Archive for the ‘All Posts’ Category

Energy efficiency at the forefront of cooperative principles in Tennessee

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - posted by rory
Frank Rapley, General Manager of TVA's Energy Efficiency Programs, presents on the new EE programs that TVA will be offering in 2015. Photo credit: Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

Frank Rapley, General Manager of TVA’s Energy Efficiency Programs, presents on the new EE programs that TVA will be offering in 2015. Photo credit: Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

Rural electric cooperatives, which serve millions of families across Appalachia, operate on seven principles, the most important of which (at least to us) is principle number seven: “Concern for Community.”

The seventh principle commits electric co-ops to “the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.” As we described in a blog series on the need for and benefits on “on-bill” financing programs supporting home energy improvements in Appalachia, the sustainable development of the Appalachian region relies on the ability of residents to invest in their communities. But first and foremost, they must be able to afford their electric bills. The clear first step to achieving this vision is expanding energy efficiency, and this is something that Tennessee’s electric cooperatives have taken to heart.

On September 5, thanks to a generous grant from the National Governor’s Association (NGA), the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association (TECA), in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), sponsored a statewide energy efficiency “retreat.” The goal of the day-long policy retreat was to hash through the details of what will hopefully become a statewide program to finance home energy efficiency improvements, especially for low-income residents. Such programs have proven to reduce home energy costs substantially, and are primarily intended to help families that can’t afford to pay for the upfront cost of needed improvements. Below is a testimonial from one family that participated in South Carolina’s pilot on-bill financing program known as “Help My House.”

The retreat featured a number of experts in energy efficiency finance and program design as well as co-op and government administration, including numerous representatives from federal organizations and government agencies, Tennessee state government agencies and various experts and clean energy advocates such as Appalachian Voices and a handful of our partner organizations.

Most importantly, the retreat was attended by six of Tennessee’s rural electric cooperatives. Included among them was Appalachian Electric, which has proven to be a statewide leader in expanding energy efficiency opportunities not only for their own members, but for all of Tennessee’s rural co-op members. Unfortunately, of the six co-ops that participated in the retreat only two co-ops were from the Appalachian region, although we were told by TECA that a handful of others couldn’t attend but were interested in participating in the process. We hope that more co-ops with service territories in East Tennessee will sign on to the process, because as the energy cost maps we generated earlier this year show, members of Appalachian co-ops are most in need of support for reducing their electric bills.

The efforts of Appalachian Voices’ staff, through concerted outreach to Tennessee’s Appalachian electric co-ops and local stakeholders, played a key part in making the energy efficiency retreat happen, and as a result we were invited to participate as an expert stakeholder. We are extremely encouraged by the outstanding leadership that NGA, TECA, TDEC and Appalachian Electric are showing, and we admire their dedication to helping the families who need it most.

The prospect of a statewide on-bill financing program in Tennessee is exciting, and we remain committed to doing everything we can to seeing it through. Further, we appreciate everything you do to support our work. If you live in western North Carolina, get in touch, because we have a lot going on in your neighborhood too!

Successful Rally at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note }This post about last week’s “Our Water, Our Future” rally in Washington, D.C. is by Dana Kuhnline, media coordinator for The Alliance for Appalachia, originally appeared on the Alliance’s website.

Dana Kuhnline

Dana Kuhnline

Last week, dozens of residents from Appalachia and allies from across the country rallied at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to pressure the Obama administration to protect Appalachia’s water and future from coal pollution. Those wishing to contact the CEQ to support residents can take action here.

The CEQ oversees the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Surface Mining and other agencies that are responsible for protecting Appalachian residents from the severe water and health impacts of mountaintop removal and other dangerous coal practices.

Unfortunately, Appalachian leaders who met with the agencies were disappointed with the attitude the administration showed toward concerned citizens that traveled many hours to D.C. for the visit. The agency representatives asked for more time to work on the issue of mountaintop removal, but mountain leaders have been waiting five years since an Obama administration Memorandum of Understanding that promised action against the destructive practice as well as reinvestment in the economy of the region.

The tragic and unbelievable series of toxic spills in Appalachia in 2014 — from the chemical spill that impacted more than 300,0000 people in West Virginia, to the slurry and coal ash spills in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina — are just the most recent disasters to showing the failures of the Obama administration to follow through on its promises to protect Appalachian communities. More than 500 mountains have been destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining and the region is ready for a just transition to a economy beyond this destructive practice.

The next day, residents engaged in a sit-in on the front steps of the CEQ and waited several hours for an agency representative to come out to speak with them — eventually even hosting a square dance with a live band playing traditional Appalachian music in front of the CEQ. In addition, residents organized a bucket brigade to collect clean water from D.C. to bring back home to their communities that do not have access to safe water to drink.

When no representative from CEQ agreed to meet with residents after several hours of waiting, residents placed a report card on the steps that evaluated the progress so far of the Obama administration on important areas such as protecting the health and water of Appalachia. Participants in the rally gave the administration a grade of “incomplete.”

Appalachian citizens rally in front of the White House for "Our Water, Our Future."

Appalachian citizens rally in front of the White House for “Our Water, Our Future.”

Fracking Opponents Host Rally and Press Conference Prior to Cullowhee Public Hearing on Draft Oil and Gas Rules

Thursday, September 11th, 2014 - posted by brian

Contacts:
Katie Hicks, Clean Water for North Carolina, katie@cwfnc.org, 828-251-1291
Sarah Kellogg, Appalachian Voices, sarah@appvoices.org, 828-262-1500
Donna Dupree, Jackson County Coalition Against Fracking, donnadupree44@yahoo.com, 828-246-1186
Susan Leading Fox, Swain County Coalition Against Fracking, snooz62@frontier.com, 828-736-5529
Avram Friedman, The Canary Coalition, avram@canarycoalition.org
Denise DerGarabedian, Coalition Against Fracking in WNC, nofrackwnc@gmail.com
Julie Mayfield, Western North Carolina Alliance, Julie@wnca.org

What: Press conference and rally, with visuals and speakers – 4:15PM
Mining and Energy Commission’s Public Hearing on Draft Oil and Gas Rules – 5PM-9PM

When: Friday, September 12, 2014

Where: Western Carolina University’s Ramsey Center, 92 Catamount Road, Cullowhee, NC 28723. The press conference will be on the patio adjacent to the Ramsey Center and the football field.

This Friday, local and regional grassroots groups will hold a press conference prior to the final public hearing on the proposed N.C. Oil and Gas Rules.

Mayor Harry Baughn of Hayesville, whose town passed a resolution opposing gas exploration in Hayesville and Clay County, will speak about the need for stronger rules to govern the fracking industry, and the need for local governments to protect their residents, infrastructure, economies and resources.

“Water is a precious commodity that we must protect at all costs,” says Mayor Baughn. “At a minimum, there should be a 1-mile radius in which the companies are responsible for the appearance of any of the fracking chemicals, and a substantial length of time for which they remain responsible in the future.”

Susan Leading Fox, a multi-generational Appalachian Native American who worked for over 20 years with Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in various capacities, including serving as Deputy of the Health & Medical Division under Chief Hicks’ administration, will speak on the social impacts of the fracking industry. “WNC cannot afford the irrefutable social impact fracking brings to communities by increased crime, prostitution, drug trafficking, and alcohol use. This creates burdens to our local law enforcement and social services. Irreversible denigration of communities is occurring all across the nation for the extraction of shale gas which is available in finite quantities. This is unacceptable,” she says.

Other speakers include Ron Gulla, a Pennsylvania farmer who has lived with the gas industry firsthand, Amy Adams, a former DENR supervisor, and Denise DerGarabedian, founder of the grassroots group Coalition Against Fracking in WNC.

The N.C. General Assembly lifted the state’s moratorium on “fracking” or “hydraulic fracturing”– a method of extracting natural gas that involves injecting high-pressure fluids thousands of feet deep with a mixture of water, sand and chemicals – this year, and permitting can begin as soon as the rules under review during this hearing are finalized, possibly as soon as early 2015 in parts of the N.C. Piedmont.

This last of four public hearings on the proposed rules to govern fracking promises a large public turnout and plenty of strong opinions. An estimated total of 1200 people have turned out to the three previous hearings in Raleigh, Sanford, and Reidsville. The Cullowhee hearing was not originally on the list, but was scheduled thanks to several requests for a hearing in the mountains by citizens, local government officials, state legislators, and advocacy groups.

Recent announcements of potential delays in gas testing have not slowed the momentum of fracking opponents. “There is no guarantee that the state won’t turn around and prioritize money toward testing in the mountains as early as next year,” added Katie Hicks of Clean Water for North Carolina.

“If you’re concerned about water quality, climate change, property rights, and/or corporate control of our state government regulatory agencies, then you should be concerned about fracking and the rules that are being addressed at the Mining and Energy Commission’s public hearing in Cullowhee on September 12,” said Avram Friedman, Executive Director of the Canary Coalition.

“Fracking does not make sense for North Carolina. There is so little natural gas in N.C., and the industry would create so few jobs, that it’s just not worth the substantial risk to our health, water, air, and way of life,” said Sarah Kellogg with Appalachian Voices.

“They promised us the strongest rules in the nation back in 2012, but these fall far short of many other states’ regulations,” said Donna Dupree of the Jackson County Coalition Against Fracking. “It’s time for the Mining and Energy Commission to admit that these rules protect industry, not the people of our state!”

Local and regional residents are expected to register to give 3 minute comments, and those who want to speak are encouraged to arrive an hour ahead in order to sign up to speak on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Canary Coalition will live-stream the hearing at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/canarycoalitionlive. Written comments may also be submitted at the hearing or may be submitted by mail or email by September 30th (oil&gas@ncdenr.gov, or Mining & Energy Commission, ATTN: Oil and Gas Program, 1612 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1612).

Confirmed speakers for press conference:
Denise DerGarabedian
Harry Baughn
Amy Adams
Susan Leading Fox
Ron Gulla

Media with questions about setting up interviews or about the press conference should contact Melissa Williams at Melissa@WNCA.org or Katie Hicks at Katie@cwfnc.org by 10 a.m. Friday Sept. 12.

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About Appalachian Voices:
Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the land, air and water of the central and southern Appalachian region, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future.

About the Canary Coalition:
The members of the Canary Coalition are working together to take the lead in raising public awareness of our shared environmental crisis—generating a groundswell of public support to achieve sustainability of place and planet through proactive education, public activism, and collaboration toward practical solutions.

About Clean Water for North Carolina:
Clean Water for NC works to promote clean, safe water and environments and empowered, just communities for all North Carolinians through community organizing, education, advocacy and technical assistance, with offices in Asheville and Durham, NC.

About the Coalition Against Fracking in Western North Carolina:
CAFWNC works to connect the western counties of NC in a united voice against any part of the horizontal fracking industry taking place in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. We seek to educate and empower local citizens to combat fracking interests by spreading the truth about this destructive and devastating practice that threatens our air, water, land, and way of life. We aim to create a group working together to support each other and to protect the incredible precious heritage of the Appalachian region on which our future and that of future generations depends. We stand in solidarity with citizens across North Carolina, and believe that fracking should be permanently banned across the state. CAFWNC is a non-partisan, non-discriminatory coalition of citizen volunteers concerned about the potential impacts of the first extractive industry in NC and the detrimental effects on our communities and future.

About Jackson County Coalition Against Fracking:
The mission of the Jackson County Coalition Against Fracking is to educate the citizens of Jackson County about fracking and the health, environmental, and community hazards it causes, and to encourage citizens to make their views heard by their elected officials and to vote for officials who would ban fracking in North Carolina.

About Swain County Coalition Against Fracking:
Swain County Coalition Against Fracking is a grassroots community organization of concerned citizens who want to fight against fracking in NC.

About Western North Carolina Alliance:
Western North Carolina Alliance empowers citizens to be advocates for livable communities and the natural environment of Western North Carolina.

About WNC Frack Free:
WNC Frack Free consists of Mountain People helping to protect clean water.

Advocating for a fair Internet, for all

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 - posted by brian
Appalachian Voices is participating in today's Internet Slowdown to support an open and fair web.

Appalachian Voices is participating in today’s Internet Slowdown to support an open and fair web.

If you find yourself staring at spinning wheels on some of your favorite websites today, take a moment to imagine what an unfair Internet would look like.

What if federal regulators currently considering how to regulate the Internet put your favorite small businesses or advocacy groups at even more of a disadvantage? That scary prospect is essentially what the Federal Communications Commission is considering right now.

Today’s Internet Slowdown is an effort to raise awareness around a policy known as “net neutrality.” The general idea behind net neutrality is that no individual website’s content should be prioritized above others. So, as this NPR piece puts it, “a user can go where he wants and do what he wants on the Internet without the interference of his broadband provider.”

If that basic, but threatened, fairness sounds like something you support, you’re not alone. The FCC has already received more than one million comments on the issue, the vast majority of which support stricter enforcement of net neutrality. Here’s how NPR describes what a positive outcome of this process might look like:

“Advocates for the open Internet are pushing for reclassifying the Internet from Title I to Title II under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. According to the supporters of this measure, it would make the Internet more like a public utility and give the agency more authority to regulate the Web and enforce protections for net neutrality.”

Supporters of net neutrality protections say that without the rules, Internet service providers like Comcast and Time Warner will have economic incentives to charge content providers …”

So where does that put groups like Appalachian Voices, who are stretching dollars thin and using the Internet the best way we know how to create the greatest impact and benefits for the communities where we work? I’d argue it puts us somewhere right near the center of the fight. If an open and fair Internet is not maintained, the near future could hold significant challenges for environmental and advocacy groups of all types, independent journalism, entrepreneurs, and really anyone who uses the web as a resource to learn or communicate about issues close to their heart.

Even worse, while concerned citizens are waiting, watching that spinning “wheel of death,” dirty energy interests would have no problem paying to take the fast lane — increasing their level of influence and ability to drown out our voices.

From our work to grow the nationwide movement to end mountaintop removal to more local efforts to build community support for clean water and put an end to coal ash pollution, the Internet has been essential as an educational and advocacy tool. So today, we’re joining in solidarity with other groups and businesses advocating for keeping the Internet open — the way it was always intended to be.

You can join the “Battle for the Net” and add your name to support a fair Internet here.

Updates: Stopping the “Tax on the Sun” in Virginia

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 - posted by hannah

solar on house

As the comment period concludes on Appalachian Power Company’s proposed solar “stand-by” charge and next week’s formal regulatory hearing nears, we’re at full swing in a major push for solar freedom in Virginia.

Concerned ratepayers from Abingdon to Amherst, Botetourt to Blacksburg, Lynchburg and Floyd and all across the state have called for their power company to work with customer-generators and not to interfere with the free market for residential clean energy. Solar installation professionals, local elected officials, and solar homeowners have lent their voices in hope of denying an unfair and punitive new policy.

In local news sources — print and public radio – and in the blogosphere, the word is out: Virginia’s second-largest utility seeks to impose an unfair new fee on customers with solar arrays on their property over 10 kilowatts. Hundreds of Appalachian Power customers have already told the SCC that this fee punishes those who benefit their communities in so many ways by choosing to invest in clean energy for their homes, and it’s clear how this move by the company threatens to turn good candidates for new installations away from going solar.

To protect affordable clean energy options for customers, there is still time to take action and take this effort through the last mile. Come out and be in the room at the public hearing in Richmond at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 16 at the State Corporation Commission when citizen comments are heard on the utility’s proposal.

Contact me, your local campaigner Hannah Wiegard, at hannah[at]appvoices.org if you’re an ApCo customer and have questions, need a hand crafting testimony, or would like help arranging transportation to the hearing in downtown Richmond on Tuesday, September 16. See you there!

About gray matter: One artist’s experience with the health impacts of coal ash

Friday, September 5th, 2014 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note }Today’s guest to the Front Porch is artist Caroline Armijo, who has seen too many friends and family die from cancer she suspects was caused by a toxic coal ash pit in her North Carolina community. This originally appeared on Caroline’s website.

Caroline Armijo lives in Stokes County and is speaking out about the health threat of Duke Energy's massive coal ash pit in her community.

Caroline Armijo lives in Stokes County and is speaking out about the health threat of Duke Energy’s massive coal ash pit in her community.

“Gray Matter” is the first piece I created for a series I started in 2010. I began working on Gray Matter a couple of days before my friend was about to undergo her second brain surgery of the summer. I was worried. I promised her that I would pray for her. And I did. Day and night. It felt like an obsession. And my faith was faltering. A couple of weeks earlier, I had prayed all week for Hansel, my childhood neighbor, who never recovered from a biopsy on his brain tumor. A few days later, my aunt’s sister died of a rare form of leukemia within ten days of learning she had it. I was overwhelmed.

The next morning I woke to a story on the radio about the fish in the Potomac River. I thought, “It’s the water.” And a simple web search lead me to discovering the connection between coal ash and cancer. It also led me to Dennis Lemly, a professor at Wake Forest University, who has been studying the fish population for thirty years. He has written countless reports and pleas to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Obviously, fish are an important look at how water impacts the human health system. But no one was making an obvious connection that, yes, in fact, the people in the community are sick. So I emailed and told him.

In my five years in Washington D.C., I have only known three people with cancer, and only one of those have died. In the last six months alone, I have known five people who have died from my hometown in Stokes County, North Carolina.
Coal ash gives you a one in fifty chance of getting cancer. Unfortunately, the statistics seem to be much worse at home than estimated in the published reports. When I discussed this with a friend from home, she said that her prayer group included two people with cancer out of four.

Maybe I feel so strongly about this after watching my dad’s twin sister, Cheryl, fight a courageous battle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She passed away in April 2006, after I moved to D.C. the previous year. I was six hours away from my family. It was one of the hardest things I have ever dealt with.

A couple of years later, her neighbor Jackie, from directly across the street, died of the exact same kind of cancer. They could see each other’s houses from their front windows. Cancer is not contagious. What are the chances of that happening?

"Gray Matter," by Caroline Armijo.

“Gray Matter,” by Caroline Armijo.

I did what I do when I don’t know what else to do. I began working on an art project that ultimately became Gray Matter. I had partially excavated/destroyed the book, Your God Is Too Small, a couple of years ago; it was in two pieces and looked like a couple of capital D’s. I went to the studio, picked up the book, gathered my scalpel (a real surgeon’s knife) and blades, and headed home with all of these lost loved ones in my mind.

On 10/10/10, while thousands of organizations around the world gathered to do something for the environment, I worked on my environmental justice art. Mom and I spent the entire day in Friendship and didn’t use the car – which is hard for Stokes County. I went to the graveyard and rubbed the gravestones of our church members who had passed away from cancer. I was not able to include Hansel, because his headstone was not up yet. But I did include his best friend, whom he loved to fish with, and died a few years earlier from a brain stem tumor. In all, I included seven members of Friendship, plus a rubbing of my friend Anita‘s grave.

And after I sewed together the two sides of the book, I needed something to give the book structure. Tucked between the pages of the original book are the rolls of collected grave rubbings.

Anita, more than any other person in the community, likely knew the full impact of cancer. She was the third generation to run her family funeral home. She was also a member of the aforementioned prayer group, which gathered weekly. As I look back of the dates, I have to think that her final prayer was answered. On June 21, the EPA decided to receive petitions regarding the unregulated coal ash. Anita passed away on June 22.

Should the federal government regulate coal ash? Or let industry continue to regulate it, which means do nothing? The strictest regulation would require coal ash to be cleaned up–put into lined ponds, instead of the current unlined ponds that have leaked in the local water systems — ensuring that a freak accident won’t result in a flood in Walnut Cove or Pine Hall, as predicted in this EPA report. That also means the coal ash can’t fly around through the air.

So I am optimistic that the thousands and thousands of prayers flowing from Stokes County, and throughout the rest of the country, over the years have finally been heard. Now we have an opportunity (maybe an obligation) to follow through with our requests. Please sign this petition in support of the full cleanup and closure of coal ash dumps in the Belews Creek community.

Citizens Groups File Petition Demanding EPA Revoke Virginia’s Regulatory Authority

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 - posted by cat

Formal Petition Alleges Commonwealth Systematically Fails to Comply with Clean Water Act

Contact:
Erin Savage, Appalachian Voices, (828) 262-1500, erin@appvoices.org
Adam Beitman, Sierra Club, (202) 675-2385, adam.beitman@sierraclub.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Citizens groups filed a formal petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this morning alleging that Virginia and its Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME) has systematically failed to comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act since 2011. Specifically, the groups, including Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, focused on the failure of DMME to regulate mountaintop removal mining in accordance with the clean water law.

The filing highlights a series of gross violations by the agency, including the unlawful acceptance of incomplete permit applications, inappropriately extending pollution compliance times beyond hard deadlines, promising the mining industry that it would take no action when firms pollute the most impaired streams, and routinely failing to include pollution limits in discharge permits, allowing surface mines to pollute Virginia streams with virtually unlimited levels of toxic pollution.

The petition can be found here. Also today, citizens groups in West Virginia and Kentucky filed similar petitions with the EPA regarding lack of adequate Clean Water Act enforcement by those states.

“The Commonwealth’s ongoing failure to protect Virginians from the harmful consequences of mountaintop removal mining—or even to simply enforce rudimentary protections on the books—is the reason we are demanding that the EPA step in” said Glen Besa, Chapter Director of the Virginia Sierra Club. “These practices originate with past administrations, most recently with Governor Bob McDonnell. Our action is directed at the EPA, but we are hopeful that by filing this petition, the McAuliffe administration will shake up DMME and ensure that Virginia coal mining is properly regulated under the Clean Water Act.”

Since 1975, Virginia has been authorized by EPA to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program for regulating the discharge of pollutants to water bodies within its borders.

“Virginia has failed to protect our streams and rivers — which is why EPA must intervene” said Jane Branham of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “The people and communities of Virginia deserve better than the legacy left us by the coal industry: a broken economy and a polluted environment. We hope that the McAuliffe Administration will work with the EPA to improve the state’s regulation of mountaintop removal and surface coal mining so that it won’t be necessary for the EPA to take over the program.”

“Coal companies have been polluting the communities where they operate for decades,” said Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “Mining laws meant to protect citizens don’t work unless they are enforced by the states. We need EPA to step in to ensure environmental laws are being enforced in Southwest Virginia.”

Citizens groups previously filed a petition with the EPA in 2012 concerning Virginia’s failure to fully enforce the Clean Water Act. That petition was more narrowly focused, centering on violations of public notice provisions in the law. After working with Virginia to improve its record on transparency, the EPA decided not to revoke the state’s authority.

In West Virginia and Kentucky, citizens groups today filed similar petitions with the EPA regarding the lack of Clean Water Act enforcement by those states. They had also filed petitions in 2009 and 2010. The violations identified in today’s petitions include failing to adequately adhere to narrative water quality standards and failing to issue permits for reclaimed mine sites that continue to discharge harmful pollutants like selenium.

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To tell the truth

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 - posted by tom
AV's Director of Programs Matt Wasson testifies before Congress

Appalachian Voice’s Director of Programs Matt Wasson testifies before Congress about the burden of mountaintop removal coal mining on Appalachian communities

Last month, our Director of Programs Matt Wasson got the chance to tell a rapt audience in Washington, D.C., that the emperor has no clothes. The audience was the U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, the reporters in the room, and anyone who happened to be watching on CSPAN.

The majority members of the committee had called the hearing in an attempt to portray federal environmental protections as overly burdensome and to trumpet state efforts to “streamline” them. As Matt described in his testimony, however, the facts for the people living in the Appalachian counties most heavily impacted by mountaintop removal coal mining under the ostensibly watchful eye of state agencies are these:

  • They are 50% more likely to die from cancer than others in Appalachia
  • Their children are 42% more likely to be born with birth defects
  • They have a life expectancy far below the national average and comparable to those in El Salvador and Vietnam.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, picking up on Matt’s revelations, noted the similarly atrocious handling by North Carolina officials — in the absence of any federal rules on coal ash — of the catastrophic Duke Energy coal ash spill in February. In the end, the hearing turned into an indictment of the fallacy that states can be counted on to defend their citizens against the profit-driven vagaries of the coal industry and energy giants like Duke.

And while Matt had a rare opportunity to provide a reality check in the ceremonial milieu of a congressional hearing room, it’s the people living in places like Wise County, Va., Pike County, Ky., and Stokes County, N.C. (the site of Duke’s largest coal ash pond), who know this reality better than anyone. It’s their voices, their courage and their persistence — in combination with technical experts like Matt speaking truth to power — that will ultimately bring about real change in their communities.

Carl Shoupe: Seeing through the “War on Coal” smokescreen

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Carl Shoupe, the author of this piece, which originally appeared on The Hill, is an active member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and lives in Harlan County, Ky. We’re sharing Carl’s thoughts here with his permission.

Carl Shoupe speaks at a KFTC press conference held as a ” Declaration of Grievances” towards the inaction of the Kentucky state legislature. Photo from Flickr.com.

As a retired coal miner, the son of a coal miner, and the father of a coal miner, I’m curious about Congress’ recent attacks on the EPA and claims of a “war on coal.” These claims are nothing but a distraction from the real needs of coalfield communities.

I live in Harlan County, Kentucky in the very heart of the Appalachian coalfields, and with the exception of a couple years in Vietnam as a United States Marine, I have lived here all my life.

I’m working every day – along with thousands of other Kentuckians – to build a better future here in Eastern Kentucky and across Appalachia so that my grandchildren and their children can make a life here. We believe we can have a bright future here with more and better jobs, safe and affordable energy, healthy communities, and opportunities for our kids.

Of course, we know it won’t be easy. It will take hard work, creativity, and investment in new ideas and real solutions. More than anything, it will require honest leadership with vision and courage.

That’s why this Congress’ misguided attacks are such a disappointment. The war on coal is nothing more than a smokescreen designed to keep us from seeing the true challenges and real opportunities in communities like mine.

You see, the coal industry has been leaving Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky for decades. In 1980 there were more than 34,000 coal miners working in Eastern Kentucky. By 1990, that number was down to 25,000 despite a production peak. Fewer than 8,000 jobs remain today — the lowest since 1927 — and continue to fall.

For years, industry analysts, coal company executives, and energy agencies warned that our best and easiest coal has been mined, that transportation costs have been rising, that cleaner and cheaper alternatives to coal were on the rise.

It has been clear that we needed to be building a new economy here in the coalfields for generations, yet our political leaders have done little or nothing to help us prepare for the inevitable transition.

If Congress really wants to help the coal miner, there are several ways to start. First, Congress should pass the mine safety reforms we’ve been waiting for since the Upper Big Branch explosion killed 29 fellow miners in 2010. Congress should help ensure coal miners don’t get black lung – a vicious and entirely preventable workplace disease that is increasing instead of disappearing. Congress should also make sure that a miner’s hard earned pension is secure, not stolen by some corporate shell game.

Congress should remember that every coal miner is more than just his job. He – or she – is also a son or daughter, a parent, a spouse. When he’s not underground 60 or 70 hours a week, he is a member of his church, his local PTA or volunteer fire department; he might be a Little League coach.

If Congress really cares about coal miners and coal families, then it should work to give them a future.

For instance, Congress could generate thousands of new jobs in the coalfields by creating a revolving fund for energy efficiency upgrades to homes and businesses, and pass the Shaheen-Portman bill to create thousands of energy efficiency jobs.

We like to say that if you give a coal miner a coat hanger and some electrical tape, he can fix anything. Congress could release the millions of dollars sitting in the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund and employ thousands of laid-off coal miners to restore our land, forests, and water. Congress could locate one of those fancy new manufacturing innovation centers the president talks about right here in the mountains.

Instead of raging about a made-up war on coal and how to protect coal corporations, Congress should take a closer look at how to really support coal communities.

Over the past century, Harlan County has shipped over one billion tons of coal to steel mills and power plants across this country. In a district represented by some of the most powerful politicians in Washington D.C., one-third of our children live in poverty and we rank 435th in combined quality of life indicators.

It’s time to try something new. We can have a bright future here in the coalfields of Kentucky and Appalachia. Our people are hungry for honest and courageous leaders who will help us build it.

After last-minute compromise, N.C. legislature passes coal ash bill

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 - posted by brian
Duke Energy's retired Dan River coal plant, where a massive coal ash spill in February spurred legislative action.

Duke Energy’s retired Dan River coal plant, where a massive coal ash spill in February spurred legislative action.

However dysfunctional, the North Carolina General Assembly always seems to come together in the end.

On Wednesday afternoon, the N.C. House voted 83 – 14 in favor of a compromise bill on what to do about the state’s coal ash problem. A few hours later, the Senate followed suit. The bill will now go to the governor.

Here’s what Appalachian Voices’ Amy Adams said about the bill:

“A far cry from the historic bill lawmakers have touted, this plan chooses just four communities out of 14 across the state to be cleaned up in this decade. The others, our lawmakers have decided, will have to wait for a commission of political appointees to decide their fate.”

We’ll skip the self-congratulatory cheerleading coming out of Raleigh and share more of the finer details in the days and weeks ahead. But suffice it to say, by overlooking the present threats that most of the coal ash sites in the state pose, the final bill comes nowhere close to fulfilling lawmakers’ promises to protect North Carolina’s communities in the wake of the Dan River spill.

Learn more about the bill here.