Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for August, 2010

Wanted: U.S. Long Term High Level Nuclear Waste Solution

by August 31st, 2010

Public Data Ferret White Paper #1. Links to footnoted sources are at bottom.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Nuclear power will remain an important source of electricity in the U.S. More than 100 reactors are operating in U.S. now, and applications are pending for 33 more. Outside the U.S. 337 reactors are in business, with another 150 expected by 2020. President Obama strongly supports nuclear power. There will be 153 million metric tons of high level nuclear waste in the U.S. by 2055, up from 70,000 metric tons in 2009. The Yucca Mountain deep geologic repository for high level nuclear waste is in limbo. A Blue Ribbon Advisory Commission to Energy Secretary Steven Chu will take a new look at policies for high level nuclear waste. The result might be a recommendation for continued dry cask storage now, and perhaps salt domes later.

But The Yucca Mountain tussle is not over yet. A panel of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently upheld a legal quest to keep the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain licensing application alive, although D.O.E. at the president’s direction seeks to withdraw it. The preliminary ruling is that only Congress has authority to rescind the application. Some experts posit that the Energy Department must rebuild public trust around high level nuclear waste disposal. This view is credible, given long-standing mismanagement of the clean-up at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, and the decades-long Yucca Mountain imbroglio. In devising a new path forward, Secretary Chu’s Blue Ribbon Commission and Congressional decision-makers should ensure effectiveness, cost and risk assessments of various policy alternatives are coherently conveyed to the stakeholders, and that a public participation process is designed to draw on the aggregated perspectives of constituencies far broader than those most intimately and loudly engaged.

WSU, UW Researchers: Nuclear Power, High-Level Waste Disposal Can’t Advance In U.S. Without Building Trust First

by August 27th, 2010

OVERVIEW: Washington State University sociology professor Eugene A. Rosa is known for his scholarship on issues surrounding public acceptance, or the lack thereof, of nuclear energy facilities and related waste disposal sites. With 15 other experts, including colleagues from WSU and the University of Washington, Rosa recently led the development of recommendations for better public engagement strategies to win needed trust at a time of growing applications for nuclear energy facilities which will add to the country’s stock of high-level waste needing long-term disposal. Their summary was published in the journal Science. The authors argue that proponents of nuclear power and federal authorities must take a more respectful, evidence-based approach toward social and environmental concerns around increased nuclear energy production and waste disposal – rather than starting with a pre-determined outcome and viewing the public as an obstacle to be overcome. The latter “old school” approach, they assert, will doom to failure the current efforts to expand nuclear energy production in the U.S.

KEY LINK: “Nuclear Waste: Knowledge Waste?,” Eugene A. Rosa, Washington State University; James F. Short, Washington State University; Thomas M. Leschine, University of Washington, et al in Science, 8/13/10

Key findings follow.

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Rising U.S. Debt Dicey

by August 27th, 2010

In this week’s regular live KOMO-AM 1000 radio segment featuring the work of our Public Data Ferret government transparency project, I talked with co-anchor Nancy Barrick and guest anchor Bill Rice about some sobering news on U.S. government debt. Here’s the original Ferret write-up and here’s the audio. The transcript follows.

Nancy Barrick: “A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office offers a serious warning to the feds: stop spending all that money. And on the KOMO news line we have Matt Rosenberg of, and Matt, what did this report have to say about our national debt?”

Matt Rosenberg: “We’re highlighting this report called “Federal Debt And The Risk Of A Fiscal Crisis” at our Public Data Ferret government transparency hub, and it says that the U.S. government’s public debt – that’s what’s owed to investors in the financial markets – is now higher than ever, except for in the years right after World War Two. Our U.S. public debt reached $8 trillion, or about 54 percent of projected year-end gross domestic product for 2010, and it’s going to go higher by the end of the year to about 62 percent of GDP, so the prescription is stiff medicine, at least from the Congressional Budget Office. They’re saying we’ve got to cut spending and look at increasing revenues, and it’s not going to be pretty no matter how you slice it.”

Bill Rice: “Yeah, and apparently it just gets worse unless something is done now. How bad does the debt get by, say, 2035?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well, they’ve got a couple of different scenarios. One is called the ‘extended baseline scenario,’ which sees a continuation of current law and no big changes, and even then, the public debt is going to reach about 80 percent of GDP, considerably higher than now, and that’s thanks to an aging population and increasing health care costs. But if there are changes made, under the ‘alternative fiscal scenario’ that the CBO outlines, it could be much, much worse, and the public debt could reach as much as 180 percent of GDP by 2035. So they’re saying we’ve got to get on it right now and cut spending equal to at least one percent of GDP under the ‘okay’ scenario and up to (five) percent under the ‘recipe for trouble’ scenario.”

Nancy Barrick: “And Matt, the thing I like is you always sift through these sorts of technical reports. As you were looking through this, is this something the general public can get ahold of, or is it pretty technical?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well, no, you can make good sense out of it, and at our Public Data Ferret site we link also to some of the sources that we use. Actually that’s in the blogroll section of our blog. So, yeah, you can go right to a lot of these government sites, find recent reports written in plain English, sometimes it takes a little translation, and that’s part of what we’re here for, but you know, if I were to summarize what these guys are saying here, it’s that the federal government has been gorging on public debt like Little Debbie snack cakes, and it’s time for the fresh grapefruit and Meusli, instead.”

Bill Rice: “Matt Rosenberg of For a link to Matt’s Web site, go to and click on “Nine 2 Noon.”

Nancy Barrick: “That was very well put.”

Congressional Budget Office: Federal Debt And The Risk Of A Fiscal Crisis

by August 23rd, 2010

OVERVIEW: With spending continuing to far outpace income, U.S. government debt owed to the public – as a proportion of total domestic economic output (Gross Domestic Product or GDP) – is now higher than ever except for in the years following World War II.

Public Data Ferret KOMO 1000 radio segment on this report, 8/25/10

This “public debt” of the U.S. government, which is held by individual and institutional investors in the financial markets, was reported by the Congressional Budget Office in late July to be about $8 trillion, or about 54 percent of seasonally-adjusted, projected year-end 2010 U.S. GDP. CBO projects federal public debt will rise to 62 percent of GDP by this year’s end, and to between 80 and 180 percent of GDP by 2035 – under one or another of two broad economic scenarios – unless corrective action is taken, starting immediately. In the following recent report, CBO delivers a stiff prescription for fiscal reform.

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Indoor Smoking Ban’s Effect On Retail Sales In Bars And Taverns

by August 18th, 2010

Today on my regular weekly KOMO-AM 1000 Seattle radio segment featuring the work of our Public Data Ferret project, I talked with “Nine2Noon” show co-anchors Brian Calvert and Nancy Barrick about a new study on how sales at bars and taverns were affected by the indoor public smoking ban approved by Washington voters. Here’s the original Ferret article on the study, and here’s the audio file of today’s radio appearance. The transcript follows.

Brian Calvert: “KOMO News time 9:46. Along with Nancy Barrick, I’m Brian Calvert. Pass a smoking ban, drinking rates go down, right? Not so fast. Matt Rosenberg with joins us this morning. Matt, the prevailing thought back in 2005 when Washington voters banned smoking in public places was that the taxable retail sales at bars might go down, but you found otherwise.”

Washington State Auditor: Debt Woes In City Of Winlock

by August 17th, 2010

OVERVIEW: Winlock is a city of 1,340 in Lewis County, Washington. It provides a full range of municipal services including police, street maintenance and construction, water, wastewater and sewer systems. Winlock’s 2009 operating budget was $2.4 million. The city has a mayor, five city council members, and nine employees. According to a recent accountability audit by the state, Winlock in 2009 tumbled into a precarious financial position which threatens its ability to pay $10 million in debt incurred for important upgrades to its water and wastewater treatment systems.

With Tax Vote Looming, King County Looking To Labor Unions To Forgo Planned Salary Hikes

by August 17th, 2010

Facing a $60 million 2011 deficit in its general fund, and with a .2 percent sales tax hike coming before voters in November, King County is trying to get its labor force to forgo cost-of-living (COLA) salary hikes of two to six percent that have been a mainstay in previous collective bargaining agreements. Yesterday, King County Executive Dow Constantine and the leader of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees (WSCCC), Chris Dugovich, announced that union’s King County unit would skip its COLA hike for 2011, saving the county $500,000 to $600,000. As the Seattle Times reports, if all 63 of the county’s 73 employee bargaining units that have expiring COLA provisions were to forgo any COLA hikes in 2011, the county could save $9.4 million, almost one-sixth of the general fund deficit. The general fund is a collection of so-called “discretionary” funds, including law enforcement and criminal justice, which comprises about 12.5 percent of the total county budget; the rest is in so-called “dedicated funds” which are mainly paid for by user fees, special tax levies and other dedicated revenues. (More: King County Budget Basics).

The WSCCC’s King County bargaining unit represents juvenile court supervisors and counselors, custodians and hazardous waste workers. Members will actually vote on August 27 whether to forego their 2011 COLA wage hike.

Seattle Times editorial and opinion column writer Joni Balter in a blog post today, writes:

The trend toward no COLAS is what has to happen in the new – read, lousy – economy.

As the Daily Weekly blog of the Seattle Weekly notes, a big catch in Constantine’s quest would be the 4,000-plus-member Amalgamated Transit Union, representing some 2,800 Metro bus drivers and other Metro personnel. So too are the King County Sheriff’s Police, who as Constantine recently told Burien city officials, are so far resisting his entreaties to consider giving back their negotiated COLA for the upcoming year. The Highline Times reported: