Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The wondrous world of tar sands politics

If you come to my part of the world for a bit you'll see about fifty bajillion signs telling you to say no to the WPO.  They won't tell you what the WPO is or why exactly you should say no but if you don't say no it will sink our port (I come from South Portland, across the river is Portland, the port kind of sort of matters) complete with a picture of a sinking ship, and it will mean there will be no jobs EVER in the entire fucking state.

Ok, so, what is the WPO and why won't those opposed to it speak it's name.  Is it the Wealthy People's Oligarchy?  The society of Wizard Patrolling Outcasts?  Working Penguins Opportunity?  Well, no.  It's the Waterfront Protection Ordinance.  Which doesn't sound that bad.  I guess they don't want to say the name because it doesn't sound that bad, but for my part if you just told me that there was something called, "The Waterfront Protection Ordinance," and nothing else I'd assume it was designed to make sure the waterfront wasn't protected because I am used to Orwell-speak names.

As it turns out the Waterfront Protection Ordinance really is to protect the waterfront.  Whether that protection is moral or physical depends on your exact reasoning.

Basically the people who last year said that they'd never try to use the pipeline to pump tar sands (or tar sands derived oil or anything involving the words "tar" and "sand") into here instead of overseas oil out of here are this year saying that reversing the pipeline to deliver tar sands crap through our port will totally create jobs in the entire state (I guess pumping stuff onto ships requires a lot more people than pumping it off of ships... apparently) but will in no way be different or more complex and thus be not at all more dangerous.  (Follow the reasoning: It will be exactly the same as what we're doing now in all ways that matter to you little provincial people so therefore it will employ shitloads more of you little provincial people than the thing we just said it is no different from.)

So some people have concerns about safety.  The pipeline was designed for the sole purpose of piping one thing with very specific properties in one direction and one direction only.  Now people are planning on trying to pump something similar, but different enough that the pipeline wasn't designed for it, in the direction the pipeline was designed to never ever send things.  And the only people saying this is safe are the ones who said last year that they'd never ever do this and are now trying to do it, so when they say things will never ever go wrong it doesn't ring true.  "Never ever," when said by these people apparently means, "Next year," after all.

My understanding of tar sands is limited at best, as is my understanding of one-way pipelines.  So I honestly have no idea if it's at all dangerous to flip things into the reverse the pipeline was designed not to have and put in a different form of muchly decayed plant matter.  And honestly, I don't much care either.  I'm talking about politics here.

For other people it's simply a moral opposition to tar sands.

So that's what's going on.

Apparently if we don't ship tar sands through our port every ship will spontaneously develop a hole in the bottom and sink (I know, I've seen the pictures on the signs) and the displacement caused by all the ships being totally underwater (no doubt with trapped air pockets and whatnot) will cause the water level to rise and sink the port (I know, I've read the words on the sign) and the stigma caused by this will cause all the jobs to evaporate from the state, they'll move the Appalachian Trail somewhere else and everything (I know, I've read the words on the other sign.)

That's part of what the "Vote no" people are saying.  But wait, there's more.

Firefighters, I've counted three so far, have been hired by oil companies to say that... well actually let me start with the hired by oil companies thing.  Though our current governor probably isn't aware of it, there are things called laws.  Not only do all the Federal laws apply here, but so too do specific state laws* and in both cases disclosure is a fairly big part of things.

So if you're calling on behalf of the Firefighter's Union you've got to say that, "Hi, I'm [name] and I'm calling you on behalf of [local firefighter's union]..."  Unions pull that all the time.  During the three way race for Governor I was in the same room while members of a union were phone banking because two out of the three candidates were virulently anti-union.  (To give you an Overton Window in that election, the "moderate" independent was the one who cast teachers in teachers unions as literal demons.)

That's not what's happening now, when I'm being called it is not, "Hi, I'm [name] and I'm calling you on behalf of [local firefighter's union]..." it's, ""Hi, I'm [name] and I'm calling you on behalf of [oil companies]..." and then after the disclosure of who the call is for, it all suddenly becomes about firefighters and vague existential threats to our existence and --the reason the firefighters have been hired in the first place-- the idea that regulation to keep tar sands away from the port will prevent port businesses from making renovations and as a result those business will burn down.  Seriously.

If you don't vote pro tar sands the port businesses will burn down.  That's why three firefighters have agreed to take part in the oil company's pro tar sands campaign.

Unintended consequences do happen and I would find this claim concerning if not for the fact that there are no local businesses saying the regulations will prevent them from renovating.  I'm by the port all the fucking time.  Depending on which bridge I take sometimes I'm over the port.  To get to some appointments I have to walk along most the port (which is largely not oil based, there's fishing, dining, tourism galore, shipping containers being offloaded from ships and stored while they wait to be put on trucks, tug boats to help other boats, charter boats, places to dock your boat, more fracking tourism, places to buy the fish that other people make their living catching, hotels and parking garages.)

There are only two businesses that have put up pro tar sands signs that I have seen.  One is an oil company.  The other is a car dealership nowhere near the port that sells gas guzzlers.

If port businesses are going to be so screwed over by the WPO, why are none of them calling me?  Why have the oil companies found none of them willing to leave annoying messages on my answering machine?

Generally businesses that know they're about to be screwed over by an ill thought out regulation make some noise.  Not a peep.

But the big thing is the money disparity.

I told you you'd see all kinds of "No on the WPO" signs.  So many they end up getting in their own way in places were signs can freely be put up.  Likewise no individual that supports it has just one sign in their yard, they have so many signs that it makes a fence.  The gas guzzler seller who supports it?  The signs are so densely packed that it may be impossible to measure their number.

When it comes to "Vote for the Waterfront Protection Ordinance" you'll see maybe two.  If you know where to look.  People from the area cannot compete with multiple multinational oil companies when it comes to funding a campaign.

As if to drive this point home when an anti tar sands sign went up, about the size of a smaller yard sign you'll see in various political campaigns, the pro tar sands side bought one of those road work signs that spells out in lights whatever information pertinent and can display multiple messages, hauled that in directly behind the small opposing sign, and now has it going 24-7 (even in the middle of the night when you can't read the other sign) telling you to disregard the humble sign and vote no on the WPO.

Whatever your personal feelings on tar sands, this is the most lopsided campaign I've ever seen around here.


* Which sort of fucked over NOM and co. when they poured money into the state to stop marriage equality.  Don't get me wrong, they succeeded and it was another three years before marriage equality came to pass, but they also got their asses handed to them in court because they didn't obey disclosure laws.

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