brazil land reform contract killing oil refinery safety violations

In Brazil, Washington, West Virginia, land workers die
coal mining

Reaping Rents Causes Deaths

In Brazil, farmworkers get murdered. In Washington, the government leaves workers at risk. In West Virginia, workers accept dying. To end the danger, workers need a level playing field -- which geonomics delivers. We trim, blend, and append three 2010 articles from: (1) BBC, Apr 2, on Brazil; (2) Associated Press, Apr 2, on Washington state by George Tibbits; and (3) Reuters, Apr 6, by Joe Rauch.

by BBC, by George Tibbits, and by Joe Rauch

A Brazilian land reform activist has been killed in the Amazon state of Para amid ongoing land disputes in the area.

Two men on motorbikes shot Pedro Alcantara de Souza, leader of a union of landless farmers in Para, five times in the head as he was riding a bicycle.

He had led the occupations of large farms by peasants and had previously served for 14 years as the city councilor of Rendencao.

American nun Dorothy Stang was killed in the same region in 2005. Mr Souza was shot just hours after the trial was delayed of the landowner accused of ordering the murder of Dorothy Stang, 73.

Vitalmiro Bastos Moura was originally convicted for the killing in 2007. The verdict was overturned a year later, but he is now due to face a third trial.

There were 20 documented killings in 2008 linked to land issues in the Amazon.

Nearly half the arable land in Brazil belongs to just 1% of the population.

Brazil's agrarian reform laws state that unused farmland can be taken by the government and distributed among landless farmers.

JJS: Instead of nationals squatting or confiscating, other nations successfully broke up huge plantations by taxing land. Owners paid the land rent, sold off their excess, former tenants became family farmers, the societies prospered (e.g., Taiwan), and nobody got shot. Brazil might try what works, a version of geonomics.

Outside of agrarian land, the lure of lots of easy money from use of nature still entices owners to risk the lives of others.

An explosion at a Tesoro Corp. oil refinery in Anacortes (70 miles north of Seattle on Puget Sound) claimed five lives and critically injured others. It is now the subject of state and federal investigations. The refinery was recently fined for safety violations amid what federal watchdogs call a troubling trend of serious accidents at refineries.

It was the largest fatal refinery accident since a 2005 explosion at a BP American refinery in Texas killed 15 people and injured another 170.

The Washington state labor department fined the San Antonio-based company $85,700 last April for 17 serious safety and health violations, defined as those with potential to cause death or serious physical injury. In November, the state reached a settlement with Tesoro, which reduced the total penalty to $12,250 and lowered the number of violations to three.

The company was also fined $6,000 for two serious violations in 2005, and another $6,000 for two serious violations in 2007.

Six refinery workers were killed in an explosion and fire at the Equilon Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes in 1998.

Of the 18 major accidents the US chemical safety board is currently examining, at least seven are at refineries. Yet there are only 150 refineries in the country and tens of thousands of other chemical plants.

JJS: Oil is strongly associated with evil because the profit is enormous and much of it unearned. The value of nature is not for speculation but is part of the commonwealth, here for all of us to share. Itís our earnings from our labor and capital that society should let alone and not tax.

Economic dependence on mining creates strong ties to the coal industry tinged with bitterness over tragedies.

At least 25 miners were dead in Monday's explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal owned by Massey Energy, the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia.

Upper Big Branch Mine has had three fatalities since 1998 and has a worse-than-average injury rate over the last 10 years.

"What happens if the mine goes away? This place dies," said Jerry Bearfield.

Bearfield's son, a 25-year-old miner named Jonathan Clemons, insisted he would return to his grueling job at the mine despite pleas from his parents not to go back.

Concern over mining dangers is outweighed by workers' needs for jobs, said James Scott, a local restaurant manager. "They'd have an accident today and be back there tomorrow, eager to get the paycheck.Ē

Coal miners can make more than $70,000 annually, or roughly twice the average household income in West Virginia, which is among the poorest US states.

Some 50,000 miners work in US underground coal mines, roughly a third in West Virginia. Several generations of families often work in the mines, and the community bonds grow tight.

Taxes paid by the coal industry and utility companies that make electricity using West Virginia coal account for two-thirds of the business taxes paid in West Virginia.

The coal industry pays approximately $70 million in property taxes annually.

JJS: However much tax the resource owners and users pay, it still leaves a lot of profit in their pockets, suggesting they do not come close to paying the full rent, the annual market value of the resource. Further, they get their liability limited by the government, saving lots of money on insurance. Itís the old recipe for fortunes: impose private costs on society, suck socially-generated values into private bank accounts.

Geonomics reverses that and uses natural values to pay residents a dividend, reducing their dependence on jobs that are dangerous to people and planet. Geonomics would also not tax invention and investment, so alternative energy sources could complete more easily, letting coal remain where nature put it.


Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

Activists still die but government does pay some support

Smog dims the sky, its very tiny particles lethal

How Much Has Changed?

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