It’s your turn. Closing out:
* LEGISLATURE TODAY: Lots of business, though little of high importance. At last check, the House had passed over a scheduled consideration of SB 587, to move school elections to the same date as the general election. The Walton school reform crowd is pushing this bill. It would produce more votes in school elections. The backers hope this would translate into more votes against tax increases (it’s hard to win school tax votes that depend on people with no stake in the schools) and more votes against candidates promoted by people within the school district, particularly teachers.
* THE UNCONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATURE: A lawyer tells me that work is in progress on lining up plaintiffs and preparing lawsuits to challenge the voter ID law and the pending Dustin McDaniel/casino-backed legislation to make it harder to circulate ballot initiative petitions. Add these to abortion law challenges. And lots more. Some of that future growth revenue that Republicans are counting on to pay for tax cuts may be headed to attorneys’ pockets instead.
* DONE YOUR TAXES YET? Tax return season could be a WHOLE lot easier if the U.S. would implement — as other countries have — “return-free filing.” The government would estimate your tax bill based on reported income and you could just choose to pay it, no filing required. Or, you could go through the process if you thought it more advantageous. This report from Pro Publica and NPR shows that it hasn’t happened here because 1) the software company that makes Turbotax has lobbied strenuously against it and 2) Grover Norquist doesn’t like it.
* PROTECTING OUR DRINKING WATER: I’ve written a couple of items about the fact that the Exxon Mobil Pegasus pipeline crosses 13 miles of the Lake Maumelle watershed and thus poses a risk to Central Arkansas’s water supply. A former watershed manager for Central Arkansas said he didn’t know what advancements had been made in talks with Exxon since he retired about reducing risks in the watershed.
Graham Rich, CEO of the water utility, gave me a quick update today, something that JP Phil Stowers requested after news of the Mayflower spill from the same line broke Friday. The pipeline was built before the lake was built in the late 1950s, but Rich noted that a portion of the line was relocated because of the advent of the lake, a stretch that otherwise would be below the existing lake. But, he said, there obviously will always be a potential for damage to the lake as long as the line is in the watershed. Thus, he said, the board of the utility is looking at the possibility of relocating the pipeline outside the Maumelle watershed. That would be an expensive proposition. So, too, would be alternative safety measures, such as building an earthen berm around the lake to prevent any spills from reaching the like. The berm would require maintenance and if construction wasn’t careful, it could create runoff into the lake of its own.
Rich noted that the use of the pipeline had changed since it was built. Where it once took domestically produced petroleum north, it is now used to transport more environmentally dangerous heavy Canadian crude south to Texas refineries, where products are made for sale overseas.
Rich said the oil company had purchased a couple of devices to contain spills should they occur. One is a stationary boom that is placed in water to prevent drift of oil. Another is a mobile unit that could move an oil-blocking boom to different places. It also has installed one valve and plans at least one more that are used to isolate areas where spills occur. The Water Commission is going to review the history of the lake, Exxon’s steps to mitigate risk and possible action April 11, including a discussion of relocation of the line. “There are always going to be risks until it’s relocated,” Rich said. “That’s the only zero risk we’ve been able to think of.”
ALSO: The Mayflower oil spill has reached the White House, which is under pressure to rush approval of the environmentally risky Keystone XL pipeline, under pressure from Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Tiny Tim Griffin and Tom Cotton.
Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney said in response to a question:
“I haven’t spoken about this incident with the President. We obviously have a system in place where the EPA, in this case, is the federal on-scene coordinator when you have a spill, an event like this and they are working with and have been working with state and local officials as well as the responsible party as they respond to this incident. In this case, the responsible party is Exxon Mobil. You know, we obviously take the safety of our many pipelines in this country very seriously and we have an agency that is dedicated to the task of making sure that those pipelines operate safely and in cases like these that investigations are undertaken and steps taken to both mitigate the damage and hopefully avoid them in the future.”
FURTHERMORE: On the jump, Central Arkansas Water’s John Tynan, now managing the watershed, provided the following update for Pulaski JP Phil Stowers on work to address potential impact from the pipeline: