This past Thursday the Gov. of Texas, Rick Perry tried to up the ante for San Antonio’s bid to attract the National Bio Agro Defense Facility. The facility, known by its acronym NBAF, is slated to study some of the world’s most virulent zoonotic (animal related) diseases. In actuality, Perry’s $56 million dollar incentive offer is more of a promissory note than a check in the bank. The additional funds are contingent on legislative appropriations next year, Texas legislature will not meet again until the new year.

The last minute attempt by Texas Gov. Perry to lure the NBAF to the Lone Star State did no go uncontested. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas is cried foul according to a Kansas news agency over Perry’s last minute efforts. On Friday Gov. Sebelius said;

  I am concerned to hear the news that Texas is attempting to revise its cost-share proposal for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility,” Sebelius said.

“It is critical to maintain the fundamental fairness and integrity of the NBAF site selection process, which clearly set a firm March 31, 2008, deadline for best and final cost-share proposals.

“In keeping with DHS’ own deadline requirements, this revised offer by Texas should be rejected and not considered in the site selection,” she said. Kansas has already committed $105 million to lure NBAF.

The March 31st  deadline for cost-sharing proposals mentioned by Gov. Sebelius, was intially conveyed to the bidding state’s consortia in February of this year. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent each state requirement letters asking that the biolab finalist pledge specific funding for the NBAF’s pieces parts.  While little is publicly known concerning the specifics of the letters, one item on demand by DHS, (disclosed oddly enough by Gov. Sebelius’ office ) is a “utility node” or “central utility plant”.  At a estimated  cost of $80 to $95 million, the 56,000 GSF (gross square footage) “utility node” is no small requirement (the average big box store is 90,000 GSF) for the host state. 

Little by little the facts spill out

In August, Larry Margasak a writer for the Associated Press, ruffled some feathers when he disclosed details of a internal government memorandum, dated July 2007 marked “sensitive information.” The AP article  suggested a senior Homeland Security official, Undersecretary Jay Cohen, had overruled his own government expert’s recommendations concerning unspecified criteria for site selection.  Several lawmakers, some  already skeptical over the department’s plans said Cohen’s intervention on behalf of Mississippi was improper  and appeared politically motivated. Why? because in the memo,  Mississippi scored a mere “satisfactory” with a score of 72 and 75 in its research and work force categories, respectively. While the Mississippi site’s overall grade was 81, or “very good,” the state ranked 14 out of 17 and lower than nine other rejected U.S. sites. 

Perhaps, is it really just coincidence that Mississippi’s lawmakers include: Republican Governor Haley Barbour, a old close personal friend of the Bush family, Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the Department of Homeland Security’s oversight committee in the House, Thad Cochran, the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee and last but not least home to the Battelle Memorial Institute, which operates the U.S. Chemical and Biological Defense Information Analysis Cente and  whose motto is “Bringing the Chemical and Biological Defense and Homeland Security Communities together.”  Battelle according to their website, “leads the management teams of four national laboratories for the US Department of Energy and participates in the management of two others”.

One other point of interest concerning the memo obtained by the AP, it was exempt from FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) because it detailed “a deliberative process”, according to Lisa Sorg of the Independent Weekly. Sorg didn’t see it that way and the Indy Weekly made the memo available to it’s readers. Sorg in a piece titled Durham Commissioners nix NBAF quoted DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa’s response to the “sensitive information” being released.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said Cohen has the decision-making authority to “weigh the panel’s evaluation of sites focusing on what’s existing and what sites are willing to offer.” According to the AP, Mississippi is willing to work closely with Battelle Memorial Institute, a Homeland Security contractor that already manages some national labs elsewhere for the Homeland Security and Energy departments.

Kudwa said the documents obtained by the AP were exempt from the Freedom of Information Act because they detailed “a deliberative process.” However, they were submitted to Congress for oversight, Kudwa said, but she did not know which committees or subcommittees received the documents.

The oversight comes from an unyielding critic of the NBAF and the Bush Administration’s overall expandion of bio contaiment facilities, Michigan Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee whose sub-committee (Kudwa’s not sure of) has held a series of investigations into the Bush Administration’s rapid proliferation of bio-medical research laboratories. Dingell said “It appears that the undersecretary responsible for this program may have corrupted the site selection process by putting his thumb on the scale in favor of a particular site and its contractor, in violation of his own rules and over the objections of his own advisers,” “This raises the question of whether DHS is interested in bioresearch or just shameless empire building.”

With the release of the final Environmental Impact study possible days away North Carolina’s chances of being chosen for the facility remain small but the chance is still there. With the host town of Butner, Durham and Raleigh collectively opposing the facility I just don’t believe it will be sited here but stranger things have happened.

 

My disclaimer: I’m not picking on Gov. Sebelius of Kansas she isn’t the only politico that has voiced concerns regarding the politics surrounding the NBAF project. She just seems to be one of the most vocal proponents for the project and given her leadership and political actions regarding environmental protections and her rejection of coal-fired power plants , I find her advocacy for an environmental “succubus” such as the NBAF project, incongruous.

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