Category Archives: Local Politics

DC’s smart meters going heywire?

Chris Turner's smart meter at work. Click to watch video.

For those of us following the climate change debate, we’ve heard for years that before we can build a clean energy economy we need a “smart grid” capable of plugging into an array of big and small power sources — from residential rooftop solar panels to massive wind farms.

But, it turns out even here in Washington, D.C., there are those who see something more sinister in the smart technology.  For some,  the “smart meters” represent a  massive new assault on the airwaves and public health.

It’s not exactly the kind of rabble rousing underway in Tea Party strongholds, where the meters are considered part of a United Nations’ plot to outlaw America’s beloved suburban sprawl  and herd everyone into “smart growth” shoebox apartments and “walkable” neighborhoods. D.C. activists, however, are using some of the same arguments and links to rail against the technology update. That might be part of the reason they aren’t getting much traction with city officials or their own neighbors.

Read more about DC’s meter battle in my story in today’s Washington City Paper.


Some of the “many hearts” of Oct. 6 Protest

Many hearts + Signs at Oct. 6 protest


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The End of Gas?

creative commons license

When gas prices soar, I guess it’s only a matter of time before complaints and government investigations ensue. But what’s interesting about the current spate is how it reflects the transformation underway across he country as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell sell off their gas stations to regional middlemen, known as “jobbers.” This time around, it’s not Big Oil or the little station operators who are taking the heat for price gouging; it’s the jobbers.

While the price spikes have drawn lots of attention, perhaps more interesting in the long-term is what the (until now) relatively unnoticed round of selloffs may lead to: the eventual disappearance of local fueling depots altogether.

What with predictions of peak oil, the rise of alternative fuels and electric cars, Joe Mamo, D.C.’s biggest jobber, told me his company, Capitol Petroleum Group, is really a real estate business. As his properties in Washington and New York City become more valuable for the “dirt” beneath them than the gas or junk food they can sell, he says they will become condos.

Whether this trend could contribute to the high cost of gas in D.C. and other urban areas is a question I don’t think anyone has seriously examined. It’s not an industry that gets much sustained scrutiny (beyond the occasional price gouging uproars). My profile of Mamo, which ran in the Washington City Paper in February, is one of the few (perhaps the only) in-depth look at Big Oil’s pullout from a major metropolitan marketplace. The Washington Business Journal  suggested it helped prompt the District’s anti-trust investigation of Mamo’s company.

For more information on the D.C. investigation, links to the Washington Post coverage are hereCNN Money has a national round-up of gouging allegations, and here’s a link to my profile on Joe Mamo.

The Trouble with Corporate Sponsorship

Having chronicled the corrupting influence of corporate donations to environmental groups, I found myself in uncomfortable territory last weekend while helping my husband, videoartist Alberto Roblest, produce “Present Interval / Intervalo del Tiempo,” a temporary public art installation that, for two nights, took over an alleyway in Washington D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood.

Even before the trouble began, I was feeling a little queasy about Alberto’s deal with Best Buy. The electronics retail chain had agreed to loan him video projectors in exchange for sponsorship bragging rights.

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Yes Men getting remarkable mileage from the Chevron ruse

This is one Yes Men prank that seems to ripen with age: It’s been nine days since the cause-related impersonators committed their latest spoof — a collaborative and multilayered effort targeting Chevron.

The oil giant, still smarting from “CRUDE,” the documentary accusing it of polluting Ecuadoran rainforest, was readying a glitzy new ad campaign that strikes a distinctly a good corporate citizen pose. That is, before the activists went to work rewriting the ambiguously worded ads to send another message entirely.

News outlets seemed to yawn at the first reports that The Men had struck again, this time with help from the Rainforest Action Network and other environmentalists. But this gag hasn’t so much happened as unfolded, gaining momentum as it goes along, sort of like satirical scatter shot ricochetting off of corporate brands and news organizations. Today, the group kept on rolling by reveling some of the backstory about the activists who tipped them to Chevron’s ad plans. And there’s even a video about the role DC street artist César Maxit had in the caper:

Cows will be Cows

Cows will be cows. Chesapeake Bay Foundation photo

Earlier this week, this blog discussed the dilemma facing people everywhere who want both spot-free dishes and clean watersheds. Well, yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highlighted another part of the Chesapeake Bay‘s chemical runoff problem: It announced a crack down at the chicken and dairy farm run by the Petersheim brothers of Lancaster County, Pa.

EPA inspectors slapped the Petersheims with a $6,000 fine for allowing runoff from animal manure and milkhouse washwater packed with nitrogen and phosphorus to end up in a tributary of Chickies Creek, which feeds the Susquehanna River and eventually meets the bay.

According to the EPA press release, the brothers’ farm in Manheim, Pa., has about 80 dairy cows and produces eggs from about 36,000 hens. Is that a lot? After reading about the country’s massive factory farming operations that produce most of the eggs — and don’t forget the salmonella! — in the country, the Petersheim operation doesn’t sound terribly large and impactful. And, that just illustrates how diffuse and complicated a pollution problem the Chesapeake is facing. The EPA has outlined its plan to step up the long-running cleanup efforts, here. But the task is daunting and environmentalists have expressed lot of skepticism over the plans rolled out by the states bordering the bay. Meanwhile, the farmers are pushing back: A group of Virginia farmers are coming to Washington tomorrow to complaint about the EPA’s “heavy-handed” approach to the cleanup and lobby against stricter new legislation in Congress, according to this AP report.

Spotless Dishes v. Clean Water

White phosphrous molecule from Wikipedia Commons

A couple of news stories recently highlighted the dilemma posed by phosphorous,  a chemical used to make explosives, fireworks, pesticides, toothpaste, detergents, among other things.

Like a verdant lawn? Thank phosphorous.

Want your glasses to sparkle when they emerge from the dishwasher? It’s the phosphates in the soap that makes sure no spots mare that perfect shine.

Once these compounds run off your lawn or down the drain, however, it’s not such a pretty picture: They end up local watersheds and quite literally suck all the air out of the river, lake or bay. OK, a more scientifically sanctioned way of saying it: the chemicals consume so much oxygen that it makes it hard for aquatic life to survive.

But, heck, at least the dishes look great, right?  This New York Times story notes people are rebelling against detergent reformulated to ditch the phosphorous in favor of more environmentally friendly — but less spot-busting — ingredients.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Pilot reports on last Saturday’s face off between environmentalists and the administration of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell over efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, which has a hardcore phosphorous problem. The governor’s office is pushing a “nutrient trading” scheme that bears a strong resemblance to abandoned efforts in the U.S. Congress to set up a pollution cap-and-trade system. But Ann Jennings of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation isn’t buying the plan as a viable solution to the Bay’s long-running problems.

Neighborhood Farming Cocktail Hour This Sunday

Photo came with the invite!

Has the massive salmonella egg recall piqued your interest in “food activism” and the growing urban farming movement? Well, here’s an invitation I received today that perhaps appropriately combines foodie activities — sampling locally made (or at least organic) snacks and libations — with learning more about something called the Neighborhood Farm Initiative.

Tastings:  Sample a variety of organic wines and samples of locally grown snacks
Topic:  Getting Your Hands Dirty: Food Acitvism in Metro DC, a discussion with the Neighborhood Farm Initiative (NFI)
Date/Time:  Sunday, August 29th  from 2:30-5:00 PM
Place:  Fountain Framing, 3311 Rhode Island Avenue, Mount Rainier, MD  20712
Cost:  No charge

What is the alternative food movement and what are people in our area doing to support food activism? Maureen Moodie and Bea Trickett of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative will discuss food access and food security in the metro DC area.  NFI recognizes our concern for food security, food access and healthy living and will also discuss ways to successfully grow organic gardens at home.   They will bring in produce grown from farms at Fort Totten and Fort Dupont for your sampling. Tax-deductible donations to the organization are greatly appreciated. For more information about NFI, please see their website at or contact

Around here, we spend a lot on housing + transporation

According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology, we spent a lot of our income on housing and transportation. Check out this new “H+T Affordability Index” to see how different U.S. cities compare. You can also zoom in your particular neighborhood, right down to a few block radius. My particularly neighborhood: 24 percent of income is spent on housing but when you add transportation to that it comes to a whopping 39 percent. But it could be worse. Just outside D.C., some people are spending more than half of their income on H + T combo.

Tweets Galore, But Same Old Politics Dominate Obama’s State of the Union Speech

Millions of people tuned in to hear President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Wednesday night – and those were just the online viewers.

For the first time in history, the speech was not just broadcast live, it received the whole social media treatment: Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube – not to mention live streaming via a special iPhone app – all of these online technologies figured prominently into the White House strategy to take Obama’s message to the widest possible audience. And, the Republicans countered with their own online speeches and chats.

All week, administration insiders heralded the address as a game-changer for the embattled president, whose approval ratings are sagging as midterm elections near, but the real game changer may be the speed and degree to which social networking has embedded itself into the country’s political process.

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