Midday Scan: Server farms are powering up high-polluting backups

The server farms that are growing up in Eastern Washington need to operate all the time. So, for a town like Quincy, that means dozens of diesel generators will ring the city.

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Mike Daisey at Seattle Repertory Theatre

The server farms that are growing up in Eastern Washington need to operate all the time. So, for a town like Quincy, that means dozens of diesel generators will ring the city.

As any Viking or vanquished Utopian knows, good intentions can produce bad consequences (and vice-versa, ironically enough.) In Eastern Washington, for example, data-storing server farms look to be the next big thing. Out with the orchardists and in with the, well, pixel tenders. But even these land-devouring investments shoulder the tech equivalent of a noxious pesticide (read: diesel fumes.) And so a local gadfly, the former mayor of Quincy, Patty Martin, has sounded the alarm. (No Longview-esque "smells like jobs" sentiment here.) 

"Quincy is her home — a place of open spaces and, she presumed, fresh breezes. So she and a few friends wrangled reams of data from state regulators and learned that the information storehouses hailed as Quincy's renaissance also happened to pollute its air — at least a little," the Seattle Times' Craig Welch writes. "To guarantee the power-thirsty data centers will never lose electricity, each came equipped with massive backup generators. By the time Quincy's half-dozen or more server farms are built, at least 141 generators will ring Martin's town, most emitting toxic diesel fumes when they run." 

When state Senate Republicans appeased Sen. Pam Roach, it was not Munich 1938. No Sudetenland giveaway for peace in our time, just a simple welcome-back-to-the-caucus for voting for the Republican budget. 

"Just because state senators are elected doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want," the News Tribune's Peter Callaghan writes. "So when Sen. Pam Roach repeatedly abused and harassed staff members, she was sanctioned. Based on an independent investigation that found a level of abuse that would shock even the most-jaded, her own Republican caucus banned her from attending its closed-door meetings. The entire Senate reprimanded Roach in 2010 and imposed a set of sanctions to protect staff from intimidation and retaliation."

Callaghan reminds readers of the earlier charges against Roach as well as the price of extra-legislative maneuvering. Callaghan observes, "the Republican leadership does not have the authority to lift the staff-contact sanctions. Only the bipartisan administrative committee that imposed them can do that, and it has not."  So, as Callaghan notes, the Legislature is scrambling in the wake of a threatened lawsuit (and one stress-related hospitalization already) over the deal-cutting. He writes of the lawsuit:  "It’s explosive because the Senate knowingly RE-created [a hostile work environment] for cynical reasons that likely won’t be easy to explain to a jury."

Remember the lesson regarding unintended consequences? (see above.) Say that you purposely draw a majority-minority legislative district and the only majority-minority candidate is a delightful 21-year-old college student. Mission accomplished? 

"The newly drawn minority-majority legislative districts aren't likely to bring discernible changes to the state's politics immediately but are the foundation for long-term change, supporters say," the AP's Manuel Valdes writes. " 'Change doesn't happen overnight,' said Tim Ceis, a Democratic member of the bipartisan redistricting commission. 'All we could do is set the stage for the possibility.'" Ceis is right. Sans a mobilized grassroots campaign, Latinos will continue to be underrepresented in Olympia.

Sometimes, albeit rarely, a government program works the way it was intended. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, established in 1965, has a modest mandate to use the proceeds from leases for offshore oil and gas drilling to fund conservation projects nationwide. Since then, the Fund has continued to be underfinanced despite its critical mission. When it works, however, some key Northwest landscapes are preserved forever.

"The fund is authorized to receive 900 million dollars a year from oil and gas royalties, but conservation groups say congress generally appropriates far less. The Forest Service announced 40.6 million dollars of funding for land acquisition projects nationally in 2012; about 10 million is directed to the Pacific and Inland Northwest," EarthFix's Amelia Templeton writes. Washington projects on this year's list include parts of the Pacific Crest trail as well as lands adjacent to the Wenatchee National Forest. Concerning the latter, Templeton writes, "The acquisition is part of a larger, landscape-scale effort to resolve the fragmented land ownership pattern blanketing Washington’s Central Cascades."

Lastly, yes, erstwhile funny man Mike Daisey is an idiot. After Cornish dropped the performer as its commencement speaker, Daisey responded, "I've apologized for what I've done wrong. Cornish's choice to grandstand on my back, when they had a very open statement from me withdrawing almost two weeks ago, is their choice. I applaud their embrace of 'professional integrity' — it's unfortunate that they didn't exercise that integrity in this case." Daisey, you will recall, larded his public radio story about technology working conditions in China with what turned out to be, in the words of Ira Glass, host of This American Life, "numerous fabrications." The Seattlepi.com has the story

Link Summary

Seattle Times, "Former Quincy mayor battles tech firms over potential server-farm pollution"

The News Tribune, "Letting Sen. Roach back into caucus is a costly risk"

Seattle Times, "In new E. Washington legislative district, Latino candidates scarce"

EarthLink, "Forest Service to buy parcels in the Northwest"

Seattlepi.com, "Cornish cancels Mike Daisey as commencement speaker"


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson