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In Montreal, Canada, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG) continues negotiations on the text of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), the first protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The conference is the last in a series of BSWG discussions that began on February 22, 1999 in Cartagena, Colombia. It is attended by over 750 participants, representing 133 governments, NGOs, industry organizations, and the scientific community. The purpose of the protocol is to develop a set of international minimum safety standards for the regulation of trade in genetically engineered organisms (GMOs). The major points of contention during the negotiations relate to (1) the obligations of an exporter to inform importers of shipments containing GMOs, (2) the rights of an importer to reject GMO imports, and (3) whether CBD or World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations have primacy in cases where there is a conflict between the two. The two main negotiating blocks are the “Miami Group” (which includes the GMO-exporting countries of the US, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay) on one side and the European Union and the Like Minded Group (which includes most developing countries) on the other. The Miami Group had formed earlier in Cartagena in order to prevent genetically modified agricultural commodities from being included within the scope of the Protocol, preferring that their regulation remain solely under the jurisdiction of the WTO. The delegates agree on a final draft during the early morning hours of January 29. [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; IISD Linkages, 2/18/2000; EAAP News, 8/2000; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Convention on Biological Diversity, 2/26/2005; Biowatch, 3/26/2005] The Protocol will enter into force on September 11, 2003, ninety days after receiving its 50th ratification. [Convention on Biological Diversity, 2/26/2005]
Biodiversity Clearing-House - The CPB establishes a “Biodiversity Clearing-House” to facilitate the exchange of information on GMOs and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol. [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]
Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA) - The Protocol requires exporters of GMOs to seek permission from the importing country before the GMOs are exported. For most GMO exports, the exporter will be required to follow a set of procedures referred to as the “Advance Informed Agreement” (AIA). However, for GMOs intended for food, feed, or processing (LMO-FFPs), and not planting, a different, less rigorous notification system applies. For these types of GMOs the CPB only requires governments to notify the Biodiversity Clearing-House when they have decided to permit the use of a GMO in their own country and to supply certain information about it. This alternative notification system for food, feed, and processing GMOs was a concession negotiated by the GMO-exporting Miami Group. Pharmaceutical GMOs, GMOs-in-transit, and GMOs intended for use in a laboratory, are also subject to fewer, less stringent regulations. [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]
The Precautionary Principle - The CPB permits countries to restrict or ban a GMO if they believe there is a potential for the GMO to cause adverse affects. Conclusive scientific evidence is not necessary. “Lack of scientific certainty due to insufficient relevant scientific information and knowledge regarding the extent of the potential adverse effects of a living modified organism shall not prevent that Party from taking a decision, as appropriate, to avoid or minimize such potential adverse effects.” [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Genewatch, 3/24/2004; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]
Multilateral Trade Agreements vs. Convention on Biological Diversity - The Cartagena Protocol contains provisions that address circumstances that would also be under the jurisdiction of certain trade agreements. But it does not address the issue of which set of regulations should take precedence, only stating that “trade and environment agreements should be mutually supportive with a view to achieving sustainable development.” [Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), 6/5/1992; Biowatch, 3/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety, World Trade Organization

Timeline Tags: Seeds, Neoliberalism and Globalization, US International Relations

Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist, and his assistant, David Quist, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, discover the presence of genetically modified (GM) genes in native Mexican maize growing in the remote hills of Oaxaca, Mexico. The contaminant genes contain DNA sequences from the cauliflower mosaic virus, which is often used as a promoter to “switch on” insecticidal or herbicidal properties in GM plants. Contamination is also found in samples from a government food store that purchases animal feed from the US. The Oaxaca region is considered to be the birthplace of maize and the world’s center of diversity for corn, “exactly the kind of repository of genetic variation that environmentalists and many scientists had hoped to protect from contamination,” the New York Times reports. Scientists worry that the genes could spread through the region’s corn population reducing its genetic diversity. Critics of genetically modified crops have long argued that the technology cannot be contained. According to Dr. Norman C. Ellstrand, evolutionary biologist at University of California at Riverside, the discovery “shows in today’s modern world how rapidly genetic material can move from one place to another.” The findings are not good news for the biotech industry which is currently lobbying Brazil, the European Union, and Mexico to lift their embargoes on genetically modified crops. [New York Times, 10/2/2001; Manchester Guardian Weekly, 12/12/2001; BBC, 3/13/2002] It is later learned that the contamination resulted from Oaxacan peasants planting kernels they purchased from a local feed store. Though there’s a moratorium on the growing of GM crops, there’s no such ban on animal feed containing GM seed. [Cox News, 10/2/2001]

Entity Tags: Bivings Group, Monsanto, David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Kyle Sampson.Kyle Sampson. [Source: Legal Times]D. Kyle Sampson, a young lawyer from Utah and a former Republican staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, takes a position at the White House as special assistant to the president and associate director for presidential personnel. He handles presidential appointments for the Justice Department, among other duties. During this time period, he is also named associate counsel to the president, where he works on legislative, policy, and environmental matters. In August 2003, Sampson moves to the Justice Department, where he serves as a counsel for Attorney General John Ashcroft. After joining the White House counsel’s office in September 2001, Sampson increases his involvement in the selection of US Attorneys. He serves on the interviewing panel for many US Attorney interviewees, and becomes the White House representative for US Attorney appointments. He is responsible for reviewing the resumes and questionnaires of all US Attorney candidates and their background files. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, D. Kyle Sampson, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Attorney Alejandro N. Mayorkas, who serves the Southern District of California, announces he is stepping down as of April 20. Mayorkas is one of the small number of US Attorneys allowed to keep his position for any length of time after President Bush took office in January (see January 2001). Mayorkas, a Democrat, was appointed during the Clinton administration. He says he is responsible for President Clinton issuing the controversial pardon of convicted cocaine dealer Carlos Vignali Jr.; Mayorkas says he asked the White House to consider the pardon because of his compassion for Vignali’s family. Mayorkas has been US Attorney for something over two years, and supervises the largest US Attorney’s office in the nation. He emphasized the prosecution of hate crimes, environmental crimes, and consumer fraud during his tenure, and won plaudits for his successful prosecution of spree killer Buford Furrow, a white supremacist who killed a Filipino-American and shot four people at a Jewish community center (see August 10, 1999). The Justice Department says there is an extra issue with naming Mayorkas’s replacement. Traditionally, the home-state senators make a list of potential nominees for the president to choose from, but both senators from California are Democrats, as is the governor. Congressional Republicans may be asked to come up with a list. Attorney General John Ashcroft will name an interim prosecutor, or prosecutors, to serve in Mayorkas’s stead for up to 120 days. If no one is confirmed in that time, the US District Court has the authority to name a replacement. [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2001] Former judge Carol Lam will be named as Mayorkas’s replacement (see November 8, 2002). Mayorkas will eventually become the head of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, 8/24/2012]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Buford Furrow, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Clinton administration, Carlos Vignali, Jr., Alejandro N. Mayorkas, John Ashcroft, Carol C. Lam

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources announces that it has found genetically modified (GM) corn growing in 15 different localities. It began investigating potential GM contamination after two Berkeley scientists found maize growing in Oaxaca (see October 2000) that was contaminated with genetically engineered DNA sequences from the cauliflower mosaic virus. [New York Times, 10/2/2001] Mexico does not release its study until January 2002 (see January 2002).

Entity Tags: Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

When Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist who recently discovered the presence of genetically modified (GM) genes in Mexican maize (see October 2000), meets with a Mexican agricultural official to discuss the GM contamination, he is warned not to publish his research. Chapela later recalls in an interview with BBC Newsnight, “He [told] me how terrible it was that I was doing the research and how dangerous it would be for me to publish.” When he refuses to back off the issue, the official suggests that Chapela join a research team tasked with proving that the suspected GM genes are actually naturally occuring gene sequences similar to the ones in GM corn. “We were supposed to find this in an elite scientific research team of which I was being invited to be part of and the other people were two people from Monsanto and two people from Dupont supposedly… .” Monsanto denies its scientists were involved in any such study. Chapela also meets with Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, whose officials are concerned about the discovery. They launch their own investigation and also find evidence of contamination (see September 18, 2001). [BBC, 6/2/2002]

Entity Tags: Ignacio Chapela, Mexico, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Berkeley grad student David Quist and Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist, publish the results of a study (see October 2000) finding that native Mexican maize has been contaminated with genetically modified genes. The study—published by the British journal Nature after an eight-month long peer-review process—presents two arguments. In addition to reporting the discovery that some of Oaxaca’s maize contains transgenic material, the paper says they found transgene fragments scattered throughout the plants’ modified DNA. [Quist and Chapela, 11/29/2001 pdf file] The study’s second conclusion causes a controversy because it contradicts the assertions of the biotech industry that genetic engineering is a safe and exact science, and that the technology is capable of controlling precisely where the modified sequences are positioned, how they will be expressed, and whether or not they will be passed on to successive generations. One of the main arguments of the technology’s detractors is that the methods used to insert trangenic genes into an organism’s DNA cannot be done with accuracy and therefore are liable to produce unpredictable and undesirable effects. Following the publication of Quist and Chapela’s article, other Berkeley biologists—who work in a Berkeley University program partially funded by Syngenta, a major biotech firm—criticize the study, leading Quist and Chapela to acknowledge that the analyses of two of the eight gene sequences in their paper were flawed. However they stand by their conclusions that the remaining six sequences contained scattered modified gene sequences. Critics of the article also note that both Quist and Chapela strongly oppose the genetic engineering of crops and participated in an unsuccessful effort to block the Berkeley-Syngenta partnership. The issue soon grows into a very large controversy that some suggest is fueled by the efforts of the biotech industry, and in particular, the Bivings Group, a PR firm on Monsanto’s payroll. Forum postings at AgBioWorld.org are reportedly traced to a Bivings’ employee. It is also noted that another person posting on the forum makes “frequent reference to the Center for Food and Agricultural Research, an entity that appears to exist only online and whose domain is [allegedly] registered to a Bivings employee.” Bivings denies that it is in any way connected to the forum postings. In spite of the controversy surrounding the article’s second finding, the other conclusion, that Mexico’s maize has been contaminated, is largely uncontested, and is buttressed by at least three other studies (see January 2002; February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/4/2002; East Bay Express, 5/29/2002; BBC, 6/2/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Bivings Group, David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources publishes the results of its study (see September 18, 2001) on transgenic contamination in Oaxaca and nearby Puebla. The study found contamination levels between 3 and 13 percent in eleven communities and between 20 and 60 percent in four others. Tests conducted on maize sold in government food stores revealed that 37 percent contained the GM genes. [East Bay Express, 5/29/2002]

Entity Tags: Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

In an unprecedented move, Nature runs an editorial pulling its support for a controversial study by Berkeley scientists David Quist and Dr. Ignacio Chapela on genetic contamination of native Mexican maize. The study, published the previous fall (see Late November 2001), reported that native maize in Oaxaca had been contaminated with genetically modified (GM) genes and that transgene fragments were found scattered throughout the plants’ modified DNA. Immediately after being published, the article came under attack by pro-GM scientists who disputed Quist’s and Chapela’s second finding. “In light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper,” the journal’s editor, Philip Campbell, writes. “As the authors nevertheless wish to stand by the available evidence for their conclusions, we feel it best simply to make these circumstances clear, to publish the criticisms, the authors’ response and new data, and to allow our readers to judge the science for themselves.” Though the journal withdraws its support, it does not retract the article. [Associated Press, 4/4/2002; East Bay Express, 5/29/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002] The decision to withdraw support is based on the opinions of three unnamed independent experts whom Nature consulted. Only one of those experts, however, disputed Quist’s and Chapela’s finding that there was evidence of contamination. All three agreed that the second finding—that transgene fragments were scattered throughout the plants’ modified DNA—was flawed. [BBC, 6/2/2002]

Entity Tags: David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Philip Campbell

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Jorge Soberon, the executive secretary of Mexico’s biodiversity commission, announces that government scientists have confirmed that genetically modified (GM) corn is growing in Mexico. The finding supports what two US scientists reported several months earlier (see Late November 2001) in a highly controversial paper published in the journal Science. Calling it the “world’s worst case of contamination by GM material,” he says 95 percent of the sites sampled in Oaxaca and Puebla were found to have GM maize. Samples taken from these sites indicated a contamination level as high as 35 percent. [Daily Telegraph, 4/19/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Jorge Soberon, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Carol Lam.Carol Lam. [Source: Common Dreams (,org)]Carol Lam is sworn in as the US Attorney for the Southern District of California. [Talking Points Memo, 2011] Lam is a former Assistant US Attorney, a former California Superior Court judge, and an acknowledged expert on white-collar crime and health care fraud. During her interview process for the US Attorney position, she described herself as “non-partisan,” and said she does not belong to any political party. When asked if she could support the Justice Department’s policies considering that she is not a Republican, she answered that “it is a responsibility of a US Attorney to effect the attorney general’s guidelines in a way that makes sense in the district.” White House Counsel Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) offered Lam the job, at which time she told him that he had not “made things easy by virtue of the fact that I was a non-partisan.” Lam’s ascension to her post was delayed by political infighting between powerful Republicans and Democrats. It is the first time in five years her district has had a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed US Attorney. There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 124; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, US Department of Justice, D. Kyle Sampson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An ad hoc expert panel created by the sixth conference of the Biodiversity Convention convenes in Montreal to consider the impact that genetic use restriction technology (GURT), also known as terminator technology, would have on small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The expert panel hears from 11 groups including the US, Canada, two individual farmers, an indigenous rights group, four civil society organizations, the International Seed Federation, and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). [Collins and Krueger, n.d. pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file] The paper presented by UPOV, completed in January (see January 10, 2003), is not well-received by the US or industry representatives. Though the UPOV is generally an ardent supporter of intellectual rights protections, its analysis argues that GURT technology could threaten the interests of small farmers. The paper is so unwelcome, in fact, that the US and the International Seed Federation will succeed in pressuring the UPOV to revise it (see March 13, 2003-April 11, 2003), eliminating all references to GURT from the body of the paper. Prepared by Monsanto’s Roger Krueger and Harry Collins of Delta & Pine Land (D&PL), the International Seed Federation’s analysis takes the position that GURT technology would be advantageous for small farmers. Their paper argues that GURT would benefit small farmers and indigenous peoples by providing them with more options. “The International Seed Federation (ISF) believes that GURTs have the potential to benefit farmers and others in all size, economic and geographical areas… In reality, the potential effects of the GURTs may be beneficial to small farmers… ,” the paper asserts. “It is the strong belief and position of the ISF that GURTs would potentially provide more choice, to the farmers, rather than less choice.” Kruefer and Collins also say the technology could be used to prevent the contamination of non-transgenic plants with genetically modified genes and thus could be “quite positive for the environment and biodiversity.” [Collins and Krueger, n.d. pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file] The expert panel’s final report will list 35 “potential negative impacts” of GURT on small farmers and local communities and only nine “potential positive impacts.” It will recommend, among other things, “that parties and other governments consider the development of regulatory frameworks not to approve GURTs for field-testing and commercial use.” [Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: International Seed Federation, International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, Roger Krueger, Harry B. Collins

Timeline Tags: Seeds

US Attorney Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002) receives a letter regarding her performance on a recent EARS (Evaluation and Review Staff) assessment performed by the Justice Department. Lam’s office scores significantly higher than the national average of US Attorneys’ offices in a cumularite review. All seven areas scored are rated high—receiving either a 4 or a 5 on a five-point scale. Lam’s office received “best practices” recognition in several areas, including office management. Lam is praised for her “proactive” work in implementing the department’s anti-terrorism policies, her vigorous pursuit of corporate fraud cases, and her office’s work to dismantle and disrupt gang organizations in her district. According to the report, her office’s “Coyote Prosecution Program, which targets alien smuggling foot guides, has been exceedingly successful.” And her office’s focus on technology-related crimes is appropriate for her district. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 5/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) requests information from the Justice Department about the arrest of an alleged illegal alien smuggler from US Attorney Carol Lam (see November 8, 2002), the federal prosecutor who works the Southern California district. Issa asks for information about Lam’s decision not to prosecute Antonio Amparo-Lopez, who was arrested on suspicion of “alien smuggling” over the US-Mexican border. [US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 pdf file] Issa was quoted in a December 2003 article in the Riverside, California, Press-Enterprise entitled “Border Agents Face Uphill Fight,” in which the Justice Department was criticized for not prosecuting immigrant smugglers frequently enough. Shortly thereafter, the same newspaper published an article detailing how one such smuggler, Amparo-Lopez, was arrested at a border checkpoint but was subsequently released. Lam will respond to Issa in mid-March, requesting that he direct his inquiries to the Justice Department in Washington. On May 24, Issa will receive a letter from Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, stating, “Based upon all of the facts and circumstances of his arrest, the United States Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Mr. Amparo-Lopez.” [National Review, 3/28/2007]

Entity Tags: William E. Moschella, US Department of Justice, Darrell E. Issa, Carol C. Lam, Antonio Amparo-Lopez, Riverside Press-Enterprise

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Michael Battle, the director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, sends a memo to Kyle Sampson, counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft, informing him that 16 US Attorneys’ offices are below standards—“underperforming”—in implementing Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a Justice Department initiative to reduce gun violence and prosecute offenders who use guns in the commission of crimes. One of the US Attorneys cited is Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002). The memo notes that Lam’s office returned “only 17 firearms indictments” in 2003, and that her office’s PSN indictments and defendants “per criminal work years for FY 2003 is the lowest in the nation.” Subsequent Justice Department analyses of PSN performance continue to identify Lam’s district as needing improvement in firearms prosecutions. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Carol C. Lam, D. Kyle Sampson, Michael A. Battle, Project Safe Neighborhoods

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and 13 other representatives sign a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft protesting the Justice Department’s policy towards prosecuting “alien smugglers,” or “coyotes,” who bring illegal immigrants across the US-Mexican border. Issa, who wrote the letter, says that the DOJ should adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy towards “alien smuggling” and should prosecute everyone accused of such a crime. Issa refers to decisions by US Attorney Carol Lam of the District of Southern California (see November 8, 2002) not to prosecute persons charged with the crime of “alien smuggling,” and references the case of Antonio Amparo-Lopez as an example of a “missed opportunity” to prosecute such an alleged criminal (see February 2, 2004). Issa writes: “It is unfortunate and unacceptable that anyone in the Department of Justice would deem alien smuggling, on any level or by any person, too low of a priority to warrant prosecution in a timely fashion. In our view, a lack of available resources for prosecution is not a valid reason for a decision not to prosecute and, in fact, would signify a mismanagement of your department’s priorities.” [US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 pdf file] Issa represents California’s 49th District, which centers on San Diego and is part of Lam’s federal district. [Healthy City, 8/2011 pdf file] Assistant Attorney General William Moschella will send Issa a brief reply defending the Justice Department’s prosecution practices (see (December 30, 2004)). Issa’s spokesperson Frederick Hill will later tell columnist Byron York: “We were stumped in terms of getting information to explain the scope of the problem. We put the word out on the street that we were interested in getting more information about this.” York later writes, “Issa was hoping for a tip—perhaps from someone inside a law-enforcement organization—to give him the information he had been seeking.” [National Review, 3/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Frederick Hill, Antonio Amparo-Lopez, Byron York, Darrell E. Issa, William E. Moschella, Carol C. Lam, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US, Mexico, and Canada enter into a trilateral agreement that allows food and grain shipments to have GM contamination levels as high as 5 percent. Shipments containing less than the five percent level will only have to bear a label indicating that the grain may contain genetically modified organisms. Additionally, accidental contamination of corn shipments into Mexico will not trigger any labeling requirements. Only the distributor will have to be informed of the contamination. The Mexican government enters into the agreement without the Mexican Senate’s approval. [Associated Press, 2/26/2004] Critics of the deal say the US is attempting to protect agricultural biotech companies and US agriculture. A large percentage of the country’s crop is genetically modified and as a result US farmers and biotechs are having a tough time finding markets abroad. Raising the acceptable contamination limits in other countries will help increase US grain exports. Critics also say that the deal could have a dramatically adverse effect on the genetic diversity of Mexico’s maize. It could result in the planting of more genetically modified corn since small farmers have been known to occasionally plant feed as seed. A few years before, maize growing in Oaxaca and Puebla was discovered to contain genetically modified genes (see October 2000; April 18, 2002). It is believed that the contamination was caused in part by farmers who had planted feed from local stores selling grain imported from the US. The ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization that is opposed to genetically modified crops, warns that if Mexico permits the import of grain with such high levels of contamination, the country’s “maize crop would be riddled with foreign DNA from the Rio Grande to Guatemala in less than a decade.” [ETC Group, 2/26/2004] Greenpeace believes that US efforts to convince countries to lower the accepted levels of contamination are aimed at undermining the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (see January 24-29, 2000), which has been set up to regulate transboundary shipments of genetically modified organisms. [Greenpeace, 2/11/2004]

Entity Tags: United States, Mexico

Timeline Tags: Seeds

The Justice Department’s White House liaison, Susan Richmond, sends an email to all of the department’s presidentially appointed officials, including US Attorneys, reassuring them that the newly re-elected President Bush “will not ask for letters of resignation.” Many had requested clarification as to whether they would be asked to remain or resign during Bush’s second term. Richmond reminds the recipients that “each of us serves at the pleasure of the president.” It is around this same time that Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) becomes involved in discussions with White House counsel Harriet Miers about firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004). Sampson tells Miers that firing all 93 US Attorneys may not be a good idea, and the US Attorneys have an expectation of serving their statutory four-year terms, which do not begin to expire until the fall of 2005. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Notwithstanding the reassurance, Mary Beth Buchanan, the head of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, begins circulating forms for resignation to the US Attorneys. She will later explain, “At the end of the first administration, I was asked to provide United States attorneys with guidance for those who wished to resign at the end of the first administration.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Susan Richmond, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, D. Kyle Sampson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Assistant Attorney General William Moschella sends a letter, written by staffers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA), to Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA). Issa and other House Republicans have written letters to the DOJ railing against certain US Attorneys’ “failures” to adequately prosecute undocumented immigrants and so-called “alien smugglers,” people who help undocumented immigrants cross the border from Mexico into the US (see February 2, 2004 and July 30, 2004). Issa’s primary target of criticism is Carol Lam of the Southern District of California. Moschella’s letter emphasizes the “enormous challenge” that Lam and other US Attorneys in border districts (Southern Texas, Western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California) face “in trying to enforce our criminal immigration and narcotics laws along that border.” The number of immigration-related prosecutions in most of those districts has soared, the letter reads, straining those districts’ already-thin financial and personnel resources. The director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA) has already contacted Lam and other border-district US Attorneys, Moschella says, concerning ways to improve their “response[s] to immigration violations.” The EOUSA staff will draft a letter for Lam’s signature to respond to Issa in mid-2005. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file] Issa receives the letter on January 25, 2005. [National Review, 3/28/2007; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of Legislative Affairs, Darrell E. Issa, US Department of Justice, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Carol C. Lam, William E. Moschella

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

White House chief counsel Alberto Gonzales discusses firing some or all of the 93 US Attorneys with Kyle Sampson, a Justice Department counsel for Attorney General John Ashcroft (see 2001-2003). White House emails do not definitively show that White House political chief Karl Rove is behind the push to fire the Attorneys, though they do indicate Rove has some involvement. According to a January 2005 email from Sampson (see January 9, 2005), Sampson discusses the matter with Gonzales in late December, and, the email states, “As an operational matter we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—underperforming ones.” It is clear that Sampson is referring to himself and Gonzales as “we.” (Gonzales will later deny any recollection of any such discussion with Sampson.) The White House will later say that the idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys originated with White House counsel Harriet Miers and not Rove (see November 2004). White House spokesperson Dana Perino will say: “Karl Rove has a recollection of hearing it from Harriet and thinking it was a bad idea. There is nothing in this email that changes that.… [It] does not contradict nor is it inconsistent with what we have said.” Miers will not begin her stint as White House counsel until February 2005, calling Perino’s version of events into question, even though Perino will later say that Miers was involved in issues surrounding the job for several months before officially assuming the post. [US News and World Report, 3/16/2007; Talking Points Memo, 3/16/2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011] In March 2007, the Justice Department’s Director of Public Affairs Tasia Scolinos will issue a statement claiming that Gonzales “has no recollection of any plan or discussion” to replace the US Attorneys when he was still White House counsel. Scolinos will note that the December 2004 discussion took place while Gonzales was preparing to transition to the Justice Department as attorney general, and will add that such discussions would have been “appropriate and normal” because the White House was “considering different personnel changes administration-wide.” [US News and World Report, 3/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Dana Perino, D. Kyle Sampson, Tasia Scolinos, Karl C. Rove, Harriet E. Miers, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

White House deputy counsel David Leitch emails Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) regarding the proposed firings of some or all of the 93 US Attorneys (see Late December 2004). Leitch is forwarding an email from Colin Newman, a paralegal in the White House counsel’s office. Newman, via Leitch, is relaying questions from White House political chief Karl Rove. According to Newman, “Karl Rove stopped by to ask [Leitch]… how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we are going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.” In his forward, Leitch asks Sampson if they can discuss the matter. [US Department of Justice, 1/9/2005 pdf file; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; ABC News, 3/15/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 pdf file; Talking Points Memo, 2011] In 2009, Rove will testify about his memory of this email exchange. He will say that he went to Leitch’s office because “I assume I heard rumors that we might be going down the path of trying to get—replace all 93” US Attorneys. He will recall “being told at some point that the idea was dead, and they weren’t going to be pursuing it. I don’t know whether that happened immediately after this or somewhat later.… I don’t know whether it was Mr. Leitch or Ms. Miers [White House counsel Harriet Miers] that conveyed that they were not going to replace all 93.” Rove will say that he did not support Sampson’s plan to remove and replace “15 to 20 percent” of the sitting US Attorneys (see January 9, 2005). “What I was in favor of was Justice Department making an evaluation of the US Attorneys and recommending who they felt to the president ought to be replaced,” Rove will say. “I had no knowledge of the workings of the individual offices sufficient enough to give me a basis on which to make any judgment about whether anybody should be replaced or how many should be replaced.… [I]t was not my role. It was the role of the Justice Department. The White House didn’t have the tools, I certainly didn’t have the tools to make a proper evaluation.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: D. Kyle Sampson, Colin Newman, David Leitch, Karl C. Rove, Harriet E. Miers, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) responds to an email from White House deputy counsel David Leitch regarding the proposed firing of some or all of the nation’s 93 US Attorneys (see January 6, 2005). Sampson confirms that he has spoken with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales about the proposal “a couple of weeks ago” (see Late December 2004). Sampson delineates his “thoughts” to Leitch in four points. He notes that while US Attorneys serve at the “pleasure of the president,” they generally serve four-year terms. (Sampson is aware that all 93 US Attorneys have been informed that they will not be asked to resign as President Bush’s second term commences—see November 4, 2004—and is also aware that Gonzales and White House deputy counsel Harriet Miers are discussing replacing some or all of the US Attorneys—see November 2004 and Late December 2004.) It would be “weird” to ask them to leave before their terms are complete. Sampson goes on to note the “historical” practice of allowing US Attorneys to complete their terms, even if there is a party change in the administration; he does not mention that the incoming 1992 Clinton administration, and the incoming 2000 Bush administration, both asked all or almost all 93 US Attorneys to leave without regard to completing their terms (see March 24, 1993 and January 2001). Sampson then writes that “as an operational matter, we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—the underperforming ones. (This is a rough guess; we might want to consider doing performance evaluations after Judge [Gonzales] comes on board.) The vast majority of US Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc. Due to the history, it would certainly send ripples through the US Attorney community if we told folks that they got one term only (as a general matter, the Reagan US Attorneys appointed in 1981 stayed on through the entire Reagan administration; Bush 41 even had to establish that Reagan-appointed US Attorneys would not be permitted to continue on through the Bush 41 administration—indeed, even performance evaluations likely would create ripples, though this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing).” Sampson predicts that “as a political matter… I suspect that when push comes to shove, home-state senators likely would resist wholesale (or even piecemeal) replacement of US Attorneys they recommended.” However, he writes, “if Karl [Rove, the White House political chief] thinks there would be policitical [sic] will to do it, then so do I.” [US Department of Justice, 1/9/2005 pdf file; ABC News, 3/15/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file; Talking Points Memo, 2011] The original email seems to come from another aide in the White House Counsel’s Office, Colin Newman, who told Leitch that Rove “stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting) ‘how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.’ I told him that you would be on the hill all day for the judge’s hearing, and he said the matter was not urgent.” Leitch responded by forwarding the email to Sampson with the comment, “Let’s discuss.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file] Newman’s email is dated January 6, and the reference to “the judge’s hearing” seems to refer to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales’s contentious hearing on the Geneva Conventions before the Senate Judiciary Committee on that date (see January 6, 2005).
Downplaying White House Involvement - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Leitch will say that he has no recollection of discussing the matter with Sampson, Rove, or anyone else. He will leave the White House Counsel’s Office shortly after this email exchange. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] In 2009, Miers will testify that she does not recall specifics of these discussions. She will say: “I don’t have a recollection of that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that happened, that would be some general discussion of, well, we have the Justice Department saying we have a certain number that we feel should be looked at and that that is better because it doesn’t create the upheaval that removing all of the US Attorneys would have. I think the original discussion did not involve the kind of plan, as that term has been used, that eventually evolved.” At this point, Miers will say, the idea of firing a large number of US Attorneys on the same day had not been discussed. The Justice Department, she will say, would make the decisions as to whom, if anyone, should be terminated, not the White House. Asked specifically about Rove’s Office of Political Affairs (OPA), she will say that it would merely play a consulting role in the process: “I did ask that they assist, in the areas where there might be removals, the location of sources for recommendations. And so the political office was as it is called; they had the political piece.” The Counsel’s Office would not ask OPA for recommendations of replacements for the ousted US Attorneys, she says: “We would turn to them for identification of the sources that you could go to and ask for people to be considered. You wouldn’t turn to them and say tell us who we ought to recommend.” However, “if they had a preference for, someone, they would state it so that they certainly had input.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file] In 2009, Rove will deny ever seeing the email or discussing the matter with Sampson, and will say, “The implication that somehow this was addressed to me and I somehow received it is inaccurate.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file] Miers claims no memory of Rove ever attending a Judicial Selection Committee meeting to discuss the removal of a specific US Attorney. She will recall discussions of the removal of US Attorney David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001) by OPA members, including Rove. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Colin Newman, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), White House Counsel’s Office, White House Office of Political Affairs, Harriet E. Miers, D. Kyle Sampson, Karl C. Rove, Clinton administration, David Leitch, David C. Iglesias

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Carol Lam, the US Attorney (USA) for Southern California (see November 8, 2002), undergoes an Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) performance review undertaken by the Justice Department. Lam does well in the review. The review finds that she is “an effective manager… respected by the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and the USAO [office] staff.” The review does note concerns about her office’s prosecution of firearms and immigration cases. The report states: “The USAO intake and initial processing of criminal cases worked smoothly except for firearms cases.… The number of firearms cases prosecuted by the USAO was well below the national average and well below the average of other USAOs in California.… [T]he number of immigration cases handled per AUSA [Assistant US Attorney] work year was statistically lower than the immigration cases handled per AUSA work year in the other Southwest Border USAOs.” The head of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, Mary Beth Buchanan, will write in a follow-up letter to the EARS review, “Your report makes clear the emphasis you have put on carrying out department priorities and maintaining a solid management practice.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2007 pdf file; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Mary Beth Buchanan, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Carol C. Lam

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appoints three Justice Department officials to senior positions, including lawyer D. Kyle Sampson as his deputy chief of staff. Sampson serves under Theodore Ullyot, who is now Gonzales’s chief of staff. Ullyot comes to the department from the White House, where he was a deputy assistant to the president and deputy staff secretary. Sampson has been a counselor to the attorney general since 2003 (see 2001-2003), and also serves as a Special Assistant US Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia. Like Ullyot, Sampson also served a stint in the White House, as associate counsel to the president and as special assistant to the president and associate director for presidential personnel. [US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005] In October 2005, Ullyot will leave the Justice Department to work in the corporate realm, resulting in the promotion of Sampson to chief of staff. [Forbes, 2013]

Entity Tags: Theodore W. (“Ted”) Ullyot, D. Kyle Sampson, US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), sends a list of the 93 current US Attorneys to White House counsel Harriet Miers. Each US Attorney is listed in either plain type, boldface, or “strikeout,” meaning a line is drawn through their name. In a follow-up email on March 2, Sampson explains that, “putting aside expiring terms, the analysis on the chart I gave you is as follows:
Bold - “Recommend retaining; strong US Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general.
Strikeout - “Recommend removing; weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors; chafed against administration initiatives, etc.
Nothing - “No recommendation; not distinguished themselves either positively or negatively.”
On the copy of the chart released to the House Judiciary Committee in 2009, most of the US Attorneys’ names are redacted. The ones who are not redacted are listed as follows:
bullet Paul K. Charlton, Arizona (see November 14, 2001 and December 2003): nothing;
bullet Bud Cummins, Eastern Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002): strikeout.
bullet Debra W. Yang, Central California: boldface.
bullet Kevin Ryan, Northern California (see August 2, 2002 and February 2003): nothing. (Ryan’s name is in a different font than the others, suggesting that it has been re-entered; it is difficult to tell from the copy of Sampson’s chart if his name is in boldface or not.)
bullet Carol C. Lam, Southern California (see November 8, 2002 and February 7-11, 2005): strikeout.
bullet Patrick Fitzgerald, Northern Illinois (see October 24, 2001): nothing.
bullet Margaret M. Chiara, Western Michigan (see November 2, 2001 and July 12-16, 2004): strikeout.
bullet Thomas B. Heffelfinger, Minnesota: strikeout.
bullet Dunn O. Lampton, Southern Mississippi: strikeout.
bullet Todd P. Graves, Missouri (see October 11, 2001 and March 2002): nothing.
bullet Daniel G. Bogden, Nevada (see November 2, 2001 and February 2003): nothing.
bullet Christopher J. Christie, New Jersey (see December 20, 2001): boldface.
bullet David C. Iglesias, New Mexico (see October 18, 2001 and 2002): boldface.
bullet Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Central North Carolina: strikeout.
bullet Mary Beth Buchanan, Western Pennsylvania: boldface.
bullet John McKay Jr., Western Washington (see October 24, 2001 and May 2002): strikeout.
bullet Steven M. Biskupic, Wisconsin: strikeout.
bullet Thomas A. Zonay, Vermont: boldface.
On March 2, Sampson sends an email to Miers indicating some revisions to the chart. Heffelfinger and Biskupic have their statuses changed to “strikeout” (referenced above), and Matt Orwig, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, is listed in boldface. Miers, a Texas native, responds, “Good to hear about Matt actually.” Sampson replies, somewhat cryptically and with careless punctuation and capitalization: “yes he’s good. oversight by me.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Carol C. Lam, Matt Orwig, Steven M. Biskupic, Thomas A. Zonay, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, Todd P. Graves, Mary Beth Buchanan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Alberto R. Gonzales, Margaret M. Chiara, Paul K. Charlton, John L. McKay, D. Kyle Sampson, Kevin J. Ryan, Christopher J. (“Chris”) Christie, Daniel G. Bogden, Debra Wong Yang, David C. Iglesias, Harriet E. Miers, Dunn O. Lampton, House Judiciary Committee, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department official Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003), now the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) as well as the Special Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, sends an email to Gonzales’s successor, senior White House counsel Harriet Miers. Sampson is responding to a late February request for recommendations for firing US Attorneys in case the White House decides to ask for resignations from a “subset” of those officials (see February 24, 2005 and After). In the email, Sampson ranks all 93 US Attorneys, using a set of three broad criteria. Strong performers exhibit “loyalty to the president and attorney general” (see January 9, 2005). Poor performers are, he writes, “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.” A third group is not rated at all. US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001, 2002 and November 14-18, 2005 ) and Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002) appear on the list as “recommended retaining.” Gonzales has approved the idea of firing some of the US Attorneys.
Denoted for Firing - US Attorneys listed for possible firing are: David York of the Southern District of Alabama; H.E. “Bud” Cummins of the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002); Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002); Greg Miller of the Northern District of Florida; David Huber of the Western District of Kentucky; Margaret Chiara of the Western District of Michigan (see November 2, 2001); Jim Greenlee of the Northern District of Mississippi; Dunn O. Lampton of the Southern District of Mississippi; Anna Mills S. Wagoner of the Middle District of North Carolina; John McKay of the Western District of Washington state (see October 24, 2001, Late October 2001 - March 2002, and January 4, 2005); Kasey Warner of the Southern District of West Virginia; and Paula Silsby of Maine. Sampson sends a revised listing later this evening with two more names indicated for possible firing: Thomas B. Heffelfinger of Minnesota and Steven Biskupic of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Sampson says he based his choices on his own personal judgments formed during his work at the White House and the Justice Department, and on input he received from other Justice Department officials. He will later testify that he cannot recall what any specific official told him about any specific US Attorney. He will call this list a “quick and dirty” compilation and a “preliminary list” that would be subject to “further vetting… down the road” from department leaders. [US Department of Justice, 2005 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; US Department of Justice, 3/13/2007 pdf file; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Days later, a Federalist Society lawyer will email Mary Beth Buchanan, the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, with a recommendation for Lam’s replacement (see March 7, 2005).
Later Recollections - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Gonzales will tell investigators that he supported the concept of evaluating the US Attorneys’ performance to see “where we could do better.” Gonzales will say that he instructed Sampson to consult with the senior leadership of the Justice Department, obtain a consensus recommendation as to which US Attorneys should be removed, and coordinate with the White House on the process. Gonzales will say that he never discussed with Sampson how to evaluate US Attorneys or what factors to consider when discussing with department leaders which US Attorneys should be removed. Sampson will say that he did not share the list with Gonzales or any other department officials, but will say he believes he briefed Gonzales on it. Gonzales will say he recalls no such briefing, nor does he recall ever seeing the list. Then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey and then-Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis will tell OIG investigators about their discussions with Sampson. Comey will recall telling Sampson on February 28, 2005 that he felt Ryan and Lampton belonged in the “weak” category, and will say he may have denoted Heffelfinger and another US Attorney, David O’Meilia, as “weak” performers. Comey will say that he was not aware of Sampson’s work with the White House in compiling a list of US Attorneys to be removed. He will say that he considered his conversation with Sampson “casual” and that Sampson “offhandedly” raised the subject with him. Margolis will recall speaking briefly with Sampson about “weak” performers among the US Attorneys in late 2004 or early 2005, but recall little about the conversation. He will remember that Sampson told him about Miers’s idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004), and agreed with Sampson that such a move would be unwise. Margolis will recall Sampson viewing Miers’s idea as a way to replace some US Attorneys for President Bush’s second term, an idea Margolis will say he endorsed. He was not aware that political considerations may be used to compile a list of potential firings. He will recall looking at a list Sampson had of all 93 Attorneys. He will remember citing Ryan and Lampton as poor performers, as well as Chiara. He will remember saying that eight other US Attorneys might warrant replacement. Sampson will tell OIG investigators that he received no immediate reaction from Miers to the list, and will say he did not remember discussing the basis for his recommendations with her. As for McKay, though Washington state Republicans are sending a steady stream of complaints to the White House concerning McKay’s alleged lack of interest in pursuing voter fraud allegations (see December 2004, Late 2004, Late 2004 or Early 2005, January 4, 2005, and January 4, 2005), Sampson will claim to be unaware of any of them and say he would not have used them as justification to advocate for McKay’s termination. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, Kevin Ryan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Margaret M. Chiara, Bush administration (43), Paula Silsby, Steven M. Biskupic, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, John L. McKay, Jim Greenlee, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, James B. Comey Jr., David C. Iglesias, D. Kyle Sampson, David Huber, David Margolis, Kasey Warner, David York, David O’Meilia, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Greg Miller, Dunn O. Lampton, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Associate White House counsel Dabney Friedrich, acting at the behest of her superior, White House counsel Harriet Miers, sends Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), an email asking him to confirm Miers’s understanding that the “plan” to fire and replace selected US Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, and March 2, 2005) is “to wait until each has served a four-year term. She was operating under the assumption that we would act to remove/replace right away.” Sampson replies that he, Friedrich, Miers, and Gonzales should discuss the matter, but he has recommended that the attorneys should be replaced “selectively” after their four-year terms expire. Sampson writes that to do otherwise might cause consternation among home-state politicians and “internal management trouble” within the Justice Department. Sampson emphasizes that he is expressing his views and not those of Gonzales. Friedrich replies with her agreement, and says she would be surprised to hear differently from either Miers or Gonzales. Little is said among the principals in the attorney-firing process for several months. The first expirations will not begin until November 2005, and according to a later Justice Department investigation (see September 29, 2008), Sampson will decide to “back-burner” the issue until later in the year. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Alberto R. Gonzales, Dabney Friedrich, US Department of Justice, D. Kyle Sampson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), asks Acting Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General William Mercer for his opinion on the performance of a number of US Attorneys. (Mercer is also a US Attorney.) Mercer will later state that Sampson does not say that there is a plan to fire some of the Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, March 2, 2005, and March 23, 2005), but Mercer understands that such is Sampson’s purpose in asking his opinion. Sampson says that changes might be made in certain districts with productivity problems or policy compliance issues. Mercer will later recall discussing issues with US Attorney Carol Lam’s immigration records (see February 2, 2004, July 30, 2004, and September 23, 2005), and will recall discussions about US Attorney Kevin Ryan as well. Mercer will say he and Sampson may discuss other Attorneys as well, but will state he cannot recall who those Attorneys might be. Mercer gets the sense that Sampson is speaking with other people about the issue, but does not know who those people might be. Mercer will say that he and Sampson do not discuss the issue again until December 2006, when the firing plan is activated (see December 7, 2006). [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, D. Kyle Sampson, Kevin J. Ryan, William W. Mercer

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Nineteen US Representatives, headed by Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Darrell Issa (R-CA), send a letter to President Bush warning of a “crisis along the Southwest border” of the nation “that needs immediate attention.” Smith and his fellow signatories complain that “coyotes,” or criminals who smuggle illegal immigrants across the border in attempts to avoid immigration procedures and the US Border Patrol, constitute a grave threat to national security. Smith references the case of Antonio Amparo-Lopez, a “coyote” whom, after being arrested, was let go by Carol Lam, the US Attorney in Southern California (see February 2, 2004 and July 30, 2004). Lam and other Justice Department officials have cited a severe lack of resources in their decisions not to prosecute low-level alleged criminals such as Amparo-Lopez. The signatories ask Bush to “dedicate additional resources and direct US Attorneys in the Southwest region to make the prosecution of human smugglers a priority.” Representative Randall “Duke” Cunningham is one of the signatories; he is under investigation by Lam’s office for corruption. Six weeks later, the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs sends what conservative columnist Byron York will call “a brush-off letter” in response. [US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 pdf file; National Review, 3/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Office of Legislative Affairs, Antonio Amparo-Lopez, Byron York, Carol C. Lam, Darrell E. Issa, Randall (“Duke”) Cunningham, George W. Bush, Lamar Smith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) writes a letter to the US Attorney for Southern California, Carol Lam (see November 8, 2002), complaining about her “apparent instance of discretionary non-prosecution of criminal illegal aliens.” He says that Lam should immediately reverse her decision not to prosecute Alfredo Gonzales Garcia (also recorded as “Alfredo Garcia-Gonzalez”), a repeat offender currently in the custody of the Border Patrol; he writes, “Criminal alien repeat offenders pose a significant danger to our citizens and must be dealt with more severely than a 24-hour detention and release.” He continues: “Your office has established an appalling record of refusal to prosecute even the worst criminal alien offenders.… Every time one of these criminals is released, our communities become more dangerous.” [US House of Representatives, 10/13/2005 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file] Issa and his fellow Republicans have long pressured Lam to prosecute more immigrant cases (see February 2, 2004, July 30, 2004, November 4, 2004 - (February 2005), (December 30, 2004), and September 23, 2005). Issa has also accused Lam, apparently without proof, of having a policy of not prosecuting “immigration ‘mules,’” apparently referring to immigrant “smugglers,” sometimes called “coyotes,” who help immigrants illegally cross the border from Mexico into the US. In June 2005, Lam denied having such a policy, but did note that “it is not physically possible to prosecute every alien (or coyote) who is arrested” and therefore her office “must focus its prosecutorial resources on those aliens who pose the greatest danger to the United States by their presence.” At the same time, Assistant Attorney General William Moschella wrote in response: “The Southern District of California (SDCA) does not have a policy against prosecuting coyotes, publicly stated or otherwise. Nor does any other district. In fact, SDCA has aggressively prosecuted coyotes for years, with an increasing number of cases in each year since 2001.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Alfredo Gonzales Garcia, Darrell E. Issa, William E. Moschella, Carol C. Lam

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Eighteen Republican lawmakers sign a letter written by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) criticizing Southern California’s US Attorney Carol Lam (see November 8, 2002) for what they call her “lax” handling of immigration cases. Representative Randall (“Duke”) Cunningham is one of the signatories; he is under investigation by Lam’s office for corruption. Issa claims that Lam is using a “catch and release” policy towards illegal immigrants caught by law enforcement officials, and refusing to prosecute such immigrants unless they have already been convicted of two felonies. David L. Smith, a legislative counsel in the Executive Office for US Attorneys, writes a draft response that is never delivered, as the Justice Department is working to set up a briefing for Issa. Another lawyer in the same office, John Crews, will later write: “The issue of catch and release is an administrative, which is to say—non criminal context. The USAO’s [US Attorneys’ offices] don’t get involved in this part of immigration enforcement.” Smith’s response indicates that Lam’s office, “along with the USAOs for just four other districts, prosecuted over two-thirds of the criminal immigration cases nationwide last year.” Smith will later indicate that he does not know if the briefing ever took place. [US House of Representatives, 10/20/2005 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 2006 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 pdf file; Talking Points Memo, 2011]

Entity Tags: David L. Smith, Darrell E. Issa, US Department of Justice, Randall (“Duke”) Cunningham, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), John Crews, Carol C. Lam

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

CIA Director Porter Goss abruptly resigns “amid allegations that he and a top aide may have attended Watergate poker parties where bribes and prostitutes were provided to a corrupt congressman.” A senior law enforcement official says, “It’s all about the Duke Cunningham scandal.” Congressman Randall “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty in late 2005 to taking millions of dollars in bribes. Goss is replaced by General Michael Hayden, the former director of the NSA. [New York Daily News, 5/6/2006] The Bush administration gives no explanation for the resignation and even Goss publicly describes his own resignation as “just one of those mysteries.” [CNN, 5/6/2006] It is later learned that Goss’s resignation is spurred in part because of the controversy surrounding his chosen CIA Executive Director, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo. Foggo is being investigated for his connections to Cunningham. Both Foggo and Cunningham are being investigated by the office of US Attorney Carol Lam (see November 8, 2002). [Talking Points Memo, 2011] In 2007, former senior CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson will write: “Once John Negroponte became the de facto intelligence czar as director of national intelligence (DNI—see February 17, 2005)… Goss’s effectiveness, prestige, and daily access to the president had been considerably diminished. This, in turn, further degraded and undermined the organization he led. During a time of driving massive change, which Goss and other senior intelligence managers were attempting to do at the agency, effective and clear communication with all levels of the organization is critical. Goss failed completely at this task and the cost was high.… [H]e had been a poor fit from the beginning. In an underperforming bureaucracy such as the CIA, a strong leader, respected by the rank and file, is essential to managing needed change and modernization. On a personal note, I was not sorry to see him go.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 247-248]

Entity Tags: Randall (“Duke”) Cunningham, Porter J. Goss, Valerie Plame Wilson, Michael Hayden, John Negroponte, Bush administration (43), Kyle Dustin “Dusty” Foggo, Carol C. Lam

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invests $90 billion in clean energy projects for the next 10 years via loan guarantees, tax incentives, and grants. $38 billion of this is government spending and $20 billion is tax incentives. Symbolically, President Obama signs the bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where he takes a tour of the museum’s solar panel installation. He says he hopes the bill will inspire Americans to get involved in “green” energy the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon inspired Americans in the 1960s. “I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama says before signing the bill. The bill includes:
bullet A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
bullet $4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
bullet $6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants, and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
bullet $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
bullet $2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
bullet $5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
bullet $3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
bullet A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.
Most companies in the green-tech field hail the new focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the bill, contrasting it with the Bush administration’s support for fossil fuel energy production and its disdain for clean energy programs. Investors and analysts say the new law is a step towards a comprehensive energy policy based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency. Michael Liebriech of New Energy Finance says: “For years, US policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven. No longer… the US will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.” The spending should have an almost-immediate impact, especially in areas such as smart grid technology and energy efficiency, says venture capitalist Dennis Costello. However, even this influx of government funding does not solve all the financial problems facing energy technology firms. The recession continues to grip the economy, he notes, damping demand and making financing of new projects difficult. “It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” he says. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being over-exuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.” [CNET News, 2/17/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Michael Liebriech, Dennis Costello, Obama administration, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises, US Solar Industry

Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and the author of Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, writes an op-ed for the New York Times claiming that solar power production is too costly in part because of the “huge” amount of land it requires. “[W]hile energy sources like sunlight and wind are free and naturally replenished, converting them into large quantities of electricity requires vast amounts of natural resources—most notably, land,” he writes. “Even a cursory look at these costs exposes the deep contradictions in the renewable energy movement.” Bryce cites as one example the Ivanpah solar plant, which takes up about five and a half acres in the Mojave Desert and will generate about 370 megawatts of power when completed (see September 22, 2013). “The math is simple: to have 8,500 megawatts of solar capacity, California would need at least 23 projects the size of Ivanpah, covering about 129 square miles, an area more than five times as large as Manhattan,” he writes. “While there’s plenty of land in the Mojave, projects as big as Ivanpah raise environmental concerns. In April, the federal Bureau of Land Management ordered a halt to construction on part of the facility out of concern for the desert tortoise, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act” (see August 13, 2013). Wind power generation consumes even more land, he writes, citing the example of a wind farm in Texas that covers 154 square miles and generates over 781 megawatts of energy. Add to that the need for “long swaths of land for power lines,” and you have what one conservation group calls “energy sprawl,” the need for large amounts of land to generate power. He concludes: “All energy and power systems exact a toll. If we are to [keep power generation systems small] while also reducing the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions, we must exploit the low-carbon energy sources—natural gas and, yes, nuclear—that have smaller footprints.” [New York Times, 8/6/2011]
'Gusher of Lies' - In 2010, the progressive news Web site Think Progress called Bryce’s book “a gusher of lies,” and recruited renewable energy expert Adam Siegel to debunk it. Siegel wrote: “Masquerading as an unbiased, fact-based look at America’s energy situation and viable paths forward into the future, Robert Bryce’s Power Hungry is a mixed collection of factual material, thought-provoking constructs, selective ‘truthiness,’ questionable (if not simply wrong) data crunching, and outright deceptions. This mix of material makes Bryce’s work dangerous reading for those without a serious grounding in energy (related) issues while that same mix calls into question this work’s value for anyone with that more serious background.” [Think Progress, 9/14/2010]
Counter-Claims - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” [National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/2003 pdf file; US Energy Information Administration, 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife, 1/14/2013 pdf file; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]

Entity Tags: Energy Information Administration, Think Progress (.org), Ivanpah Solar Complex, Bureau of Land Management, Adam Siegel, New York Times, US Department of Energy, Robert Bryce

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The Los Angeles Times publishes a long analysis of the environmental impact solar power projects are expected to have on the southwestern US desert (see August 13, 2013). Written by Julie Cart, the analysis focuses on the Ivanpah solar power project in the Mojave (see September 22, 2013), which is projected to expand to some 3,500 acres of public land when finished. The plant “will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater processing facility, and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource [the firm building the plant] has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species, and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move that some experts say could kill up to a third of them.” Environmental attorney Johanna Wald, who was involved in the negotiations to build the plant, says: “I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection. I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It’s not an accommodation; it’s a change I had to make to respond to climate.” Cart says that plants like the Ivanpah facility will result in “a wholesale remodeling of the American desert” in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. “[H]undreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear,” Cart writes. “Several thousand miles of power transmission corridors will be created. The desert will be scarred well beyond a human life span, and no amount of mitigation will repair it, according to scores of federal and state environmental reviews.” Dennis Schramm, the former superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, warns: “The scale of impacts that we are facing, collectively across the desert, is phenomenal. The reality of the Ivanpah project is that what it will look like on the ground is worse than any of the analyses predicted.” Cart writes that at the moment, solar energy is “three times more expensive than natural gas or coal” because of “capital costs and other market factors,” and ratepayers will pay “as much as 50 percent higher for renewable energy, according to an analysis from the consumer advocate branch of the [California] state Public Utilities Commission.” The impact on the environment will be dramatic in some places, with birds and other wildlife abandoning some areas entirely, and the possible “massive losses of pollinators because you have all these insects getting burned in the mirrors,” according to government biologist Larry LaPre. Desert tortoise expert Jeffrey Lovich says no one really knows the impact the plants will have on the desert. “This is an experiment on a grand scale,” he says. “Science is racing to catch up.” Most large environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have chosen not to protest the development, instead agreeing to become part of the negotiation process and winning some environmental concessions from the developers. Wald, who works with the NRDC, says of the projects: “We didn’t make them perfect. We didn’t eliminate their environmental impact because you can’t eliminate the environmental impact. But we made them better.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2012]
Refutation of Land Use Requirements - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” [National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/2003 pdf file; US Energy Information Administration, 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife, 1/14/2013 pdf file; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]

Entity Tags: Ivanpah Solar Complex, Energy Information Administration, BrightSource Energy, US Department of Energy, Sierra Club, Los Angeles Times, Dennis Schramm, Natural Resources Defense Council, Julie Cart, Larry LaPre, Jeffrey Lovich, Johanna Wald

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

A brief article in the Wall Street Journal claims that solar energy does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the aggregate, because the carbon savings from desert-based solar projects will be offset by “disturbing caliche deposits that release carbon dioxide.” The Journal cites a formal complaint filed by three Western environmental organizations claiming that desert-based solar projects not only endanger desert ecosystems, but “soil disturbance from large-scale solar development may disrupt Pleistocene-era caliche deposits that release carbon to the atmosphere when exposed to the elements, thus negat[ing] the solar development C [carbon] gains.” The Journal acknowledges that some aspects of the complaint may be exaggerated. The Journal does not mention that the report cited in the complaint, a 2011 study released by the University of California-Riverside, says that the 560,000 metric tons of carbon saved per year by a single solar plant would more than offset the estimated 6,000 metric tons of carbon released by disturbing caliche deposits. [Wall Street Journal, 9/4/2012; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]

Entity Tags: Wall Street Journal, University of California-Riverside

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

As the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) begins phasing out coal and natural gas power plants, it is turning more and more to “solar parks” in the desert to the east to generate much-needed power. However, these solar parks are raising concerns among environmentalists and local residents. The Ivanpah Solar Complex in the Mojave Desert has taken steps to minimize the impact its existence will have on the fragile desert tortoise population. The Genesis Solar Energy Project in Riverside County, California, was recently forced to halt construction when Native American burial remains were found on the construction site. Donna Charpeid, a farmer in Desert Center, California, says of the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm being built near her home: “My heart aches every time I look out my window and see the construction over there. It’s just unbelievable, the destruction.” The Desert Sunlight plant is being built near Charpeid’s 10-acre plot near the Joshua Tree State Park. It is projected to provide enough power to run 160,000 average homes and decrease the amount of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by 300,000 tons annually. Seventeen “Solar Energy Zones” have been proposed for California by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Department of Energy. Charpeid says of the zones: “This is a whole new form of gentrification. If all these projects come to fruition, people will simply not be able to live here. This is all seems like corporate welfare to me.” Critics worry that although water is not used by all solar-thermal plants for power generation, the water consumed by the plants—keeping dust down, rinsing panels, providing for the needs of workers—will deplete the water reserves in the area. In Desert Center, the residents’ water comes from deep underground reservoirs that are not generally replenished by groundwater; Charpeid says their water was found to be up to 30,000 years old. She also worries about the impact on the local weather: dust storms have increased over the last few years, she says, threatening her ability to farm jojoba. And animal habitats are being threatened. “I really wish [President] Obama would’ve given out that stimulus money to do rooftop solar instead,” she says, “like they’ve done in Germany.” LADWP board commissioner Jonathan Parfrey, the director of advocacy organization Climate Resolve, says: “I’ve been out in the desert; I know some of the people being impacted. I’m an enviro, I want to conserve that land. But it’s not just as easy as saying LA’s got to slap solar on rooftops. There has to be a balanced approach.” Parfrey says that solar plants need to be constructed in areas that are not rich in wildlife or used for recreational purposes, but adds that these solar desert plants must be built somewhere. Using solar arrays on rooftops of businesses and homes is expensive, he says, and sometimes interferes with distribution balancing and voltage problems as they co-exist with grid-produced electricity. He says: “In my view the transition to clean energy has to happen as inexpensively as possible. Otherwise people will rebel and they won’t even want to pay for it in the face of climate impacts. They will say, ‘That’s too bad about what’s happening to the environment, but I can’t afford to put food on my table because my electricity bills are too high.’” The LADWP is experimenting with inexpensive solar rooftop arrays, Palfrey says. “If I could have my moment like in The Graduate where [a character] says to Dustin Hoffman, ‘The future is in plastics,’ mine is how do we do distributed generation where we maintain the utility business model and we’re able to provide continual service for people. When we find the magic key to that I think it will be a revolution. I think it will really help affect the transition away from fossil-fuel energy sources.” [Grist Magazine, 8/13/2013]

Entity Tags: Genesis Solar Energy Project, Bureau of Land Management, Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, Ivanpah Solar Complex, Donna Charpeid, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Jonathan Parfrey, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, located on 3,500 acres in the Mojave Desert, begins generating electricity. The solar thermal power plant uses a circular array of mirrors to concentrate sunlight at a water-filled central tower. The resulting steam powers turbines, which in turn produce electricity. When fully operational, the Ivanpah plant will feed 377 megawatts of power into two California utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison. During some days, the power generated could serve up to 200,000 residential consumers. The project is a partnership between NRG Energy, BrightSource Energy, Google, Bechtel, and the federal government, which leased public land to the plant and provided loan guarantees (see February 2009). Some environmentalists have been sharply critical of the impact on the desert environment (see August 13, 2013), and other critics have asked why a desert solar power plant is not using photovoltaic panels to collect sunlight. NRG Solar president Tom Doyle says, “Given the magnitude and complexity of Ivanpah, it was very important that we successfully complete this milestone showing all systems were on track.” Unit 1 is producing energy; Units 2 and 3 are coming online soon. When fully operational, the three plants will almost double the amount of commercial solar thermal energy capacity now operating in the US. [NRG Solar, 2012; Business Wire, 9/24/2013; Grist Magazine, 9/25/2013]

Entity Tags: Ivanpah Solar Complex, Bechtel, Google, Pacific Gas and Electric, NRG Energy, Tom Doyle, BrightSource Energy, Southern California Edison

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s largest utility company, is using a new project it calls Solana to store solar energy collected during daylight hours to serve power demands during the night, according to an article published in the New York Times. APS had a three-mile stretch of desert near Gila Bend, southwest of Phoenix, bulldozed flat, and installed a network of parabolic mirrors that focus the sun’s energy onto a series of black-painted pipes. The pipes funnel the heat to large tanks of molten salt, which traps the heat until the plant draws the heat out of the salt and uses it to generate steam and electricity. The Solana project is an attempt to overcome one of the largest drawbacks of solar energy, the dearth of energy when the sun is not shining. “We’re going to care more and more about that as time goes on,” says APS general manager Brad Albert. Other states are watching the Solana project closely; California has just approved a rule requiring the state’s utilities to install storage facilities by 2024. Robert Gibson of the Solar Electric Power Association says: “The impetus to require storage is definitely inspired by the success of solar. Hopefully the California initiative is going to kick-start this and bring down costs.” Battery storage has always been a promise, he says, but cost-effective storage “has always been a few years out.” The biggest challenge for Arizona solar users, mainly individuals with rooftop solar arrays, is generating power in the early morning hours, before the sun has risen enough to activate the panels. Arizona and California also face similar problems in the evening, when the sun is too low for the panels to work well and people are returning home. By 6 p.m., most solar arrays are working at half capacity at best, even if they are installed on tracking devices that tilt the panels to follow the sun across the sky. Solana was built with a $1.45 billion loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy. Another similar project, also built with federal loan guarantees, is the Ivanpah project in California (see September 22, 2013). Cara S. Libby of the Electric Power Research Institute says, “There will be a trend towards storage as we see more variable renewables like photovoltaics and wind being added to the grid.” The flexibility of such a system becomes more important as a utility adds higher volumes of inflexible renewables, Libby says. Solana is not the first renewable energy plant with storage; others use banks of electric batteries. But battery storage is so expensive that it is primarily used to smooth the output of the plant and not to store large amounts of energy overnight. Storing energy as heat is much cheaper, but is mechanically inefficient. [New York Times, 10/17/2013]

Entity Tags: Brad Albert, Arizona Public Service, Cara S. Libby, New York Times, Solana, Robert Gibson

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

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