Follow Up: Honeybee Population Decreases In U.S.

In a follow up to a previous article, the news on Friday is not good regarding the honeybee population. In a report by USA Today about one third of the honeybee population in the United States died in the past year. This decline in the population levels can have far-reaching consequences for our domestic food supply.

The honeybee is responsible for an estimated one out of every three bites of food that the average American consumes each day. The combination of pesticides, environmental changes, and parasites have triggered a dramatic decrease in the population of this crucially important insect.

This survey does report that the winter seasonal losses were the lowest for American bees in a decade. The winter is a characteristically a period where honeybees will die in larger numbers due to the climate conditions. The experts analyzing this report stopped short of saying that the winter loss number was good news because the overall population numbers have declined so precipitously in recent years.

Some crops are almost completely dependent on the honeybee, and those shortages in supply levels are going to result in higher demand. This higher demand with smaller supply levels will result in higher prices that will passed along to the consumer. This includes items such as almonds, raspberries, and other fresh fruits or produce.

The rise in the growth of the organic and farm-to-table movements put a premium on beekeeping and balancing the protection of the bees from parasites against the utilization of harsh chemicals or pesticides. There are certain pesticides and herbicides that are widely used in agriculture that attack the central nervous system of bees causing them to die.

The greater emphasis should be placed on decreasing the chemicals and pesticides used in the production of certain crops. Some states have already initiated areas for honeybee preservation as well, so those areas have many restrictions as far as the use of pesticides and other airborne agents.

The honeybee is vitally important to our food supply and while the winter losses in 2016 were better than recent annual findings, the population is still depleted by one third. It is clear that steps need to be taken to preserve the honeybee colonies in the United States. It is unclear at this point what those steps will be moving forward.

Red Nose Day: Team Up To End Child Poverty

The third annual Red Nose Day takes place today, May 25th, focusing on raising both money and awareness to the devastating effects of child poverty. The event is sponsored by several companies, notably the ubiquitous American drug store chain, Walgreens.

The fundraising telethon and special program about Red Nose Day airs again this year on NBC. However, the network will take a different approach this year with a special celebrity edition of American Ninja Warrior (8 PM, EST) then a special Running Wild With Bear Grylls where Julia Roberts will join Grylls on a trek across Kenya to deliver vaccines to sick children (9 PM, EST) , and then will air the Red Nose Day Special hosted by Chris Hardwick which features appearances by several A-list comedians and musicians (10 PM, EST).

The first two editions of this event NBC have run a special 3-hour telethon type program with performances, comedians, and clips from the field in Developing World nations as well as economically depressed areas in the United States. This will be the first year that regular series programs have been dedicated as special features to raise money for this crucially important cause.

Red Nose Day began originally in the United Kingdom, and has spread to include events throughout the world which have raised $1 billion so far for children’s poverty. The funds are funneled to trusted partner organizations, some of the most recognizable and trusted non-profit charities in the world.

The money raised in the American version of this fundraising event has benefitted children in every state in our country as well as children in about 25 other countries throughout the globe. The American event has raised $60 million since it began in 2015.
Walgreens is a prominent sponsor of the event along with their subsidiary Duane Reade pharmacies, which have a huge presence in major East Coast cities especially New York City. Those retail pharmacy locations in both chains sell red noses for $1 and offer at point of sale the ability for the customer to donate to the effort.

The difference can be made without a huge donation, any amount will help children who are living in poverty both in America and throughout the world. I have covered Red Nose Day for the past three years, it is an amazing event that makes a huge impact. I have worked in the non-profit sector and I have worked as an independent writer with non-profit organizations, and this type of event will instantly help them to have the funding capability to help so many children in need.

A donation as small as $10 can help fund after school programs. A donation of $30 could help bring water to a village in the Developing World. It is in the small steps that a journey is completed.

Some of you may recall the excursion that actor Jack Black took for Red Nose Day to Africa, where the young boy there asks him to bring him back to America with him. That was a poignant scene, the boy was in poor health and malnourished. Then last year, the viewers got the update that the boy had been adopted and sponsored by an American family and was in school and well cared for, it is an incredible testimonial to the power of this event to change lives.

In a world marked lately by some terrible and terrifying events, this is one way where we can join together and change the narrative. This is one way where we can make a difference and do something positive to lift the spirits of the most vulnerable in our society, children living in poverty. I hope you will consider a donation to Red Nose Day.

Please visit https://rednoseday.org/donate-splash to learn more about this remarkable event that helps so many children. Please tune in to NBC tonight for all the special programs they have starting at 8 PM (Eastern). Please consider helping this cause to change and save the lives of those children in need. Thank you for your support and attention. May God bless you.

Recapping The Upfronts: TV Networks – Fall Lineups

The major television networks met with all of the major advertising companies this week in an annual event in the industry known as the “upfronts”. The tradition holds that NBC has the first meeting, followed usually by ABC, CBS had their turn on Wednesday, the end of the week featured FOX and The CW getting their respective meetings.

The upfront meeting is where each network will officially unveil their fall lineups and try to generate interest and energy around their programming. These presentations have always been intriguing to me because each network has a strategy for capturing viewers and each one is different in that approach.

Some networks try to reinvent themselves more often than others do, and right now the changes to the television landscape have pushed the major networks and their subsidiaries into recalibrating their offerings. The scramble for ad dollars is characteristically a highly competitive situation, and this week was no different.

First, NBC entered the upfront meetings with the top-rated show on TV (“This Is Us”) and the top ranking for the coveted advertising demographic of 18-25 year old viewers. The network had to just make some small lineup tweaks and they should be set up to have another strong year. They moved their top show to Thursday nights, which is what NBC does, when a program goes well, they change the time slot instead of leaving it alone. It remains to be seen whether this will have a positive or negative ratings effect.

The “Peacock” is bringing back a former hit show from the ‘90s, “Will & Grace” for a limited run, and it will be very interesting to see how they tie this show to a new fan base as well as appeal to the fans who remember the show from the first run. The network is trying to inject excitement back into Thursday nights, which used to be called Must See TV by their marketing team. However, the reality is that “appointment TV” where people looked forward to a program with anticipation and were there every week to watch it, is long gone. I am interested to see how the viewers react to the new Thursday lineup, and whether NBC put their eggs in the right basket.

The last bastion for viewing trends similar to the old glory days of television remains live events such as award shows as well as live sports programming. NBC will have the return of NFL football games on Thursday nights (split package with CBS) and on Sunday nights (the entire NFL season). The Sunday night primetime game is consistently a ratings winner for NBC as well as a robust advertising revenue driver for the network.

The NFL ratings dropped for the first time in several years in 2016, but it still garners tremendous viewership and appeals to key advertising demographics, so the live game broadcasts will still command large committed ad spending.

NBC has very few new show concepts that I read in the reviews from media/TV critics that are worth mentioning. They will focus their marketing and promotional efforts on a special series they produced on the Menendez brothers case. That limited run special will air in the 10 PM slot (Eastern) for set number of weeks.

The executives at ABC will attempt to address sagging ratings overall from the 2016 television programming year by cancelling underperforming shows. They will look to reinvigorate their lineup with new series concepts of all kinds, from comedies to procedural dramas. The trick up the sleeve for this network was a surprise announcement at their upfront that they had given the approval for a straight to series new concept from Shonda Rhymes (Grey’s Anatomy founder) which focuses on a group of Seattle firefighters.

Then, ABC announced that they will also ride the trend of bringing back old shows for limited run type reboots. The network will bring in Roseanne which at one point in the original run was the top-rated show in America. I am fascinated to see how this concept will connect with new fans and younger age groups.

The network also will bring back another former ratings institution, American Idol which has been given mixed reactions from both media analysts and fans of the program alike. It remains to be seen whether the singing contest style can recapture its former glory. The details on the show remain limited with the only piece of news considered significant is that pop singing star, Katy Perry, has signed on to be a judge on the rebooted version of the once stalwart hit program.

It remains to be seen whether Ryan Seacrest will return to host Idol which films primarily in Los Angeles. Seacrest has recently joined the ABC morning talk hit show Live as Kelly Ripa’s new co-host, and that show films in New York. The logistics could be worked out, but it merits watching which path those negotiations could take.

CBS opened their upfront meeting with a performance from Stephen Colbert, who now has the top rated late night slot in the industry. The decision making by CBS and the other networks as well, as far as cancelled and returning shows are concerned was all studio/content rights driven.

The revenues in television have changed with production costs still rising and other revenue falling due to changes in the way the viewer engages with content (i.e. streaming, video on demand). In that regard, CBS proposed changes to the advertising packages which were originally structured around a 3-day window (Live+3) to a (Live +7) cycle or a 7-day window for the ads to run in association with a specific advertising “buy”.

I have covered in the past the decisions on cancelled and renewed programs, and it mainly comes down to rights fees, licensing, and ownership of the content. In short, each respective network tends to renew content that is made in their own studio compared to an outside studio. This is due to the fact that the network owns the backend rights to that content, which has become more valuable than the frontend rights to the program at this point.

CBS used this rationale to explain the cancellation of 2 Broke Girls (produced by Warner Brothers) and the renewal of Elementary (produced by CBS Studios) even though the former had slightly better ratings than Johnny Lee Miller’s turn at the iconic role of Sherlock Holmes. This same rationale was used to explain the cancellation of Person of Interest (Warner Brothers studios) and keeping Elementary because CBS could make more money on the backend rights.

ABC took some heat for cancelling Last Man Standing but it was produced by an outside studio, and they would rather renew and promote a comedy series produced in their own studio because of the enhanced revenue streams it would provide to offset the production costs and licensing fees.

The major networks are also pursuing a trend where they will change the terms of a licensing agreement on a show from an outside studio production company. The networks have been seeking larger pieces of the revenue pie before agreeing to renew a program. That trend will continue as the viewership habits continue to evolve away from live viewing and into watching the content after it originally airs.

CBS has very few new shows and will juggle a lineup of hit shows as well as NFL football and the top-rated shows in several categories will return to a largely unchanged lineup from last year. They will also introduce a rebooted version of S.W.A.T. (originally aired in the 1970s) and the highly anticipated spinoff from The Big Bang Theory entitled: Young Sheldon.

Fox ordered just six new shows for the Fall, and have moved around most of the returning shows in their lineup, keeping just Sunday night’s lineup intact from last year. They will also feature rebooted series from the past with The X Files returning for a limited series run, Prison Break returning for an undetermined amount of new shows, and a revival of Showtime at The Apollo hosted by Steve Harvey.

The CW announced both new concepts for series programming and a new focus on being a multi-channel partner rather than just a television network. They are taking a more forward thinking approach with partnerships with Apple TV, Roku, Amazon, and other streaming video content providers. This is to capitalize on the revenue for the back-end rights to the programming. This traditionally fifth place network also announced a rebooted series concept of their own, Dynasty, which has earned some industry buzz already.

The upfronts represented a continuation of declining advertising revenue in the form of ad buys as the cost/benefit analysis of that form of advertising is being weighed against the changing trends in the way that viewers obtain content. It is always interesting to see which strategies the networks employ to promote their programming, and which of those programs will make the cut when the first sweeps period is considered.

The ways of viewing television have changed and the ways that networks are approaching the production and promotion of their programming has followed suit. These trends will continue as we enter the 2017-18 television calendar, stay tuned.

Fired Up: Pepsi To Launch Cinnamon Pepsi Fire Concept

PepsiCo, the parent company of Pepsi, announced on Thursday the newest line extension concept for the cola giant. The summer launch will feature a cinnamon flavored Pepsi product called “Pepsi Fire”. It will be available in both cans and bottles starting on May 22nd and running for an eight week period through mid-July.

The limited edition soft drink will be a part of a summer promotional campaign across the entire Pepsi lineup that will give away prizes called “Snap-Unlock-Win” which will integrate the promotional giveaways through the popular social media platform, SnapChat.

The summer cinnamon flavored “Pepsi Fire” will also be integrated into the 7-Eleven convenience store chain’s Slurpee lineup which the executives at Pepsi are touting as a drink experience that will be both hot and cold. The Slurpee and summer time are ubiquitous, and Pepsi is banking on the popularity of that frozen drink delivery system to create further buzz around the Fire product.

The product reviews I read have described the beverage as Pepsi meets Hot Tamales, those artificial cinnamon candies, and that the Slurpee was very spicy. I am sure it will appeal to some consumers, especially those who have an affinity for all things cinnamon.

In recent years, Pepsi has had varying levels of success with limited edition products. They have relaunched several product variations recently with real sugar added to the formula to offset the public perception regarding high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. The brand has also focused their efforts on a few different tweaks around the Cherry Vanilla Pepsi concept, most recently with a limited run around Valentine’s Day in 2016.
The summer line extensions have had success at times on a regional basis, the Pepsi Summer Mix concept with all the mixed fruit flavors included with the mainstream cola flavor was very successful in the northeast United States back in 2007. I remember purchasing that beverage when I travelled for my job at that time throughout the region.

PepsiCo also agreed to join an initiative with the Partnership for a Healthy America, where across all their brand lines they have agreed to limit the amount of calories, sodium, and sugars contained within many different products. PepsiCo has 22 brands that produce more than $1 billion or more in sales per year, so this represents a major contribution toward healthier snack options for the American consumer.

The company will also be reviewing their formulations to determine methods to incorporate more protein into their brand portfolio. They will also look at moving toward more non-GMO containing ingredients for their huge stable of product offerings, according to trade industry reports. This is not surprising news given the trend lines of both of those areas within the current consumer environment.

The inclusion of protein is a hot button trend within the current consumer climate with people leading more active as well as very busy “eat and run” lifestyles. The non-GMO trend has been steadily more relevant with the average American consumer and is a topic I have written about extensively in the past. The consumer interest in GMO containing ingredients is significant, and the major players in the industry are taking notice.

The seasonal launch concept is nothing new in the beverage industry, and it is a way that brands can rejuvenate interest as well as maximize sales. The limited nature of the product concept usually creates a sense of urgency for the consumer. The summer season is one of obvious increased sales of carbonated soft drinks. This new concept should be interesting for sure. The inclusion of social media into the promotional contest portion is also an interesting aspect of this launch.

The utilization of social media could well represent the future of the promotional campaigns that brands will roll out to engage consumers on a more personalized level. That could either represent a great innovation or be a complete disaster which will remain to be seen. The beverage industry is poised now to enter the summer season which should give us all hope that the long sunny days are waiting just around the corner.

Follow Up: Anthem Merger Bid For Cigna Is Scuttled

A federal appeals court upheld the earlier decision of a lower court regarding the proposed merger of two of the largest healthcare insurance providers: Anthem and Cigna. The court opinion cited concerns about cost impacts to the consumer and the lack of competition in the healthcare insurance marketplace as the main issues with the proposed deal.

The backlash against this proposed marriage of two of the top three largest insurance providers had reached a critical mass in recent days. The pressure came from a variety of interested parties within the healthcare industry as well as from consumer interest groups.

The situation is further complicated because Anthem and Cigna are currently in a lawsuit against one another regarding that “breakup fee” clause that I detailed in my earlier coverage of this proposed mega-deal. The clause entails that Anthem pays Cigna $1.85 billion if this merger was to be derailed and not come to fruition.

Cigna is suing Anthem demanding payment of the fee. Anthem is counter-suing trying to force Cigna to stay in the merger deal. The resistance from several states and the federal government caused Cigna to look for ways to exit the deal. This situation has grown ugly very quickly, and the legal team for Anthem seems undeterred by this ruling. They are insisting they are going to find a way to gain approval for this merger.

Anthem and their legal team can spin this any way they would like, and they have 1.8 billion reasons why they are looking to pursue this merger. The reality is that the proposal is all but scuttled. The appeals court decision today affirms that and should be viewed as an indication that this proposal should be abandoned.
The lawsuits are another whole matter that is entirely separate and could take several different routes throughout that convoluted process. The regulatory reviews from the different government agencies ultimately had concerns about pricing and the monopolistic impact that the merger would have on consumer choice.

The combined Anthem/Cigna also would have been a major player in the provision of healthcare insurance to the business community. The potential influence on pricing and the subsequent effect that would have on the employee/employer splits on cost sharing for company provided healthcare coverage was a huge issue for certain states as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals.

This development comes just a few months after the Aetna – Humana proposed merger also collapsed during the review process. These mergers are the direct result of the consolidation route to optimize efficiency and maintain profitability during healthcare market changes due to the Affordable Care Act.

It should be noted that the proposed new healthcare plan changes are not fully known at this time, so the exact impact on the market is also unclear. The relentless pursuit of greed by these corporations in the healthcare industry is at the center of this particular situation.

The future of the Anthem/ Cigna proposed merger from the judicial perspective is either a “challenge” ruling on this verdict, which means that they can re-appeal this decision from the federal court. The other option is to attempt to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and see if they are granted a writ of certiorari to move that proceeding forward.

Some industry analysts and media types feel that a writ of certiorari is unlikely in this situation. The component that makes a Supreme Court review possible is the money involved with two companies of this size and the high powered legal representation that is involved in this case. It should be interesting to see how Anthem plans to move forward because they have the most at stake with the breakup clause taken under consideration.

The merger, for all intents and purposes, is opposed by about a dozen states and the federal court system as well as the regulatory bodies involved. This creates conditions where it is unlikely that it moves forward. The court ruling today cited this decision under the framework that it is a victory for the consumer because of the potential impact on pricing the combined entity could have exerted.

In my view, from covering mergers, I am not a proponent of monopolies. I also have learned that the bigger the merger in size, the more combustible it is when it becomes unraveled. This proposal is setback significantly, but it is not over yet. Anthem will not go quietly into the night paying a fee to Cigna, and Cigna is going to want the money from Anthem based on the agreement they had in place. It is going to get ugly in the weeks ahead, but most likely these two companies will be going toe-to-toe and not on their way to a monopoly styled merger.

Call Waiting: Verizon Back Peddles On Merger Rumors

The news out of Verizon on Thursday is that the comments made by their CEO, Lowell McAdam, were taken out of context regarding a potential merger involving the telecommunications giant.

The CFO of Verizon, Matthew Ellis, attempted on Thursday to clarify earlier remarks made by Mr. McAdam to the media. Those comments alluded to a potential merger of Verizon with Disney, Comcast, or CBS.

However, Mr. Ellis today offered a different explanation in stating that Mr. McAdam was answering a question about whether or not he would “take a call” from Disney, Comcast, or CBS. The comments are now being walked back by Verizon, today they clarified that they would be open to strategic partnerships with those entities and not an actual merger.

This clarifying statement from Verizon comes after several financial news sources ran with a story that Verizon was exploring a merger, and the stock prices of those three entities involved: Disney, Comcast, and CBS all saw increased trading activity.

It is no secret that Verizon is looking to grow certain aspects of their business, the acquisition recently of Yahoo is proof of that strategy. The senior management at Verizon have steered away from obtaining other large media companies, which is unlike their other competitors in this space. The deal between AT&T and DirecTV jumps to mind as the type of avenue to growth that Verizon has repeatedly avoided.

The earnings call with Mr. Ellis today described what Verizon calls “organic growth” of the company. The exact definition of that strategy is not completely defined, but like any other communications provider and internet service provider, Verizon is consistently looking for content. The old “content is king” mantra is still paramount in this industry space.

In an increasingly visual world, the demand for video content is at the core of what Verizon needs to fill within their own content pipeline. It is in this vein that a strategic partnership or some sort of partnership agreement with Disney, Comcast, or CBS would make sense for Verizon. Those entities have their own exclusive content or partnerships to provide content for other entities such as Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League.

The demand for sports content is always robust and the demand for other types of entertainment in digital platforms is a demand curve that Verizon is going to be relentless in trying to meet over the next several months. The earnings call also came on Thursday amidst reports that the Verizon FIOS television service has lost over thirteen thousand subscribers in a short amount of time.

The streaming media services and the growth of other platforms to watch content is causing many Americans to “cut the cord” on cable, telco, and satellite TV services. The “on demand” culture and the binge watching patterns of the new ways that consumers expect has caused the drop off in the FIOS subscriptions.

This could create conditions where FIOS, AT&T/DirecTV, and Comcast are forced to reinvent themselves and provide more value to the consumer for the service. The advent of the DirecTV service that allows the viewer to watch at home or on a tablet or smart phone is a step into the future of the television trends to follow.

The question of whether or not Verizon is exploring a merger is a complicated one. It would make some degree of sense on one hand given the complexities facing the industry and the changing dynamics of digital content consumption.

Verizon is also prepared to face rather significant anti-trust regulatory reviews especially if they were to merge with Comcast, which would absolutely create a monopoly in the industry. That merger would have far-reaching implications for both private homes and small businesses as the internet is needed for doing really everything today from shopping, to watching movies, and to work related functions.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. McAdam was taken out of context, or whether there is more than meets the eye with this story. The ambitions of Verizon will come into focus in the near future. The company should, at the very least, consider some kind of partnership with another media company to fill the video content gaps that exist currently.

Verizon also knows that mergers or acquisitions are a complicated process and that ties up time and resources from being able to grow the company in other ways. In the end, only time will tell which direction they choose to grow their business in an increasingly competitive, evolving, and cost driven environment.

United Airlines: An Exercise in Public Relations Futility

The disastrous handling of an overbooked flight on United Airlines has made national headlines and has devolved into a social media siege against everything having to do with the world’s third largest airline. United sold too many seats for a plane bound for Louisville, and they needed to get four crew members on that plane so that another flight departing from Louisville could proceed as scheduled.

The airline offered money ($800) to any passenger willing to leave on a later flight. The passengers were not motivated by that incentive, and one man, a doctor in Louisville who had patient appointments the next morning refused to leave the back of the plane.

The crew called in the police and the man was “re-accommodated” as United later termed it. The mainstream news reports from witnesses allege that the man was physically dragged from the plane and was seen with blood coming from his face. The reports state that several children aboard became very frightened. The situation is totally inexcusable, and the actions of the airline crew were totally out of line.

Then, United bumbled the whole public relations response to the situation and made a bad incident, worse for themselves. The airline tried to deny the incident, then tried to distort the facts by saying that the passenger “fell” when struggling with police and crew members. They finally, “came clean”, and issued an apology for their role in the incident.

United Airlines, became the source of all types of jokes and negative reactions on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The stock shares of the company have sunk in trading activity on Tuesday, as the public backlash continues and seems to be gaining strength.
There is a public petition signed by over fifty thousand people so far, the petition seeks to launch a federal investigation into what transpired on the Louisville bound plane. The prospect of a federal investigation is never a good thing for a publicly traded company, especially one with a public safety obligation such as a major airline.

United handled this situation and the aftermath of the situation just about as badly as a company could possibly have dealt with such a terrible scenario. The public image of their brand has definitely taken a setback and it is significant enough that it could damage their business outlook for the year.

The other seemingly obvious by product of this debacle is that a lawsuit for damages is most certainly forthcoming by the passenger involved. The financial settlement from the one legal action will not be enough to harm United Airlines, but the negative media coverage of an ongoing, protracted case will hurt their business from a brand image perspective.

The company has been destroyed on social media, with people from all sides taking shots at United and their terrible handling of the situation. In my days of media relations and communications work for companies, the first rule is to get out ahead of the situation before it becomes a story. The best policy is to be honest, admit mistakes were made, and move forward.

The general public, especially Americans, are “second chance” people and they are very willing to give a person or a company another opportunity if something goes wrong and the mistake was admitted. Conversely, they are far less likely to provide that same forgiveness or latitude if the perception is that someone is lying, or trying to cover up the real situation.

This is where United really compromised themselves, they should have just all come clean. They should have been honest, and the police involved are culpable too because that was an outrageous reaction to a situation with a passenger who had not violated any rules and was doing nothing wrong. The passenger was sitting in the spot he paid for, and was removed from the plane, that is huge problem for a consumer based transportation company.

The root of the issue is greed, which is why many people are so upset. In this case, the passengers stated that United could have provided more incentive for them to give up their seats for a later flight. United could have provided a complementary meal or two, or provided a hotel room for the night to lessen the inconvenience caused by the greed driven activity that got them into this mess in the first place: an overbooked plane.

United sold more tickets than they had seats available, which can be a somewhat common practice for airlines, so they are not left with a less than full capacity flight on that particular route. They underestimated the demand, and did little to try to help the passengers that had paid for seats. The four people they asked to move, also held the cheapest tickets on the plane, which many people have now taken issue with that part of the scenario.

United was moving these people to get their own employees on the flight, and in no way could they come out of this situation looking good. They should have issued an immediate apology for the actions taken on that flight and offered to compensate every passenger involved in some way. They did none of those things and are now in a media and social media barrage, and their corporate image is going to be damaged badly.

In the fast paced world of today with everyone having a forum on social media for their opinions, social media relations is a huge component of corporate branding strategy, and an area where United failed in this situation. Their response was not above board and their protocols and procedures for handling oversold planes must be evaluated.

In the end, United Airlines could have made alternative arrangements for getting those four crew members to Louisville. The airlines should reevaluate that component of this situation. The cost of the potential legal settlement coupled with the negative news and consumer perception backlash far exceeds the cost of the solution I had in mind. United should have chartered a private plane to get those employees to Louisville, in the end that would have been far more cost effective, and would not have involved a national media incident.

The United Airlines public relations response in this situation has become a case study: in what not to do when running one of the largest airlines in the world. United will now learn the hard way that honesty is the best policy, and greed never wins.

European Union Votes To Ban GMO Crops

The majority of countries in the European Union voted to ban crops made with two different types of genetically modified maize on Monday. However, the measure failed passage because the countries that voted against the measure did not represent 65% of the population of the EU, a requirement to defeat this proposal from moving further in the legal process.

The crops in question as part of this measure were the Pioneer brand and another from Syngenta. The EU has been consistent in their resistance to genetically modified food and to crops utilizing genetically engineered seeds for both human and agriculture use such as to feed livestock.

The rules regarding these particular proposals seem to work against the union itself from a political and policy point of view because even if a majority of the countries vote against a specific policy, in this case being GMO seeds/crops, the motion can still carry if the more populated member countries vote in favor of it.

It would stand to reason that the citizens of the smaller or less populated countries would certainly have some frustration or anger over that voting mechanism within the structure of the E.U. at this point. The European mindset toward rejecting genetically engineered or modified food ingredients has been consistent over the course of the past several years, and they have been far more successful than the anti-GMO lobbying efforts have been in the United States.

Moreover, that is not meant to be an indictment on the anti-GMO movement in the U.S., because in my view, they have been tireless in their efforts toward further transparency in food product labeling and ingredient disclosure. The movement has even gained some victories in the past 18 months or so, in the declarations on the labels for food products from major manufacturers of nationally distributed brands.

The anti-GMO movement has been successful on the state level in gaining new legislative action regarding the use of genetically engineered products in a variety of applications from food production to agricultural use. The growth of new brands that are organic and non-GMO and their subsequent success in the marketplace is evidence of a growing trend in America away from processed and modified food to more natural and healthier food choices.

However, despite the policy victories and despite the change in the consciousness of the general American consumer, the new Administration in Washington threatens to rescind some of those legislative changes regarding the ingredients in food products. This includes the policy enacted by the previous Presidential Administration requiring food companies to disclose if the product contains any genetically engineered ingredients.

In my prior article about Campbell Soup Company and their decision to disclose those ingredients prior to the change which would make that disclosure mandatory, the stock market and shareholders alike had some trepidation on how it would affect sales at the company. The disclosure has resonated with the consumer especially in the case of their soup products, where there was some shock value to the presence of genetically engineered ingredients.

In the current context of GMOs in the food industry, there are some factions that feel that a rollback of the disclosure policy would damage the overall movement for the non-GMO interests. Then, there are others who maintain that the consumer now knows which companies and products contain GM ingredients, and will likely avoid them in their future purchase patterns. The other fact remains that once a purchase pattern is changed, most consumers do not revert back to a prior pattern for product selection.
In the context of the current situation in Europe, all of this comes within the backdrop of some major shifting and consolidation activity within the agricultural seed and crop protection industries. The largest players in those industry segments: Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, and Syngenta are all the subject of merger and acquisition activity at this point.

Monsanto is in the process of being potentially purchased by German corporate titan, Bayer. Dow and DuPont are in the process of merging together to form one goliath sized company and that merger just went before some E.U. regulators and is in regulatory review in the United States as well. DuPont is in the process of selling off some business units to FMC at this time to meet regulatory approval.

Syngenta is in the review process of being acquired by a Chinese corporation, which has left some within the Western economies feeling uneasy for a variety of reasons. The potential for the Chinese to gain access to specific technologies and processes that could impact the “playing field” in that industry segment is one issue. The concerns over quality control and product assurance/ product safety when it comes to the reputation of Chinese companies for bending the rules on certain protocols is an anxious proposition when it comes to the products used to grow food.

The European Union as a governing body must be facing pressure from an economic standpoint to start utilizing more genetically modified products from a cost efficiency point of view as well as a crop protection standpoint. The lobby from the corporations involved must be significant as well or else these types of proposals would not even be under consideration.

The EU currently uses GMO products but only certain types of products are approved for each type of main staple crop. The food produced from those crops is subject to very strict testing and regulations. The political movement by the union in recent years is to provide the member states with more latitude to determine how they will regulate GMO crops.

This current vote on EU crops represents the first new GMO crop products to be considered in almost twenty years. The measure, when or if it is passed, will only affect nine countries and some regions in Belgium and England. The other 19 members of the EU have banned GMO crops from being grown within their borders.

The future of genetically modified crops in the EU is going to be interesting especially given the backdrop of the major consolidation activity within the seed and agricultural/crop protection industries currently. Those companies will get even larger and more influential, and the resistance from the citizens and governments in the members states of the EU will have to ramp up their defenses to continue to resist the policies from being altered.

MLS Expansion: LA, Miami, “Group of 12”, Future of Soccer In America

MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced recently that the newly rebranded Los Angeles Football Club (LA FC) which are the initials they will be known by in the future, will be entering the league alone in 2018. This is a deviation from a trend of expanding the league by two teams at a time, and it also casts some doubt on the state of the Miami expansion bid.

It was anticipated that the Miami bid spearheaded by former soccer superstar, David Beckham, would also begin play in 2018 with LA FC. The Miami bid has had numerous setbacks, most notably with securing land for a stadium as well as securing total private financing for the stadium.

When the calendar flipped to 2017, the news out of Miami was, that after striking out on their attempts at obtaining land at the Port of Miami, Museum Park, and a plot of land across from Marlins Park; Beckham had secured land in the Overtown section of Miami. The group does need to acquire the adjacent lot which is owned by the county for municipal vehicle storage.

The Overtown section is north of Miami’s main downtown and is notably a high crime and economically depressed area with a very diverse population from several countries. The Beckham group proposal has the jobs generated from the stadium and team being located there as the primary piece in his pitch to the government.
The plan for the stadium, according to local news sources and the MLS site, is for a 25,000 seat venue that will cost around $200 million in the final estimates. The Beckham group is currently reported to be seeking out additional minority investors to help come up with the rest of the financing needed to get the stadium facility built successfully. The target date now is for Miami to join the league in 2019, but all parties involved caution that those parameters could change in the future.

The league has issued statements of support for Miami, which also happens to boast the highest overall TV ratings for soccer in the U.S. (which is a huge reason why the MLS has been so patient) and a demographics mix that is favorable for supporting a soccer club for the long term. In my prior coverage of the expansion of MLS, the media rights deal for the television packages both regionally and nationally has come into focus.

The league wants to grow their presence in large TV markets so they can increase their revenue capture in the next TV rights deal. The addition of Atlanta and Minnesota as expansion clubs this season and the second team in LA in 2018 as well as potentially Miami in two years, will be a huge bargaining chip for MLS to get more revenue dollars out at the negotiating table.

The second LA team mentioned earlier, LA FC, has a star studded ownership group and is the rebranded entry for the disbanded Chivas USA which shared the Los Angeles market with the Galaxy for a period of years in MLS history. The Chivas experiment was a complete failure, as the club never gained real traction in L.A. and shared a stadium with the Galaxy, which did not help their marketing attempts.

LA FC will have their own modern stadium which is under construction currently on the site of the former LA Sports Arena which is just south of the LA Memorial Coliseum. The location is very good and very convenient for fans, and the league will be releasing information on the expansion draft to help them construct their roster in the near future.

Group of Twelve

The addition of LA FC in 2018 will bring the league to 23 teams, the first time in a while they will have an odd number of teams, which will be a scheduling headache for the league office. The Miami bid looks like it is eventually going to get done as the 24th entry to MLS, which has a stated goal of expanding to 28 teams.

The remaining four spots for expansion will be decided among what is called the “Group of Twelve”, the twelve cities that submitted proposals for consideration for an MLS expansion franchise. The group consists of: Tampa/St. Petersburg, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Diego, San Antonio, and St. Louis.

I have produced individual articles on some of these cities and their quest for an MLS expansion franchise in the past, I have also completed larger summary articles on each of these bids as well as others which were not included in the “Group of Twelve”. It should also be noted that MLS executives intend on reducing down this group to a smaller number, potentially as early as this summer.

In my view, and I have no indication from the league on this part of the process, it would make sense to cut the group down from twelve bids to eight, since only four slots are available. Then it could either be cut again to six bids, or the four approved bids could be announced.

The summary of each bid can be found below:

Tampa/St. Petersburg – see my full article on this emerging and popular bid. The Tampa Bay Rowdies have an established fan base, a passionate owner, and plans to renovate and expand their existing stadium on the St. Petersburg waterfront. The stadium plans do not require any changes to the city street grid or any “fill” in the bay to complete which is a big positive with local government and the residents. MLS executives are intrigued by the stadium site and the size of the market for TV purposes. They also have a very organized social media campaign.
The negatives would be that the Tampa Bay area is already part of the territorial rights for the Orlando City FC franchise and they would have to agree to another franchise joining MLS from the same region. Orlando City would also have to be compensated for the alteration to their territorial rights, which could get very sticky and expensive.
Some analysts see that territorial issue and the fact that the league had a team in Tampa which folded in the early 2000s as two major issues with the bid. I think it is still very much in play because of the size of the market, the fan base of the team, the ownership, and the stadium.

Cincinnati – The bid has many strong points such as an established fan base for their current minor league club, strong attendance figures at those matches, and a committed ownership group with great resources. The Midwest is an area of need for MLS expansion when looking at the current footprint of the league.
The negative point for the Cincinnati bid is a big one: the stadium. Their current stadium for their minor league club is too old and too small. The successful bid for this city would need to include a new stadium plan that is actionable. The government seems supportive of that concept and the stadium is a vital component to an MLS bid because the league needs full control of the facilities that their clubs play in for scheduling and maximum revenue generation purposes.
Some analysts feel that this bid only needs a vote on the new stadium and it is going to be one of the approved bids out of the this “group of twelve”. I am not so sure because the spots are limited and MLS executives are very high on the presentations by St. Louis and Detroit and may think those two cities will be an adequate representation of the Midwest at this point.

Detroit- The bid for Detroit is also a process which I wrote a separate article about several months back, it has risen from a long shot to a very real possibility for one of these last four spots on the MLS franchise expansion list. The strong points are: an ownership group that includes two billionaire professional sports owners, one of the largest untapped TV markets for MLS, a diverse population with a history of supporting soccer, and it is the second most populated metro area after Phoenix in the “group of twelve”.
The downsides to this bid: they have no high level minor league presence in the market. Detroit City FC is essentially a fifth tier team that is supporter funded, though they have done a great job on a small scale with marketing the club.
The other main issue is the stadium site. Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores, the two principle potential owners are eying a site in the rapidly redeveloping District Detroit, where the other sports stadiums are located. The site is a few blocks from Ford Field / Comerica Park and is currently a failed municipal construction site for a proposed jail. The budget money ran out and the site has been abandoned for some time. Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Gores have proposed essentially a land swap where the jail would be moved to another area in the city and they would acquire the former jail site to build the soccer stadium. The city is mulling the proposal, and if they turn it down, there is no contingency plan for a site for a stadium. There are some analysts and soccer media people who feel that the stadium site could sink this deal, and others who believe that MLS is so interested in reviving Detroit that it could still move forward with a successful bid.

Indianapolis- This city which I have visited several times is one of the most underrated sports cities in the nation. The downtown is very easy to walk and all of the stadiums are in the same area which makes it very convenient. MLS favors the downtown urban setting for the stadiums for their franchises and the league has appeal with millennials, who also favor the concept of living in a downtown area with access to sports as well as entertainment options.
The city has an upper tier minor league team called “The Indy Eleven” which play in Carroll Stadium and have garnered some impressive attendance numbers. The support of this club is seen as a very strong aspect to the bid. The club has a very wealthy and well connected owner that is very driven to get into MLS.
The city also has robust support from the local and state governments, which just created a tax zone for the area that the proposed new stadium would be constructed. The tax revenue from gate receipts (ticket sales), concession sales, and tax revenue from those that work at the stadium would comprise the public portion of the new stadium funding. The proposed site is near the Colts NFL stadium downtown.
The negative aspects to this bid are that the minor league club does not have an established history, the Midwest could get crowded if the league decides to grant access to St. Louis and Detroit as well, and the last negative is the stadium. The proposal for the tax zone may not gain passage before MLS decides on the last two bids for expansion. In the event that the financing plan for the stadium is uncertain, this bid will fail. I view this as more of a long shot bid.

Nashville- A bid that has gained some traction in recent months is the proposal from Nashville to join the largest soccer league in North America. This push is being spearheaded by the Ingram family worth billions of dollars and enjoys outstanding governmental support. The city is the smallest metro area of this group of twelve applicants, and it has never supported a soccer club on any level.
The stadium site has gained some clarity now that the Nashville Fairgrounds has been zeroed in as the proposed area for development of that facility. The city has a large millennial population and a growing diversity in their population which MLS executives have noted as strength areas.
The fact that they have a strong ownership group and substantial potential corporate sponsorship support are the positive aspects to this bid.
The negative aspects are that they have no attendance figures or history of supporting a soccer club, the size of the metro area, and the lack of a definitive stadium plan puts this bid in jeopardy of being passed over for one of the final spots in this process.

Charlotte- The bid by Charlotte is one of two from the state of North Carolina (Raleigh-Durham is the other) and MLS Commissioner Don Garber has stated that the league would like to expand their presence in the Southeast. There was some confusion between the potential owners and the city council because of the timing of their request for public funds to build a soccer stadium on the site of the old American Legion Memorial Stadium. The municipal government felt it was rushed, and that is because essentially Charlotte came late to the MLS expansion party and had to apply prior to the deadline.
This bid will most likely be for one of the final two spots in the process because other cities are at a more advanced stage at this point. The positives for Charlotte are the location and the passion of the potential owners, the powerful Smith family of NASCAR fame and wealth. The political support is a bit split with the mayor on board and the county level officials on board with the bid and the stadium plan, and some city level officials that are seeking more time to evaluate the use of funds for an elite level pro soccer team.
The stadium site is fairly convenient as it is close to Charlotte’s Uptown area, which is where the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets have their arena. However, in recent weeks there seems to be some uncertainty being reported by the local media around the stadium plan and the financing for the project. That is obviously never good news when it comes to the prospects for an MLS expansion team. The other positives include the corporate sponsorship presence, the size of their media market, and the support of their other sports teams.
The Independence are a minor league affiliate of the Colorado Rapids of MLS, and they play in Charlotte currently. The support for the team will be part of the evaluation of the bid as will be the robust support that the residents there provided to the U.S. Men’s National team games held in the city recently. My view is that the demographics and some other metrics make this bid interesting, but if the city council blocks the stadium deal, this bid will be eliminated.
Raleigh – The other Southeast bid is from Raleigh, which has a successful minor league team (Carolina RailHawks re-branded recently as North Carolina FC) a dedicated ownership group led by businessman Steve Malik, and a demographic mix of highly educated professionals transplanted from the Northeast as well as millennials starting their careers.
The corporate presence is a bit lacking in major Fortune 500 types, but several large multinational corporations have a presence in the “Research Triangle” area. The bid proposal stressed the fact that the area has just one major pro team, the NHL’s Hurricanes, and that the population can support an MLS team. It also stressed the teamwork between the owner, the local government, the corporations, and the local residents.
The media market size is on the smaller side, but MLS has clubs in small markets that have done very well. The all-important stadium situation is the area where the most progress is needed. They have a design concept, a mid-20,000 seat stadium with a translucent roof. The renderings look amazing, but the site is still not determined. The North Carolina FC club plays currently in a small facility in Cary, which is outside of Raleigh. MLS prefers downtown urban stadium locations with access to public transit. The stadium will be mostly privately financed.
Raleigh is an interesting bid, I still think if Charlotte gets the stadium plan voted through it may have an advantage. Many analysts close to the league feel that North Carolina will get one of the four teams. Then, others feel that Atlanta and Orlando are so dominant in the Southeast that the league may look to hit other areas where they need a presence.

Phoenix- The entry of this city into the group was a surprise to some because the market has not done particularly well supporting their lower tier minor league team through the years. The market is the largest metro area without an MLS club and they have no competition, the next closest MLS club is over 300 miles away so that makes this bid unique.
This bid by Phoenix is a mixed bag of positive and negative elements. The positives are that they have a current minor league club: Phoenix Rising FC, they have an ownership group, and they have a stadium plan as well as a site. There are groups within Phoenix that believe that the support for the minor league club was not strong because the stadium location is not convenient. The new stadium would be in Scottsdale, an ideal location for accessibility.
The negative elements are that the corporate support for the potential MLS club is tepid, the city has other major sports so competition for entertainment dollars is steep, and the market has limited soccer heritage or history to draw upon.
In my view, the stadium moving to Scottsdale is a key component. The population and TV market numbers are very compelling. I think Phoenix has a strong chance because I think MLS wants to be there just from the size of the market and the demographics of the market, just from that perspective. I do have reservations about the ability of the area to support a team and whether it would work, particularly playing matches in the summer months in Arizona.

Sacramento- The soccer world was anticipating this expansion bid to be a virtual “lock” based on the progress that this group made in all phases of the process. The events of the past few months, however, have put the Sacramento bid in a degree of jeopardy. The capital city of California has been working tirelessly over the past four years to obtain an MLS expansion franchise. The demographics are ideal for MLS, the market size has some attractive attributes, and there is little competition with only one pro sports team in town: the NBA’s Kings.
The other main positive to the bid is that the minor league club, Sacramento Republic FC, has been a huge success in that market. The club has set attendance records in their league and was the initial reason behind the interest level for MLS being so high in potential expansion to that market. The branding of that club clearly has connected with the community and it “checks all the boxes” as far as MLS criteria for a minor league club presence and established fan support base.
The stadium site is also a positive attribute to their quest for one of the last four spots in MLS. The new facility is designed and the project is shovel ready in a tract of land in the Railyards section of the Sacramento downtown, which is part of a huge redevelopment project being spearheaded by the city.
The ownership component is a bit tricky because Kevin Nagle, who is leading the MLS bid process did not have the rights to the branding of the Republic name, logo, and colors. Those rights are controlled by Warren Smith who runs the operations of the minor league club. The two men caused the issues with the bid alluded to earlier in this section because at the time the bid was due to MLS, Nagle submitted it without the Republic being a part of the submission. This created concern within the league over whether the local ownership was fractured. In the end, an agreement between Nagle and Smith was made about four days later, and the MLS process will move forward with the Sacramento Republic being the name and branding used for the potential expansion team.
The other issue with Sacramento is the emergence of San Diego as an exciting candidate for expansion, which raises the question of whether MLS would add two more teams in California.
In my view, this bid is still very solid and MLS cannot ignore the unbelievable success pattern that Sacramento Republic FC has had over the past few years. The ownership situation appears to be solidified as far as the transition of the branding for the minor league club. This bid seems more reliable than others in the group.

San Diego- This city, along with the two bids from North Carolina, are the most recent additions to “the group of twelve”. The San Diego attempt at MLS expansion gained a huge amount of momentum when the city’s longtime NFL franchise, the Chargers, relocated to Los Angeles in January. The city officials, seeking to fill a void, moved quickly to facilitate a comprehensive proposal to obtain an elite pro soccer franchise for San Diego.
The proposal has several positive attributes from the outstanding climate, the proximity to other franchises in the league for rivalry purposes, and to the favorable demographics. San Diego has a growing millennial population and has strong potential corporate sponsorships available as well.
The other positive attribute is the stadium proposal which calls for a comprehensive redevelopment of the Mission Valley site that was home to the Chargers football stadium. The old stadium would be torn down and a new smaller venue for soccer and college football would be built there along with other housing, office, and retail space for the university.
The downside is that the San Diego bid is up against some stiff competition with cities who have been honing their MLS bids for years. The government is supportive but the league also currently has teams in California and may want to use the expansion slots to grow the game in other areas of the country.

San Antonio- The bid from this city is interesting because the support for the minor league team is solid, and that club was just recently purchased by the same group which owns the San Antonio Spurs of NBA small market success. The ownership group is the strongest aspect of this bid. The renovation and expansion plan for the facility where the minor league Scorpions club plays currently is very unclear, and thought to be the negative that could eliminate this bid from the whole process.
San Antonio has the right demographics and millennial population, but it is in a similar predicament as San Diego. MLS has two clubs already in Texas and may not want to add a third franchise there, especially when FC Dallas has struggled to connect with the fan base in that market over many years.

St. Louis – The bid is similar to San Diego, this city also lost their NFL team (Rams) to a relocation to Los Angeles. The plan is to build a soccer stadium on land near the Union Station railway hub downtown. I wrote a separate article about this city and the quest to gain an MLS spot. The ownership is dedicated and passionate and the city has great soccer heritage as well. The downtown site is ideal.
The city has hosted some high profile soccer matches which were well attended recently. The expansion there would fill a hole in the Midwest on the MLS map.
The negative aspect is the unproven aspect of being able to support a team long term from both a sponsorship and fan base perspective. The other red flag on this bid is the stadium proposal. The Governor of Missouri has pulled the state level financing, and the city has amended a bill to try to gain tax revenue for their portion, but the use of tax revenue is going to be decided by the voters.
Commissioner Garber was in St. Louis on Monday ahead of the vote on both propositions for the proposed stadium, trying to drum up support. The long and short view of this bid is that MLS wants to be in St. Louis, but they have to iron out the financing of the stadium or this bid will not be approved. The option to privately finance the stadium project is still on the table but ownership is already reportedly going to pay $150 million in an expansion fee to MLS, then they committed another $80 million toward the stadium costs plus the overruns. They would need private financing of another $80 to $100 million to get the project completed.

In the end analysis, my own view of this situation with expansion of MLS in the future is that it is a very fluid situation. The Miami club will most likely be granted into the league at some point in the near future. The league has spent an inordinate amount of time, money, and resources trying to make Miami a viable situation. That would leave four open slots for twelve teams.

The most likely group that will emerge in my view of the situation are: Sacramento, San Diego, St. Louis, and Tampa/St. Petersburg. The league is really intrigued with those four markets for various reasons. However, in the event that St. Louis cannot get the stadium deal done, Detroit or Cincinnati could slide in as a replacement in the Midwest. That is provided that they get their own stadium deals in place, if the jail site land swap fails, Detroit is out of the running.

I know two California teams seems like a wild concept, but Sacramento is the most ready of all the bids and is such a great fit as an MLS market it makes too much sense for them. The league is really taken with San Diego, and they have a fairly straightforward bid because the city owns the land in Mission Valley and is supportive of the development project there.

In the event that the St. Petersburg group cannot reach an agreement with MLS and Orlando City FC on the territory rights, that could doom that bid. In that case, I think the league would go with one of the North Carolina bids to fill a spot in the Southeast. The stadium issues being resolved either in Charlotte or Raleigh would be the deciding factor in which bid moves forward.

I also understand that many fans and those with interest in this topic feel that Cincinnati has a great bid, and they do, but they are in a small media market. I think a spot opens for them only if one of the spots fails to seal the deal, namely St. Louis. I do not see the league adding two Midwest teams.

The interest in the league is growing and the speculation around how the league will look in the next few years is an exciting prospect. The theme of this whole process is that soccer in America has really gained a foothold and is gaining popularity.

The expansion process will play out in the next several months and it will be interesting to see from the vote in St. Louis, to the land swap in Detroit, to the city council decision in Charlotte, and to the negotiations for the St. Petersburg territory; which bids will be successful in joining the league. The process will play out and the league will have some exciting new cities on the franchise map in the near future.

Zero Hour: EPA Superfund Follow Up

The EPA Superfund program has come under fire recently from the new Trump Administration which has cast a shadow of doubt over the future activity from this vital program. The significant amount of sites still being actively contained and remediated by the Superfund program has caused concern within residents of those areas.

The concern comes from the potential budget cuts for the program that could come from the Trump Administration in the coming months. The Superfund provides focused attention on the most contaminated or hazardous areas from past industrial, chemical, or other types of pollution.

The program also has a National Priorities List (NPL) designation for these sites as well. The specifics on the list and the foundation of the program can be found in my earlier article series on the Superfund program.

The follow up to that series will focus on some sites that have made the news recently, particularly in my home state of New Jersey and the New York metro area. The State of New Jersey has the most Superfund sites of any other state in the country.

The main misconception with Superfund sites from certain factions of the federal, state, and local governments as well as some groups of the general public is that the program is not producing results. The rationale behind that misconception is largely because of the many years it can take for a site with that level of contamination to be remediated.

The other component involved is the sheer time it takes for the entire Superfund process to move through all of the necessary steps prior to remediation work even beginning to take place. This process and the various steps it takes through the public and community input stages can be found in my earlier article series on the Superfund program.

The reality is that the program is effective in maintaining, treating, and remediating very complex areas of environmental contamination. The multiple steps involved are necessary – and the process, while taking a significant time horizon to transition from start to finish, has been proven to work in rehabilitating sites of increased pollutant exposure.

The EPA is currently focusing their efforts on the NPL sites that have been progressively difficult to contain and clean in particularly contaminated industrial areas throughout our country.

Diamond In The Rough

A Superfund site that is recently in the mainstream news here in the Northeast, is the former Diamond Alkali site in Newark, New Jersey. The site is part of the Passaic River Superfund cleanup focus area as well. It is a particularly complicated site because of the types of chemicals used there, and the level of widespread contamination of those chemicals and industrial materials.

The site has housed production of chemicals since the 1940s, when according to the EPA studies, DDT was manufactured there on the premises. The Diamond Alkali Company made several products there in the 1950s and 1960s including the herbicide known as “Agent Orange”, which the process to manufacture creates a dangerous by-product known as dioxin.

The company eventually sold the land, and the EPA conducted site studies in the early 1980s which yielded elevated amounts of dioxin, PCBs, and other dangerous toxins. The plan for the site, as with any other Superfund designated location, included immediate, interim, and longer term countermeasures to contain and remediate the area.

The process took many years and several steps and is still ongoing. The most recent plan to fully remediate the Diamond Alkali site and the greater Lower Passaic River project is slated to take 10 years to complete. The project made headlines recently when the EPA and municipal government officials announced that the companies involved in the pollution of the Passaic River are going to foot the bill for the cleanup.

The Lower Passaic River site encompasses an area of eight miles and it will take, according to NJ.com and other sources, 1 year to negotiate and 10 years to conduct the actual cleanup and remediation work. The cost of the entire project is $1.4 billion (yes billion with a “b”) and any enthusiasm regarding the corporations allegedly involved picking up the tab should be tempered by the fact that none of them have signed up to do so at this time.

The plan calls for dredging and draining of sediment from the river. The sediment will then go through a process known as dewatering, then the sediment will be transported to a remote area for disposal by train. Finally, the entire stretch of the site identified as the Lower Passaic River site (the entire 8 miles) will be capped, which is the process I described in my initial article series, it involves the application of a sand and stone barricade of about two feet in depth to seal off the area.

The companies involved will be in negotiations with the EPA regarding the cleanup costs, and I am certain that the pressure of public opinion will also help benefit this project. It is a long term and large scale job, but the proper cleanup of that site requires that type of diligence.

Ring of Doubt: Ringwood Ford Site

The EPA does not always enjoy the benefit of positive public opinion. The situation in Ringwood, New Jersey is a case in point of that type of scenario. The EPA, the residents, and the municipal government are all at odds over the course of action needed in the Ford site along a river in Upper Ringwood.

The residents are upset because the EPA has seemingly changed course over the plan to recover the site from years of pollutants. The original plan was for the excavation and remediation of over 160,000 tons of polluted soil from the site.

Instead, the proposal from the EPA is now pushing for the town to put a recycling center on the site. The pollutants would be contained by a “cap” and would not be excavated. The recycling center would cost the township about $5 million and the remediation work will cost the town around $30 to $35 million depending on the estimates.

Ford used the site as a waste dump essentially for all the chemicals and other toxic products from their plant in nearby Mahwah.

The 500 acre site has been relisted numerous times on the Superfund NPL because of repeated attempts to remediate the widespread contamination of the site. This latest plan by the EPA to cap the site has resulted in upset groups of local residents that want Ford to be held responsible for the cleanup and for the site to be remediated in a more comprehensive way.

The general public sentiment is understandable, the feelings of distrust of the EPA can also be completely valid in this case. Ford is a multi-billion dollar corporate goliath that used that land to get rid of waste from their plant for decades, and now they want to shirk the cost of the cleanup.

The resolutions proposed by the EPA would both entail the taxpaying residents foot the bill for the recovery of the site. This is patently unfair, and this is a case study example of why the EPA has been under such intense scrutiny in recent weeks. The two resolutions they provide in this Ringwood Superfund site will not address or solve the underlying pollution there in an effective manner.

The EPA has to consider other remediation alternatives, determine a whole new course of action, and they need to get Ford involved in the cost of the cleanup process. The whole situation there is a literal and figurative mess.

The legal ramifications of the process are another area where this situation could be very troublesome for all parties involved. It definitely merits watching in the weeks and months ahead.

Down to Zero

The new proposed federal budget from The White House carries huge cuts to a variety of agencies including the EPA. This obviously casts a doubt on the future of the agency and the Superfund program.

The cuts, according to CBS News and other major news sources, to the EPA budget are around 30% and the Superfund projects currently open or active face a great deal of uncertainty. The budgetary constraints take on an added significance when you take into account the duration of time it requires to remediate many of these highly polluted sites.

The Gowanus Canal site in New York City was one of the projects I featured in my series of articles on the Superfund. This project was in the news again on Tuesday with the Attorney General of New York and other Congressional representatives who held a media event at the site urging Congress to reject the budget.

The Gowanus Canal site is one of the worst in the nation as far as pollutant levels and toxicity. They have commitments from several companies to cover about $500 million in cleanup costs, according to estimates from the site proposal. The budget cuts could defund the entire project, which is in the “design” phase with remediation work set to begin in 2018.

In the event that the program was defunded that would essentially waste four years of time that many entities committed to pursuing a solution for this environmental disaster. I understand that big government waste is a real issue, but it should not come at the cost of environmental safety.

Conversely, there are other programs that function well, that is the real cost of some of these cuts: the time, money, and resources already dedicated by countless groups of people. Those groups include volunteers, concerned citizens, local government officials, and numerous professionals from a variety of backgrounds. In this specific case of the Superfund, the cuts or the defunding of the budget create a scenario where there are tax dollars already utilized to evaluate the respective site and develop the cleanup procedure, so the cuts essentially compound the waste of resources.

The future of the EPA and the Superfund program hang in the balance as the budget proposal moves through the legislative mechanism in Congress. The future of our environment, the potential for neglect of catastrophic waste sites, and the very real possibility of untold amounts of chemicals causing illness to Americans is all at stake.

The Superfund program, for the most part, was an example of a government program which actually was effective. The program got the polluters to pay for the damage they caused, which is also a novel concept when applied to a big government run scenario.

The sad reality is that without the Superfund in place, these big corporations would never comply with paying for the damage they caused to the environment. In the event that anyone thinks that these corporate giants will comply in the future, without the enforcement of the Superfund, they are sorely mistaken. That type of negligence comes at a cost, a huge cost, to our American society.