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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

June 11, 2010

Air Date: June 11, 2010



Worker Safety in the Gulf

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Many workers cleaning up the oil in the Gulf have been falling ill due to exposure to pollutants from oil and dispersants. Host Jeff Young talks with David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, about what his agency is doing to ensure worker safety in the Gulf of Mexico. (06:20)

Scientists Stymied by Lack of Samples

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Scientists trying to determine if chemical dispersants are helping or hurting the fragile Gulf of Mexico environment say they can’t get samples of the product to test its effects. Host Jeff Young talks with Texas Tech scientist Ron Kendall, who tried to get samples and Nalco, the company that makes the dispersant. (05:10)

NOLA Residents Take to the Streets

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Residents of New Orleans are feeling a mix of emotions as the Gulf oil spill continues to spew from the ocean floor. For many, there are echoes of the anxiety, helplessness, and frustration experienced five years in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. During the past week or two, some of those feelings have been channeled to public displays of anger. But as Julia Botero reports, the people of the region have a complicated relationship with the oil industry, and their views on the spill are not just black and white. (05:35)

Senate Keeps EPA Clean Air Authority

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The U.S. Senate rejects a resolution that would strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and the climate and energy bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate. LOE’s Washington correspondent Mitra Taj talks with host Jeff Young about the latest on climate change legislation. (06:00)

President Obama’s Science Advisor Talks with LOE

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As the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren is the scientist President Obama goes to when he needs answers and advice. Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood spoke with Dr. Holdren about the Gulf oil disaster and the effects in might have on U.S. climate policy. (05:45)

BP’s Image Problem

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BP has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to re-brand itself as a green company in recent years. Now the public is making a mockery of the eco-friendly brand as the gulf spill makes it clear BP is not 'beyond petroleum’ at all. Host Jeff Young asks media analyst John Carroll if BP's image can survive the PR disaster. (05:45)

A Lesser Liability Load

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Host Jeff Young talks with UC Berkeley corporate law expert Eric Talley about some of BP's options: merger, acquisition, asset sell-off, and how those moves change the chances that those affected by the oil disaster will be compensated. (05:00)

A New Playground for Kids to Play Naturally

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A preschool in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood opened a brand new, natural playground. It’s a green space for kids to play outside and garden. And as Living on Earth and Planet Harmony’s Ebony Payne discovered, this playground has also become a refuge from gang violence. (06:45)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Jeff Young
GUESTS: David Michaels, Samantha Joye, Ron Kendall, Charlie Pajor, John Holdren, John Carroll, Laura Mullen, Jack Benson, Ro Meyer, Robert Thomas, Danielle Butsche, Eve Abrams, Eric Talley, Leslie Christian, Dianne Cox, Theresa Jordan.
REPORTERS: Julia Botero, Mitra Taj, Ebony Payne, Steve Curwood

From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth.

YOUNG: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth. I’m Jeff Young. Estimates of the flow of oil in the Gulf keep growing. And amid the fight to contain it, workers are falling ill. We’ll hear what the government’s doing to protect cleanup workers.

MICHAELS: We learned that one contractor was charging workers for their protective equipment. And that's absolutely against the law; workers should not be charged for training and obviously they should have the right to speak their minds about health and safety concerns.

YOUNG: Also chemical dispersants are a big concern, but scientists say they can’t get samples they need to study them. Plus, a recipe for happy healthy kids – transform an urban playground into a small green oasis.

COX: Before it was a struggle both to get the teachers to get them outside and the children – they love it – they love being in the green.

YOUNG: Bringing nature into the heart of the inner-city. Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick Around!


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Worker Safety in the Gulf

David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. (dol.gov)

YOUNG: From Public Radio International - this is Living on Earth. I’m Jeff Young. Estimates of the flow of oil in the Gulf keep growing. And amid the fight to contain it, workers are falling ill. We’ll hear what the government’s doing to protect cleanup workers.

MICHAELS: We learned that one contractor was charging workers for their protective equipment. And that's absolutely against the law; workers should not be charged for training and obviously they should have the right to speak their minds about health and safety concerns.

YOUNG: Also chemical dispersants are a big concern, but scientists say they can’t get samples they need to study them. Plus, a recipe for happy healthy kids – transform an urban playground into a small green oasis.

COX: Before it was a struggle both to get the teachers to get them outside and the children – they love it – they love being in the green.

YOUNG: Bringing nature into the heart of the inner-city. Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick Around!


YOUNG: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, MA, this is Living on Earth. I’m Jeff Young. The oil disaster in the Gulf has brought the biggest environmental response in U.S. history: An armada of 44-hundred vessels and an army of 24-thousand personnel. Those numbers will likely go up as oil continues to make its way east onto the shores of Alabama and Florida. That’s a lot of people working in places that pose a lot of hazards.

And that’s a big concern for our guest David Michaels. Michaels has long been a fierce advocate for worker safety. He now leads the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. That means it’s his job to make sure that workers in the Gulf are protected. Last month Michaels expressed serious concerns about worker safety in a strongly worded memo to BP. He just wrapped up a visit to the Gulf Coast to see if things have improved. David Michaels welcome back to Living on Earth.

MICHAELS: Well thank you so much, I’m pleased to be back on the show.

YOUNG: Now, this your second trip to the Gulf since the spill. What did you see there that gives you reason for concern. What did you see there that gives you reason to think that workers are being protected?

MICHAELS: Well I just came back and I was down at the clean-up areas with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. We saw the workers involved in a number of different clean-up tasks. We have OSHA staff across all the staging areas from Louisiana to Florida and what they’re seeing is that a number of hazards do arise in the clean up areas and when they do arise we immediately raise them with BP and with the Coast Guard, the agency we work most closely with.

YOUNG: Now you wrote a memo, May 25, telling people you weren’t very happy with the way things were going on. Is that right?

MICHAELS: That’s correct. Now this a couple of weeks ago but we saw a number of different serious problems in the clean-up areas. We were concerned about security on the sites, people were walking in and off the sites, we were concerned about protecting people from heat, which is probably the #1 hazard down there, but more importantly we didn’t see the structure of safety authority working in the way we thought was necessary.

YOUNG: Now what do you mean when you use that term “structure of safety?”

MICHAELS: It has to be clear who’s got the authority to make changes. What was going on in the staging areas where workers were working, OSHA inspectors would arrive, we’d see a problem, we’d pull over the BP supervisor and say ok, we see this problem, take care of it, and the BP supervisor would say, “I’ll see what I can do,” and the problem wouldn’t be fixed. And so clearly we were talking to people who didn’t have responsibility to fix the problem. And that was unacceptable to us.

YOUNG: Now according to Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, they’ve had at least 50 complaints from workers which seem to be related to exposure to pollutants from the spill, possibly the oil itself or the chemical dispersants. What are your concerns there?

MICHAELS: That’s correct. What we’re doing with our sister agency, National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health, we are tracking down every one of these cases and trying to learn about them more. There were seven workers taken to the hospital, again a couple weeks ago, in one instance that may be related to a cleaning product that was used.

But we’re not absolutely sure and we need to get to the bottom of it. Anytime there’s a major complaint we certainly track that down. But frankly, right now, we’re as concerned about issues of heat and injury as we are about chemical exposure. The heat is really something. Workers work long days in the sun and we insist they be given shade, very regular work breaks, lots of liquids to drink, because we’ve had a number of people coming down with heat stress, in some cases heat stroke.

YOUNG: Now we’ve heard from some environment and public health advocates there that they’re hearing reports of people not having protective gear. Here’s what Wilma Soubra told us, she’s a respected scientist who does a lot of work in the field down there.

SUBRA: We have actually provided protective gear and respirators through Louisiana Environmental Action Network. And BP has threatened to fire the workers that actually wear the respirators.

YOUNG: What do you make of that?

MICHAELS: Our position is that there are certain jobs where people should have respirators. It’s very clear they should have them when they go out in the boats near the areas where the oil is being burned there’s potential for significant exposures. On the other hand, there are other areas on the beach for example, where people are cleaning up weathered oil it would actually be dangerous for all them to wear respirators.

And in the hot weather respirators take a very, very physical toll on the heart and on the lungs. And we’re quite concerned that if you give people respirators without properly training them, without doing medical examinations, we could be causing some serious health problems.

YOUNG: And another thing we’re hearing from some activists in Louisiana is that there’s an atmosphere of fear among workers about speaking out about potential exposure or lack of protective gear because, now, working for BP on the clean-up is the only game in town, now that fishing has shut down.

MICHAELS: That’s certainly is a huge concern of ours. We’ve heard a number of different complaints, often involving contractors or sub-contractors. For example, we learned that one contractor was charging workers for their protective equipment, and that’s absolutely against the law. Workers should not be charged for training and obviously they should have the right to speak their minds about health and safety concerns and to know to notify us if there is a problem. So we’re telling workers across the area if they have a problem they should bring it up with either the OSHA professional who is visiting the site on a regular basis or they should call us confidentially and we will follow up on every complaint.

YOUNG: How big a concern are the chemical dispersants that are being used so heavily?

David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. (dol.gov)

MICHAELS: Well they’re certainly a very significant environmental concern. From the worker point of view, we’re out there measuring to see if the workers who are on the sea, to see if they’re exposed to them and for the most part there is very little exposure because people are not near those places where they’re being sprayed. At this point though we haven’t seen evidence that the dispersants are coming onto the shore. But again we’re monitoring for that all the time.

YOUNG: And what’s your overall assessment of this sprawling, changing workplace and its level of safety?

MICHAELS: I think the level of safety at this point in time, I think, is quite good. I think OSHA is working very well with the Coast Guard observing all the activities, ensuring that BP is doing the right thing and their contractors are doing the right thing. But we must remain vigilant. This is a very big job, there are a lot of hazards out there, the hazard could change and we’ve got to work very hard to make sure people are protected.

YOUNG: David Michaels is Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Thank you very much.

MICHAELS: Thank you so much.

YOUNG: Recent air sampling data from the Gulf indicate OSHA still has its work cut out for it. Several samples found hydrocarbons and other potentially toxic chemicals in the air where workers are on large craft dealing with the spill.

The advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, points out that the air sampling that BP is doing does not cover workers on nearly 15-hundred small fishing boats laying down boom and skimming oil. Without that data it’s hard to know what protective gear those workers might need.

Related links:
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration website
- Follow the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals health surveillance
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s health surveillance in the Gulf of Mexico

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[MUSIC Soulphonic Soundsystem “Underwater Circuits” from Volume 1 (Convincing Woodgrain 2007)]

Scientists Stymied by Lack of Samples

A plane releasing chemical dispersants. (Photo: U.S. Airforce photo by Tech. Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

YOUNG: Those cleanup workers in the Gulf are mostly dealing with oil that’s dispersed—broken into globs or little droplets, often lurking below the surface. That’s largely due to the heavy use of chemical dispersants—nearly one-point-two million gallons sprayed so far, to limit the size of the oil slick washing ashore. These chemical dispersants - their formula is a trade secret - have major implications for the oil’s impact on the Gulf. Scientists struggling to better understand this have not been able to get basic information and samples they need to do their work. Marine sciences professor Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia needs samples of the chemical for her experiments.

JOYE: In terms of understanding the impacts of dispersants on microbial activity I and many others are still trying to get samples of the various dispersants that are being used. I’ve been unable to secure any so far.

YOUNG: And Professor Joye’s not alone. We spoke with scientists at five university labs across the country who could not get samples of the dispersant COREXIT made by a company called Nalco. Toxicology professor Ron Kendall directs the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University.

KENDALL: We attempted to acquire the COREXIT from the manufacturer and basically were given a roadblock and have not been able to obtain it from the manufacturer.

YOUNG: Now, this is Nalco, the company that makes the stuff?

Ron Kendall (Photo: Jeff Young)

KENDALL: That’s correct. It’s as simple as that. And we attempted to purchase it. And I don’t understand that, but we need the COREXIT.

YOUNG: Why do you need the samples of the original stuff that was used? Why is that so important to doing this work?

KENDALL: Well, we need the COREXIT to learn the full potential impact of the oil in the Gulf. The oil is in many different forms, which we are investigating, and the dispersant affects the oil, it causes chemical changes. And, with those chemical changes there is a resulting differential and the potential toxicity to aquatic life. And so, that’s what we are getting after scientifically. That’s why this is so important.

YOUNG: That’s Ron Kendall at Texas Tech. Two Mississippi scientists studying effects on fish and the flow of dispersed oil in the deep sea could not get COREXIT either. A marine sciences professor at the University of California Santa Barbara also came up empty. We called Nalco’s headquarters in Naperville Illinois to find out why. Charlie Pajor is a company spokesperson.

PAJOR: Any academic institution that wishes to contact us about the possibility of getting samples, they can contact us, we have a process that we go through and we would be more than willing to work with them on trying to meet their requests.

YOUNG: Are you making these samples available when you’re getting these requests?

PAJOR: I mean, depending on what the intent of the sample usage is, and the signing of a non-disclosure agreement, we evaluate the requests and we respond accordingly.

YOUNG: Why is it then, that these scientists are saying they’re not able to get the materials they need to do what seem to us anyway, pretty important tests?

PAJOR: Um, I’m not sure who they’ve been contacting or whether they have perhaps not gotten in connection with the right person here at Nalco. I will point out that we have provided the US EPA with detailed information and ingredients on our COREXIT dispersants, and we have allowed that to be shared with any federal agency and with the third party laboratories that the EPA is using for its Gulf monitoring and assessment programs. We think it’s important to allow those labs the information in order for them to monitor for any potential risks to the environment or public health, those kinds of concerns.

YOUNG: What is the concern with simply letting people have a sample of the project for scientific tests?

PAJOR: [sighs]

YOUNG: Why the need for such a level of control, of scrutiny of requests, for scientific work?

A plane releasing chemical dispersants. (Photo: U.S. Airforce photo by Tech. Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

PAJOR: I think it’s just a fair thing to understand what people are--what kinds of tests they’re going to be running and what they’re going to be using the information for. It’s not anything exceedingly difficult or rigorous, we just need to have information about people rather than just shipping out samples to anyone who requests it.

YOUNG: Have you fulfilled any of those requests to date?

PAJOR: I don’t know what the status is of the requests we may have received, I don’t know that.

YOUNG: Have you turned down requests?

PAJOR: Again I don’t know that.

YOUNG: I think that covers my questions. Thank you very much for your time.

[MUSIC] “Kissed By The Sun” from Decisive Steps (Mack Avenue records 2010).

YOUNG: Nalco spokesperson Charlie Pajor. The EPA recently made the COREXIT ingredients public, 50 days into the disaster. There’s more on this at our website, loe.org, including a list of the ingredients in COREXIT and more about the chemicals in it.

Just ahead- a conversation with the President’s science advisor on the lessons from the Gulf oil spill. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

Related links:
- Dr. Ronald J. Kendall
- The NALCO website
- Deep Water Horizon’s response
- The list of ingredients in Corexit
- To find out more about these chemicals

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NOLA Residents Take to the Streets

(Photo: T.J. Fisher)

YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young. During the past week or two, protests have flared up around New Orleans. These are some of the first organized displays of public anger since oil started washing up on the Louisiana coast. A lot of people in the Big Easy are clearly uneasy with their state’s oil industry.

But beyond the chants of demonstrators, far more nuanced conversations are taking place. Louisiana has a complicated relationship with the oil, gas and offshore industries. As reporter Julia Botero found, views on the spill are far from black and white.


BOTERO: It’s a sweltering Saturday in downtown New Orleans and a couple of hundred or so people are spilling onto the streets, dressed in costumes. It’s not Mardi Gras, and these costumes aren’t particularly festive either. The organizers of this event stress this is a funeral procession, not a parade.

(Photo: Julia Botero)

MULLEN: I am the bad bride of big oil… My costume involves a hacked up wedding gown decorated with seashells and oil. The underskirt is black silk; there are oily black feathers on it, layers of tulle and fake pearls from Mardi Gras.

BOTERO: Laura Mullen is part of The Krewe of Dead Pelicans, the group protesting against the Gulf oil spill. She’s lived in New Orleans for years and said she’s here in grief and anger.

MULLEN: From the minute this started happening it was clear this was going to get this bad and we were going to have to look at animals dying and communities dying and I'm here to say no to that and we have rethink our energy policy, otherwise this is the wedding we are going to have.

BOTERO: Louisiana has already been married to the oil industry for decades. Residents of the state have watched as grids of canals forged by the oil companies through the Mississippi Delta have caused damage to the wetlands. Still, oil is big business down here. Jack Benson is wearing a shirt that reads, “BP lied, Pelicans Died.”

BENSON: We have lived in harmony with the oil business for a very long time. Where the anger comes from is just the blatant disregard. We understand the risk of the oil business- at the same time we would except a much better response from them and that is where the anger stems from.

[SFX} Group of protestors say: Stop big oil, save the Gulf.

(Photo: Julia Botero)

BOTERO: The organizer of the days’ action, retired realtor, Ro Mayer, says most people weren’t sure how to direct their anger. She was overcome with emotion as she watched accounts of the spill.

MAYER: Blind, roaring, rage-driven adrenaline that arced from my toes out the top of my head. I had the same feelings for Katrina, the first time I had ever had those kinds of feelings...

BOTERO: Mayer vented some of those feelings on Facebook, and her page became an outlet for rants against BP from more then 5,000 people. She began planning the procession to call attention to this anger. Yet she admits she has mixed feelings about the oil industry.

MAYER: I grew up here, I’ve got family for generations that have been in the oil business...We kind of have that family legacy that I never thought too much about it, until we started dealing with this mess.

(Photo: T.J. Fisher)

THOMAS: The oil industry is a major part of the culture in Louisiana, just as the commercial fisheries is, just as all the things that we provide to our nation are a major, major element of the culture of this area and the evolution of this culture.

BOTERO: Professor Robert Thomas is the chair of environmental communications at Loyola University. He says when oil and gas exploration first began 100 years ago it brought prosperity to Louisiana and the country. Now, the people of Louisiana and the oil industry go hand in hand.

THOMAS: We as Louisianans, define ourselves on the basis of the culture that we have. And if you take away the elements of this culture, such as the work ethics, and the national resources that we value, and our food and components of our way of life, you destroy the culture and we will no longer exist as a people that we have in the past.

[SFX] Audience clapping. Speaker says: “I want to give you a briefing on the oil spill….”

(Photo: Brenda Edwards Wold)

BOTERO: In a church in the Upper Ninth Ward, Kerry St. Pe gives a teach-in to an audience of about 90 locals. He’s a biologist who’s overseen oil spills in the region and knows the effects oil can have on the wetlands.

[SFX] St. Pe talks to audience….

BOTERO: Like many in the community, Danielle Butsche has been feeling anxious since she the spill began. She sees the disaster as yet another threat to the livelihood of the people of New Orleans and Louisiana.

BUTSCHE: It just felt like this last year we really went over the hump, it just feels like we just got off our knees and now we are being knocked back down.

BOTERO: Another resident, Eve Abrams, sees the oil spill as a wake-up call on what she could do to help her home state. She wants to encourage people to buy Louisiana seafood and pay attention to who they're electing to office.
ABRAMS: You know the oil companies didn’t just move in here on their own. We elected the government officials who paved the way for them. So that’s something that we as citizens can do, I think it’s really easy to feel powerless as one person, but united, I mean, that’s the intent of a democracy.
BOTERO: Nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and Louisiana are once again living within a critical moment. And no one knows better then its residents that the effects of the oil spill could redefine their culture and way of life for decades to come. For Living on Earth, I'm Julia Botero.

[MUSIC] NOLA REAX: Trombone Shorty “Hurricane Season” from Backatown (Verve records 2010).

Related links:
- Krewe of Dead Pelicans Facebook page
- Professor Robert Thomas, Environmental Communications, Loyola University
- Kerry St. Pe, Director, Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program

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Senate Keeps EPA Clean Air Authority

Sen. Lindsey Graham has dropped his support of comprehensive climate change legislation and is co-sponsoring an energy-only bill.

YOUNG: Images of oil-coated pelicans and distraught fisherman are focusing some minds in Washington. At both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, lawmakers are reevaluating the country’s energy policy. The U.S. Senate just saw a key moment in a 47 to 53 defeat of a measure that would have stripped the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

That proposal, by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, had little chance of becoming law—President Obama had pledged a veto if it passed. But the vote was widely viewed as an indicator of where the votes are as the Senate looks to more meaningful action on energy and climate change over the summer. Living on Earth’s Mitra Taj has been watching all this carefully, she joins us now from Capitol Hill. Hello Mitra!

TAJ: Hello Jeff!

YOUNG: So, this was closely watched by industry, by environmental groups…why? Why was the Murkowski proposal such a big deal?

TAJ: Well, it’s basically an attempt to keep the EPA from doing something about climate change. And the Supreme Court just gave them this authority, and taking it away would have really kind of knee-capped their recent agreement with auto makers to tighten up fuel efficiency standards. This was, kind of, the only tool the administration has to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of legislative action.

YOUNG: So they still have that tool because this proposal failed, but Senator Murkowski got 47 votes here. What does that tell us about chances for a climate bill?

TAJ: 47 is a little too close for comfort for people pushing tougher policies for polluters. So Senator Murkowski started out with the support of all Republican senators and along the way she picked up 6 Democrats, Jay Rockefeller, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor. And you know another surprise vote for the resolution was moderate Republican Susan Collins from Maine. She’s co-sponsoring a bill that would cap greenhouse gas emissions. So the feeling is that if a handful of Democrats and a moderate Republican won’t come out against Murkowski’s resolution, they might not come out in support of comprehensive climate change legislation either.

YOUNG: Well you know, I know the president has made a big deal of saying recently he’s going to push to get votes for a climate and energy bill, he singles out this effort by Senator John Kerry and Senator Joe Lieberman called the American Power Act…is that going anywhere?

TAJ: Well they’re having a tough time picking up Republican support for their bill. You might remember that they were pinning all their hopes on Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. He helped write a lot of their bill, but he dropped out just before it was released, and since then he’s been edging further and further away. I caught up with him after a press conference and asked him just how concerned he is about climate change.

GRAHAM: I am more concerned about moving to a low-carbon economy for national security reasons and cleaning up the air than I am about the immediacy of the planet melting. But I do buy into the idea that carbon emissions are not good for the overall health of individuals or the planet as a whole. But there’s nowhere near 60 votes to save the polar bear.

TAJ: So you’re not concerned about runaway climate change, that’s not—

GRAHAM: No I think they’ve over sold this stuff quite frankly. I think they’ve been alarmist, I think the science is in question- the whole movement has taken a giant step backward. But I do believe the environmental benefit of a low-carbon economy is worth the Republican Party’s time and attention. Does climate change have to be your religion? No. It is not my religion it is my concern.

TAJ: So, Senator Graham no longer a vocal supporter of a climate change bill. And in fact he’s just teamed up with another Republican, Senator Dick Lugar, to push an energy- only bill.

YOUNG: Energy-only meaning what exactly?

TAJ: Meaning boosting renewables and efficiency, but no hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

YOUNG: But would that get us the kind of reductions that scientists say we need if we’re going to avoid the worst of climate change?

TAJ: No, not really. Lugar says his policies would add up to some reductions, but they’re really nowhere near what the scientific community is recommending.

YOUNG: Where does that leave the Kerry-Lieberman bill? That’s the one we had been thinking was going to be the climate and energy bill.

TAJ: Right, well that’s what everybody wants to know. Kerry says he’s not giving up. Just hours after Lugar and Graham offered up their bill, I went to an environmental event where Senator Kerry was giving a speech.

KERRY: I hear too many people who sort of want to say, “Oh maybe we should do an energy-only bill, or maybe we ought to do this or that, or something less.” Well we did energy-only in 2005. We did energy-only in 2007. Energy only will not send the price signal about the cost of carbon. It will not unleash billions of dollars of investment in the private venture capital sector. Well I say we gotta go out and push, baby, push, and win, baby, win.

YOUNG: Push, baby, push. Well, ok. But if there’s going to be a push, that implies it’s gotta come from the leadership. What do we know about where the Democratic leadership is on this issue now?

TAJ: No one really knows what majority leader Harry Reid really wants in his heart of hearts. Instead of taking up Kerry and Lieberman’s bill for debate he’s asked the chairman of all senate committees for their ideas on a bill to promote clean energy and also a bill to get tough on the oil industry.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to pull ideas in from different energy proposals into fresh legislation. (U.S. Senate)

YOUNG: I see, so you put those two together and it makes it harder to vote against one without looking soft on BP in the midst of the big oil spill, that sort of thing.

TAJ: Right, right. What Reid didn’t mention were the words climate change. There were rumors that he might even reduce the climate change bill to an amendment. So, clearly, now there’s a lot riding on what position the White House takes. Will the President accept an energy-only approach, or will he insist Congress limit greenhouse gas emissions?

YOUNG: Mitra Taj, thanks very much.

TAJ: No problem Jeff.

Related links:
- Follow Mitra Taj on Twitter.
- More on the Kerry-Lieberman bill.
- Click here to learn more about the Lugar-Graham proposal.
- Read Sen. Harry Reid's letter to committee chairmen.
- Listen to excerpts from Sen. Lugar's press conference.
- Listen to more of Kerry's speech.

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President Obama’s Science Advisor Talks with LOE

John Holdren. (Photo: Nasa/Bill Ingalls)

YOUNG: LOE’s Mitra Taj reporting from Capitol Hill. Well, as we heard from Mitra the White House is the crucial player in energy policy. For the President’s Science Advisor, John Holdren, this is a moment to reaffirm the need to shift from polluting fossil fuels toward a new energy economy. Holdren is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a longtime advocate of cutting greenhouse gases. Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood recently sat down with Holdren, who told him it’s time to heed the lesson from the Gulf disaster.

HOLDREN: It is a teachable moment, it’s always a shame when such moments have to be so painful and so damaging. The president himself has said that the oil spill in the Gulf has to be a wake-up call about the need to transition away from our current heavy dependence on oil to an array of cleaner energy sources, less dangerous energy sources, energy sources that are politically less problematic than oil is.

Where we get so much of our oil from parts of the world that are unstable, where some of the governments are not our friends, and we intend to make that transition in this administration. So this is a teachable moment, I just wish, and the president wishes, that it was not such a damaging one.

CURWOOD: You’ve often said that climate is the envelope for which so many environmental, economic, social, political things must fit for things to work. President Obama came into office saying that we would see comprehensive legislation on climate—hasn’t happened yet. What’s the agenda?

HOLDREN: Well the president made clear in his speech just the other day that he continues to place a high priority on getting legislation that addresses our energy challenges and our climate change challenges in an integrated way. He said again very plainly that any legislation that does not succeed in putting a price on emissions of greenhouse gasses is inadequate, that we absolutely have to get that done in order to have the incentives in place to stimulate American innovation, to develop the clean energy sources that we’re going to need both for our economy and for reducing the dangers from global climate change.

We don’t have that legislation yet for a number of reasons. I don’t think anybody expected that when this administration came into office that the economic crisis that we faced would be as deep or as long as it proved to be. People didn’t expect Haiti, with that devastating earthquake that took so much of our attention and effort to work with the people from Haiti to recover from that. We didn’t expect the oil leak in the Gulf. But we are getting to energy and climate legislation. And there is no lack of commitment on the part of the president and those who work with him to get that done.

John Holdren talks with President Barack Obama. (Photo: OSTP).

CURWOOD: You know, famously, people are saying the President doesn’t have 60 votes to get a climate bill through Congress this year. What does the President say?

HOLDREN: The President thinks its important and his advisers, including me, think it’s important first of all to keep energy and climate change together in the legislation, as it goes through Congress, not to say, “Well we’ll do energy first and we’ll do climate change later,” because these are intimately connected. And there are important trade-offs that the legislation needs to reflect. The President remains committed to keeping them together, and he remains committed to getting the votes we will need to get that legislation through the Congress in a form that will be worth the President’s signing. We think that enough members of Congress will recognize the need to do this that we’ll get the votes.

CURWOOD: Oil spill helping this venture, do you think?

HOLDREN: The oil spill makes it more difficult to gain votes from folks who would consider expanding off-shore drilling sort of a trade. They say, “Well if you let us expand off-shore drilling maybe we’ll vote for climate legislation.”

John Holdren. (Photo: Nasa/Bill Ingalls)

It’s obviously difficult at this point to pursue that line of argument. We’re going to have a commission that’s going to understand and communicate to the President and the public what went wrong in this particular case. On the basis of that, we’ll be in a position to decide whether we can guarantee that such a thing will not happen again, by changing the enforcement, by changing the regulations, by changing the technology, but that’s going to take some time.

And so it’s not clear that the sort of bargain of, yes, we need to expand the domestic oil supply, but we also need climate legislation. It’s not clear what the force of that bargain will be. On the other hand, as the President said just the other day, the oil spill is a wake-up call about the need to transform our energy system.

And the good news is that many of the things we need to do to reduce our dependence on oil, to increase our dependence on cleaner energy sources, will help with the problem of oil imports, will help with the problem of conventional pollution, and will also help with the climate change challenge.

So we can do some things that are win-wins, that simultaneously help us with several dimensions of the energy challenges we face. And thinking about it in that particular way, it may be that the oil spill, disastrous as it has been and continues to be, will nonetheless not be an impediment to getting the comprehensive energy and climate legislation that we need.

CURWOOD: John Holdren is President Obama’s science advisor. Thank you so much.

HOLDREN: My pleasure. Thank you Steve.

Related link:
John Holdren’s official bio

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[MUSIC Oliver Nelson “Stolen Moments” from Blues And The Abstract Truth (MCA/Impulse Records 1996)]

YOUNG: Coming up: BP’s image gets a makeover thanks to guerilla art on the internet.

CARROLL: BP finds itself in the situation where: A. nobody believes a word they say B. reality trumps PR every time, and C. they can’t control their message even if the first two weren’t in effect, because there are too many competing voices out there.

YOUNG: Can the sunburst logo survive? That’s just ahead on Living on Earth.

[MUSIC] “You Must Be A Lion” from Invisible Baby (Hyena records 2008).

BP’s Image Problem

Entry from Greenpeace's "Behind the Logo” design competition. (Greenpeace UK)

YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young. Nine years ago British Petroleum had an extreme makeover. It became ‘Beyond Petroleum’ and sported a friendly, green and yellow design, something somewhere between a starburst and sunflower. Now that cheerful logo is a big, fat target for protest art. Thousands of new BP designs dripping oil are flooding the internet. Boston University professor and media analyst John Carroll says BP has lost control of its own public identity.

Entry from Greenpeace's “Behind the Logo” design competition. (Greenpeace UK)

CARROLL: Well you’ve got two things going on here, two elements they’re taking off on. One is the name, so you’ve got BP turning into “biggest polluter,” or “big problem,” or “burst pipes.” And then you’ve got the image of the logo. So all of a sudden you’ve got a globe covered with oil, you’ve got pelicans covered with oil. I mean one of them is a remake of the famous Eddie Adams Saigon execution photo from the Vietnam War. And, it’s a gas pump held to somebody’s head and he’s being shot with it. It’s extremely powerful, but all of them have some sort of damning impact on BP.

Entry from Greenpeace's “Behind the Logo” design competition. (Greenpeace UK)

YOUNG: And the irony here is they put a lot of money into making that logo so immediately recognizable.

CARROLL: They certainly did. They spent about $100 million a year for the last few years promoting their brand as environmentally conscious. And BP had done a good job, by some measures they had a very positive brand image. And this is important when you wind up in a crisis situation because the stronger your brand image, the more possible it is to weather these kinds of environmental disasters, and also publicity disasters.

YOUNG: How have companies faced with big PR challenges dealt with this in the past, and can BP look to them and rescue their image here?

CARROLL: Well the textbook case of how to address a crisis like this is Tylenol from 1982. They went out and spent $300 million repairing their brand image and they built their market share back up because they were able to go out and control the message. The big difference now for BP is they can’t control the message.

Entry from Greenpeace's “Behind the Logo” design competition. (Greenpeace UK)

Advertising used to be this one-way street, now it’s a two way street, it’s a conversation. You don’t create your brand anymore. You collaborate with consumers to create your brand. In good times that’s terrific, in tough times that becomes an obstacle that’s very hard to overcome.

YOUNG: There’s a faux BP Twitter account out there that is wildly successful.

CARROLL: It’s got 130,000 followers and counting. While BP’s own Twitter page has 12,000 followers. So that’s one indication of what happens. And You Tube for instance, there’s Typhoid Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, who has to be the worst spokesman since Chemical Ali over in Iraq.

I mean this guy puts the damage in damage control. He has, his TV spot up on YouTube, it’s been viewed by 160,000 people- the Explainer on Al-Jazeera has been viewed by 1.6 million people. So BP finds itself in this situation where A) nobody believes a word they say, B) reality trumps PR every time, and C) they can’t control their message even if the first two weren’t in effect, because there are too many competing voices out there.

YOUNG: You know one thing I noticed recently is if you do a simple Google search or Yahoo search and you enter “oil spill,” the first thing you see at the top is something BP paid to be there. That’s I guess their way of fighting back? They’ve apparently bought the search term?

Entry from Greenpeace's “Behind the Logo” design competition. (Greenpeace UK)

CARROLL: Yes they have and they paid a premium for it, too. I saw one piece that said they’re paying up to $6 a click. There’s something Orwellian about it, but it’s all part of the game. But a lot of times it just isn’t enough. Because the wave of bad publicity keeps coming out, like the wave of oil that keeps coming out underwater. I mean when you have a website that just shows oil coming out of your leaking well 24 hours a day, I mean it’s very hard to come up with an image that counters that.

YOUNG: Is this the end of that re-designed BP logo? Do you think that can survive this, or is that history?

CARROLL: I think that they’re gonna have to make a decision. Have they lost control of that to an extent that they need to go and completely re-tool their image? Anything they do at this point creates a problem with them because they can’t trump reality. I mean, they’ve got Tony Hayward in a TV spot with pristine beaches behind him, and all it does is remind people that those beaches are not going to look that way for very long.

YOUNG: If you were in BP’s PR team, would you say “We’ve got to get rid of Mr. Hayward, he’s gotta go.”

Entry from Greenpeace's “Behind the Logo” design competition. (Greenpeace UK)

CARROLL: I would. I’m usually not in the business of creating ads for other people, but I would certainly consider putting some workers in the ads to say, “We’ve lost 11 of our co-workers, this is devastating to us, and we will do everything we can to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again.”

The human element is something that they could possibly use to their advantage, at least to convince people that there’s some sincerity, and there’s some humanity behind what they’re doing.

YOUNG: So this is having some, I’m sorry for the pun, spill-over effects. In the world of baseball, batting practice is BP, and now that, even that, is sadly tainted.

CARROLL: Yeah apparently down in the Florida state league, the Brevard County Manatees have decided that they don’t want to take batting practice anymore because they refer to it as BP. So now they take “hitting rehearsal” which is a little like the Freedom Fries from back at the beginning of the Iraq war.

YOUNG: (laughs)

CARROLL: But that’s how far it goes. Big things, small things, they all add up, and they reach this sort of crescendo that’s almost impossible to control, and almost impossible for BP to get its voice above.

YOUNG: Media analyst John Carroll at Boston University. He also blogs at campaignoutsider.com. Thanks very much.

CARROLL: Thank you, Jeff.

Related links:
- Boston University, Communication Studies
- Greenpeace "Behind the Logo" competition
- PSA from Tony Hayward
- Twitter @BPGlobalPR

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A Lesser Liability Load

YOUNG: BP stock has lost almost half its value since the Gulf disaster started. And financial pages carry speculation that a weakened BP might be bought out or even go under. We asked Eric Talley what that might mean for those seeking compensation for damages from BP’s spill. Professor Talley co-directs the Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy at UC Berkeley. Welcome to the program!

TALLEY: I’m happy to be here.

YOUNG: Now Professor Talley, I’m looking over this list of BP’s corporate structure. This is not a simple organization. What do we have going on here?

TALLEY: Well the first thing to realize is that BP is no different than just about any other major petroleum company in that it segments itself into a number of different, both holding companies and operating companies. And, in fact if you go through its list I think it’s almost 8 pages of subsidiaries, all wholly owned, ultimately, by BP, the parent corporation, but all formally separate legal entities. And there are over 250 of them.

YOUNG: How easy is it for a company to say, “Oh no, it was this subsidiary of us that caused the problem, or that should go to court.”

TALLEY: This is the most litigated area in corporate law and there’s almost always a liability fight after one of these episodes in which the parent company is saying, “Well it wasn’t us, it was a great-grandchild subsidiary that was the operating entity.” Plaintiffs attorneys are going to have to demonstrate that the way that BP ran its subsidiaries tended to do things like, you know, borrow and lend cash to each other without documenting them, sort of, take dominion over each others property without recognizing that the formal ownership was with the other side.
In addition, sometimes these cases, the ones that are successful, are successful because the parent company has been a little bit sloppy in making sure there was paper trail of distinguishing features between the parent company and the subsidiary.

YOUNG: What if BP goes the route of trying to sell off, cut itself up and sell off its assets. Would that reduce its liability in any way?

TALLEY: The first thing BP is going to have to watch out for, or the subsidiary that’s selling the assets, is something known as fraudulent conveyance law. That basically says, if you owe a bunch of people money and you conduct a fire sale and get rid of your assets at very, very cheap prices to other parties, the people who are your creditors right now can claw back those assets.
Particularly you could sort of see a situation possibly where BP decides, well maybe one of our subsidiaries is going to sell assets, and they’re going to sell it to another subsidiary. On some level the assets are kept within the corporate family but the price may not necessarily reflect fair market values. Another issue could be, even if they sold assets to a third party, those transactions could also be scrutinized as, so-called, fraudulent sales, or fraudulent conveyances, if the price does not seem to be commensurate with fair market value.

YOUNG: You know we’re reading, I think the phrase that I read was, companies “licking their chops” at the possibility that a down-graded BP might be bought up on the cheap by Chevron or Exxon Mobil. What happens in that case of a big merger, if one of the other big oil companies comes in and gobbles up BP? Does that affect the people who are chasing BP to get payments for this spill?

TALLEY: It depends how the acquisition is structured. If it’s a conventional acquisition, then the purchaser of BP would also inherit BP’s liabilities and therefore they’re going to have to be very careful about it. You know a purchaser of BP is going to be very worried about some of these liabilities.
That uncertainty itself is going to take a number of months, if not years, to unravel. And that may end up sort of putting the kibosh on potential purchasers interested in moving today on BP. Maybe they’re licking their chops, but they’re going to wait a few months or years for their dinner.

YOUNG: From your perspective, looking at all of this, do you see major flaws in our system that Congress should be addressing in order to make it more possible for people to get compensation?

TALLEY: There are a couple of large federal acts, in particular something called the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 that places a pretty small, pretty modest by BP’s size standards, a cap on their liability to indirect or secondary claims.
They’re responsible for the clean up, there’s no doubt about it, but it limits them to $75 million in damages to things like business losses. Now that’s pocket change in the overall corporate structure of BP. And, the musings in Congress have been to try to push that cap up into the billions or tens of billions of dollars.
And so that can matter, and that’s real money and it’s probably worth fighting over from both sides’ perspectives.

YOUNG: Eric Talley teaches corporate law at UC Berkeley’s Boat Law School where he co- directs the Center for Law, Business and the Economy. Thank you very much.

TALLEY: Thanks for having me.

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[MUSIC] Nels Cline “The Divine Homegirl” from Coward (Cryptogramophone 2009).

A New Playground for Kids to Play Naturally

Kids run around the new track at the Crispus Attucks Children's Center. (Photo: Ebony Payne)

YOUNG: There's a new kind of playground in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. It's designed to bring a small part of the great outdoors to the inner-city. The natural playground just opened, and it's already turning out to be more than just child's play. Ebony Payne of our sister program Planet Harmony reports.


PAYNE: It's morning recess at the Crispus Attucks Children's Center in Boston's inner city neighborhood of Dorchester. Preschoolers aged one through six are having fun but in an entirely different way than what they're used to.

Children play on top of their new grassy hill. (Photo: Ebony Payne)


CHRISTIAN 1: I call it an oasis in the middle of the city.- an experience that urban children don’t usually have.


PAYNE: That’s Leslie Christian, President of Crispus Attucks. She proudly shows off the results of the preschool’s three year project. It’s a natural playground and it just opened. Kids are rolling down a grassy hill and catching bugs…


PAYNE: …climbing wood poles, and all over a fortress made of logs, and playing with water…


PAYNE: …soon, there’ll be a butterfly garden

CHRISTIAN: Before we did this playground it was a traditional playground with plastic structures, climbing things. There was very little green. And so what we tried to do was develop something that was green, beautiful.

PAYNE: What use to be here at the Crispus Attucks preschool was your average metal jungle gym and a plastic slide. There were no shrubs, few trees, not much shade. And just next door, a rusty fence surrounding an overgrown field where somebody dumped a shopping cart. The city was supposed to develop the land... but never did. Leslie Christian had enough. She decided the time had come to bring nature to her playground.

CHRISTIAN: We took out a lot of the brush, we opened this up, we re-grated. Eventually what we’re going do, is we’re going to be planting Virginia Creepers along the fence so that they’re will be privacy, and it will be completely green and the noise level from the street will be reduced.


PAYNE: Natural playgrounds like this can be found in suburbs, but this is the first of it's kind in Boston's inner city. It's an environment designed to stimulate the senses. Discover smooth stones, and sweet smelling plants. The goal is to foster interaction and create a sense of intimacy with the natural world.

Over here to the left you’ll see the vegetable gardens.


PAYNE: Each preschool class gets their own little plot where they dig in the dirt and plant veggies. Kids and plants grow. At the end of the season they'll harvest and cook them up.

CHRISTIAN: And it’s really helpful to these children who don’t see things growing and think that all fruits and vegetables come from the Stop and Shop. So they’ll learn where they come from and then they’ll appreciate eating them.

PAYNE: A third of these kids are already considered obese ...and they're not even 6 years old. Many will go on to develop diabetes.

CHRISTIAN: If we can start them off to think in more healthy ways, to think not about fast food so much, about fruits and vegetables, and about exercise. If you develop it early, its just natural, it comes natural to them.


PAYNE: But Leslie Christian says the new playground its more than just food and games. The natural environment is meant to stimulate cognitive development and is a learning experience for kids and their teachers.

CHRISTIAN: Oh, they love it! They are spending so much time outside now where as before it was a struggle both to get the teachers to get them outside. And, they love it, they love being in the green.


COX: Music and movement, that’s what we’re doing here, music and movement.

PAYNE : Teacher Diane Cox and her class of terrible twos have learned to love the new natural playground.

Kids run around the new track at the Crispus Attucks Children's Center. (Photo: Ebony Payne)

COX: I think that I see a difference. The difference vs. always climbing a structure and swinging. They get to roll around; I see more rolling around in the grass. They want to look at the plants, and at the green habitat. So it’s a lot better, its something new for them, they’re not used to seeing something like this on an everyday basis…

PAYNE: Building this natural playground in Dorchester, didn't come cheap. A traditional commercial playground goes for tens of thousands of dollars. Leslie Christian says this one costs a quarter of a million.

CHRISTIAN: Most preschools are in the business of just trying to survive in this economy and not much less spending money to develop something...No public funding sources are giving money for this kind of development. This is all privately funded, philanthropic money.

JORDAN: Oh it’s more expensive to develop. But the long-term effects are what we’re all looking forward to.

PAYNE: Theresa Jordan is project manager of the Children's Investment Fund. The Fund provided the initial and largest loan to the Crispus Attucks' natural playground. It's a lot of money she says but it’s an investment in kids and a community, where gangs are a way of life and too often… death.

[TV SOUNDS] REPORTER: This crime that was committed in Boston last night was about as brazen a murder as you can imagine. It has left the community outraged and a mother heartbroken.

PAYNE: Amid the danger in Dorchester the Crispus Attucks natural playground has unexpectedly has become a green safe haven for families, says Leslie Christian.

CHRISTIAN: What happens is the playgrounds in the area, really, they’re really the domains of the gangs. And so then what happens is families send their children over here because this is safe.


PAYNE: This playground is the first of four natural playgrounds to be built in Boston’s low-income neighborhoods. The next is set to open later this month, giving kids with HIV/ AIDS a green place to play.


For Planet Harmony and Living on Earth, I'm Ebony Payne in Dorchester, Massachusetts


YOUNG: Planet Harmony invites everyone to the environmental discussion and has special appeal for young African Americans. Log in and lend your stories, audio, video to our site at myplanetharmony.com.

Related links:
- Read more about the Crispus Attucks Children's Center
- The Children's Investment Fund
- To hear more from Ebony Payne and other voices in the environmental discussion visit the Planet Harmony website

Back to top


YOUNG: Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Bruce Gellerman, Annie Glausser, Ingrid Lobet, Bridget Macdonald, Helen Palmer, Jessica Ilyse Smith, Ike Sriskandarajah, and Mitra Taj, with help from Sarah Calkins, and Sammy Sousa. Our interns are Amanda Martinez and Meghan Miner. We had engineering help this week from Dana Chisholm. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. Steve Curwood is our executive producer. You can find us anytime at LOE dot org. – and check out our new Facebook page – PRI’s Living On Earth. I’m Jeff Young. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living On Earth comes from the National Science Foundation supporting coverage of emerging science. And Stonyfield farm, organic yogurt and smoothies. Stonyfield pays its farmers not to use artificial growth hormones on their cows. Details at Stonyfield dot com. Support also comes from you, our listeners. The Ford Foundation, The Town Creek Foundation, The Oak Foundation—supporting coverage of climate change and marine issues. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, dedicated to the idea that all people deserve the chance at a healthy and productive life. Information at Gates foundation dot org. And Pax World Mutual Funds, integrating environmental, social, and governance factors into investment analysis and decision making. On the web at Pax world dot com. Pax World for tomorrow.

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