Walmart had affected their businesses the reaction was mixed, with some saying a very negative effect.  The biggest complaint was that they used to have parking in front of their stores so customers could park, pop in for a quick purchase and leave.  Now they have lost that parking because the street has been reconfigured to have only two lanes in front of them, but 3 lanes in front of Walmart.  Should they be forced to sell because of business failure, Walmart will have prime real estate where they can put up much taller buildings, and even build on top of themselves.

So I  guess the question is, who are the local elected leaders, development officials and brokers whom they are working with, and what rewards, if any, have been promised or paid to these same persons.  Are these the same people who have voted against a marginally living wage of $12.50 an hour?

A wage of $12.50 an hour may seem like a lot, but given the high price of living and finding housing in DC it is barely adequate.  In fact it has just been reported that Montgomery County is considering a minimum wage of $12.00 an hour for the ENTIRE county, and for ALL businesses, not just the big, high profit/income stores that are specified in DC's bill.  Of course, Walmart's top brass has little empathy for the struggles of their workers.  The top five executives in 2013 earned a total of $62,574,227.  Their leader, Michael Duke is paid $20,693,545.  See this link for more details.

In DC This Large Retailer Accountability Act will apply to stores with revenue over $1 billion, and 75,000 square feet.  This is a relatively small number of businesses who can well afford the $12.50, although they might have to pay upper management slightly less than they do now.

The August 30, 2013 issue of "Washington Hispanic" has a front page article about a law proposed in Maryland this Labor Day.  I will translate and summarize this article by Victor Caycho titled "Minimum Salary of $12 per hour."  "To rise above poverty we must begin with a fair salary", declared council member At-Large, Marc Erlich (D), author of this initiative.  He announced his presentation of a law to increase the minimum wage in Montgomery Co. MD for the entire county which has a growing Hispanic population.  The current $7.25 was placed in effect July 24, 2009.  He will formally present the bill on Sept. 10.

The plan includes salary adjustments based on inflation.  It also establishes that the county Commission of Human Rights will supervise the application of the law.  Erlich pointed out "Persistent poverty is the result of persistently low salaries in our economy."  Furthermore, the law would not just be applied locally, but would extend "to the businesses of the entire county."  He pointed out, "we have many thousands of workers who, in spite of working every day, don't earn enough to rise above the poverty level.  Thus, if they can, they seek help from local government for the necessities of housing, health and nutrition."

After reading the above statement I Googled "Walmart low wages cost taxpayers."  A lot of articles came up, and rather than choose some liberal sites whose names I recognized, I looked at a site for business oriented Forbes.  Even there the author said this was a serious issue that we taxpayers really need to study and know more about.  Then I read the six comments.  Five pointed out many uncomplimentary things about Walmart.  The one focused on the issue of welfare and related cheating and cheaters.

Erlick declared that "This is the time to fix this problem and Labor Day is the right date for us to unite with cities throughout the country which understand that rising above poverty and being self-sufficient begins with a fair and transparent salary."

Let us hope that our Washington, DC is one of those cities, and especially if the neighbor on our northern border is going to have a $12.00 minimum wage for ALL businesses, then surely our largest retailers can afford $12.50.  If Montgomery Co. has this pay scale, the argument that DC business will go over the border because it is cheaper there will be moot.  Please contact the mayor,, or phone his office at  888-264-6154.  Urge him not to veto the LRAA and bow to Walmart Blackmail.

[April 2014]  The Primary Election has come and gone.  An impressively small number of voters decided with a non majority vote to promote Muriel Bowser to the Democrat Mayoral candidacy.  Now she is challenged by David Catania, Independent.  Recently in Seattle, a progressive candidate won, much to the consternation of the 1% who are now licking their wounds and fighting back.  The winning candidate campaigned on a $15 minimum wage.  We can learn much from studying her successful campaign.