Seattle's News Elixir

1. Piling on to the anti-Tay Yoshitani bandwagon, State Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-46) tells PubliCola that if he’s reelected in November, he plans to introduce legislation that would bar all public officials from activities that create the appearance of a conflict of interest, such as Port CEO Yoshitani’s duel roles as head of the Port and a board member of the freight logistics firm Expeditors International.

Currently, only elected officials are required to avoid the appearance of a conflict; Yoshitani is appointed by the Port Commission, not elected.

The Expeditors gig pays $230,000 on top of Yoshitani’s $370,000 annual salary at the Port.

Numerous state legislators, including house majority leader Pat Sullivan (D-47) and house speaker Frank Chopp, have questioned the Port Commission’s decision to let Yoshitani work both jobs, suggesting that he may personally benefit from his job at Expeditors by giving their customers a competitive advantage over other Port clients.

2. NARAL Pro-Choice Washington's annual Liberty Ball this weekend brought out the usual list of Democratic candidates (1st Congressional District candidate Suzan DelBene, AG candidate Bob Ferguson, King County sheriff candidate John Urquhart, and a couple dozen Democratic legislative contenders---including Pollet's opponent Sylvester Cann), but drew only one Seattle city council member—Nick Licata---and only one (former) Seattle mayor, Greg Nickels. (City officials aren't up for reelection this year).

Bidding on auction items, in contrast to previous Liberty Balls, was noticeably sluggish, with many items going for much less than their face value.

Folks at the event speculated that people were tapped out from giving to the campaign for R-74, the marriage-equality referendum.

3. Speaking of marriage equality, Cynthia Nixon (yes, that Cynthia Nixon) was the speaker at last Friday's Planned Parenthood Votes NW lunch, and she made a passionate case for R-74 (her wife, Christine Marinoni, lives on Bainbridge Island. "Don't wake up on November 7 thinking, 'I should have done more,'" Nixon told the crowd.

"Wake up thinking, 'We made history today, and I own a piece of that history.'"

4. We just couldn't save these three must-reads for today's On Other Blogs roundup.

The New York Times began rolling out a series of eye-opening articles yesterday that challenge smug notions about how efficient and green our 21st-century internet-based economy is.

The NYT's straightforward batch of public records requests and research documenting how server farms sap the electric grid and spew pollution is one of those dreadful ah-ha moments that stop 10 years of conventional wisdom in its tracks.

After Sunday's opening shot, a front-page article titled: "Power, Pollution and the Internet: Industry Wastes Vasts Amounts of Electricity, Belying Image"—which portrays "the cloud" as having more in common with a literal plume of smoke from a 19th-century coal factory than with a sleek sci-fi William Gibson metaphor—the second installment in the series identifies Microsoft's data farm in Quincy in central Washington as the defining culprit.

From Sunday's piece:
Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show.

“It’s staggering for most people, even people in the industry, to understand the numbers, the sheer size of these systems,” said Peter Gross, who helped design hundreds of data centers. “A single data center can take more power than a medium-size town.”

Energy efficiency varies widely from company to company. But at the request of The Times, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company analyzed energy use by data centers and found that, on average, they were using only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations. The rest was essentially used to keep servers idling and ready in case of a surge in activity that could slow or crash their operations.

And from the follow-up story on Microsoft's plant in Quincy:
Microsoft’s operation has now spread to four buildings and is the largest of Quincy’s data centers. Taken together, Microsoft and Yahoo’s operations overwhelm all nonindustrial electric usage, utility figures show. All residential and small commercial accounts in Quincy consumed an average of 9.5 million watts last year, while Microsoft and Yahoo used 41.8 million watts, the utility said.

The loads are growing so fast that some local residents and business owners — particularly irrigation farmers, who also depend on low-cost electricity — are concerned. With other industries also chasing low electricity prices, the increases could lead to higher prices or even a shortage of available power from the dams. ...

“When they first start up, a big, huge cloud of black smoke comes up,” said Ronald Carden, a forklift driver at a nearby fruit warehouse. “It just kind of makes you nauseous.”

While others in town said they were hardly aware of the generators, Patty Martin, a former Quincy mayor and environmental activist, made them an issue. Ms. Martin and Ms. Dal Porto, the retired teacher, formed a group called Microsoft-Yes; Toxic Air Pollution-No. When the State Ecology Department granted Microsoft permits for new backup generators for the expanded center, they appealed the decision to the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board.

During two days of hearings in February, Ms. Martin squared off against a team of lawyers for Microsoft and an assistant attorney general representing the Ecology Department. In July, the board issued a ruling that confirmed the permits allowing Microsoft to increase the number of generators to 37 at its Columbia Data Center. The group has appealed that decision to a Superior Court.

5.  Another article you should read: The Seattle Times' Danny Westneat writes about an a young Perkins Coie attorney who worked on the League of Women Voters' amicus brief in the legal challenge to the voter-approved rule requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature to raise taxes (Tim Eyman's I-1053 ... and the pending I-1185).

Mining the official notes from Washington State's constitutional convention, the attorney, David Perez, found that our state's founding fathers explicitly shot down the notion that a two-thirds requirement squares with the constitution's mandate that it takes "a majority" to pass laws.

Perez's research adds to an irony we've been noting ever since we first started covering this case: Eyman and the conservatives are seeking a broad interpretation of the constitution's rules while the liberals who are suing are seeking a strict interpretation.
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