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Lanny Sinkin

INTERVIEWEE: Lanny Sinkin (LS)
DATE: April 10, 2008
LOCATION: San Antonio, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2450, 2451, 2452

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the reels. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. We’re in San Antonio. It’s April 10th, 2008, and we have the good fortune to be visiting with Lanny Sinkin, who is an attorney who’s worked on environmental cases stretching from Texas to national events to Hawaii, involving the South Texas Nuclear Project, involving whales and other cetaceans in the Pacific and really appreciate him taking the time to visit with us today.
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LS: My pleasure.
DT: Lanny, I was hoping that we could start with your childhood and ask if there was some sort of early experiences or maybe early mentors that could have introduced you to an interest and a concern about the outdoors and the environment?
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LS: Well, I had a—a number of experiences when I was young that took me out into the wilderness and I think those were influential. I went to a camp called Camp Stuart here in Texas, which was out in the woods, in cabins. I don’t remember how old we were, probably ten or eleven years old and it was a big adventure, you know, being out in the woods and I had a great time and loved to camp and swimming and lakes out in the wilderness and all that. And then I also went to a camp in Colorado called Geneva Glen. I remember the trip up there because it was a DC-6 and when it hit Colorado there were all these air pockets. So we would drop suddenly and all of us were throwing up in the airplane. But anyway, we got to Colorado and it was pine forests, which I just loved and have always had a special affinity for. I think
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when I finally retire, it’s going to be a cabin in a pine forest somewhere. So those were important and then my—I was out in California. My uncle, Bob, my—my mother’s brother, took us to Sequoia National Forest and that was just a very powerful experience to see those incredibly old trees, huge trees. We hiked up into the mountains. There was snow and we were walking through the snow and eating up there and camping up there and it was just something that stayed with me the rest of my life, a real feeling of peace and inspiration at the same time, being out in the woods.
DT: You mentioned your mother, Fay Sinkin, I believe her name is and she and her husband, your father, Bill Sinkin, have been involved in civic issues and environmental issues. I think your mother is very well known for her work on water conservation and xeriscape and so on. Your father, for interest in solar energy and other issues and I was curious if you could talk a little bit about what they might have imparted to you or what you got from them in terms of environmental interest?
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LS: Well, the—the—first of all, both of them have been deeply involved in the San Antonio community just for decades and decades. So now we’re at the point where my father’s ninety-five years old. He is the chairman of Solar San Antonio. He drives to work every day to promote solar energy in San Antonio. It’s just a remarkable career that he’s had, a remarkable career that my mother’s had. My mother did take on the issue of the Edwards Aquifer; this was back in the mid seventies where most people had no idea where they got their water from in San Antonio. The Edwards Aquifer was this hidden mystery out in the north. And then a major development was proposed in the recharge zone of the aquifer where the
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water actually enters the ground to go refill the aquifer. And that project disturbed a lot of people because suddenly it was a potential for urbanization of the recharge zone, which would both seal up areas where water could recharge and pollute. And if you pollute the Edwards Aquifer, you can’t clean it. All you can do is build treatment plants that are going to cost millions and millions of dollars and raise the price of water and you will have just spoiled just a—a treasure that the aquifer is. And we took a look at that and my mother decided that this was one she was ready to go after, so we launched a major campaign on the aquifer to stop this zoning change that’s going to take place for San Antonio Ranch Town. That’s what the project was called. And there was a big battle that went on and the council did pass
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the zoning. So then we went out and got signatures to put it on the ballot and force a referendum on the zoning. And it was a—a phenomenal effort that we had hundreds of volunteers, we got tens of thousands of signatures in a very short period of time and forced the issue onto the ballot. And at that point, the council was saying well, you know, what if we just rescind this zoning and not have to go through the election? And we said no, we want the election because we want to let the people speak about the aquifer for all decisions to come in the future, not just for this one. So the election was held and we won with, I don’t know, seventy-six, eighty percent of the vote or something and the—the zoning was rescinded. The developers filed suit, which was one of my early introductions to the legal system, and the court ruled that under the state constitution, the city had power of zoning and that that’s where it stopped. The city charter said there were referendums on
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things passed by the city, but that wasn’t really the state constitution in zoning, so that there was no referendum allowed on the zoning and the zoning could stand. Well, by that time, it had become such a controversial project that it really kind of collapsed, I think, of its own weight. However, that was the beginning of a major effort to protect the Edwards Recharge Zone and my mother pursued that for many, many years and—and I think a week ago had a letter to the editor about the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. She still watches and comments. She’s just turned ninety, but is still mentally active and strong and so she’s watching her aquifer and—and doing what she can to protect it. And I think that—that my environmental commitments began long before the aquifer battle. They were certainly reinforced by the aquifer battle and that this was at a time when we had the Urban Coalition in San Antonio.
DT: Can we maybe return to that later because I’d like to talk a little bit about your college years, if you don’t mind.
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LS: Not a bit.
DT: Would that—would that be earlier?
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LS: Sure.
DT: Maybe back in the mid and late sixties.
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LS: I went to—to Harvard in ’63.
DT: Sure. I wanted to ask you, if you don’t mind, about your college years, which I understood were pretty formative because you went to college at Harvard, as I understood it, and besides your studies, which I guess were pretty consuming, you also were involved in challenging the Vietnam War and it involved a lot of organizing and it seems like you were involved in ’67, I believe, ’68, which is a kind of formative time for both the peace movement and the environmental movement. And I was hoping that you could tell us a little bit about how those two issues and concerns played out in your own mind.
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LS: Well, I think if you go all the way back, that the original connection between the peace movement and the environmental movement was made at the time of the atomic bomb. Not that other people hadn’t made the connection long before that, but I think it was made at the planetary level at that point because suddenly war could mean extinction. And so you had to think about the impact of human activity on the planet, that was the underlying theme of the atomic bomb that slowly surfaced. The atomic bomb focused our attention on the fact that we were now at a point where if we just followed our instincts and kept playing the same old games, we were going to go right over the cliff like a bunch of lemmings. And that it opened
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up the broader question of what are human impacts on the planet itself? And that that probably was an underlying theme in opposition to almost any war because those—any war might spin out of control and lead to the use nuclear weapons. And so you had to be very careful about anytime war raised its ugly head as to how far it was going to go. Vietnam was a different situation in that you had a war in a—in a small country in Southeast Asia. It wasn’t different in the sense that the Chinese were standing there, involved in their own way and here was the U.S. in a confrontation with China, really, over Vietnam to some extent. So that was always a possibility of leading to use of nuclear weapons. But you also had the draft. So I was in that group that was of draft age when the war was gearing up. I went to
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college in ’63 and in ’64 and ’65, we really started hearing about Vietnam. The advisors had been increased by Kennedy. There’s a—a lot of evidence Kennedy was going to terminate our involvement in Vietnam and that he wasn’t allowed to do that. But the—the information started coming out about Vietnam. I took the college student approach to it. I went to the library and checked out every book I could find on Vietnam and started reading the history of Vietnam and discovered that they had fought the Chinese for three thousand years to gain their independence and I thought well, this is a pretty dedicated bunch of people when it comes to foreigners. And then I found out Ho Chi Minh was their George Washington. He had led them to independence and he was leading the other side in this war against the United
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States. I found out they’d thrown the French out and it was like what in the world are we walking into? It—just at a policy level, it seemed crazy. Then when we saw the way the war was conducted with the—the expansive use of napalm, the use of defoliants and all those things that were going on. And that the clergy and laity opposed to the war was a very important group to me because they started documenting war crimes that were being committed in Vietnam and getting the information back to the United States. And then you had numerous other groups that were surfacing what was going on in the war. And for us as college students, since it did involve the draft, it made life a little different. You know, it wasn’t about going to school and taking tests and getting grades and all of that, suddenly it was a life and death question you were faced with and it really disintegrated the whole
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educational experience at Harvard. Just as a simple example, I was in Dunster House at Harvard and in Harvard houses, when you came to dinner, you wore a coat and tie. That was the way it was done. Well, by 1966, ’67, people were coming in with nooses around their necks, just blowing off wearing a jacket and—and nobody said a word. You know, it was clear that the—the whole place was just in an uproar and nobody was going to classes. Every meal in my last year in college, well, particularly my last semester, every meal, the question was are you going to allow yourself to be drafted? Are you going to resist and go to jail? Are you going to go into exile? Are you going to get a doctor to write you a letter? Those are your basic options and they all had their plusses and their minuses and they were to be debated
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and discussed and we did a lot of that. I actually had the experience when I was a junior that I wanted to take a break from academics. Harvard was a pretty high pressure environment and I wanted to take a year and go into VISTA—Volunteers in Service to America. I applied to VISTA and they accepted me and I wrote to the draft board and said I’d like to take a year out to go to VISTA, can I get a deferment because at that time they had to have approval for everything you did. And they said they would give me a deferment for the one year in VISTA. They couldn’t promise me that they’d allow me to go back to college. They might draft me after the year in VISTA. So I did a risk benefit analysis and I said no, I’m not going—I’m not going to do that. So I didn’t go into VISTA and that left a real residue of anger with me, with—in this, you know, democratic country where freedom was the
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paramount that the draft board could tell you how to—what to do with your life, you know, run you around. And I—I—I think that encouraged me in the antiwar movement that these kinds of institutions were being set up, these sort of authoritarian institutions telling young men what they could do with their lives and that wasn’t the goal of the United States vision. So anyway, I stayed in college, came up on senior year and by then it was—it was—it—there was a huge antiwar movement. And I graduated in ’67 and in the summer of ’67, I took the position as coordinator of Vietnam Summer in the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts and what we did was to bring in volunteers and take a good long look at the history of the war, what was being done, how the war was being conducted, what the issues were, what
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the facts were. And then send those volunteers out into the community every evening, starting about five in the evening, to knock on doors and sit down with people in their living rooms and talk to them about the Vietnam War. And it took us about three months to track the Congressional Representative from that area who happened to be Tip O’Neill, the Speaker of the House. And we switched his position on Vietnam in about three months because we had three hundred volunteers going door to door in his district. And it was a—a great experience in terms of seeing how grassroots democracy can really work if you put the energy into it. We did have political disputes within the—the group. There were some interesting ones of the Progressive Labor Party, which was a hardcore Leftist party, would try and disrupt
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our meetings and—and trying to balance that out wasn’t always easy. But their position was that the American people needed to be radicalized and that the Vietnam War was radicalizing them so it shouldn’t be stopped. And our position was the Vietnam—the Vietnamese people shouldn’t have to pay the price for radicalizing the American political system by dying and having their country destroyed. So we wanted to stop the war and we prevailed in those meetings, but there was a lot of that stuff that went on. And at the end of that process, I had to make my own decision because I was classified 1-A by my draft board. They knew about my activities, they were quite anxious to draft me and shut me up and I had to make my decision on what I was going to do from these options that we had. By then, I’d—I’d
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been working with Boston Draft Resistance and counseling people how to resist the draft, so I knew the whole system. We had doctors lined up who were prepared to write letters for anybody that didn’t want to go and we were getting guys out right and left with that. And my decision was that I was going to refuse induction and go to jail. And I went to my first physical for the draft in Boston and right before the physical, I developed a massive infection, so the day I went to my physical, I was very sick. So they—I didn’t pass that physical, they said come back in six months. And that was a very important time for me because it was the first six months in my young adult life when I hadn’t had to do something because of the draft. They weren’t running my life anymore. I had six months free. So I had a great time.
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This is 1967, you know, lots going on in all kinds of ways. I did my fair share of what was going on and had a great time doing it and came back for my second physical at the end of six months in San Antonio. And I went in with a chip on my shoulder about that high and didn’t wear any underwear, so when they told me to drop my pants, I didn’t have any underwear on. I had to take my pants back up. I was doing all kinds of stuff to just mess with them and they took me into a—the psychologist, they—you had to have that kind of interview and I tried to mess with him, too. So they didn’t care. You know, I was 1-A when I came up. So then I really had to make a decision because I knew they wanted to draft me and I was prime beef. So at that point I said no, I’m not going to go to jail for five years. I’m
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not going to let Richard Nixon put me in jail for five years, that’s not the way it’s going to work. So instead I sold everything I owned and packed a pack on my back and went into exile and I flew from—we took the—a friend who went to Brandeis, graduating at the same time, he said I’ll—we’ll go traveling. I said fine. So we took Icelandic Airways, which was the cheapest plane at that time, flew into Amsterdam and headed south till it got warm and that turned out to be Morocco. And that was a whole ‘nother level of experience, incredible, spiritual things going on in a very different culture. I always felt like I’d gotten introduced to maybe five or six levels of Moroccan culture, but there were another twenty levels beyond that that I didn’t even have a clue about. And I was there for four months and picked up the
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International Herald Tribune one day and they said that there had been this lottery introduced, that Congress had passed the law saying they were going to use a lottery to decide who got drafted because there was too much, you know, white guys, upper middle class get out and black guys and Hispanic guys get drafted and there was too much of that going on so they wanted to level the playing field. So it would be strictly a matter of random drawing from a big container of birthdates. First date out’s number one, last date out’s number three-sixty-five. And when they did the drawing, my birth date was three hundred and twenty-four and they were only going to draft down to one hundred and twenty-seven. So suddenly my draft board couldn’t touch me. So I sat in my room in Morocco for two days, just trying to absorb this information because going into exile had been a very painful experience
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of saying goodbye to my family and goodbye to my country and all the things I’d grown up with, not knowing whether I’d ever be back. Not knowing what—what would happen from then on and going into a totally different environment, totally different culture, living there and going through all kinds of changes. And at the end of two days, I decided I—I’d come back. So I did come back to the United States and had a very difficult time adjusting after I came back because I had been through this incredibly powerful disruption in my life, very painful, and when I came back, people were still going to movies and going to work and acting like life was normal and I couldn’t understand that. You know, why wasn’t everybody in the streets, trying to stop this war? And that went on for some time. I—I know that for months, I don’t think I even stayed in one place longer than two weeks. I just could not
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settle back in the United States. And eventually I washed up on the shores of San Antonio and came home and that’s when we started the Urban Coalition and that’s a whole ‘nother chapter.
DT: Before we start that chapter, let me just ask you a couple of general questions about maybe open-ended lessons you might’ve learned. And one is it seems like you learned some organizational skills that maybe did you well in some of the public efforts that you took on later on when you were working at Harvard and trying to organize folks against the Vietnam War. And curious about that.
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LS: Yes.
DT: And secondly, it seems like you’ve earned, I guess, a willingness to challenge authority in this struggle against the Vietnam War and the government and the draft board and I’d be curious if you could bring together those two ideas in terms of your environmental life later. And third, living abroad and seeing (inaudible) in a poor, I guess you might say a Third World country like Morocco where people get by with much less than we have in the material sense in the United States and then returning and seeing that sort of culture shock, that great difference. Did that have any influence on your view of the consumer world that we have here? Any of those three things, could you talk about?
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LS: Uh huh, sure. Well organizationally, I think that the key—there were two keys organizationally. One was have faith in the people. Give them honest information, present it to them in a way they can understand it, they will understand it and they will eventually come around to pursuing what’s right. So have faith in the people. The second thing is make yourself obsolete. You have to transfer to the people you’re working with the ability to do it for themselves, not—not go in with the idea of organizing to make yourself a leader, go in with the organizing to empower the people you’re working with so that you can walk out and know that it’ll continue, doesn’t depend on you being there.
DT: Sort of the Alinsky idea?
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LS: I think Saul Alinsky would a—would agree with that approach, yeah. And the second thing, besides organizing, that you raised was…?
DT: A willingness to challenge authority.
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LS: Oh, willingness to challenge authority. I—I was raised that way. Every m—meal in our household when I’m growing up, we were presenting ideas on the table. Oh, here’s this issue today, what do you think about that and we were encouraged to question, to come up with our own opinion, to even be—you know, differ from mother or differ from father. That was perfectly all right long as you had a reason and you could support it, you know, then you’re—you’re in the dialogue. I was brought up that way from early, early, you know, we were encouraged to think for ourselves. So we had that. And then I think being brought up Jewish had a—a big issue already about authority. You know, what—the Jewish people have seen what authority could do when it’s not under control. So being very sensitive to
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authoritarian personalities taking over the political system or any other system you’re in, I think that comes with the territory when you’re—when you’re born and raised as a Jew. And then seeing how decisions were made that were wrong by the people in authority so there was no reason to defer to them. And then if you—if you really loved your country, for example, in Vietnam—to me, if you really loved your country, you had to stop that war because that war was poisoning the political process. It was being conducted in an immoral way. It was destroying the—the—the—the spiritual authority that the United States had to the extent that existed as being destroyed by the way they were behaving, so that the real patriot was the one that refused to follow orders. And that that was a lesson out of World War II as well and people were prosecuted and sent to prison or executed for following orders.
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So that all kind of wove together, I think, in the Vietnam thing where, particularly, when this high technology country is going into a—a Third World country and just inflicting this unbelievable damage. I mean, people still don’t realize how many people we killed in Vietnam. A million people were killed there and the—and the—the fifty thousand United States deaths are what bothered people. And yes, that’s bothersome, but think about what we did to that country. And the—the birth deformities are still going on from the—from the Agent Orange that was spread all over their country. All of that. Anyway, not that it isn’t being replicated today. You sometimes wonder whether things do change given what’s going on in Iraq right now, it’s the same thing. So yes, challenging authority was—was easy for me. I was brought up to do that. But always, I remember my mother was—was very clear, you know, okay, you’re against that. What’s the alternative? What are you for? You
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can’t just be against something; you have to know what you would do instead. So that what—what we were always encouraged to—okay, well, if I had this problem, how would I address it? And that was a very empowering thing because we didn’t have the Internet then but, you know, if we’d had the Internet, it would’ve been even more fun to do those kind of exercises. Now it’s incredible what you can do if you s—assume you’re the—you’re the one that has to solve the problem. You have a wealth of information available to you to go out and figure that out. So that was important. And the third element…
DT: Third was just this divide that you might’ve seen between your life in Morocco as a (?) place and come back to the United States where there’s so much wealth and extravagance.
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LS: That divide, I’d really seen earlier because I went to Mexico a lot growing up, so I spent time down in Mexico. When I was a senior in—let’s see, when was that? You know, the year escapes me, but I—I went to work in a mountain village in Mexico. It was a program run by the Catholic Interamerican Student Project. So they—somehow this nice Jewish boy got into a Catholic project and we went down to Morelia, Mexico and walked four mi—four hours out into the mountain and got to a little village called Toresias. And they took their water from a little hole in the ground that was—had a spring and it had a frogs in it and—and plants and the cattle walked by, right by the water hole. So our goal was to deliver them a supply of fresh, good water. And the village elder took us up into the mountain and showed us this spring that was coming out of a grotto that looked like a perfectly good, clean
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water source. And we went into Morelia and we got plastic pipe and had—had two rolls of plastic pipe on the burro, going out to the village. And we got this cement and asbestos tank, fifty gallon cement and asbestos tank. We didn’t know about asbestos then, but took that out to the village on a burro and a big brass faucet and had a wonderful time trying to figure out how to build this water system to get the water down. Had many different technical challenges that we solved in creative ways and there we were out in, you know, this tiny village. It was probably fifty people who lived extraordinarily simply. You know, beans and rice and grew the corn themselves and all that. Tortillas and—and yet they would—they were totally hospitable, invited us in and—and were happy to have us there, worked with us. And the genuineness of the people and the simplicity of the life were very appealing.
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That—that’s a nice way to live on this planet. And the consumer culture that we have going on where the—the President’s response in 9/11 is to tell people to go shop, I mean, that’s how addictive the consumer culture is, is destroying the planet. And so we are at a point where actually in—in an interesting way, we need the wisdom of those people who have lived sustainably. We really need their wisdom right now. That’s one of the things that’s going on in Hawaii right now. They’re actually forming councils of elders who know how it was done before the Europeans came to bring back the traditional methods that sustained hundreds of thousands of people of those islands with no imports. Right now, we import ninety-five percent of
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the food we eat. So they’re bringing back the fish ponds and the taro fields and the water management systems and the elders are coming forward to share that ancient knowledge on how you live on an island. Well, the—the Earth is an island in outer space and there are indigenous people all over this planet that have that kind of knowledge that needs to be shared and adopted. It can be updated with modern technology, no question. But the—the consumer side of what we’re doing now where basically we—we created these things called corporations. They don’t exist, these are fictional creation of ours and yet they run the planet. And they have a very simple mantra which is consume and produce profits and go out and get resources, convert them into profits and deliver them to the shareholders. That’s basically what
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they—I—I view them very much like the worms in Dune that ate the sand and converted it into the spice. That’s what the corporations feel like to me. They’re these giant worms we released on the planet and they’re doing what we ask them to do. You know, it’s not their fault. They’re not conscious. And the people inside them think differently when they’re inside that corporate office than they do when they sit in their home. There’s a schizophrenia that the worms have developed in the humans because pe—they will do things in the corporation that are damaging to the health of their children that they wouldn’t allow to have happen in their home. If they were thinking about what was going to come in, they wouldn’t introduce toxic
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material into their home. But they’ll do it if they’re working for the corporation because somebody else is responsible, they’re not. So I don’t know how I got off on that track, but anyway, that’s…
DT: You were talking about the difference between a low impact…
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LS: Low impact culture and the consumer culture, yes. And it—it—I think it is the issue. You know, the issue is human population, which of course, no one wants to talk about. So you never hear any of—you don’t hear any of the politicians—Hillary, Barack, any of them—say we have to control human population. That’s the issue for the planet because it’s the over-proliferation of humans that’s doing all the destruction and we would be developing policies for that and debating them. You know, do we have free contraception, do we do this, do we do that? There’s not even any discussion. So we won’t address the issue. We will address pieces of the issue like how much energy humans consume and what it means about greenhouse gases and so we’ll do things like a cap in trade for carbon. We got into those kind of
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things. We’re still not addressing the fundamental issue and—and the fundamental issue is restoring the integration of the human species into the natural world. That’s the fundamental issue. The only—to me, there are only two issues on the planet—the conflicts within the human family and the conflict between the human family and the natural world. And if we don’t resolve both of those, we’ll either be destroyed by war or we’ll be destroyed by over-consumption. And we have lots of—all the information’s available to solve both those problems. It’s a matter of people of good will somehow being made in charge of solving those problems, rather than people who benefit from those problems still controlling the reins of power.
DT: Lanny, when we were speaking earlier, you talked about your return from being abroad in Morocco, enjoying the simpler life. You come back to the United States, you travel around and you land once again in San Antonio and you find yourself being the executive director of the Urban Coalition of San Antonio and I was wondering how that happened and what sort of work the coalition did, particularly in an environmental sense.
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LS: Sure. When I came back to San Antonio, my father was in the process of forming an Urban Coalition chapter here. It was a national movement and being typically my father, he was going to try and make it happen in San Antonio. And he had visited the—the idea of the Urban Coalition was to bring together the different interest groups in an urban area, around the table, sit down, put an issue on the table, everybody discuss it and see if you could make some progress in resolving it. So the business community, the environmental community and the minority community—the different interest groups that—that formed the urban landscape would be brought to the same table. And he had begun forming that and it was going on when I came home and he asked me if I would be interested in being
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executive director of this organization. And I said I would. So he took it to the board and the board said fine and we started off and the first issue we dealt with, actually, was police brutality. And at this time in San Antonio’s history, there was a problem with police officers who took too much enjoyment in beating up, particularly, African Americans. And it had reached the point where the African American community was sort of in—in a turmoil and a rumble was building that they were going to disrupt the Fiesta Parade over this issue. So finally they got the attention of the establishment. The Urban Coalition was handed this hot potato as one of our first issues and I did some quick research around the country, what—what were people doing and a police review board was what a number of communities
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were trying. You set up a citizen’s board to review incidents and come to a conclusion as to whether the police had misbehaved. And we kind of floated that out there and the police department went nuts. Said no way and they started pulling th—their strings politically and we were catching all this heat about, you know, back off, no police review board. And the board kind of went well; maybe we need to look at a different issue. And my sense of it was if we have stepped out on this issue and we don’t deliver, then we’re going to lose the minority community. You know, this is—this is not something—why should they bother with us? If they brought us the issue, we sit down; we say oh, gee, we can’t solve it. But I understood that we weren’t going to solve it just by talking about it and I had received a call about an
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incident that had happened and this happened to be with some Mexican American young people and the police. So I hired a private investigator to go look into that incident and he went out and found witnesses who had seen what had happened and the kids were telling the truth and all this stuff came together and he—he was preparing his report and he came me, he said well, my report’s almost finished, but I am finished. I said what’s the problem? He said I’ve got a police car circling my neighborhood, my block, and they know what I’m doing and they—they’re—and I—I just can’t take the heat, so I’m just going to give you the report and I’m done. So I said okay. So I went and cornered the mayor and I said I’ve got the goods here. Here’s what happened in that incident, you got to do something or I’m going to go to the press. And this was all sort of…
DT: How old were you when this happened?
00:36:25 – 2450
LS: How old was I?
DT: Yeah.
00:36:27 – 2450
LS: This is like 1976, so I’m about thirty years old. Right in there. Maybe a little before that, but anyway, somewhere in there. And I—I was determined both to do something about the issue but also that the credibility of the coalition, to me, was on the line here if we didn’t get some results. Well, the mayor, John Gatti, at the time, took it very seriously and looked into the situation a little harder than he had before and realized that the problem was the police chief and a handful of officers, six or seven officers, that kept showing up in every incident. They would drive across town to in on a beating. It was like their—their game. So his creative solution was to create a new position called Director of Public Safety and they elevated the police
00:37:18 – 2450
chief to Director of Public Safety, brought in a police chief and told him clean it up. So he called those guys in and said you know, I really appreciate your service as police officers, I think we don’t need it anymore and got rid of the guys on the force that were doing the—the beatings. And the complaints went down, the—the community calmed down and it was like okay, Urban Coalition has already proven its worth in this community. We went onto other issues that were—with varying degrees of success, and then we reached the issues that were just too tough for the coalition to deal with and one of those was the South Texas Nuclear Project. I heard about the coalition—I mean, I heard about the—the nuclear reactor plan and didn’t know a lot about nuclear energy and took my college student approach and started
00:38:08 – 2450
going and reading everything I could and getting in touch with national organizations. And they would send me all these very disturbing reports about high level radioactive waste and releases and accidents and all this stuff and I wasn’t hearing anything about that locally. City Public Service had basically committed to the nuclear plant and wasn’t telling anybody anything. They didn’t intend to hold any public hearings. The council was presented with a proposal and given a very short time frame of two weeks or something to make a decision. They weren’t going to hold any public hearings. It was like the largest financial decision in San Antonio’s history was going to be made without any public participation at all by a city council
00:38:46 – 2450
that had been told only one side of the story and I thought that this was not right. So I wrote a series of papers for the coalition, highlighting some of the—the many issues there were around nuclear power and…
DT: Could you detail some of those (inaudible) some of the major concerns you saw with the…?
00:39:04 – 2450
LS: Well, the—the fundamental…
00:39:15 – 2450
LS: The—the—the fundamental issue for me always was the high level radioactive waste. Here we were, this generation of humans alive on the planet today, was going to build a machine that would produce waste for every generation after us to have to worry about. Deadly, deadly waste. Two hundred thousand, two hundred fifty thousand years so that we could have electricity that was a little bit cheaper to run toys—televisions, toasters, whatever—and that there was basically an intergenerational crime being committed here and that we had no right to create that waste. That was where it started and then as I dug into it and found out about uranium mining and tailings and pollution of water associated with uranium mining. As I found out about the dangers of proliferation with building reactors and reactors
00:40:05 – 2450
move around the world and suddenly somebody’s got the bomb that shouldn’t have the bomb. All of those issues just kept piling up. And the cost. I mean, that—the first number I ever had for the South Texas Nuclear Project, the first two units, was seven hundred and thirty nine million dollars. They ended up costing 5.5 billion. Delays—it took multiple years longer than they intended and I had some responsibility for that, which I’m quite proud of, that it took them a lot longer and they had to spend a whole lot more money because with what—let me back up to the coalition itself. The coalition, basically the business community was totally in support of City Public Service and didn’t want to hear about the nuclear plant. That
00:40:49 – 2450
was the basic message that’s delivered to me by my father. They didn’t want to hear about it. And I’d written these reports that I wanted to go to the city council. And he said you know, I’ve been told by some of the people in the business community because it was funded primarily by the business community, that they would withdraw their funding if we insisted on this nuclear issue. And I felt like, you know, we were the only voice. You know, there were citizens opposed, but in terms of an organization with any clout to even get attention, we were the only voice on the nuclear issues. So I said well, I—I feel like we have to deliver these papers to the council and my father said okay. So we delivered the papers to the council. The business community withdrew their support and down went the coalition. And the
00:41:34 – 2450
aquifer was another issue that also was lurking around that time and—and created that kind of tension with the business community because the developers were very angry at us for making the recharge zone such a hot issue that they couldn’t develop where they had intended to go. But anyway, after the coalition ran up on the rocks of nuclear power, I continued on with the nuclear power question. And we formed a group called Citizens Concerned About Nuclear Power. We looked into what the process was and it involved a—a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and they have something called intervention, where citizens could file a petition to intervene in licensing process and specify the issues they wanted to raise. And the group asked me if I would be willing to represent them in the licensing hearing. I wasn’t an attorney at the time.
DT: And this group was called?
00:42:33 – 2450
LS: Citizens Concerned About Nuclear Power. And it was just a—a group of us, yeah, folks in San Antonio and I decided at that point that if I was going to get into this game, I better know how it was played—so that’s when I went to law school. I was about thirty-five at the time. I went to the University of Texas, the new law school, so I could figure out how this game was played. And we filed our intervention petition and became involved in the licensing proceedings because we were there and highly visible. The people at the plant knew about our efforts and one day an inspector came to me from the plant, one of the quality control inspectors, and he said that they were intimidating and beating and threatening the inspectors on that project. What had happened is Houston Lighting and Power was
00:43:26 – 2450
the lead partner. They had given the contract to Brown and Root to do design, engineering, construction and inspection. One company, the whole project. Brown and Root had never designed, engineered, constructed or inspected a nuclear power plant. They had participated in the construction of one other plant. Brown and Root later became Halliburton, so the history goes on. Brown and Root had built the tiger cages in Vietnam that were the—the little cages that Vietnamese prisoners were put in. So I—I seem to—their—their history goes on. Anyway he came to me and said the inspectors were—who were trying to see that it was being built right. You know, if they saw rebar left out when the concrete was being laid, they’d stop the pour and make them put the rebar in. The project was falling further and further behind schedule, the price was going up, the pressure was mounting to get it done and the
00:44:22 – 2450
inspectors were the focal point for that pressure. So I asked him why don’t you go to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and tell them that you’re experiencing this? And he said he didn’t trust them. That they came out there and basically palled around with the management and took a few looks at stuff and didn’t really do much. So I said well, let me try. So I took down his allegations of what was happening, didn’t relate that it was him making the allegation, just took the allegations to the NRC office in Arlington, the Region Four office. They sent a team into South Texas, conducted an investigation, came out and said they couldn’t find anything. Well, I—I could tell the guy was telling the truth and there was no reason for him to come to me and threaten his whole career for—so I called 60 Minutes
00:45:10 – 2450
and I got a wonderful producer named Esther Kartiganer and she flew down to Texas with a television crew and sat the guy down and interviewed him and said you know, what—what do they say to you on the project? And he said you—you want me to tell you what they say? She said in your own words. So he let go with this blue streak of the kind of stuff that they would say to the inspectors on the project, threatening them and cursing them out and all that. And they took their film, went back to New York and next thing I knew, I got a call from Esther. She said it’s going to be on, it’s going to start with a little snippet on a—on a program in the morning and then the full blown story on 60 Minutes that night. And I watched and it was a very
00:45:53 – 2450
powerful presentation that they did. It went on for about six to seven minutes on 60 Minutes and the NRC nationally then announced that they were putting together a team from all over the country and sending them into the South Texas Nuclear Project to find out what the heck was going on. And they went in there, they came out, they shut the project down, fined them a hundred thousand dollars, issued a big report of all the violations they found out there and then confirmed that they were indeed putting pressure on the inspectors not to slow down the project. And I think at that time it may have been the largest fine levied up to that time against the nuclear plant. And of course, I took all of those issues into the licensing hearings so that—that was one of the advantages of being able to participate as an intervener. And we also were able to get a lot of publicity, you know, and awaken the
00:46:44 – 2450
community to what was happening down there. And I remember this classic moment where we’re having a press conference about this NRC finding and the reporter says to me, Lanny, don’t you want to just say I told you so? And I said no, I really would rather not. I wish they’d listened in the first place because now we have a real mess on our hands. And the mess continued and evidence surfaced that the Brown and Root design and engineering was faulty. Big, two volume report from the Quadrex Corporation suddenly surfaced that they’d been hiding at the plant.
DT: What were some of the flaws that the NRC inspection found and some of the (inaudible)
00:47:21 – 2450
LS: Well, the Quadrex Corporation. NRC, if I remember, it’s been a long time. But th—they did find that there had been intimidation and harassment. They did find that there had been substandard work, rebar left out, things like that and looking at the inspection reports, they could see some things had been falsified. So it was basically, you know, a substandard construction process going on there and they—they said that’s what happened. Quadrex came in and basically said Brown and Root didn’t know how to design and engineer a nuclear plant and pointed out all the deficiencies and different systems that they had designed and how they didn’t work well together and didn’t properly line up. And nothing that couldn’t be fixed, but the fix was expensive and time consuming and all of that. And not long thereafter, the
00:48:06 – 2450
partners said that’s it and they fired Brown and Root off the project and brought in Bechtel and Ebasco to finish the project. And many years later, about three weeks ago, somebody from CPS, who is not there anymore but was there at the time, came up to me at the public hearing, the CPS public hearing that CPS held here, it’s a different story these days, and said do you know you cost the City Public Service two billion dollars and the plant’s a whole lot safer for it. And I said well, thank you very much because that’s what happened basically. If we hadn’t gotten Brown and Root off that project, Lord knows what would’ve happened to South Texas. That Bechtel and Evasco were both very top flight companies. They went in, they corrected what
00:48:49 – 2450
was wrong, they built it right. So I always felt like we had certainly served that function of seeing that that plant was built safely and at least achieved that much even if we didn’t stop the license. And it was clear at the NRC that we were—we were not going to stop the license. The—the—all the issues that we raised, w—we—we had a new contention in the licensing hearings. It went right to the maximum contention. Does Houston Lighting and Power have the character and the competence to operate a nuclear power plant? And it was the first time in an—in an NRC licensing hearing that the requirement of character, which was in the law but never really translated, became an issue in a licensing hearing. And we had to address character and—and I thought that we had NRC testimony that was quite
00:49:37 – 2450
convincing that they didn’t have the character, that—that things that were found were sufficient to conclude they—they lacked the character necessary to receive a license. But it was clear also that they were going to get licensed. There was one point in the hearings—I made some argument about what had happened and the—the chief judge, Charles Beckhofer, said what’s your basis for that statement? I said well, it—it’s just common sense. He said no, no. We don’t—common sense has no place here. It’s the law and the facts. I thought common sense has no place here, well, that tells the whole story. You know, they can bend the law; they can twist the facts, but it—common sense is common sense. So they don’t want common sense there. And the NRC was geared to license plants, that’s what it was geared to do
00:50:21 – 2450
and it was allowed to by the Congress and—and the people, basically. It was allowed to license nuclear plants because they were considered something that the nation wanted.
DT: Maybe you could talk about that aspect, the fact that NRC maybe the AEC, the Atomic Energy Commission, before it, that there was a culture or systemic thing there that maybe set us up for failure and similarly, maybe, with Brown and Root, this issue of character and competence, maybe in respect to them allowing falsified documents or in awarding a no-bid contract to Brown and Root, a company that really didn’t have any experience doing this and had responsibility for every aspect of construction, design and engineering. Can you talk about those two aspects and whether this is unique to the South Texas Nuclear Project or if it’s something more generic and systemic to the regulator and the company.
00:51:17 – 2450
LS: Well—well, the—of course, when you start with the Atomic Energy Commission, the charge to the Atomic Energy Commission was both to promote and to regulate license. And it was realized as that process unfolded that there was a conflict of interest because your desire to promote and make nuclear power happen would impede your being a vigorous regulator or licenser and maybe deny a license to a plant that wouldn’t allow nuclear power to happen. That’s when they divided it and gave the NRC the regulatory authority. And at the same time, you had something that was very difficult to overcome. We’re sitting there with the NRC, they—the utility has spent billions of dollars building this plant and we’re asking
00:52:06 – 2450
them to say they can’t turn it on. So there’s a huge barrier to a negative decision in the investment that’s already been made. It’s one of our concerns today in San Antonio that they’re already investing millions of dollars—hundreds of millions of dollars—in this second two units for South Texas and that the momentum is building that way while they’re pretending like it’s no big deal, we can get out anytime. In fact, they are going in and making the investment. So the argument’s going to be made well, we spent so much already, we can’t stop now and all that. We’ve heard it before. So that’s a big barrier to the—and the—the place I saw this most clearly was at Comanche Peak in Dallas. I worked with Juanita Ellis there as a—an assistant in her effort, a very valiant efforts to stop Comanche Peak. And she did such a good
00:52:52 – 2450
job up there that the licensing board reached the conclusion that the utility did not have the competence to receive a license to operate a nuclear power plant. And so they gave them a second chance to demonstrate that competence. We thought well, what are we doing here, you know? What is the point? Oh, yeah. We’ll make it safer. They’re going to have to go back and correct stuff and show that they can do it better. But a license application is supposed to have a point where it’s denied or it’s granted. How do you get to the point where it’s denied and they get to go get second chance at it? Well, that’s the NRC. That was the whole thing. So nuclear power was something that—that had been pushed upon the country. I remember back in the early days, it was going to be too cheap to meter. I don’t think anybody’s bothered to make that argument in any current time. And that there is actually a fundamental, spiritual issue underlying nuclear power and that is that
00:53:52 – 2450
there are two major spiritual forces on this planet—one that worships life and one that worships death. And that the nuclear people are death worshippers fundamentally, even though the people that do it are probably good Christians and have no idea that they’re death worshippers. That this technology is disruptive on so many different levels that people don’t even have an awareness of. They can see all the material levels. When you start with a crime against every generation that comes after you, there’s hardly anything you can do that’s worse than that, so that’s the foundation and, from there, you build on all the other crimes you commit and all the disruption you create. You’re taking the sun, you’re putting the sun on the Earth and th—there’s all kinds of ways you can look at this issue about what they’re doing.
00:54:40 – 2450
I came to the conclusion long ago that there are these two very powerful forces and that they have many—many different dimensions and they—they can look—a death worshipping culture can look very positive because it can be expressed in a way that’s simply transcending physical limitations. Now that can be done beautifully or it can be done with total obliviousness to what you’re doing physically. If you’re totally oblivious to the physical because you’re up in some etheric realm and you’re destroying the life force of the planet because you don’t acknowledge it, that’s a form of death worship to me. But others would disagree and that’s fine. You know, we all have our own spiritual orientations and I—mine are kind of unique because
00:55:22 – 2450
they’ve been formed from so many different experience and so many different exposures. You know, right now I’m very busy with the—the Temple of Lono on the island of Hawaii. They’ve invited me in and we’ve done ceremonies together and I’m flying out of Texas to be back there in time for one—a very important ceremony that’s going to happen because the priest called me and said we need you there. I’m sort of this Jewish representative, I think, to the Temple of Lono or something. But it’s—it’s having…
DT: And they are life worshippers.
00:55:49 – 2450
LS: They are so life worshipping. I mean, the—the traditional Hawaiian spiritual tradition is so connected to the Earth that the Earth comes alive when they do their practices. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, I’ve heard it. The Earth speaks to you. Pele is real, it’s all very real when they get involved because they are just—they view themselves as part of life. And they’re—they—the Kumulipo is their—their spiritual book. It was an oral book that’s now been put down and it’s published. And it’s Darwinian, purely Darwinian. You know, we came out of the oceans, we rose from the—the ancestors are the whales and the—those are our ancestors. The turtle’s our ancestor. They know the whole evolutionary history of humanity and it—and it comes into a culture and is—and a practice that preservation of the Ina, the land,
00:56:42 – 2450
which is actually the land, see, the animals on the land, the trees, all of it. Preservation of all of that is the value—that is the value because it’s for future generations. So whatever you’re given, you have to be a good steward of, not take more than you need and not take any of the damages. You have to leave it as—well, at least as well as you found it because future generations depend on it. It’s just a simple—it’s simplistic in that sense, that humans are here to survive so you do what’s right to see that humans survive. And that they depend on the existence of all these other creatures and that the—all these other creatures are part of their family. These are ancestors. So if somebody comes out, I’ll jump just a second.
00:57:30 – 2450
The—the Navy came out to test low frequency active sonar on the humpback whales during their breeding and birthing season. Well, if that’s your grandmother and these Navy boys are coming out to run their tests on your grandmother or on your—your grandmother’s daughter who’s giving birth, the first reaction out there was this is rude. This is un—unacceptable just as a social event that they would come out and test on them. So it gives you a whole different perspective on many things and I have—I have been blessed that they—they’ve invited me to participate and that I’ve had incredible experiences with them. But this is what I’m talking about in terms of the—the life and death kind of culture. And who knows? You know, maybe humans are meant to transcend this condition. I think that the way to transcend it,
00:58:20 – 2450
though, it actually to descend into it. Be fully human, be fully cognizant of the planet, make the planet a part of your consciousness and become everything you can be as a human and that then you can transcend. But you’re not going to do it by denying what the reality is here and denying who you are as a human, you’re never going to get there. And that’s probably back to Atlantean and Lemurian stuff, but that’s a whole ‘nother question.
DT: But not to (inaudible) from this metaphysical, transcendental level, you’ve got to be more organic and part of the cycle of life.
00:58:58 – 2450
LS: The—the simplest—the—the simplest way to put it is if humanity’s going to survive on this planet, it has to reestablish an organic connection with the planet that makes sense. A sustainable—this word sustainable is used now so commonly it’s beginning to lose its real meaning, but sustainable means you are interacting with the planet in a way that you don’t take more than you need and you don’t take more—take what would destroy the viability of the system for future generations. Pretty simple rule and many indigenous cultures have operated on that rule for thousands and thousands of years. Where this whole culture came from that lost its connection to the planet, I’m not exactly sure. But it is now the dominant culture on
the planet and indigenous civilizations are being destroyed all over the planet and knowledge is being lost that’s very important.
[End of Reel 2450]
DT: So we’re resuming with our interview with Lanny Sinkin on April 10th, 2008 and I wanted to pick up where we left off when we were talking before about the South Texas Nuclear Project, Units One and Two and the whole licensing protocol and then we got into a wider discussion about the industry and the regulatory agency and the whole culture that surrounds it. These things go on and the original Units One and Two were permanent, I believe, in the mid eighties, ’84 and ’85. In September of 2007, Energy, Energy and STNP Nuclear Operating Company filed a combined construction and operating license applications with NRC to build two additional units at the South Texas Nuclear Project site, Units Three and Four. And it’s the first NRC application in twenty-nine years and totally the vanguard of some thirty license applications that are expected through 2009. And so I was hoping that you could bring us forward now, twenty-two, twenty-three years, to come back to Texas and face is it a renaissance? Is it a renewal? What is it that’s going on?
00:02:36 – 2451
LS: What is it? That’s a good question.
DT: How did you get drawn back into it and what did you see and how is it different? How is it similar to Chapters One and Two?
00:02:48 – 2451
LS: First of all, just to fact check. I think the NRC application is from NRG and CPS Energy, not this STNP Nuclear Operating Company. I—I—I think that’s the case.
DT: Okay. Stand corrected.
00:03:05 – 2451
LS: Because CPS Energy in San Antonio is apparently taking a fifty percent interest now that the City of Austin has decided not to get involved in this nuclear project. And we see many of the same things happening this time as happened last time and we see some major differences. What’s happening that’s similar is NRG is a holding company, operating company that has never built a nuclear power plant—never designed, engineered a nuclear power plant. And they are teaming up to do this with the City Public Service in San Antonio to do the second two units at South Texas. The effort to move the project forward with as little discussion as possible is a similar aspect. The effort to get invested in the project without too much public
00:04:03 – 2451
notice, so you’re well down the road is another similar aspect. What’s different this time, I think, is the council—city council this time is not a rubber stamp and City Public Service does not exercise as much control as they did last time over the political arena. It’s been a long history and—and people have worried about nuclear power and, I think, are con—more concerned now. We also have a major difference in that the alternatives are available. We have efficiency, we have conservation, we have wind, we have solar, we have biomass and th—new things coming on right and left. And the idea that you would go back into nuclear power when you have alternatives available, many of which are actually cheaper, many of which, like solar,
00:04:57 – 2451
are still more expensive, but their price is rapidly coming down while nuclear’s price is rapidly going up so that that’s going to cross. That line’s going to cross probably before you finish the nuclear plant. So by the time you’ve finished the nuclear plant, it’s going to be more expensive than if you had chosen solar. And solar has all kinds of benefits that—that aren’t there with nuclear. It’s flexible, you can build a hundred megawatts today in probably two years and if you need another hundred, it only takes you two years to add. So you can decide to pull back, go forward, build units whereas nuclear, you’re locked in. You have such a huge amount of your capacity that’s in this one plant, once you start building, you—you don’t stop and make it a smaller plant or whatever. You’re locked in and you—you got to go. The economic
00:05:46 – 2451
risks are also much greater this time. It was very much the economics that brought the nuclear industry to a halt last time. Overruns, delays, the capital markets getting a little fed up with being told false stories about what things were going to cost. You had many plants cancelled; you had utilities going bankrupt, including public utilities, trying to finance these things. This time, from the beginning, that concern is there. You know, people have seen the economic history of nuclear plants. Then you—you just look at this plant and it has gone from estimates of six billion mid year, last year 2007, to eight to nine billion admitted by NRG as of a couple weeks ago. So that’s a period of something like six or eight months, you had a thirty percent increase in the price and that’s what’s happening because this time
00:06:43 – 2451
around, China’s in the game. The China Syndrome is different this year. The China Syndrome this time is China is consuming vast amounts of raw materials—copper, steel, things like that—driving the price way up so that now any—any utility that wants to build a nuclear plant in the United States is competing with the Chinese for raw material. You have the capital markets shrinking because of the—the sub-prime scandal, all of that. It’s going to put—eventually going to put a big pressure on the availability of capital and the interest you have to pay. And you have the—blank. Just turned blank.
DT: (inaudible)
00:07:29 – 2451
LS: Terrorism. Well, te—terrorism is certainly a concern because of the—the vulnerability of nuclear plants is very high that you have the—the reactor containment vessel, but the nuclear waste is stored outside containment. So if you lobbed in a—a mortar shell, you could set off a chain reaction in the nuclear waste and God knows what—what that would do. They are not demanding that these plants have containments that can withstand an airplane impact. So terrorism is a concern, proliferation is a concern. They obviously—they say they don’t want the Iranians to have the bomb. Well, this big push for nuclear power is bringing in other nations that you might be concerned about having the bomb. Where they’re—they’re coming in to get nuclear just like everybody else is. By the way, I want to—I do want to touch on one subject. I think nuclear is being falsely sold as the answer
00:08:24 – 2451
to greenhouse warming. It’s just not true for many different reasons. One, under the current system where we’re using coal and oil and other fossil fuels and things, mining, milling, enriching, shipping uranium, they all release CO2 and greenhouse gases. The—the actual operation of the plant may not release very much at all. They can—they can call it zero emission but they’re trying to pretend like nuclear power is zero emission by getting you to focus only on the plant, not all the other stuff that goes to getting the fuel to the plant or all the other stuff that goes into storing the waste and all of that. So the carbon footprint of nuclear power is probably something like natural gas. Solar is probably not much less. There is a—a carbon footprint associated with solar, but of course, once you have s—solar, it—the
00:09:17 – 2451
price is fixed because you’re using the sun and you don’t have the waste in other things. The second thing is that the effects of greenhouse warming on nuclear power is the other way you have to look at the question. For example, the—the scenarios in greenhouse warming include the scenario that if the Greenland icecap melts and the South Antarctica icecap melts, ocean levels go up six to twelve feet. Now South Texas Nuclear Project is something like thirty-two feet above sea level. If sea level goes up twelve feet, the South Texas Nuclear Project is now only twenty feet above sea level. Storm surge that the NRC says you have to consider on the Texas Coast goes up to twenty feet. So one could foresee that if this rapid—if this melting is rapid and, in fact, that’s what we’re seeing now. Green—if you look at
00:10:12 – 2451
Greenland in the satellite pictures, you—you see the icecap just shrinking very rapidly in a very short period of time. And just a few weeks ago, the sea ice that holds the land ice in place on the South Antarctic icecap broke away. So now the South Antarctic icecap is poised to slide into the ocean if it starts accelerating under the warming. So that scenario is now suddenly not something fifty years in the future, that scenario can be very close time in the future, but certainly within the lifespan of the nuclear reactor, which is about forty to fifty years. Takes ten years to build, so you’re looking at a—a—a sixty year period. If you could have a global
00:10:56 – 2451
warming effect on nuclear power of inundating the South Texas Nuclear site, that’s a whole different decision about whether you build a reactor there. I don’t see any consideration of that going on in—in either NRG or City Public Service.
DT: Is there much consideration of climate change and water shortages and the amount of cooling water that’s available?
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LS: Water’s going to be a huge issue. The—the—the climate change information on South Texas is more drought, more severe drought. Right now, South Texas Nuclear Project has a co—binding contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority. It was signed years ago, litigated, settled, the whole thing. Locked in is a hundred and four thousand acre feet of water from the run of the river. And if there’s not enough in the river, forty thousand acre feet from the Highland Lake and that’s enough for four reactors. Now that deal holds unless you have a drought that’s worse than the worst historical drought, which would be the drought in the fifties. If you have a r—a drought that’s worse than the worst historical drought, everybody gets cut back on a pro rata share. So if they start cutting back the cooling water
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available to South Texas, South Texas will have to cut back the level of power operation. If you have a severe drought and you don’t have the water available or the water that’s available is from a depleted source that has heated up—this is the other side of the coin—if the water itself gets warm, which is what’s happening right now in many of the sites where there are nuclear power plants—it can’t cool the reactor as well. So you have to ramp down the reactor as to how much it operates based on wh—how much you can cool it if the water has gotten hot. The water can get so hot that you actually have to turn the reactor off. Right now, there are twenty-four reactors out of a hundred and four in the United States that are in areas affected by drought that by the end of this summer may have to start cutting back or
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even shutting down because the water is either not available—they’re on a river or on a lake where the water level has dropped so low that their intake doesn’t work anymore. Then they shut down. Or the water has gotten warm so that they—it’s too warm to do the full cooling job and they have to at least cut back on their level of power. So water and—and greenhouse warming is a huge interaction that is not necessarily predictable. We—we don’t know all the scenarios that could come out of greenhouse warming because we have created conditions that are beyond anything that’s ever been seen on the planet. The ice cores. When you do the ice cores and you look at the CO2 level historically, there’s never been CO2 levels as high as we’ve created with our massive burning of fossil fuels. So you can look at the ice
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cores and see sort of what the history was and what happened with the greenhouse warming effect that happened naturally on the planet from the—the ecosystems operating the way they operate. But they don’t necessarily tell you what’s going to happen this time around because humans have taken it off the scale in terms of the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. And there are scenarios that—that say they’ll be a flip, that what hap—that greenhouse warming is actually the precursor to an ice age and that the—there are ice cores that show the ice age coming on in a twenty-five year period. Can come that fast. So if that happens, then you have the freezing over of Europe and North America and that creates a
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whole different scenario. And I don’t know if they’re—if they’re aware of these and maybe they are. You know, maybe that’s why they’re so desperate to build these things because they see of flood of a—you know, refugees coming from the northern parts of the United States. I don’t know if that’s part of their thinking or not. I haven’t—what I—from what I’ve seen, I don’t think so. I don’t think they’ve really factored in things like greenhouse warming, drought, water shortage. They are—part of what’s working against us having a rational policy in San Antonio is that City Public Service has a huge comfort zone around the South Texas Project. They have
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basically wiped the history out and it—it’s not in their collective memory that they had all these cost overruns and delays and regulatory problems and all of that. What they see is they now have nuclear power plants that are running at one of the highest efficiencies of any plants in the country or in the world practically. They’re at ninety-two percent efficiency, whatever. They’re delivering low cost electricity, which we just won’t notice was done by regulatory fiat that took care of some costs that the public had to pay to make them low, but okay. So there they are; they’ve been subsidized. They’re delivering low cost electricity and they own the site. They own the cooling ponds; they have the transmission lines in place. Everything’s
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there. To them it’s like just add two more right next to the two that are there, no big deal. And that big comfort zone blinds them to all the factors that have changed since they did this originally and makes them not skeptical of even their partner, this NRG company that went into bankruptcy and came out in 2003 and if you read some of the responses by their creditors about how pleased the creditors were that they were in bankruptcy because finally someone was forcing them to act responsibly and—and they didn’t behave very well when they weren’t in bankruptcy. When they came out of bankruptcy, they were cited by a regulatory agency for falsifying gas price reports to a trade publication which is what’s used to set the price—the reports set the price for the industry—they were lying about the price they were paying for
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natural gas. They’ve come unto—to San Antonio with this sweetheart offer of a six billion dollar, two reactor when other utilities looking at similar reactors are coming up with estimates anywhere from twelve to seventeen billion dollars for the same reactors. So they’re way low balling it to kind of lure San Antonio in and whoever else wants to come on board. I thought that their—they recently announced a big deal with Toshiba, that Toshiba’s going to invest three hundred million dollars for a twelve percent equity and they had this big press conference and press release and a big thing for Wall Street. Their stock went up and all that. If you carefully read the press release, you found all the things they were trying to announce without bringing any attention to them. At that time, th—the range was six to seven billion. So in the press release, there’s one sentence that begins on an eight billion dollar project,
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dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. That’s how they announced a one billion dollar cost overrun in the estimate of the project, a little clause at the beginning of a sentence, buried in a press conference where the press conference is all about something else entirely different. Then they talk about the fact that they have to file a new application, or at least an amended application, at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission because the one they filed was so faulty that it was unacceptable. They’re going to file a new one and that that’s going to delay the project—pr—the operational date by a year and that’s buried in there. Well, if you’re dealing with a partner that you want to go long term with on a huge project that, you know, is really serious in terms of its potential economic impact and they’re deceptive in the
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way they behave and try and hide things—they don’t come to you and say we need to announce a billion dollar cost overrun, let’s call a press conference and tell them why it’s happening. They don’t do that. They bury it in a press release about something entirely different. You should be asking questions about whether you really want to be in a partnership with a company that behaves like this. And they have very different interests. You know, they’re a merchant company. They’re—they’re going to sell power to anybody and I think they want City Public Service board in there because City Public Service board is a cushion for them. It has a high bond rating, it’s a source of money, all of that and that they’re not really looking out at the best interests of the people of San Antonio. So all these things are in play
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right now. It is a very different situation I see politically. I—I walked—went to the B session, the—the informal session where City Public Service was briefing the city council on a rate increase they’re asking for, part of which is for money to go into the nuclear design and engineering. I saw members of council asking tough questions. Show me your efficiency plan; show me your solar plan. We think those are important. We think those should be fully developed before we have to make a decision about nuclear and you’re—you’re not—you’re not giving it to us. Well, they’re absolutely correct, of course. They’re not getting the information. They—they can’t even get the information. City Public Service will not put out a cost
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estimate of this plant. They say they have to do the des—preliminary design and engineering to know what it’s going to cost. We say that their position is we have to reinvent the wheel because nobody else knows how we do, so we have to do it our way. Well, we don’t think that’s true. We think you can look at Florida Power and Light and other utilities and use the same methodology and come up with a twelve to seventeen billion dollar estimate and you don’t have to go sit and do the whole design and engineering to know that. But that’s what they’re saying, so they won’t release that information. So in the first time we went through this, city council wouldn’t have asked the questions and wouldn’t have been at all upset with them for keeping them in the dark and, you know, put—like mushrooms and feeding them
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bull. That this time around it’s different. There are members of council that are—and they’re—they’re eager to see what information we bring. They’ve shown up at—at events and they’ve sent their aides to meet with us and they gathered information. They want to know what we know. So bringing in people here like Peter Bradford or Arjun Makhijani to present them with experts who can tell them what’s going on, we know they’re listening. It’s still a tough political situation for them to vote against City Public Service board. It’s still a tough political situation for them.
DT: Because the city gets about twenty-eight percent of the…
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LS: That’s—that—that—partly, that—that’s sort of an excuse for we’re afraid of them. I mean, it—it—there’s nothing that says you can’t—energy efficiency, okay. I come into your home, we’re going to—the utility’s going to help you do energy efficiency. We’re going to invest four thousand dollars in your house and we’re going to weather strip it, we’re going to put in attic fans, we’re going to put in a hio—highly efficient air conditioner instead of the one you’ve got. We’ll do all of that. You don’t have to give it away. If I cut your bill thirty percent, I put a—fifteen percent of that to repay the utility for what they just did and you get a lower bill, you get a much more pleasant house and the city still gets its revenue. We take that fifteen percent, we use it to go through back to the city and keep their revenues up. It—it—it’s even
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a sort of conflict of interest kind of question, do you really want to be setting public policy based on the revenue stream from the utilities that do the city budget? I mean, is that a reason why you would do a nuclear power plant? And I think it’s a phony argument but it’s being used as, you know, we have to go along with CPS because they pay our bills. Course, it—also, too, just to be clear, my understanding is the City of San Antonio has a thirty million dollar bill they pay to CPS for the energy they use, so CPS gives them two hundred and something million, they give CPS thirty million, so it’s not totally a one way street. But that’s even a secondary issue, very secondary. The—the primary issue is what’s in the best interest of San Antonio long term and that’s where those of us arguing against the nuclear
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investment are basically saying the future is not in that direction and that if you go in that direction, you’re going to cripple your future. That you’re going to be—if it went from six billion to eight billion in six months, give it another two, three, four, five years, you’re going to be up to twenty billion before you know it. And you take on that level of debt, you’re not only putting your bond issue—your bond rating at risk and having to raise rates like crazy, you’re also foreclosing the other options because you won’t have any money available to do energy efficiency or solar or anything else like that, whereas progressive, intelligent, highly motivated utilities elsewhere in the country are taking the other path and using energy efficiency conservation, wind and solar, in a combination that makes it unnecessary to build
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new plants. Florida—not Florida, Pacific Gas and Electric out in California just announced three billion dollars commitment over ten years for nine hundred megawatts of solar power. That means it’s here, it’s not some esoteric, unaffordable technology. One of the most—one of the largest and most responsible utilities in the country has chosen to go solar. CPS has a one megawatt project in mind as a demonstration project. Actually if you back up and look at the whole picture, CPS currently is spending two hundred and six million dollars on design and engineering of the nuclear plant being matched by NRG of two hundred and six million, so there’s basically a four hundred million dollar investment going into nuclear right now. They budgeted ninety-six million dollars over four years for energy efficiency to capture a hundred and fifteen megawatts of efficiency when they have a study that says
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economically they could capture twelve hundred and twenty megawatts. So they’re trying for a ten percent goal over four years whereas in fact the two—twelve hundred and twenty megawatts is just close to what they’re going to get from the nuclear plant. So they could eliminate the need for it with efficiency. And the budget for 2008 for solar energy rebates is a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. So I look at the three billion dollars, PG&E, and the hundred and fifty thousand dollars, CPS, and I say there’s something not right here. They obviously have committed to nuclear, but even more importantly, it almost appears like they’re not trying to really get the other. They’re trying to go so slow on the other that they can continue to justify the nuclear. And they’re—they’re using excuses like we have to learn how to do it. I mean, I talk to the people at CPS who say there’re problems with connecting
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these solar things up to their grid. Well, this is a problem that was solved thirty years ago in other utilities. They could pick up the phone and call somebody at another utility and say can you come show us how to do it and they’d do it in a minute. But it gives them excuses for not doing things. Talking to them about solar—when Arjun Makhijani was here, he said I—you know, I really look at parking lots as a solution. He put solar roofs over parking lots and started generating electricity right there where the grid is; don’t have to put in any infrastructure. It’s basically open land, it’s real easy to put up and eventually you’ll have electric cars that are going to come in and plug in and sell their electricity into the grid through that and all that. That’s your parking lot. And rooftops, says Arjun. And the guy
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from CPS says well, we’re not so hot on rooftops. Arjun said what’s the matter with rooftops? Well, we built one project and the penetrations leaked and the rain got into the roof. So you hired a lousy contractor, you didn’t adequately inspect it and the project was—was a disaster because you did lousy work. Therefore you’re not going to use rooftops for solar. Obviously that’s not a reasonable position but it demonstrates an attitude of find some reason not to do it.
DT: Let me ask you a question about bringing up these reasons and arguments and considerations that the utilities should put into play. It sounds like, unlike your first exercises with this on Units One and Two—where you worked (inaudible) concerned about nuclear power, you had a pretty open intervention process. Now it seems like you have to use the city council as a proxy to put these issues into play.
Can you talk about the streamlining and fast tracking that’s going on? How the process has changed from the first go around.
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LS: Oh, yeah. You—you—you could not do this time what we did last time. You just simply can’t. The NRC has changed the process so radically to eliminate any citizen participation that you—you really could not have the kind of effect we had last time of exposing the bad construction, exposing the lousy engineering and driving the contractor off. That—that—that would never happen again because they have combined the operating and construction permits. In my day, thirty years ago, you got the construction permit and that—you then began constructing and while you’re constructing, you’re applying for your operating license. So the whole history of the construction becomes part of the operating license proceeding. Now it’s combined. They give you your construction and operating license at the same time. So…
DT: At the beginning.
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LS: At the beginning. So the operating license is, in that sense, meaningless. Or you do your applications at the beginning. What they will do during construction is they will run some tests and if you pass those tests, then you keep going on the operating license. Everything goes forward. So that’s one major change. A more important change is that in the intervention process where citizens had the ability to question NRC witnesses and panels and present their own documents and go see what the NRC had in their documents, they have foreclosed discovery and they have foreclosed cross examination. So you can’t cross examine any—their witnesses and you can’t ask for their documents to be produced to you. You can present your argument, present your documents, present your expert, you basically go in their
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room and you put them on the table and you sit down and wait. If the judge wants to hear from your expert, they can ask your expert to be brought in. If the judge doesn’t want to hear from your expert, then you leave the room and you’re done. So that process is not going to produce the normal adversary legal process that takes place where they put on their case, you get to cross examine their witnesses, you get to look at their documents and what’s really in the record and challenge them on the record—none of that. It’s all just for show now. Then on South Texas, we saw a beginning of how that’s going to work because NRG submitted an application—well, here’s another thing on your partner, this partner you’re going to work with. NRG rushes in to be the first utility to submit an application in twenty-nine
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years and big fanfare, champagne bubbles, the whole thing. They submit an application in which huge portions are missing and incomplete. The NRC looks at what they’ve submitted and says well, you know what, we’re going to process this little part of your application. We’re not going to deal with any of these other parts until the whole thing is complete. Now the NRC did—did—violated their own rules right off the bat. Their regulations say when you submit an application, we consider it tendered. We haven’t accepted it as an application. When we review the application, if we find it is complete and can be addressed, we will then docket it. Well, this incomplete mishmash that was submitted by NRG was docketed so they just skipped over the requirement that it be complete. After they docketed it, very
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shortly thereafter, they issued a notice of hearing. Now the—the hearing will be held at some time and place to be announced because obviously we’re nowhere near the time for holding a hearing. Why issue a notice of hearing? They issued the notice of hearing because that then allowed them to open up the process for intervention by citizen groups and set the absolute minimum deadline in the law, which is sixty days. So they’re saying to groups like the groups we work with, you have sixty days to review this incomplete application and tell us what issues you want to litigate in—in the—the licensing hearing and submit your petition. Well, sixty days to even review what they submitted would hardly be time enough. The environmental report is this thick. So they were trying to sandbag us and fortunately the—the SEED Coalition
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and Public Citizen and Sierra Club and Nuclear Information and Resource Service got together and the SEED Coalition retained a lawyer in Washington—Diane Kern, who’s been in the nuclear thing a long time—and they filed a petition at the NRC and said what is this? Wh—why should we be required to file an intervention petition on an incomplete application? You’re violating your own procedures. I filed a separate petition for a social justice here, Southwest Worker’s Union. I said the petition—the—the application should be un-docketed. You know, it never should’ve been docketed in the first place. Well, the NRC responded by withdrawing the notice of hearing and indefinitely suspending the requirement for the intervention petitions. That’ll come later. And the NRG is going to file a—basically a new application in the
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fall. So NRC was willing to try and sandbag the inter—the citizens’ groups right from the first day even though they’ve totally rigged the hearing process to shut them out. They were willing to—to violate their own regulations to keep them from even getting in the door. What? That’s the N—that’s the old NRC, that hasn’t changed. Licensing nuclear plants, they view as their responsibility.
DT: Your work with the Citizens Concerned About Nuclear Power in the first episode about Units One and Two went on for six or seven years, produced a record of fifteen thousand pages and I think put you into bankruptcy through trying to cover all these costs. Do you resent the imposition of all these costs on a private citizen trying to do basically the agency’s work?
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LS: Well, obviously it was—it was the agency’s work and should’ve been done by the agency. I think it—it was unfair, yeah, and the—what happened essentially is we did raise funds in the beginning that were able to cover expenses and then it just went on so long that the support fell away and people moved onto other things. And I kept going and actually left Texas and moved to Washington D.C. and was still involved in the licensing hearings. And it—I—it became somewhat of an obsession, I had to—to get it done because it was my job. And the—the partners fired Brown and Root off the project and sued Brown and Root and collected more than seven hundred million dollars in damages. So it was kind of ironic to me that our work of exposing Brown and Root got the utilities seven hundred million dollars and I ended
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up in personal bankruptcy. That was in part because we had extraordinary expenses when my daughter was born and—and another one of those ironic pieces of life. Before she was born, Chernobyl happened. She was in utero at the time and when she was born in September of ’86, I was holding her when she was about three weeks old and I noticed that there was a little part of her iris where there was no color. And we called the doctor and the doctor said well, you know, the iris is one of the last things that really forms completely, it should be gone in a week. A week later, it was bigger, the—the area of no color. So he said no, something’s wrong. Bring her in. So he put her un—under and he looked into her eye and he said that
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there was a cyst inside her eye where the retina was being lifted up by water forming underneath and that he was going to send us to Will’s Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. I was in Washington, D.C. at the time. And we went to Will’s Eye Hospital, it’s a wonderful place in Philadelphia, and the doctor there said yes, that there was this cyst and that they could do two things. They could put in a fine needle and suck the water out and let the retina go back down and hope that it stayed or they could open up the eye, cut out that part of the retina and the eye—there would be damage to the structure around the lens, which would probably lead to a cataract, the loss of the lens, and probably loss of vision in the eye. She would see shapes and colors, but she wouldn’t have any focus. So we chose the needle
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and we did the needle. We took her back home to Washington. Two, three weeks later, it was back again. We went back to Will’s, we chose the needle again and two or three weeks later, it was back. So they finally did the full blown strategy—operation. And she did lose the—basically the sight in that eye. Now a number of years later, I was talking with Ernest Sternglass, who has been active in health physics for many, many years and on the nuclear issue, and I happened to mention my daughter. And he said well, when were you in Washington, D.C. and I told him. He said well, this is a Chernobyl effect. What happened was that the cloud came over Washington, D.C. and there was rain at the time that cloud went by. Radioactive iodine deposited on the ground in that area. His theory was that the radioactive iodine was on the grass that the cow ate that got the milk that came into
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my house and my wife drank and the radioactive iodine passed into the uterus and into my daughter. And I thought well, you know, and first of all, I was extraordinarily angry when he told me that at myself. I mean, how stupid that an antinuclear activist wouldn’t think about the Chernobyl cloud coming over and keep milk out of the house. But I eventually let that go, that, you know, it—no reason I would’ve made that connection necessarily. But it always was—that the bills at Will’s Eye Hospital was what finally sunk me into bankruptcy. I couldn’t pay the medical bills. So here was basically Chernobyl causing me to go bankrupt after fighting South Texas and it was all just too cosmic to deal with. But yeah, I thought I paid a real high price for—for that involvement. And at the same time, you know, it—it’s
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why we’re here. You know, if we’re not here to protect the planet and protect each other, people pay a price sometimes. Didn’t stop me from going on and doing other things. I think somehow that my patron saint in the legal world was the patron saint of impossible cases because it—most of the cases I’ve dealt with were, you know, everybody’s going in, no way you’re going to win it but there is something called public interest law where you even file cases that you don’t expect to win because of their value in educating and raising issues and spreading the word that needs to be spread.
DT: I think one of the efforts that you got involved with when you were in Washington was The Christic Institute, which was well known for being involved in the Karen Silkwood incident and litigation with Kerr-McGee as well as later, the Iran-Contra litigation Avirgan versus Hull. And a number of years later, 1994, you (inaudible) and I’m trying to weave these things together because I think with both, there’s a dimension of faith, that The Christic Institute had this inner faith aspect as a Jesuit who’s an important partner and then you go to the Light Worker Center which I guess is more nondenominational or less organized but still there was this connection between concern for the planet and interest in things at a spiritual realm. I was wondering if you could talk about that in your own life.
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LS: I should say a part of what probably opened me up to the spiritual world was the fact that my mother chose to name me Lanny and she got that name from an adventure series that existed at the time that she had enjoyed called The Lanny Budd Series, written by Upton Sinclair. And Lanny Budd was this figure that did all these incredible things of a—messenger for presidents and advisor and all that kind of stuff and she really enjoyed the books. So I’m fond of saying that my mother at least from the get-go said my life was going to be part fiction. And I think once you open yourself up to fiction, the spiritual world isn’t far behind. So I think that’s o—one of the doors that was opened early in my life. In terms of the Christic Institute,
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it was named—Teilhard De Chardin was a—a writer of spiritual exploration who said that there was a force in the universe that called everything to its highest manifestation. Basically everything would complete itself to its most—well, most complete manifestation and that force he called the Christic Force because he was a Christian. So he felt like it was kind of like Jesus was on the mountaintop calling humanity to come fully into itself and be all it could be and that he liked that concept. And the Jesuit priests who fi—who formed Christic along with others adopted that name for the institute and called it an interfaith law and public policy center. And so it did have that—social justice was the sort of manifestation of the spiritual value system, the Jesuit social justice commitment. And so we did do the
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Iran-Contra case, came out six months before Ed Meese said a word about it and said that there was a—a group of people—we—we started outside Oliver North’s door and named all the private people—Secord and Hakim and (?), all those folks—and said they were a racketeering enterprise, smuggling cocaine, running guns, assassinating people, and went after them as a racketeering enterprise. And four years into the case, the judge gave summary judgment to all the defendants and dismissed the case, even defendants who hadn’t asked for a summary judgment, and then turned around and fined us 1.2 million dollars for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Now by that time, many of the figures we had named in the lawsuit were testifying in front of Congress about the Iran-Contra affair, so the idea
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that what we said was frivolous was absolute nonsense. We took that up on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta and actually approached the American Bar Association about an amicus brief for us on this issue of whether the lawsuit was frivolous. The American Bar Association said, you know, that ruling is so far out of bounds, it’s clearly going to be reversed that there’s no need for us to invest resources in preparing an amicus brief. We said okay, fine. So we went up to the Eleventh Circuit and early in the appeal process, one of the judges was killed by a bomb, another bomb kills a civil rights attorney and a third bomb is found at the clerk’s office at the Eleventh Circuit and defused before it can go off. And his—it—we—we understood later that the FBI knew the day it happened who the bomber was
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because there was a—a racist who had lost at the Eleventh Circuit and he was a bomb maker, it was his signature, they knew who did it. They didn’t solve the case. They just left it hanging there and we felt that was an attempt to influence the Court to associate the case with us. Later on, I was out in Portland, Oregon, driving someone to Washington, D.C. to join our team and as we’re driving out of Portland, National Public Radio comes on and says a second judge on the Eleventh Circuit, on his way to court under federal guard because of these bombings, h—his limousine had been fired upon and the window is shattered, the judge is okay. The assassin is trapped in the building; helicopters are circling the building and stay tuned for more. The story disappears. The next morning, the story comes back, authorities now say
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that a defect in the window and a rapid change in temperature caused the window to shatter and there was no effort of assassination. We just laughed. It was the quickest cover-up probably in United States history, but it had its effect because that was one of the most conservative judges on—on the panel. And on the other end, the guy that was killed with the bomb was one of the most liberal judges on the panel, a wonderful judge who’d led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Delegation to the ’68 Convention of the Democratic Party. But anyway, I get back to Washington, D.C., I call the court and I say I’m calling to check on our appeal. She says what’s the name of the case, I say Avirgan v. Hull. She says oh, Lord. I said oh, Lord? She said oh, yeah, Avirgan v. Hull, that means duck and run for cover. So the intimidation on the court was working, everybody in the courthouse associated our
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case with the bombing and the attempted assassination. So the Eleventh Circuit came out and said the appeal was totally frivolous and sent it back to the trial court and he imposed another two hundred and fifty thousand dollars on the Institute in penalties. It’s the lar—lar—as I say, largest financial penalty in the United States legal history, I suspect even to this day and I wear it as a badge of honor. And down went the Christic Institute. So that was the story of what happened there and the faith part of it was always there. I mean, we—we believed we were doing good work and that it—it was important for the country to understand. What we did in that case was we took a good look at the covert history of the United States and we published materials all over the place. We eventually reached hundreds of
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thousands of people. And I think we built the groundwork for a certain amount of skepticism that quickly came to the fore when 9/11 happened. People didn’t automatically swallow the story about what 9/11 was about. They stepped back just to take a look and if you step back and take a look, you see all kinds of things that don’t add up. So I—I was afraid something like 9/11 was going to happen when I saw Bush win the election. We saw people coming back into the White House who we had driven out of government in the Iran-Contra case, like Admiral Poindexter. So here was the same crew coming back into power and they are totally amoral, they will do whatever is necessary to get their policies in place. It’s no accident that the Patriot Act was so quickly ready to go after 9/11. But that’s a whole ‘nother
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story, too. So then the Light Worker Center, you mentioned, in—in Hilo. Yes, my wife, at that time, was Mary Rose Creekson and she and I started the Light Worker Center and what we were doing was basically setting up the space for teachers and healers to come and share their knowledge. And it was open to anybody, someone that knew a little bit and could teach that little bit, that was fine. Someone that was a master of any particular discipline, that was fine, so we had classes and workshops going day and night for three years. Was a fabulous experience for me, exposed me to a lot of information, a lot of disciplines, a lot of experiences, a lot of training and we felt like we were performing a real service in that people were learning about
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things they had no knowledge about and teachers were having a venue in which to share their knowledge that was available. It was very interesting because if we were in there painting the place, getting it ready to open when the first phone call came from Australia, two women saying they wanted to come and do aura expansion workshops at our place. We hadn’t even hung the sign up. We didn’t even know we were open, but somehow, somebody in Australia had already heard about it. So it was like that from day one at the Light Worker Center, just one event after another. And it was a—a terrific time and brought us into contact with a lot of wonderful people, including traditional Hawaiian practitioners and we were very
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happy to—to do it. And then it—it just got to be too much after three years of day and night. So eventually we closed it and later on, opened an animal sanctuary where we took in homeless animals, primarily dogs and cats, and I was there for about seven years. And that was the best job I ever had. I scooped hundreds of pounds of poop and had these wonderful animal friends. We had usually about a hundred dogs and about two hundred cats in residence. And we would bring them in and do the spay and neuter and socialize the ones that had been abused to the extent we could and then try and adopt them out again. It was a fabulous experience, so somehow I ended up with the animals as part of my ecological connection.
DT: Well, is there a tie to Doctor Doolittle with your work with the animal shelter and then your work with the Cetacean Community to represent the whales and dolphins that have been affected by the Navy’s sonar?
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LS: Well, th—there is—I guess there is. There certainly was a connection. With the animals, I think it—it actually started when I was younger, in—in seventh, eighth grade, I had dogs. Growing up, I had dogs and really liked them and hadn’t had a dog for a long time before I came to the animal sanctuary. As far as the cetacean cases, part of the experience in Hawaii for me was swimming with the dolphins and up close and personal because they would come and play. So they would bring a stick over and drop it and you’d dive down, get the stick and take it over and drop it and they’d come grab the stick and bring it back and they’d catch stuff on their fins and come and drop it in front of you so you’d go and take it somewhere else. Then they’d come back and get it and it—it just—the mothers would bring the babies over
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to introduce them to you and they would play and just wonderful experiences with the dolphins. And that’s the nature of Hawaii where the natural world is just very accessible and the—the veil between the natural world, the human world and the spiritual world is very thin. All you have to do is want to have the experience and it can happen very easily in Hawaii. Now what got me into the cetacean case originally was a—a call from someone saying that the Navy was coming out to our island to test this low frequency active sonar on the humpback whales who come there six months out of the year to give birth and—and to breed and that they were holding this meeting over on the other side of the island. Well, I—I didn’t get to the meeting but people called me from the meeting and said it almost broke up in a riot because
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people were so angry that they would even think about doing such a thing and the Navy ran out of town. But they did come and once the testing started, I started getting calls from people that knew I was a lawyer and was involved in environmental issues. Whale watch captains were calling me, saying you know, we go out the regular route and it’s through the test area and we’re not seeing any whales. They’re all fleeing from this test. So the more calls I got, the more concerned I got and my wife and I wrote a letter to the National Marine Fishery Service saying we’re getting all these reports. The permit says if there’s an abnormal absence of whales, you’re supposed to stop and they’re still going. And the National Marine Fishery Service didn’t respond with anything and the Navy didn’t
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respond, so I filed suit to stop the testing. And we gathered all these statements from whale watch captains, helicopter pilots, shore observers about how the whales had all fled from this test area. And before we could get the hearing on the injunction, the Navy stopped testing, went to the judge, said they didn’t intend to do anymore testing and the case should be declared moot. And the judge said okay, the case is moot. So we never got a ruling and the Navy, to this day, has never acknowledged the evidence we submitted in court in the—on their testing in Hawaii. Well, another component of that was when they prepared the environmental impact statement; they never addressed the potential impacts of use of that technology during threat and warfare conditions, only during training and exercise. So I wanted
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to challenge them for not having done that and to make them do an EIS for the full-blown use of it during threat and warfare. And I decided I would try to file this case in which the plaintiffs would be the cetacean community—whales, dolphins and porpoises and Hawaii was one place where we had a case that had a precedent, the Palila bird on Mauna Kea, on our island, it’s the only environment in which that bird exists. And a suit had been filed by Sierra Club challenging the presence of feral goats and other things in their area as a threat to their continued existence. And in the opinions—there were four different opinions in that case—in the final opinion, the judges actually said that—from the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court, the Palila bird could
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wing its way into court and have standing on its own, basically because it was an endangered species. So I thought well, that’s a good precedent. We’ll work with that. So I went in and filed a case challenging their failure to prepare an environmental impact statement for threat and warfare and my plaintiffs were the whales, dolphins and porpoises. Cetacean Community versus Bush—I always name the president in my federal suits because I think that’s the top officer, he should be held responsible. So the district court judge said no, threw the case out. It went up on appeal to the Ninth Circuit and I went to San Francisco for oral argument and I walked in and it was my turn to talk and I started talking about the failure to prepare the environmental impact statement and the chief judge stopped me.
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Actually there were two judges on the bench and another judge appearing by television from Nevada on the—across the Internet because he was out hearing a case there. So they stopped me and they said Mister Sinkin, we really want to hear about the standing issue and why you think you’ve—your plaintiffs have standing. And I start to address that and the judge on the television screen says well, Mister Sinkin, let me ask you, are your clients in court today? And everybody laughed, you know, we had a good laugh about that and I looked at it and I said you know, you’re not in court either. And maybe someday we’ll have the technology where my clients can communicate with us and they can be in court. So we had that kind of dialogue that was really en—all the judges really enjoyed it and wh—and they raised some
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very good issues and eventually they denied standing. But in the opinion, they said we think that if there’s going to be standing, Congress has to specifically say so and there is nothing in Article Three of the Constitution that governs courts, that says Congress can’t give the courts jurisdiction to hear cases filed in the name of an endangered species. If Congress wants to amend the Endangered Species Act to do that, no barrier. So I’ve always hoped that someday, somebody in Congress would rise to that occasion and—and do such a thing. It hasn’t happened yet.
DT: (inaudible)
00:54:20 – 2451
LS: That was part of the argument. And it—actually and—and the—the central argument, though, was on the Endangered Species Act. It—the Endangered Species Act is one of the most powerful laws ever written in the United States. Very strict, very strong and its goal is to prevent extinction. What happened over in the courts was if you had something that threatened an endangered species and you wanted to sue to prevent it, you had to find a human that was adversely affected by that same thing in order to get into court. You couldn’t just file in the name of the endangered species. So there was actually a case in which an Endangered Species could not get into court to protect itself because the threat didn’t affect a human that would have standing. So my argument was that the court rule on standing had
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created a gap that wasn’t meant to be there when the Endangered Species Act said prevent all extinction. So the court should waive that rule and allow the full implementation of the law to prevent extinction and I just couldn’t get them there.
DT: Let me ask you one other question. You’re currently representing folks that have been challenging the Superferry. I guess it’s also related to the whales because it goes through their breeding grounds and can damage them. But it brings up an interesting issue to me that here you are, using written words and spoken words to represent folks that are involved in civil disobedience, which I guess is another form of protest. I was curious, what are the different possibilities of each of these tools of trying to make a case, make an argument, change people’s minds…
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LS: That—that’s a good question.
DT: And secondly, in this particular case, it seems like there are national security terrorist claims that rise to the front and try to stop some of the constitutional first amendment rights of free assembly and speech to present those claims.
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LS: I’m—I’m going to…
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LS: I’m going to address that—the second question first. The national security issue is very interesting because funding the Superferry is Lehman Brothers and that’s—John Lehman, who was former Secretary of the Navy, who’s a member of a group that was known as the Project for a New American Century and they were the ones that developed the plans for a United States hegemony in the world during the Clinton administration and came out with a plan for how the United States would dominate the world. And the—and they even had their list of nations that would have to be confronted—Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, China, in that order. So we’re watching their plan being implemented because these are all the guys that came in
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with George Bush into office and were known as the NeoCons. So that’s where the funding’s coming from for the Super Ferry. It’s also where NRG at South Texas is getting funding, through Lehman Brothers. So I have the feeling that probably since the days of the Christic Institute, I’ve been dancing with the same partner through different facets of my life, that it’s this crew that is really trying to pull the—the world in a certain direction and I’m constantly having to pull it back in the other direction. But anyway, in this case, the—the people I represent jumped in the water to prevent the Superferry from coming into Kauai harbor because they were opposed to the Super Ferry, they were opposed to threats to the whales, they were opposed to the transferring of invasive species and they firmly believed that the
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Supreme Court of Hawaii had just issued an opinion that says this boat can’t operate and that they were absolutely correct. The Supreme Court had issued an opinion saying the State of Hawaii made a legal error in not requiring an environmental assessment be prepared for the operation of this boat and the harbor improvements that the state was making. And that Section 343 of the Hawaiian Environmental Policy Act applied. That section says if you have to prepare an environmental assessment, you finish that and have it accepted by the state before you do anything else. Well, they issued that opinion and two days later, Superferry goes into operation and the way that happens is the attorney general says well, the law is that you can prepare an environmental assessment while proceeding with the
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implementation. There’s no such law but he’s a Republican. The governor says I like that, the head of the Department of Transportation says I like that. Superferry says we like that. So they launch, based on a conspiracy of liars, they launch the boat into operation. Well, the people on Kauai knew what the truth was, that this boat was operating illegally so they jumped in the water to block it. Coast Guard comes in, moves everybody out of the way. The boat goes in and docks, goes back out again, unloading people and cars as—they’re moving people and cars among the islands in Hawaii. The next day, they come back, there’s sixty surfers out there blocking the harbor. The Coast Guard can’t do anything about it because the boat has remained outside the harbor, it has a hundred yard security zone around it but it’s not within a hundred yards of the surfers. So the Coast Guard has no authority
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to do anything and the boat finally gives up and goes back to Oahu and never unloads. The governor then creates—also, while that’s going on, they do move in and start arresting people and there’s just a lot of—not a lot, but there’s some violence between the police and the people of Kauai that goes on. They’ve got SWAT team out there and all kinds of stuff. The governor forms a unified command, which is federal, state and local law enforcement, state agencies, SWAT teams, the whole thing and says we’re coming back to Kauai. And the people of Kauai are going, you know, so there’s this big confrontation building up. The Coast Guard then announces that they are imposing a security zone on the harbor in Kauai and the surrounding land. Security zone means you can’t come into that zone without their permission
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and if you do, it’s ten years in prison and a thirty-five thousand dollar fine. Basically declaring martial law in the harbor. That’s when I sued them because as far as I was concerned, they were creating a security zone to protect an illegal operation which made the security zone illegal as well. And what they were trying to prevent was people peacefully assembling in front of the boat to prevent its passage, which I saw as their First Amendment right that could only be expressed in this way. See, the Coast Guard was kind of clever. They created a Free Speech zone, like they do for the presidential visits, over on this part of the—the harbor, you could hold up a sign saying I don’t like Super Ferry, but you could not get in the water in front of
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Superferry to block it because of the security zone. So they said that was a First Amendment protection that was sufficient to pass judicial muster. The courts would uphold that. I said no. If your position is this operation is illegal and threatens irreparable environmental and other harms, the only effective speech is to actually stop it. It’s like if a burglar’s breaking into your house, you’re allowed to stand on the side and say it’s illegal to break in my house with a sign? No, you can stop the burglar. Same principle, this is what I argued to the district court. So it was a combination of using the law, using the words and the civil disobedience all to me worked perfectly together. It was a fine mesh because I was arguing self defense, I was arguing civil rights, I was arguing First Amendment all in this confrontation that
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is taking place. And it was so curious because—I—I should add one more piece. After announcing that the unified command had been created and they were coming back, the governor came to the island of Kauai to meet with people. A thousand people showed up in the auditorium. She got up and said we’re coming back September 26th with Superferry and the place erupted. People screaming at her, cursing her and then they all started chanting, EIS—environmental impact statement. And the walls are reverberating; you can watch it on You…
[End of Reel 2451]
DT: Lanny, could you continue with the story…
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LS: Okay, the—so the governor goes and people basically shout her down, she’s got the head of the Coast Guard there, the Attorney General’s office is represented, state agencies, they all get shouted down. And it—it—it’s the only time I’ve ever seen a mass demonstration for an environmental impact statement. Seen them on a lot of other issues, but to hear people chanting EIS was highly unusual. So at that point, the Superferry decided they would not be going back to Kauai after all because clearly there were going to be hundreds of people in the water, whether there was a security zone or not and it was a very interesting moment in Hawaiian
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history to me because they are going to Maui. And on Maui, there was strong opposition from Sierra Club and others but they took the form of standing on the side of the road, holding signs. Nobody went in the water. So they’re cer—they’re going to Maui and they’re not going back to Kauai. It’s a very interesting thing established there, that the people stand up and they’re strong enough, they can stop almost anything. And if you just play by their rules, they will just roll over you because Superferry just goes by while you’re holding your sign. So what’s happened since is the Maui court, where the orig—the litigation originated after the Supreme Court decision, did enter an injunction preventing the boat from coming to
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Maui. So the governor called a special session of the legislature and got a law passed that amended—well, it didn’t really amend, it was just a special law—that said large capacity ferry vessels could operate while preparing an environmental impact statement. Everybody else has to do it first, but large capacity ferry vessels don’t. So that’s in litigation now as to whether that law is constitutional, but it basically gave Superferry the green light to operate again. So the judge in Maui lifted the injunction based on that law and they are operating between Oahu and Maui. They never have gone back to Kauai. Right now, the Kauai police are stocking up on eighty-five thousand dollars worth of riot gear, apparently thinking that maybe someday Superferry will come back. But I don’t think they will, I really don’t think
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they will. So I have on appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—the—the district court judge in Honolulu for the federal court basically jumped out the window when she saw my case coming. I’ve been—I was accusing the governor, the attorney general, the Department of Transportation head and all of them are engaging in a criminal conspiracy along with the Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, who now runs Coast Guard, and the president. I named them all. And so she said no, no, no. None of you have standing to file this suit and I’m not giving you any of these issues you’re arguing, it’s all out. So I took an emergency appeal to the Ninth Circuit and it’s now pending at the Ninth Circuit. I’m very optimistic about the case because the—the federal government has had four chances in this—various pieces of
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litigation that I’ve filed here to answer the argument that the boat was operating illegally when they—when the security zone was created. They have never answered the argument; they’ve never directly joindered. They’ve argued oh, it’s irrelevant, things like that. So I know I win on the law and the facts, but my legal experience is that doesn’t necessarily matter. And my brother once sent me a—a card on the outside for a birthday, it said optimist and you open it up and it says you’re the kind of guy who when he’s up to his neck in poop says there must be a pony around here somewhere. So I’m generally an optimist and I’m—in this case, I think it has some basis. I would love to see the Ninth Circuit Court rule in favor, particularly on the issue that the boat was operating illegally because that makes what the governor did
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and the attorney general did impeachable offenses as far as I’m concerned. And I’d love to see them get impeached. We’ll see if all that plays out. One of the three judges I’m in front of was the chief judge on the cetacean case, so it’s like he owes me one as far as I’m concerned because they didn’t give standing to the whales. Now they have to do something about this threat to the whales, the Super Ferry. So that’s the Superferry case.
DT: Well, let me ask a closing question, this will be very open-ended. Say you had the message in the proverbial bottle that washes up on the Kauai coast, what would you want that message to say to the future generations about why you’ve done what you’ve done, why should it matter to whoever picks up the bottle?
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LS: Stay in touch with the Earth. Stay in touch with what you are as a human being and know that you have an infinite potential and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. That human beings have only begun to tap their full potential, that the only way they’re ever going to realize their full potential is to reintegrate with the natural world and understand the impact they have on the natural world and learn to live more at peace with the natural world, in harmony with the natural world. And if this generation can pass that on to the next generation, then I think we will see things improve—I think we see things improving. You know, as Martin Luther King talked about bending towards justice, I think we’re bending towards ecological sanity as well right now and that the younger generation—I speak to young people and you
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can see that they’re highly motivated to do something because they are afraid of what the state of the world is and how bad things are. So I think the—the elders have an obligation to pass on as much of their knowledge and skills and listen as they can to the young people and give them hope as well that things can change. That they have changed, they’ve continued to change. And other than that, enjoy life. You know, don’t—don’t forget to smell the roses, literally. That the—there is so much beauty on the Earth that you can take part in. I—I sometimes feel like I have shortchanged myself by being too obsessive about the things I’ve pursued and not taking the time to enjoy the planet as much as I should. I’ve changed that a lot in Hawaii. I’m at the beach every day by agreement with myself and I can snorkel out
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and I can listen to the whales sing and I can be with the fish and have a great time. That’s important and people need to work that into their life as well. Overall, try and stay as honest as you can. There’s so many temptations to slide with the truth or slide off in a—a direction to win a point or make something. Integrity—personal integrity is always extraordinarily important. That was something my parents taught me very early. I had many tests in my life with like the draft and what are you going to do about Vietnam where the price of personal integrity can be high. But you never regret it later whereas if you l—lose your personal integrity at any point, it’s always hard to get back on track. So I guess that would be my message in a bottle.
DT: Very good. Thank you very much.
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LS: Sure. My pleasure.
[End of Reel 2452]
[End of Interview with Lanny Sinkin]