Archive for the ‘Front Porch Blog’ Category

Defending our vision for Appalachia

Friday, January 20th, 2017 - posted by tom

Photo by Kent Mason

Each month, Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons reflects on issues of importance to our supporters and to the region. Photo by Kent Mason

Donald Trump has taken the oath of office and assumed the awesome responsibility of serving as our nation’s 45th president.

His administration promises to pursue an energy and environmental policy vision in stark contrast to the scientific consensus on climate change, and to the American public’s desire for renewable energy, clean air and water, and healthier, more sustainable communities.

In our view, the new administration’s approach to environmental protection and national energy policy is dangerously shortsighted and could lead to long-lasting harm to communities and our natural heritage — perhaps in Appalachia most of all. We are determined to defend against regulatory rollbacks that compromise Appalachia’s future and to continue building on the progress we’ve made in recent years.

By every indication, Trump is entering the White House motivated to undo President Obama’s environmental legacy without considering the consequences. Appalachian Voices is prepared to take on the serious threats to the safeguards that protect human health, our region’s landscapes, air and water, and the global climate.

We watched closely as Trump’s picks to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, Department of Energy and Department of State were peppered during their confirmation hearings with pointed questions about their records and qualifications. Few of their answers passed muster or even came close to counterbalancing the pro-fossil fuel, anti-environmental and unscientific rhetoric that was a hallmark of Trump’s campaign.

Our federal agencies play an essential role in enforcing broadly supported environmental laws. How they prioritize things like investments in clean energy or measure the climate impacts of infrastructure projects such as oil and gas pipelines will be more important than ever in the coming years.

What does this new political reality mean for Appalachian Voices’ work? It compels us to continue building and deploying power from the ground up through local initiatives, constituent pressure and citizen lawsuits, and to continue serving as a technical and policy resource to a broad range of allies in Congress and in Appalachian communities.

We will do everything we can to see that the laws protecting our natural heritage are enforced. And we’ll be a key part of the massive resistance that the administration will face when it attempts to roll back these protections.

At the same time, we must not be distracted from promoting our vision for Appalachia’s energy and economic future. Our commitment to this region is the wellspring of our resistance. Lessons from the past and the promise of a better future will continue to give our movement power.

We know you’ll stand with us during this uncertain time as we work to ensure that communities in Appalachia and the Southeast can reap the benefits of the burgeoning clean energy economy and live unburdened by pollution and environmental threats.

Duke Energy neighbors say “goodwill” package is meant to buy silence

Friday, January 20th, 2017 - posted by Appalachian Voices

Editors’ Note: The following was released by the Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash in response to Duke Energy’s plan to provide alternate drinking water sources to resident with contaminated well water living near coal ash sites. The plan includes a $5,000 “goodwill payment” for families with contaminated wells, but only for those who sign a waiver saying they won’t sue Duke Energy in the future.

Citizens rally in N.C. to call for clean-up of toxic coal ash pits across the state.

Citizens rally in N.C. to call for clean-up of toxic coal ash pits across the state.

On Friday the 13th, Duke Energy released a “goodwill” offer to residents on wells near the company’s coal ash sites. To many residents, however, the ominously timed release is more hush money than it is an act of goodwill.

According to what residents have read in the media, Duke’s offer comes with conditions: in exchange for the money, residents must forgo their right to sue Duke over groundwater contamination in the future.

“A goodwill offer doesn’t come with strings attached; this is a contract, a contract to silence residents” says Debbie Baker of Belmont, near the G.G. Allen power plant. “Duke is trying to keep people from challenging them before they even put clean water lines in place. Also, I worry about my son’s future health issues if he were to start getting sick.”

Duke has said for years now that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to cleanup is not appropriate, yet it is offering a one-size-fits-all approach to this goodwill offer, says Deborah Graham, a resident in Dukeville near the Buck Steam Station. “The $5,000 goodwill offer is the same whether the property is rented, vacant, or has multiple units on it. Each family and household is different, and some will bear more of the transition to water lines than others.”

“I am glad that Duke Energy is acknowledging goodwill and property devaluation with compensation. However, $5,000 is not a fair amount to neighbors of coal ash basins across the state and does not begin to address any of the issues families have been dealing with over the past two years,” says Amy Brown of Belmont. “I still have young children living in the home, why would I jeopardize future generations by signing away my rights to challenge Duke on future groundwater contamination concerns? Duke Energy is trying to place a $5,000 price tag on my past, present, and future groundwater contamination concerns. This is an attempt to limit our ability to protect our families.”

Duke wants to cap the remaining coal ash pits in place, a method that is less expensive but does not prevent continued damage to nearby groundwater and health. The company is doing everything it can to lock that option into place. Capping in place the remaining sites would leave nearly 70 percent of the ash where it is — in some places, that means leaving it sitting in the groundwater table. Residents are concerned that the coal ash left in the ground will continue to leak and present a serious health risk to the general public, leading to more expenses down the line that Duke Energy’s offer doesn’t begin to cover.

Meanwhile, coal ash is in demand from the North Carolina concrete industry. Reprocessing coal ash into concrete is a promising technology. But without cooperation from Duke Energy to reprocess ash from the state’s largest coal ash dumps, the industry is forced to import ash from India and China.

“Why should North Carolina import toxic coal ash when we have nearly 150 million tons right here?” asks Caroline Armijo of Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup. “It seems shortsighted to lock away all of the toxic ash from recycling if it can be done safely. We know there is a lot of research on better ways to store or reuse coal ash safely, so why doesn’t Duke Energy pursue those options? Or at least allow other industries to do so.”

Duke’s goodwill package also provides for Duke making up the difference in fair market value if homeowners are forced to sell below value to due the stigma of contamination. “Who would want to buy here now anyway, what will they do if we simply cannot sell? Will they buy our homes? What happens then?” asks Kenya Morgan of Dukeville, near the Buck Steam station.

Morgan adds that Duke Energy is putting the costs of dealing with its coal ash on consumers. “Consumers like us — the neighbors of the coal ash pits — will be the ones paying because Duke Energy stated they plan to raise rates to cover costs. We pay, we lose!”

Neighbors also feel many more questions about Duke’s offer have been raised than answered. “What they released in the press is misleading, incomplete and written with too many loopholes,” says Roger Hollis, who lives near Duke’s Cliffside plant in Cleveland County. “It is written so that all the consumer sees are dollar signs, with no mention of all underlying costs and future costs such as taxes, fees, installation and permit fees and health care issues. This is typical Duke Energy — deceiving and misleading the public.”

Standing up for the Stream Protection Rule

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 - posted by cat

Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 1.55.55 PM

Over the past decade, Chuck Nelson traveled from his West Virginia home to Washington, D.C., some 25 times to make sure lawmakers and regulators were aware of the health and environmental damage from coal mining in the region. A fourth-generation miner who dug coal underground for 30 years, he and his family experienced these problems first-hand, and he wanted something done about it.

A priority for Chuck was the Stream Protection Rule, which regulators started drafting in 2010. After 15 public hearings, more than 150,000 public comments, intense vetting by states, and by industry and environmental stakeholders, the final rule was issued December 20.

It goes into effect today. If it were to stand, it would signal states to start planning to incorporate the rule into their oversight and enforcement of the mining industry. But the rule has become a centerpiece of the political upheaval occurring in D.C. It may be axed by Congress under the rarely used Congressional Review Act, if the new president doesn’t kill it first by executive order as soon as tomorrow.

In either case, as Chuck told NPR radio program Planet Money today: “All this work we’ve done for years … all that work that’s going to be wiped away with stroke of a pen.”

Appalachian Voices, in alliance with many other organizations, has worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Chuck and countless other citizens in Appalachia to get the rule finalized. While we had pushed for something significantly stronger, the final version is an improvement on the completely inadequate protections currently on the books. We will not stand by as the new administration or Congress play politics with Appalachia’s health, environment and economic future.

Yesterday, we filed a motion in federal court to intervene in two lawsuits against the Stream Protection Rule by a coal company and numerous states.

Also yesterday, five representatives on the House Natural Resources Committee issued an open letter calling on the committee’s majority to preserve the rule:

“As Donald Trump and the House Republicans prepare to begin their assault on health, safety, and environmental regulations, we believe you need to know more about their likely first target, the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, and the biggest problem the rule addresses: the destruction caused by mountaintop removal mining.

Like the name indicates, mountaintop removal mining involves literally blasting the tops off mountains, digging out the coal, and dumping the waste rock into nearby valleys. The environmental consequences of this are severe and obvious to the naked eye. Less visible, however, is the human cost, and that cost is far more severe. Studies have found that mountaintop removal coal mining dust has led to increased rates of lung cancer, birth defects, and chronic heart, lung, and kidney diseases. People living near mountaintop removal mining sites often experience extraordinary suffering and need strong regulations to protect their health and their homes. …

The Stream Protection Rule is not just about protecting streams, it’s about protecting people’s health. It’s about protecting people’s homes. It’s about protecting people’s lives. Congressional Republicans plan to block the rule and deregulate mountaintop removal mining.”

We can’t win this fight unless members of Congress are hearing from their constituents. Call your representatives and senators and ask them to protect Appalachian streams from mountaintop removal by standing up for the Stream Protection Rule.

>> Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121

North Carolina hosts day of climate action Jan. 23

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017 - posted by Nick Wood

climate_march

Join us on Monday, January 23 for the North Carolina Statewide Day of Action for Climate Justice!

The events planned for this day came out of the North Carolina Climate Justice Summit and are also part of a nationwide grassroots movement created to hold those in power accountable. As we face the enormity of climate change and environmental racism, as well as the upheaval of the incoming administration, we want to join together, organize and support our vision of the world we want.

Events will be held in Asheville, Boone, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Durham, Pink Hill, Raleigh and Winston-Salem (see details below). Many events will hold a “People’s Inauguration” where we take an oath to “protect the people, places and planet that we love.” These actions are also coordinated with People’s Climate Movement actions across the country during the first 100 hours of the new administration.

Join an Action for Climate Justice event near you and help us celebrate and honor the people and planet by calling for policies that protect us — policies that protect our air, our water and our land; policies that promote clean energy jobs and climate justice for all people.

North Carolina Day of Action for Climate Justice Events:

Asheville
Folks in Asheville will be holding a “Gathering for Climate Justice: Cultivating Resiliency” The event will be at the THE BLOCK off Biltmore (39 S. Market St.) and starts at 6:00. There will be discussion, music, poetry, art and much more! For more info Contact Eliza Laubach at elizabethmlaubach@gmail.com.

Boone
Boone Rising and allies will be holding a “People’s Peace Parade” at 4:00. The parade will start and finish at the Watauga Public Library. For more info contact Sarah Kellogg at skellogg89@gmail.com

Divest Appalachian is hosting a walkout and march on the Appalachian State Campus. They are asking students and faculty to walk out from their classes and gather on Sanford Mall (by the big statue) at 11 am. Around 11:20, there will be a short march through the busy parts of campus to the BB Dougherty Administration building. Around 11:35 there will be a short rally with student speakers and space for faculty and community members to speak as well. Contact Cassidy Quillen at quillencr@appstate.edu for more information.

Chapel Hill
There will be a People’s Inauguration and Potluck from 6:00 to 7:00 pm at Weaver St. Market (101 E. Weaver St.) in Carrboro. For more info contact Mark Ortiz at mbortiz44@gmail.com or Sophie Suberman at s.suberman@gmail.com.

Charlotte
People will be gathering at the the Charlotte Government Center (600 E. 4th St.) at 5:30. At 6:30 the group will be having a candle lighting, a “know your rights training” and will then attend the City Council meeting to call for the repeal of Charlotte’s “Extraordinary Event Ordinance” that limits free speech rights. For more info contact Luis Rodriguez at luis.rodriguez@sierraclub.org .

Durham
There will be a “People’s Inauguration Gathering” from 5:30-7:30 p.m. hosted by NC WARN at 2812 Hillsborough Road in Durham. For more info contact jodi@ncclimatejustice.org

Goldsboro
There will be a youth focused event in Goldsboro that will feature a tree planting and prayer vigil. More information about time and place coming soon. For more information contact Bobby Jones at bibija@aol.com

Pink Hill
People will be gathering in downtown Pink Hill (301 S. Pine St.) from 8-10:30 a.m. where they will hold a “People’s Power Party” and a march that are focused on youth. For more info contact Ana Flores at anaflores@ncfield.org

Raleigh
Raleigh folks are still working on final details for the event. For more info contact Karen Bearden at chickadeebirders@earthlink.net

Winston-Salem
People in the Triad area will be gathering in Winston-Salem for a rally to call for 100% energy renewable energy and environmental justice. It will be at 5:00 at Merschel Plaza located at the corner of 4th and Trade. For more info contact Kim Porter porterkim7@gmail.com

P.S. Save the Date: March with us! Just before the 100th day of the new administration, on Saturday, April 29, people from across the nation will come together for a massive march to bring our demands to the streets of Washington, D.C. 

The “Fox Guarding the Henhouse” cabinet

Monday, January 16th, 2017 - posted by molly

Call your senators today to reject Trump’s energy and environment picks:
>> Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121
>> Find your senators’ direct numbers here.

Given President-elect Trump’s fossil-fuel-friendly philosophy and dismissive position toward climate science, it’s no surprise that many of his Cabinet appointees take positions that threaten public health, air and water quality, and our natural heritage, and that accelerate climate change.

As a region with astounding biodiversity and natural assets, Appalachia has a particularly large stake in environmental protection. And with the coal industry’s track record of pollution, the environmental and health consequences of fracking, and the encroachment of fracked-gas gas pipelines, effective regulation of polluting industries in Appalachia is critical.

Appalachian Voices is joining with clean energy advocates, climate activists and public health proponents across the country in urging the Senate to stand for our health and environment and reject these nominees.

Scott Pruitt. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Scott Pruitt. Photo by Gage Skidmore.


Scott Pruitt, E.P.A. Administrator nominee
Confirmation hearing set for Jan. 18

During his stint for the past seven years as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt has sued the EPA no less than 14 times. His goal seems to have been sinking as many federal programs as he could — ozone limits, toxic mercury controls, clean water protections, scenic protections for national parks, to name a few. The favorite target of the staunch climate-denier is anything to do with reducing greenhouse gases.

The Sierra Club has called him the “worst of the worst” of Trump’s pick for energy and environmentally related posts.

Pruitt’s aggressive agenda is driven in large measure by hefty campaign contributions and an entanglement of PACs, super PACs, trade and professional associations and other financial influencing from fossil fuel players — familiar names to our readers, like Koch Industries and Murray Energy. As he heads to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for his hearing on Wednesday, Senate Democrats and others are pressing various ethics officials to opine on his ability to head the agency.

So egregious have Pruitt’s actions been in the past that the head of Oklahoma’s environment agency retired in frustration under his leadership, and the for the first time in its 50-year history, Environmental Defense Fund is opposing the nomination. Said William K. Reilly, a Republican who headed the EPA, in an interview with Yale Environment 360: “For a prospective EPA administrator to doubt or even contest a conclusion that 11 national academies of science have embraced is willful political obstruction. Science is the secular religion underlying everything EPA does, and one who cannot rely on it, or is determinedly contemptuous of it, cannot effectively lead the agency or serve as the country’s environmental conscience, which is EPA’s unique mission.”

Clean energy advocates, climate activists and others around the country are urging senators to reject Pruitt. NextGen is airing a TV spot in D.C. and seven states, including Virginia and Tennessee.

Creative Commons; copyright Palm Beach Daily News.

Wilbur Ross. Creative Commons; copyright Palm Beach Daily News.


Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary nominee
Confirmation hearing set for Jan. 18

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross has a history of disregarding protections for workers, communities and the environment in Central Appalachia. During his tenure as president of International Coal Group from 2004 until 2011, Appalachian Voices caught ICG falsifying federally required water pollution reports. In 2010, we identified more than 10,000 violations of the Clean Water Act committed by ICG between 2008 and 2009, and in 2011 we found an additional 4,000 violations that occurred in the first three months of 2011. Read more about the legal case.

False reporting was not the only water pollution issue at ICG mines. In 2011, the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy sued ICG for excessive discharges of selenium, a pollutant toxic to aquatic life. The discharges were ongoing for years prior to the 2011 suit, including while Ross was leading the company.

And in 2006, still under Ross’s tenure, an ICG mine was the site of one of the worst mining accidents in recent history — the Sago Mine disaster, which killed 12 miners. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration determined that better safety practices could have prevented the disaster.

Rick Perry. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Rick Perry. Photo by Gage Skidmore


Rick Perry, Energy Secretary nominee
Confirmation hearing set for Jan. 19

Trump nominated former Texas governor, former presidential candidate and current climate denier Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy — one of the three departments that Perry suggested eliminating in 2011.

The DOE’s responsibilities include researching cutting-edge technologies like renewable power, maintaining and disposing of nuclear weapons, running national laboratories (like Oak Ridge National Laboratory in East Tennessee), managing energy efficiency standards and natural gas exports and overseeing nuclear environmental cleanup.

Perry is a clear proponent of oil, gas and coal. Until December 31, 2016, he sat on the board of two major companies behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, Sunoco Logistics Partners and Energy Transfer Partners. He earned $270,000 through those board appointments in 2016 alone. Natural gas drilling increased in Texas under his leadership, and Perry defended offshore oil drilling after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Yet, Texas also saw a significant jump in wind energy during Perry’s term.

“If history is prologue, it’s gonna be a pay-to-play Energy Department and a bidder’s war between the coal companies, the renewable energy companies, and the big nuclear companies,” Tom Smith, executive director of the Texas Office of Public Citizen, told Utility Dive.

It’s unclear if Perry would continue to advance scientific research into clean energy. His 2010 book called climate change a “contrived, phony mess,” despite the fact that climate change is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community. As Secretary of Energy, Perry would also oversee the agency’s role in science education. In Texas, Perry advocated for presenting creationism in classrooms alongside the scientific theory of evolution.

Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor and energy secretary under Bill Clinton, told the New York Times that Perry’s political influence could be helpful on the job. But he added a major caveat: “My concern is that Perry will get sucked in by the Trump climate deniers and try to dismantle the valuable renewable energy and climate change programs that the department manages.”

Ryan Zinke. Official congressional portrait.

Ryan Zinke. Official congressional portrait.


Ryan Zinke, Interior Secretary nominee
Confirmation hearing set for Jan. 17

A one-term Republican representative from Montana and former Navy SEAL, Ryan Zinke, is an avid hunter and fisherman.

In his one term in office, Zinke took anti-environment positions on issues including endangered species protection, oil drilling on public lands, smog standards, public input and protecting streams from mining waste, to name a few. Yet he broke that pattern to support full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides grants to local, state and federal governments to acquire and maintain land for recreation and conservation.

Zinke has a mixed record when it comes to preserving public lands. When the Republican Party’s platform-writing committee agreed to support transferring federally owned land to states, Zinke stepped down from the committee in protest. Transferring federal public land to states could allow states to sell the land to developers or accelerate fossil fuel development. But on Jan. 3, Zinke voted in favor of a House rules package that encourages transferring federal land to states by changing the way the cost of these transfers would be calculated.

Rex Tillerson. Creative Commons 4.0 Official transition portrait, Office of the President-elect

Rex Tillerson. Creative Commons 4.0 Official transition portrait, Office of the President-elect


Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State nominee
Confirmation hearing held Jan. 11

A longtime Exxon employee, Tillerson became CEO of Exxon Mobil in 2006 and stepped down in December 2016 after being nominated for Secretary of State. Under his leadership, the global fossil fuel giant embarked on a $720 million joint venture with a Russian firm that includes drilling in the Arctic, shale extraction and a Siberian gas export plant. Those projects were halted in 2014 by U.S. sanctions on Russian oil and gas companies, and several oil and gas industry representatives have expressed optimism that if Tillerson becomes secretary, the United States would ease Russian sanctions and accelerate these oil and gas projects.

Under Tillerson, Exxon has come under fire for funding groups that publicly denied climate science even though Exxon’s own experts have documented evidence of climate change since the 1970s. But Tillerson’s record on climate change is more complicated. In 2009, as Exxon CEO, he announced the company’s support for a tax on carbon, though no such tax was currently proposed. Congress was considering a cap-and-trade bill at the time, which Exxon lobbied against — the bill passed the House but failed to reach a Senate vote. But while Tillerson acknowledges the reality of climate science, his behavior isn’t reassuring.

“Look at the actions, not the words,” reads a statement from the Sierra Club. “Rex Tillerson’s actions make it obvious that he will willingly sacrifice a healthy climate for the sake of oil and gas.”

During his confirmation hearing, Tillerson said that “the risk of climate change does exist, and that the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken.” When asked if human activity is contributing to climate change, he hedged, saying that, “The increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.”

He also stated that climate change is not an “imminent national security threat,” which contradicts a 2015 Pentagon report that called it an “urgent and growing threat to our national security.”

Beyond these five cabinet nominees, a number of other Trump appointees are either feeble supporters of addressing climate change or are strident climate denialists. Read more from Climate Central.

Congress takes aim at stream protections

Friday, January 13th, 2017 - posted by brian
Mountaintop removal coal mines like this one in W.Va. have polluted streams for years. Photo by Kent Mason.

Mountaintop removal coal mines like this one in W.Va. have polluted streams for years. Photo by Kent Mason.

Long before it was finalized, the Stream Protection Rule was in the crosshairs.

Opponents of environmental protections in Congress have criticized the rule-making process since it began back in 2009, holding regular hearings to condemn the Obama administration for its attempts to improve regulations on mountaintop removal coal mining — but often ignoring the ongoing impacts to Appalachian communities, public health and the environment.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released the final Stream Protection Rule in December with the knowledge that it would be a top target for the incoming Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. The president-elect has pledged to kill the rule, among other environmental policies enacted or initiated under the Obama administration. And Republicans in the House and Senate vowed to block it from ever taking effect; West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito described the rule’s release as an “exercise in futility.”

But the Stream Protection Rule itself, and the purpose it is intended to serve, remain critical to improving the health and wellbeing of Appalachian residents who suffer the long-term consequences of coal mining pollution. The scientific evidence linking mountaintop removal to poor health has been described as “strong and irrefutable” and a growing body of research is drawing the connection between the destructive mining method and significantly higher rates of birth defects, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases among individuals living in the region where it occurs.

>> Read comments from Appalachian citizens to the agency on the draft rule in late 2015. <<

The final Stream Protection Rule offers only modest improvements for the protection of Appalachian communities and waterways threatened by coal mining pollution. It requires improved water monitoring and reclamation practices, but it falls short of preventing mining through streams or ending mountaintop removal. Implementing the rule would not adequately safeguard human or environmental health from the impacts of mountaintop removal, nor would undoing it reverse the Appalachian coal industry’s decades-long decline.

Rather than rescinding the rule through administrative avenues, which could take years, legislators plan to utilize the Congressional Review Act, a rarely invoked 1996 law that allows Congress to block federal rules within 60 legislative days of their publication in the Federal Register. The Stream Protection Rule is by no means the only regulation that Congress intends to attack using the Congressional Review Act — because of the legislative calendar, it’s estimated that any agency rule finalized since mid-June could be at risk — but Trump’s implausible promise to “save the coal industry” makes it a top candidate.

There are few impediments preventing Congress from erasing the rule by sending President Trump a “joint resolution of disapproval” under the Congressional Review Act, and preventing the Interior Department from ever issuing a “substantially similar” rule in the future. Perhaps only other items on Republicans’ agenda will force them to put off targeting the Stream Protection Rule. In the meantime, we hope members of Congress will realize that they’re gambling with Appalachia’s health and economic future, all for a risky bet on coal’s unlikely comeback.

Statement from Appalachian Voices’ Senior Legislative Representative Thom Kay (864) 580-1843

“Republicans are against the very idea of this rule, despite the fact that it replaces a 33-year-old regulation with a thoroughly vetted and scientifically based rule that attempts to balance the needs of the industry and local impacts. Using the Congressional Review Act to simply erase this rule and block critical protections from ever being updated is shortsighted and an insult to the tens of thousands of citizens who spoke up for strong stream protections.

“We’re disappointed that the final rule does not go nearly as far as it should to curtail mountaintop removal. Allowing coal companies to continue polluting waterways may benefit the industry in the short term, but not without causing lasting harm to Appalachia’s people, environment and economy. The Trump administration should focus on ways to diversify and strengthen Central Appalachia’s economy, rather than taking on a political fight against a moderate and reasonable rule.”

Statement from Chad Cordell with the Kanawha Forest Coalition.

“As a West Virginia native, I’ve been concerned about the impacts of mountaintop removal since first learning that the beautiful valleys and streams of my home state were being buried under hundreds of feet of rubble by coal companies. Though the state sets permit standards for mining, there are still major problems. I’ve seen this first hand though my work with a group that has monitored water quality at a mine near my home over the past 3 years. Our inspections have found repeated violations, widespread erosion, water contamination, and persistent acid mine drainage.

“We need strong science-based protections for the creeks, streams, and rivers that are the lifeblood of our state. And we need our representatives in government to have enough wisdom to know that weakening protections for our streams and rivers by attacking the Stream Protection Rule isn’t the way to build strong, healthy, resilient communities or a strong, stable economy.”

Aww shucks, y’all …. thanks!

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017 - posted by cat

bro_appvoices_winners4cropped

We’re speechless. We’re honored. We’re deeply grateful.

The readers of Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine have voted Appalachian Voices as the “Best Environmental Organization” of 2016.

We had stiff competition, to be sure — MountainTrue, champions of resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities in Western North Carolina, and Carolina Climbers Coalition, which promotes safe climbing practices and preserves access to climbing areas in North Carolina and South Carolina.

We wish to thank everyone who voted for Appalachian Voices. It’s a tremendous honor, made even more special as we enter our 20th anniversary year. We are committed to doing our best, doing all we can to continue protecting our beloved Appalachian region in the years ahead.

From BRO:

Environmental Organization

Appalachian Voices, Boone, N.C.

Favorites:
Mountain True, N.C.
Carolina Climbers Coalition, N.C.

For 20 years, Appalachian Voices has given voice to those without—to rivers and mountains, to the air we breathe and the Appalachian natives who have been ignored for generations.

“We are in tumultuous times as America’s massive energy sector shifts from fossil fuels to solar, wind and other clean sources,” says Appalachian Voices Communications Director Cat McCue. “Appalachian Voices works at the very nexus of that transition, defending our region from mountaintop removal coal mining and massive fracked-gas pipelines, while promoting clean energy sources that create jobs, community wealth, and a healthy and just future for Appalachia.”

In 2016, the organization worked hard to shed light on the threats our beloved Russell Fork River faces from coal mining, held Duke Energy accountable for the coal ash spills of 2014, and assessed hundreds of abandoned mine lands for potential use as solar facilities or recreational areas.

Zach Galifianakis’ “Democracy for Sale” screens in North Carolina

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017 - posted by jamie

Galifianakis_democracyforsale

A new documentary by Zach Galifianakis, called “Democracy for Sale,” digs into how North Carolina — perhaps more than any other state in the Union — has been transformed by the growing tidal wave of political spending. Galifianakis, a Tarheel native and the comic star of “The Hangover” movies, traveled back to his home state to examine how North Carolina has become a case study for how the money of a few has come to dominate our democracy.

Watch the movie at one of numerous screenings around the state.

Galifianakis investigates allegations that the current state government was put in power by moneyed interests and has carried out a program that only benefits its backers, a program that to date has included: cuts to education, healthcare spending and environmental protection; lowering of taxes for corporations and the wealthy; and the passage of laws designed to restrict voter rights.

Join us at one of the screenings below:

Monday, Jan. 23 at 7pm – Cullowhee
A K Hinds University Center – WCU

Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 7pm – Walnut Cove
Rising Star Baptist Church

Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7pm – Asheville
The Grail Moviehouse

Thursday, Jan. 26 at 7pm – Bakersville
The Old Courthouse

Sunday, Jan. 29 at 3pm – Shelby
Newgrass Brewing

Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 7pm – Fayetteville
Cameo Art House Theatre

Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 7pm – Wilmington
The Cameron Art Museum

Friday, Feb. 3 at 7pm – Chapel Hill
Church of Reconciliation

Monday, Feb. 6 at 7pm – Boone
Price Lake Room at ASU

Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 7pm – Raleigh
Community United Church of Christ

Thursday, Feb. 9 at 7pm – Durham
Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Additional screenings are being scheduled in Charlotte, Goldsboro, Greensboro, Greenville, New Bern, Pembroke, and Winston Salem. Check the Working Films website for updates on new locations.

Gov. Cooper nominates new environmental secretary

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 - posted by brian
Michael Regan, who was appointed this week as secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, pledged to increase transparency at the agency.

Michael Regan, who was appointed this week as secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, pledged to increase transparency at the agency.

After a month-long battle over his election and a last-minute special legislative session to curb his powers, North Carolina’s new governor is getting to work.

On Tuesday, Roy Cooper announced multiple senior staff hires and cabinet appointments, including his choice to lead the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. In a statement, Cooper said his pick for the agency, Michael Regan, understands that “protecting state resources is vital to our state’s health and economic climate.”

Regan, an air quality expert and North Carolina native, brings decades of experience to the position, serving at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clinton and Bush administrations. From 2008 to 2016, he was the senior southeastern director for the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.

During a press conference, Regan identified the need to develop greater transparency at DEQ and work with all stakeholders so they are “operating with pretty much similar information,” and said his first priority is meeting with veteran agency staff to gather feedback.

That alone could signal a shift from the prior DEQ leadership’s approach to public engagement on environmental issues, especially as it relates to coal ash management and drinking water quality. Environmental advocacy groups welcomed Regan’s appointment after years of calling for a return to science-based decision-making at the department.

Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams, a former DEQ regional supervisor, penned an op-ed for the News & Observer that was published a few days after the election’s outcome was finally clear.

“Under Gov. Pat McCrory, the agency scandalously cast doubt on science and made pariahs out of scientists and career public servants,” Adams wrote. “Leadership second-guessed its own professional staff’s reports, interfered with the recommendations of experts in other departments and knowingly spoke half-truths to the public about the safety of their well water results.

“We need men and women of science at the DEQ who are fact-minded, heart-guided and human-centered. We need people who are up to the task of rebuilding the department and regaining the public’s trust.”

A few days after her’s op-ed was published, Cooper spokesperson Ken Eudy said that restoring the credibility of DEQ was a top priority for the incoming administration. According to Brian Buzby, the executive director of the N.C. Conservation Network, Regan fits the bill.

“This choice is a clear signal from Gov. Cooper that his administration intends to restore a philosophy of transparency, integrity and sound science,” Buzby said in a statement.

Because of a new state law hastily passed by the legislature and signed by former Gov. Pat McCrory in the final days of his administration, Regan and other cabinet-level appointees are now subject to confirmation by the state Senate. A judge recently blocked a law passed during the special session that restructures county and state boards of elections, and Cooper has indicated more legal challenges to new laws could be coming.

The new governor brushed off questions about whether Regan’s background would be an obstacle to his confirmation by an oppositional and often anti-environmental legislature, saying it was important “to appoint the very best people to serve in each of these positions.”

Rural electric co-ops invest in community solar

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017 - posted by Katie Kienbaum
Solar farm

BARC’s solar farm contains 1,750 solar panels and produces 550 kilowatts of energy. Photo courtesy of the BARC Electric Cooperative

Editor’s note: Versions of this story first appeared in the December-January issue of The Appalachian Voice and the December 15 edition of the Mountain Times.

“We’re at an age where we need to start looking at alternative energy,” says Olivia Haney, an electric cooperative member in Virginia since 1989.

Many electric co-ops in the Southeast agree. Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation in North Carolina, BARC Electric Cooperative in Virginia and the Appalachian Electric Cooperative in Tennessee have each recently launched community solar projects to help members save money while reducing carbon emissions.

Community solar is a cooperative alternative to installing solar panels on an individual residence. Instead of dealing with the upfront and maintenance costs of solar panel installation on their house, homeowners can invest in a solar farm, or array of solar panels, provided by the electric cooperative. Community solar also allows co-op members with homes not suitable for solar panel installation due to the shading and positioning of the building to benefit from renewable energy.

Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation recently completed construction of four solar farms located in Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany and Caldwell counties in North Carolina. Each of the solar arrays contains 368 solar panels. Together, the four arrays can produce over 600,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

Co-op members can subscribe to the energy produced by individual solar panels, up to a maximum of 10 panels, for a monthly fee of $4.50 per panel. The energy produced by their share of the solar array will show up as a credit on their electricity bill.

The solar panels went into operation on November 23. Within the first three weeks, 111 members subscribed to a total of over 300 panels.

“A lot of the interest has been driven by a financial interest so far,” says Jon Jacob, Energy Solutions Marketing Manager for Blue Ridge Electric. However, based on the utility’s model, cost savings will only be possible for members who use high amounts of energy. According to Jacob, Blue Ridge Electric is also reaching out to members interested in the environmental benefits of solar energy.

Blue Ridge Electric serves over 70,000 members, providing electricity to the majority of Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany and Caldwell counties, as well as portions of Avery, Wilkes and Alexander counties. Residential and small commercial customers are eligible to participate in the program.

The View from Virginia and Tennessee

BARC Electric Cooperative’s solar farm consists of 1,750 solar panels. The new project provides up to one-fourth of the total energy needs of each of the 220 households that have joined the solar program.

Community members who live in the five rural counties in Virginia that BARC covers can apply to be a part of the program. This co-op covers all of Bath County and parts of Highland, Alleghany, Augusta and Rockbridge counties. BARC member Haney joined the community solar program after learning about the environmental benefits of renewable energy.

Appalachian Electric Cooperative, based in New Market, Tenn., has also recently started a community solar program. According to Mitch Cain, the co-op’s director of member services, the solar array — which consists of 9,471 panels at 145 watts each — is in a test phase and will be fully operational on Jan. 12. Any residential or commercial member of Appalachian Electric can take part in this new initiative.

Subscribers to Appalachian Electric’s solar program can invest in individual solar panels. Members pay $125 per 145-watt panel as an upfront cost. There is a cap at 5,000 watts per residential customer and 10,000 watts for commercial subscriptions. Members begin receiving solar energy credits on their bills the month after they start the program. The time needed to recover a member’s investment is estimated to be about 12 years.

Community Solar’s Effect on Carbon Emissions

Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electricity that can be used in place of other non-renewable sources such as coal and natural gas, which emit carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change.

According to Blue Ridge Electric, each solar array has offset between three to four tons of carbon dioxide in the first couple weeks of operation. Together, the arrays could offset as much as 375 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

BARC’s calculations state that their solar project will prevent 11,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.

Appalachian Electric’s program projects that 202 pounds of carbon will be offset per year for each panel installed. Over 20 years, one panel will keep 3,866 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

“Solar is here. It is something we can harness and use to help us and help the environment,” BARC co-op member Olivia Haney says. “Hopefully we will see more of this, and hopefully we will see more than just the co-ops looking to do this.”

Blue Ridge Electric members interested in the community solar program can visit blueridgeemc.com/solar or contact Jon Jacob, Energy Solutions Marketing Manager, at 828-759-8956 or jjacob@bluerigeemc.com.

BARC Electric Cooperative members interested in the community solar program can visit barcelectric.com/communitySolar or call (800) 846-2272.

Appalachian Electric Cooperative members interested in the solar program can visit aecoop.org/co-op-community-solar or call 865-475-2032 ext. 1880.

The Appalachian Voice Editorial Assistant Tristin Van Ord contributed to this story. To read her original piece in The Appalachian Voice, click here.