Archive for the ‘Front Porch Blog’ Category

VIDEO: “Contaminated, But Smart!”- Duke Energy’s New Coal Ash Assessment

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 - posted by sarah

Duke Energy claims coal ash pollution stops at their boundary, impacted families angered

On Monday evening, Duke Energy released the executive statement from the company’s study assessing the groundwater contamination at two of their largest coal ash sites in North Carolina, at the Allen and Buck Steam Stations in Belmont and Salisbury, respectively. Unsurprisingly, Duke Energy’s finding suggested they were likely not responsible for the contamination found in the drinking water wells of over 200 households within 1,000 feet of the company’s coal ash dumps.

From Duke’s executive summary:

Based on data obtained during this CSA, the groundwater flow direction, and the extent of exceedances of boron and sulfate, it appears that groundwater impacted by the ash basin is contained within the Duke Energy property boundary.

Check out local Belmont resident’s reaction to the the summary:

Duke Energy has not proven that contamination from ash basins isn’t moving in the direction of the neighbors’ wells. They have only said what “appears” to be the case, and while they may hope it gives them some legal cover (though that certainly remains to be seen), it does nothing to assuage the overwhelming concerns and fears of families who have been told their water is unsafe for drinking and cooking.

One glaring omission is that Duke Energy did not test for hexavalent chromium, a dangerous heavy metal and known carcinogen that has been found at high levels in dozens of private wells neighboring the utility’s coal ash dumps. According to the Charlotte Observer, Duke did not report results for hexavalent chromium because of a “a lack of time to collect and analyze the data.”

This isn’t the first time Duke Energy has neglected to test for the harmful contaminant; they have never tested for hexavalent chromium, and therefore there is no historical data on which to base their claims that the heavy metal is not migrating to neighbors’ wells from the company’s coal ash ponds.

Trivalent chromium can transform into its more toxic form, hexavalent chromium when it comes in contact with high-heat industrial processes (like burning coal). Exceedances for total chromium have been found in groundwater monitoring results conducted by Duke Energy at their property line. How much of that chromium is hexavalent is unknown.

Duke Energy’s release of the report comes on the heels of a N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources blog post stating that the agency has tested 24 background wells and found levels of contaminants similar to those in private wells.

Although DENR claims that the levels are similar, the agency has yet to make the actual levels public. However, at a community meeting hosted by the N.C.Department of Health and Human Services and DENR last Thursday, Dr. Ken Rudo, the state toxicologist began the meeting by disclosing the levels of hexavalent chromium found in the background wells.

Dr. Rudo revealed that of the 24 wells sampled, 23 had levels of hexavalent chromium between “non-detect” (meaning the levels are too low for labs to read) to 1.7 parts per billion (ppb). Rudo explained that in communities within 1,000 feet of Duke’s coal ash sites, 120 to 140 wells showed levels of hexavalent chromium that exceed the average levels of the background wells.

Clean Water for AllSo why are both DENR and Duke making statements that hexavalent chromium is naturally occurring when the numbers don’t necessarily demonstrate that?

The state’s health screening level for hexavalent chromium is .07 ppb. In Belmont, levels of hexavalent chromium found in wells range from .24 ppb to a whopping 5 ppb. At Thursday’s meeting, Dr. Rudo explained that the standard for hexavalent chromium is based on up-to-date science and standards in other states, and that the state health department “can defend these standards in any venue that we need to defend them.” He also warned the crowd that he is

“…much more concerned about the effects of hexavalent chromium because the science is so clear that hexavalent chromium is a chemical that has significant risk associated with it. It’s a mutagenic carcinogen, so any level can pose a risk, by definition.”

When asked by a resident if Dr. Rudo would drink her water, he firmly replied, “no”.

So where does this leave the residents who are living on bottled water? Still confused and scared about the safety of their water, nervous about their home values, wondering if they have been giving their children contaminated water to drink.

Duke Energy needs to collect data on hexavalent chromium in order to provide a more complete picture.

Action on climate heating up

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 - posted by tom

cleanpower_vert

When future historians write the book about climate change, they will surely note August 3, 2015, as the beginning of a new chapter. President Obama’s announcement that day of first-ever regulations to limit carbon pollution from power plants in America — which has one of the largest carbon footprints in the world — marks an unprecedented milestone.

Yet, as important as it is, it’s anything but certain how the story unfolds from here.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency developed the Clean Power Plan over many years and with millions of public comments. The rule sets a national target of reducing carbon pollution from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030. Though a relatively modest goal, it sends a strong message to other nations that the United States is acting on climate.

In the rule, the EPA gives states tremendous latitude in how they meet their individual emissions targets, and that’s where the rub is. Our concern is that many states will favor more natural gas — which burns cleaner than coal but has serious climate impacts from extraction and transportation — over energy efficiency and renewable sources like solar and wind.

By investing in efficiency and renewables, southeastern states can leverage the Clean Power Plan to create tens of thousands of jobs, help families save money on their monthly electricity bills, and ensure healthier air and water for us and for future generations. These benefits are especially important for low-income communities and coal-impacted areas of Appalachia, which continues to suffer the dire health and economic consequences of mountaintop removal coal mining.

Shortly after the president’s speech, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe expressed support for the Clean Power Plan, noting the importance of reducing carbon emissions and “creating the next generation of clean energy jobs.” We appreciate the governor’s recognition of America’s changing energy landscape and we’re fully engaged with our partner groups in working with his administration to comply with the new rule to benefit all Virginians.

In North Carolina, however, Governor Pat McCrory took the opposite tack. Despite the fact that North Carolina is currently in an excellent position to easily meet the EPA’s proposed goal for the state, the governor not only helped the state government pass a law blocking implementation of the rule, he vowed to take legal action against the EPA. Appalachian Voices is committed to continue pushing the Tar Heel state in the right direction, and stands willing to work with its leaders to realize clean energy solutions.

We celebrate this new chapter and embrace the work ahead to keep the momentum on our side.

For Appalachia,
Tom

Learn more

Peculiar Patriot Coal deal raises questions

Thursday, August 20th, 2015 - posted by Tarence Ray
A train leads up to a Patriot Coal site in Kanawha County, W.Va. Photo by Foo Conner | Jekko.

A train leads up to a Patriot Coal site in Kanawha County, W.Va. Photo by Foo Conner | Jekko.

What would a health care executive-turned-environmentalist want with the dying business of mining coal?

That’s the question some are asking after it was announced this week that Tom Clarke, a Virginia businessman, plans to acquire assets, and assume around $400 million in liabilities, from recently-bankrupt Patriot Coal through one of his companies, ERP Compliant Fuels.

The deal is part of an elaborate and untested business model that will allow ERP — an affiliate of the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund — to continue mining Patriot permits in West Virginia, bundling this coal with “carbon offsets” accrued from planting trees, and selling these bundled products to electric utilities.

Because trees absorb atmospheric carbon, Clarke believes credits created through reforestation will help states meet carbon emissions targets set forth by the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. But the plan does not make clear that coal-carbon offsets will count towards states’ emissions targets.

According to The Roanoke Times, Clarke says he’s not in it for the money, but for the earth. But that isn’t clear from the available literature on ERP, which seeks to bring together a coalition of conflicting environmental and capital interests — “coal mining businesses, electric power producers, forestland owners, government, and the scientific community” — in order to reduce global CO2 emissions. In the same literature, Clarke and the ERP/VCLF tout their business partnership with Jim Justice, a notorious scofflaw mine operator who owes nearly $2 million in mine violation fines.

As if these relationships weren’t enough to raise suspicion, ERP/VCLF’s definition of a “carbon offset” is dubious. As The Roanoke Times points out:

It doesn’t matter that Clarke will target coal-fired electrical generating plants in the Ohio River Valley with his pitch, while the designated trees are in Central America and the U.S. South or would be planted in Appalachia. Carbon emissions spread in the atmosphere and the concentration evens out; a party that wants to offset its carbon output can fund tree planting or tree preservation anywhere and benefit the globe, he said.

If there’s no requirement that trees be planted on deforested land in Appalachia, what’s stopping ERP from destroying mountains and externalizing the costs onto Appalachian communities for the social mission of stopping climate change? How does ERP plan to address coal ash and mercury and the many other harmful externalities that are inflicted on communities as coal is mined, processed and burned? How will the company account for the numerous injuries, fatalities, and black lung incidences that result from both underground and surface mining? Coal’s impact goes far beyond CO2 pollution.

These are crucial questions to ask as the coal industry in central Appalachia undergoes massive structural changes. If the history of the coal industry in the region has taught us anything, it’s that we should be highly suspect of outside corporate interests looking to exploit the region’s natural resources.

This is just as true today, in an era in which investors and politicians stand to gain substantial material and social capital off of the region’s diversification.

Sen. Kaine notes concerns to FERC about Mountain Valley Pipeline

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Dr. Diana Christopulos co-founded the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization with almost 300 affiliates representing over 25,000 citizens. Cool Cities promotes energy conservation, energy efficiency and the transition to clean, renewable energy. This piece originally appeared on the group’s website.

Dr. Diana Christopulos

Dr. Diana Christopulos

Senator Tim Kaine recently completed a series of listening sessions in communities where Mountain Valley Pipeline proposes to build a 42-inch natural gas transmission line, meeting with “affected property owners, local elected officials, local businesses, farmers, organizations dedicated to preserving our natural resources, and numerous other concerned citizens.”

Kaine then wrote directly to the commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) identifying concerns about (1) minimizing impacts of any project through examination of cumulative impacts of different projects and an honest look at community benefits compared to negative impacts; and (2) the need “to empower the public to verify these efforts by ensuring that all relevant information is made available and that there is ample opportunity for public input and comment. Citizens rightly expect that process to be followed to the letter.”

In terms of impact, Kaine specifically requested that FERC clarify:

  • The level of gas demand needed to justify building a distribution branch of the MVP.
  • The steps needed to make this possible — for instance, approximately how much it would cost to build a transfer station to bring supply via a new MVP distribution branch.
  • The extent to which the gas traveling through the pipeline is likely to be exported because “the people in this area of Virginia bear the potential risks of this infrastructure and deserve to know where the gas is going.”

On the environmental front, Kaine asked the FERC to determine:

  • Whether FERC requires or encourages reroutes of the pipeline to avoid land tracts under conservation easement, which property owners understood would be protected in perpetuity.
  • What measures are being taken to prevent impacts to water resources in areas with no water access other than groundwater.
  • How the pipeline will be built to safely miss rivers along this route.
  • Where and how technology to build safely on karst topography has been demonstrated.
  • The degree of information-sharing and consultation that has taken place among FERC, the interested companies, and the National Park Service, given that the route would have to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.

The Senator also noted several major process concerns and concluded by saying that he would “strongly encourage … that FERC painstakingly follow the system we have in place for evaluating infrastructure. Permitting a pipeline should involve an exhaustive process of eliminating all but the least disruptive construction options. The people whose livelihoods may be affected by a project should have ample opportunity to gather information, get their questions answered, and analyze alternatives —on a timeline conducive to participation by people for whom energy pipeline permitting is not a professional occupation. In short, simply having a public comment process is insufficient if that process is not easily accessible to the public.”

Click here for a full copy of Kaines letter.

Predictable politics giving way to popular support for POWER+

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015 - posted by brian
Photo of Wise County, Va., by Flickr user biotour 13 licensed under Creative Commons.

The politics surrounding the POWER+ Plan are less important to Appalachian communities than advancing initiatives that will create jobs and alleviate economic hardship. Photo of Wise County, Va., by biotour 13.

The recent growth in local support for a plan to boost Appalachia’s economy has been a bright spot in the region during some of the coal industry’s darkest days.

In Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, cities and counties with long histories of coal mining are advocating for the POWER+ Plan, a federal budget initiative proposed by the White House to build more diverse economies in the communities hardest hit by the regional coal industry’s decline.

Last week, the Board of Supervisors of Wise County, Va., unanimously approved a resolution supporting the plan, citing the “dramatic economic transition” and job losses the county has experienced. According to the resolution, the county “desires to invest resources to adapt to new economic circumstances” facing the region.

On the same night, the City Council of Benham, in Harlan County, Ky., passed a supporting resolution. Before Benham came the City of Whitesburg, Ky., and Virginia’s Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission.

The Campbell County Commission became the first locality in Tennessee to support POWER+, unanimously passing a resolution yesterday. Also on Monday, members of the Letcher County Fiscal Court voted unanimously in favor of the plan.

The City Council of Whitesburg, Ky., is among the growing number of localities in central Appalachia that have passed resolutions supporting the POWER+ Plan. Photo by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

The City Council of Whitesburg, Ky., is among the growing number of localities in central Appalachia that have passed resolutions supporting the POWER+ Plan. Photo by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

It was only a few weeks ago that Norton, Va., became the first locality in the nation to pass a resolution in favor of the plan. More endorsements are expected in the days and weeks ahead.

Appalachian Voices and our allies have been promoting the POWER+ Plan, too. We’re heartened, but not surprised, to hear local perspectives that don’t reflect the tone legislators from Appalachian states often take in D.C.

After listening to residents speak at the Wise County Board of Supervisors meeting about how the plan could benefit their families and share their hopes for Southwest Virginia’s economy, board member Ron Shortt told the audience, “We’re behind you 100 percent on this. We realize how important it is to Southwest Virginia and Wise County.”

The implication could be that, so far, Congress doesn’t realize how important it is for the region.

Since it holds the federal purse strings, Congress must approve funding for elements of the POWER+ Plan. But after months of opportunity to consider the proposal, and some shirking by Appalachian politicians, lawmakers in the House and Senate weakened key provisions of the plan or left them out of the budget altogether.

We recently covered Congress’s muted response in The Appalachian Voice and pointed to how lawmakers are sticking to their political sides:

… rather than receiving the POWER+ Plan with enthusiasm, many Appalachian lawmakers’ comments echoed past criticisms of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and claims of a war on coal.

“The administration has instituted sweeping regulations that have destroyed our economy’s very foundation without considering the real-world impacts, and funding alone won’t fix that,” a spokesperson for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Earlier this year, Capito introduced legislation to prevent the EPA from regulating carbon pollution.

When asked about the plan, a spokesperson for first-term Rep. Alex Mooney responded to the Gazette-Mail with a simple “No, Representative Mooney does not support the [POWER+] Plan.”

Mooney has introduced a bill to prevent the U.S. Department of the Interior from finalizing the Stream Protection Rule to reduce the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. He has called stopping the rule his “top priority.”

Rather than investing in workforce training and reemployment programs or reforming the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund to focus more on economic development, as the POWER+ Plan would, congressional opponents of the president remain primarily concerned with undermining protections for Appalachian streams and fighting limits on carbon emissions — policy goals, sure, but nothing close to an economic development plan for the region.

The counties that stand to benefit most from the plan are some of the poorest in the United States and continue to face layoffs, the impacts of ongoing mining, and pollution from decades-old and poorly reclaimed mine sites.

Lawmakers representing those counties in Congress, including Rep. Hal Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are positioned to rally other influential legislators around the plan, but they aren’t.

Some lawmakers have made statements expressing tacit support. But the resolutions make clear that these localities expect their representatives to do more; some call on members of Congress by name to support funding for economic development in the region.

The politics surrounding the POWER+ Plan, and attempts to fit it into a “war on coal” framework, are understandably less important to Appalachian communities than advancing initiatives that will create jobs and alleviate the economic hardships they face.

Many of the communities now urging members of Congress to back the plan have been underrepresented over the years in their demands for a more diverse economy. They deserved to be heard then like they deserve to be heard now.

Stay informed by subscribing to The Front Porch Blog.

Arch Coal, ICG to address water pollution violations at coal mines

Friday, August 7th, 2015 - posted by jamie

arch_icg

A release came across the wire yesterday afternoon announcing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice had reached an agreement with Arch Coal and International Coal Group Inc. (ICG) to resolve hundreds of illegal pollution discharge violations made by the conglomerate at its coal mines throughout Appalachia.

The settlement includes a $2 million civil penalty and a requirement that upgrades be made at the company’s mining operations “to ensure compliance and prevent future violations of the Clean Water Act.” In its decree, the EPA and DOJ acknowledged “communities overburdened by pollution.”

A statement from Appalachian Voices’ Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator Erin Savage:

“We’re pleased to see this settlement addressing water pollution from Arch’s ICG facilities. Appalachian Voices is familiar with this pattern of Clean Water Act violations from ICG after uncovering thousands of violations in Kentucky several years ago. Unfortunately, as a citizen’s group, we have limited means to identify all such violations, which is why we really need the states and the EPA to step up in this way.”

The full release:

epadoj

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced today that Arch Coal Inc., one of the nation’s largest coal companies, and 14 of its subsidiaries under the International Coal Group Inc. (ICG) have agreed to conduct comprehensive upgrades to their operations to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act. The settlement resolves hundreds of Clean Water Act violations related to illegal discharges of pollutants at the companies’ coal mines in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. The states of West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania are co-plaintiffs in today’s settlement. The companies will also pay a $2 million civil penalty.

“Businesses have an obligation to ensure that their operations don’t threaten the communities they serve, especially those that are overburdened by or more vulnerable to pollution,” said Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement will prevent future environmental and public health risks by making sure these companies comply with federal and state clean water laws.”

“This joint enforcement effort, with three states, has resulted in a settlement that will require changes that will benefit the health and environment of Appalachian communities for many years to come,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Under the terms of the agreement, Arch Coal and its subsidiaries will pay a significant penalty, improve their pollution control systems and provide for independent monitoring and data tracking that will make it a better company and a better neighbor to these communities.”

In addition to paying the penalty, under the proposed consent decree the companies must implement measures to ensure compliance and prevent future Clean Water Act violations, which will help protect communities overburdened by pollution, including:

  • Developing and implementing a compliance management system.
  • Periodic internal and third-party environmental compliance audits.
  • Maintaining a data management system to track violations, water sampling data and compliance efforts.
  • Providing training for environmental managers and others responsible for the consent decree.
  • Paying escalating stipulated penalties if violations continue to occur.

The government complaint filed concurrently with the settlement alleged that in the last six years, ICG operations have violated discharge limits for aluminum, manganese, iron and total suspended solids in their state-issued National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits on more than 1,200 occasions, resulting in over 8,900 days of violations. Of those violations, 700 have been previously resolved by state enforcement actions in Kentucky and West Virginia.

EPA discovered the violations through inspections of ICG facilities and projects, reviewing various information provided by the companies and coordinating with the affected state governments.

The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

For more information on this settlement and to read the consent decree, go to:
www2.epa.gov/enforcement/arch-coal-inc-and-international-coal-group-subsidiaries-settlement

U.S. coal giant Alpha Natural Resources files for bankruptcy

Friday, August 7th, 2015 - posted by jamie
Alpha Natural Resources Twilight surface mine complex in Boone County, West Virginia - Photo by Ami Vitale

Alpha Natural Resources’ Twilight surface mine complex in Boone County, W.Va. Photo by Ami Vitale, www.amivitale.com.

Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal mining companies in the United States and a big player in the Appalachian coal market, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday of this week, coincidentally on the day President Obama announced his administration’s final Clean Power Plan.

In the announcement, Alpha blamed “an unprecedented period of distress with increased competition from natural gas, an oversupply in the global coal market, historically low prices due to weaker international and domestic economies, and increasing government regulation that has pushed electric utilities to transition away from coal-fired power plants.”

According to the release, the company does not anticipate closing the business down, but will “seek the necessary immediate relief from the Bankruptcy Court that will allow normal business operations to continue uninterrupted while in Chapter 11, with coal being mined, customer commitments honored, and wages and benefits for Alpha’s affiliated employees paid.”

A Bloomberg Business article notes that Alpha, which employs nearly 8,000 workers at more than 50 underground and surface mines and more than 20 coal preparation facilities in Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, has accumulated $3.3 billion in debt over the past several years.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Alpha has assets of $10.1 billion, liabilities of $7.1 billion, and is “seeking up to $692 million in bankruptcy financing from senior lenders and secured bondholders to fund its operations.”

United Mine Workers of America responded to the news:

“Today’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Alpha Natural Resources appears to follow the same script as others we’ve seen this year: pay off the big banks and other Wall Street investors at the expense of workers, retirees and their communities … Alpha needs to understand that while we are willing to discuss ways forward that will be of mutual benefit for the company and for our members, we are also prepared to do whatever we need to do to maintain decent jobs with the pension and health care benefits our retirees were promised and have earned.”

Alpha launched a new website to detail the Chapter 11 process, including contact information and FAQs for employees, customers, retirees and other stakeholders.

Is there an echo in here?

The move brings to mind the financial roller coaster of Patriot Coal, the West Virginia-based company that emerged from its first bankruptcy in 2012 only to file again a scant 3 years later in May of this year. Patriot’s initial 2012 “restructuring” plan was extremely controversial as it involved slashing the healthcare benefits of 1,800 union miners and retirees. Patriot initially won court approval for the cut, but, after significant public scrutiny and outrage, settled with the United Mine Workers of America in 2013 for $400 million to cover the benefits.

And now history seems to be repeating itself. According to an AP story that is quoted on Coal Tattoo (yet mysteriously disappeared from national news outlets, including the Washington Post), just a few weeks ago Patriot asked a judge’s permission to “reject the company’s collective bargaining agreement with union miners and change retirees’ health care benefits …” The United Mine Workers of America filed an objection to the proposed plan, which includes $6.4 million in bonuses paid to management employees.

Just this week, the beleaguered company announced the layoff of 1,081 coal miners, most in West Virginia’s Kanawha County.

Patriot Coal is also the first coal company in Appalachia to announce it would phase out the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.

“Big Coal’s war on itself”

When examining the financial tribulations of big coal mining companies, industry officials are quick to point the finger at what they have dubbed the “war on coal,” claiming that environmental regulations are the primary culprits causing their fiscal misfortunes. But according to a recent article co-authored by independent financial analyst Andrew Stevenson and NRDC’s Dave Hawkins, coal mining’s economic downturn has more to do with bad investment decisions than anything else.

“The biggest cause of Big Coal’s loss of value is that Big 3 management bet big on a global coal boom and lost big when it went bust,” Stevenson and Hawkins write. Their article goes on to detail the five specific reasons Alpha and other coal companies are on the brink of bankruptcy.

“In sum, bad bets at the top of the market, weak met coal prices, cheap natural gas, and lower power demand due to energy efficiency reduced cumulative forecasted coal revenues for the Big 3 by approximately $21 billion over the past four years. This is a big hit for companies as highly leveraged as Alpha Natural, Arch Coal, and Peabody Energy and the reason why these companies are struggling to stay afloat today.”

As industry officials and coal-friendly politicians — including an outspoken Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who notedly said, “I am not going to sit by while the White House takes aim at the lifeblood of our state’s economy” — themselves take aim at the Clean Power Plan, they have yet to acknowledge the most important question on the table: what will happen to residents in Appalachia’s coal country who, because of company bankruptcies, layoffs, revocation of pensions and lack of other job opportunities, remain among the poorest in the nation?

So far, the only offer of assistance to these folks has come from President Obama himself, in the form of the POWER+ Plan to revitalize the region.

“They’ll claim [the Clean Power Plan] is a “war on coal,” to scare up votes — even as they ignore my plan to actually invest in revitalizing coal country, and supporting health care and retirement for coal miners and their families, and retraining those workers for better-paying jobs and healthier jobs,” Obama said on Monday, taking aim at McConnell and his other critics. Communities across America have been losing coal jobs for decades. I want to work with Congress to help them, not to use them as a political football.

Tennessee Clean Energy Jobs Booming

Thursday, August 6th, 2015 - posted by Amy Kelly

According to a new report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), Tennessee is seeing clean energy job growth at nearly three times the rate of overall state employment growth. With the recent Clean Power Plan final rule released on Monday, the Volunteer state has an opportunity to not only spur job growth in renewable energy as the report calls for but will also adhere to the Clean Power Plan’s guidelines for reducing carbon emissions.

In a survey of over 1,000 companies in Tennessee, 30 percent of respondents said they believed the Clean Power Plan would increase their business. The report categorizes clean energy jobs as those in the renewable and energy efficiency sectors and includes alternative transportation and greenhouse gas management and accounting.

Table 1: Tennessee's clean energy industry compared to other states

Table 1: Tennessee’s clean energy industry compared to other states

“Clean energy employment rose by 6.3% in the last 12 months, creating roughly 2,600 new jobs and surpassing the overall statewide employment growth of 2.2%,” E2 reports in Clean Jobs Tennessee: Sizing up Tennessee’s Clean Energy Jobs Base and its Potential released Friday, July 31. “Firms project additional growth of 5.7% or 2,500 more jobs in the next 12 months,”

In Tennessee’s current clean energy mix, more than 2,600 businesses employ almost 45,000 workers according to the report.

Although most clean energy jobs in Tennessee are involved with energy efficiency (47%), Tennessee lags far behind other states in this category (see page 10). This is one more reason why incentivizing energy efficiency such as utility on-bill financing programs makes sense for states like Tennessee.

Become active in Tennessee’s clean energy future by telling Gov. Haslam you support the Clean Power Plan. Sign up to get involved in the upcoming Energy Action Team in your area now by contacting Amy Kelly at amy.kelly [at] appvoices.org.

Obama Administration releases final version of the Clean Power Plan

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015 - posted by jamie

cpp_action_notxt

Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the final version of the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever national rule limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants to safeguard public health and help address climate disruption.

Essential to this plan is reducing the demand for electricity from dirty fossil fuels by increasing energy efficiency and the use of clean, renewable resources like wind and solar. This approach will have significant benefits for all American families, particularly in the Appalachian region where residents stand to gain from cleaner water and air, a stronger economy and a safer future.

During the press conference, EPA Secretary Gina McCarthy spoke first, calling the announcement a “Wickedly cool moment” and noting that “One thing is crystal clear: to [act on climate] is a moral responsibility.”

President Obama spoke next, saying “This is about the reality of what we’re living with every day, right now. The Pentagon says climate change poses immediate risk to our national security.” He cited stronger storms, deeper droughts, wildfires and shrinking ice caps as key indicators, as well as health effects such as childhood asthma, which has more than doubled in the past three decades.

“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it,” he quoted. “If we don’t get it right, we may not be able to reverse it, we may not be able to adapt sufficiently.”

“There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change,” the president continued. “But that shouldn’t make us hopeless, it’s not as if there’s nothing we can do about it. We can take action.”

Over the next few years each state will have chance to tailor its own plan to cut carbon pollution and meet the new standards. He noted that the idea of setting standards is not radical, and that more than 35 states had already set their own renewable energy targets before the final plan’s announcement.

The goal? According to the president, “By 2030, carbon pollution will be 32% lower than it was a decade ago…keeping 872 million tons of carbon pollution out of our atmosphere.”

Some critics claim that minority and low-income communities will suffer from implementation of the Clean Power Plan, but Obama countered that those Americans suffer more than anyone else from carbon pollution.

“Today an African-American child is more than twice as likely to be hospitalized from asthma, a Latino child is 40 percent more likely to die from asthma,” he noted. “So if you care about low-income minority communities, start protecting the air they breathe and stop trying to rob them of their healthcare.”

Reactions to the announcement have been swift and varied. In our region, Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia eagerly supported the plan, while NC Governor Pat McCrory not only opposed the rule, he announced he plans to legally challenge it.

Appalachian Voices’ Executive Director Tom Cormons responded to the release:

“Today’s announcement marks a critical opportunity to shift toward cleaner, more sustainable ways to power our lives and in turn create a major economic boost to our region.

By leveraging the Clean Power Plan, states across the Southeast can create tens of thousands of clean energy jobs by expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy markets. In addition to new jobs and a stronger economy, the Clean Power Plan will save Americans money on their monthly electricity bills. These opportunities are especially important for low income communities and areas directly impacted by recent changes in energy markets.”

Our carbon experts on staff will be digging into the language of the Clean Power Plan in the coming days and weeks, and will release a more detailed analysis soon. In the meantime, to learn more visit the White House’s informational site on the plan.

ACT NOW: Ask your state leaders to support the Clean Power Plan.

A moment of truth for Kentucky’s coal regulators

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Tarence Ray
A striking case of corruption related to mine inspections in Kentucky led to the recent criminal conviction of former Democratic state representative Keith Hall. But questions remain about how deep the conspiracy goes.

A striking case of corruption related to mine inspections in Kentucky led to the recent criminal conviction of former Democratic state representative Keith Hall. But questions remain about how deep the conspiracy goes. Photo from LRC (Ky.) Public Information.

In June 2013, mine operator and Kentucky state representative Keith Hall went to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet with a complaint.

Kelly Shortridge, a mine inspector with the Division of Mine Enforcement and Reclamation in Pikeville, had been soliciting Hall for bribes to ignore violations on Hall’s Pike County surface mines.

Hall told two cabinet officials that he had already paid Shortridge “a small fortune,” and that the mine inspector “liked the Benjamins.” A report was drawn up, forwarded to the cabinet’s investigator general and Secretary Len Peters, and went nowhere.

The FBI began investigating the matter when the Lexington Herald-Leader published Hall’s complaint report through an open records request. In June, Hall was found guilty of bribing Shortridge to ignore Hall’s safety and environmental violations.

During the trial, the bureau submitted evidence that strongly suggests Keith Hall was not the only operator paying Kelly Shortridge. Shortridge himself has admitted to taking bribes from other Pike County operators.

So how deep does the conspiracy go? That’s the question many are asking in the wake of Hall’s trial. The Herald-Leader published a recent editorial that pointed out the familiar territory here:

This is not the first time questions have arisen about the Pikeville office of the Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement where Shortridge, an inspector for 24 years, worked.

Other Pikeville-based inspectors allowed a surface mine (not owned by Hall) to operate without a permit for 18 months, until July 2010, when rain dislodged the unreclaimed mountain and flooded out about 80 families. One of the inspectors retired a month later.

Remember, too, that the division went years without penalizing coal companies for filing bogus water pollution reports by copying and pasting the same data, month after month.

This falsified water pollution data was only discovered after a coalition of environmental and citizen groups including Appalachian Voices discovered water monitoring reports that the department had neglected to review for over three years. The fact that the FBI had to find out about Hall’s allegations by reading the newspaper – and not through the cabinet itself – reveals a similar pattern of negligence.

How committed is the cabinet to enforcing Kentucky’s environmental and safety regulations around mining? The answer may lie in the phenomenally small salary that the state was paying Shortridge at the time of his 2014 resignation: $45,160 a year.

This may seem like an insignificant detail, but it speaks volumes about how our regulatory systems function, what they prioritize, and what motivates the individuals who operate within them. Shortridge was using his small salary, in addition to the bribes he was taking from Hall and others, to pay for his wife’s medical bills. It’s impossible to speculate about his personal character, but it does seem clear that he was responding to a specific set of material conditions in a way that most individuals on that kind of salary – and in that kind of position – very likely would.

Without much incentive to enforce existing regulations, and knowing that it pays more to cozy up to the industry than to fight it, we really must ask: how many other Kelly Shortridges are out there? This doesn’t seem like an unreasonable question to ask of a regulatory system that, at best, lacks the political capital and material resources to enforce violations, and, at worst, is overseen by the very mine operators it’s supposed to be regulating. (Before being voted out of office in 2014, Keith Hall was the vice chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.)

Finally, Keith Hall’s remark that Kelly Shortridge “liked the Benjamins” – an incredibly condescending statement from a man who once appropriated his own county’s coal severance tax to the benefit of one of his companies – is revelatory. It hints that there are boundaries to what is and what isn’t acceptable within relationships between the coal industry and the state: Shortridge was getting ambitious; his greed was somehow different than Hall’s. Keep in mind that this was confessed to two cabinet officials, mob-style, as if Shortridge was breaking a set of established rules. Hall needed Shortridge until he didn’t, and then sold him down the river when he became an annoyance.

Now that they’re both paying for breaking the rules, will Governor Steve Beshear’s administration adequately investigate further possible corruption? It unfortunately doesn’t look likely.

As the Herald-Leader editorial notes, “This should be a moment of truth, but history tells us not to expect an aggressive self-examination of the state agency’s love affair with the coal industry.”

Stay informed by subscribing to The Front Porch Blog.