Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday: Release the Cracker!

A historical rumination on the subject of our presumed incoming petrochemical refinery:

It's also an unexpected turn for Horsehead's zinc factory on the banks of the Ohio River, which is currently operating. In September the company announced plans to shut the factory by 2013 and relocate to North Carolina, along with most of its 600 workers. (AP, Kevin Begos)

This led us to peruse Wikipedia's entry on the Horsehead Corporation, formerly the New Jersey Zinc Company. Excerpts:

Because of ambiguous deeds, overlapping claims, and misunderstanding over the nature of the ores at Franklin and Sterling Hill, mining companies in the district were in constant litigation. (Wikipedia)

Despite these difficulties there were about 100 years both of industry and of mergers, buyouts and sell offs. Ultimately:

The passage of environmental protection laws in the 1970s turned New Jersey Zinc's legacy of environmental pollution into a liability ... Saddled with environmental cleanup liabilities, and struggling with cash flow due to record low prices in the early 2000s, Horsehead Industries filed for bankruptcy in 2002. (ibid)

China nowadays produces around 40% of the world's zinc as compared to the US's 5%. Moments like these, it is easy to imagine we are being governed by a giant burning astrolabe in the sky.

Anyway, the plant emerged from bankruptcy and continues to operate, despite difficulties, employing about 600 hearty Monacans. It is unknown how many laid off smelters might be re-trained for the plastics industry, which you should have known to get into.


Also unknown is the true economic impact.

Shell estimated the core plant could employ several hundred people and create up to 10,000 construction jobs. (AP, ibid)

I could waste time trying to riddle out the effects of those numbers -- 800 or 900 permanent jobs seems to be the consensus, plus all those temporary jobs in construction, and yes the "spillover" effect -- against the effects of the special tax breaks that are intended for it ("Zero state and local taxes for 15 years") and every other consideration which probably will be offered. But I know a losing battle when I see one (I've been in a lot of them) and the yay-sayers are out in force like I've never seen them all over the mainstream ideological spectrum.

But. Could we possibly keep really scrupulous track, of what taxpayers contribute? This whole Shell cracker thing (and a goodly chunk of the Pennsylvania play) is destined to be a case study and learning experience anyway. Can we all promise to disclose, review and audit pretty much every conceivable benefit and cost of this public-private partnership? Just to learn.


What else?

There's a slew of new news in the sidebar. Here is what Chris Briem is pondering when it comes to these sliding natural gas prices for example.

I learned watching Nighttalk (Get to the point!) but only discovered online here, State Sen. Wayne Fontana is submitting legislation that would allow Allegheny County, its municipal governments and school boards to scrap property taxes in favor of other things. That surely will never completely obviate the need for doing regular property value reassessments, but there seems to be a consensus there are enough flaws in the property tax to merit experimentation and local initiative.

In relation to property taxes and budget problems in general, City Councilman Corey O'Connor replied to a given question on the same panel something very close to: "First of all, it would be great to start taxing UPMC, but that's a whole 'nother topic!" This despite the fact that he is cooperating with them in other modest respects. Gotta love it though -- he didn't say "contribute" and "nonprofits" or even "health care", he said "tax" and "UPMC". Well, with all the various and new little concerns about the regional monopoly's business policies and procedures, who can blame him? And we get to call it a data point.


  1. "Welcome to the Energy Third-World: the United States"
    April 2, 2012

    by MICHAEL T. KLARE, via Leslie Brandon, leslie.brandon at

    I highly recommend the site where I found this article, the Institute for Public Accuracy:

    For other readers here, the Sunlight Foundation offers some great search tools to track connections between money and legislative voting records:

    Knock those crackers out of the park, Bram! May we all ruminate these frackers right on into history before they break ground...

  2. @Anon 3:38pm.. You might want to learn how to rub sticks together to generate heat.. plus, you might want to move within walking distance of your job, shopping, etc. I guess the concept of Western PA and solar (which we have very little of) fails to register with someone like you as does wind (which, in case you didn't know doesn't magically and always be present.)

    Now, your Mother is calling you up from the basement.. Dinner's ready.

  3. Did your mom kick you out to have space for the grow lights and planters?