Making your home more energy efficient can sound like an expensive and complicated task, but in reality there are many easy steps homeowners and renters can take to convert a dwelling from an energy waster to a sustainable homestead. Below we have outlined ways to help you pay less and reduce your home’s carbon footprint.
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Archive for the ‘The Appalachian Voice’ Category
Making your home more energy efficient can sound like an expensive and complicated task, but in reality there are many easy steps homeowners and renters can take to convert a dwelling from an energy waster to a sustainable homestead. Below we have outlined ways to help you pay less and reduce your home’s carbon footprint.
Growing up on a farm in Lincoln County, N.C., Brenda Sigmon intimately knew the outdoors and understood her natural surroundings as a part of everyday life. “I think I didn’t like it at the time because of the chores I had to do,” says Brenda fondly, “but looking back, it was an idyllic experience.”
A “childhood outside,” as she puts it, is something Brenda feels she is lucky to have had, and it’s something she hopes today’s children can experience as well.
An avid hiker, Brenda spends much of her efforts getting children outside and on trails to combat “nature deficit disorder,” an issue she became more aware of through Richard Louv’s 2005 book, “The Last Child in the Woods.” Brenda emphasizes that getting kids outside not only lets them appreciate their natural surroundings, it helps prevent childhood obesity and diabetes.
Brenda aids in the building of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s “TRACK Trails,” often extensions to existing trails which emphasize family and adolescent-use. She is helping now to extend such a trail on Elk Knob.
While on a hiking trip years ago, Brenda picked up an issue of The Appalachian Voice. She became a member of Appalachian Voices 1999, began actively volunteering in 2002, and served on the organization’s board from 2006 to 2012. “When I first came there were five staff members and only the Boone office,” she says. “The fact that three of those five are still with the organization today after more than a decade speaks volumes.”
Brenda attributes the organization with making local health and environmental concerns into national issues. Ten years ago “mountaintop removal” was just words, she says, but now much of the country knows about the devastation in the region’s coal-bearing states “thanks to Appalachian Voices and its allies.”
She is inspired by the team’s level of commitment and offers that she’s “never met more dedicated or talented people.” Appalachian Voices is always grateful for volunteers like Brenda who keep us motivated.
Brenda lives in Conover, N.C., where she is a volunteer distributor for The Voice in Burke and Catawba counties. She avidly hikes and continues to champion ways for children to pursue and draw joy from nature. “Children who learn to love the outdoors,” she says, “will be the people who grow up to protect it.”
Chattanooga’s high-tech advances are seeded with grassroots principles
By Molly Moore
As dusk falls on the north bank of the Tennessee River, streetlights turn on at Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park. Rows of gleaming bicycles wait for the next morning’s bikeshare riders, and the sun’s last rays fade from a park building’s green roof.
If the streetlights appear to glow brighter as the riverfront grows darker, it’s not an illusion. Each bulb is part of a highly efficient and intelligent network that is helping the city reduce its carbon footprint and utility bills while expanding public services and bringing jobs back from China.
That’s a lofty task for a lightbulb, but over the past few decades Chattanooga has overhauled ordinary city systems, such as electric grids and public buses, to deliver unprecedented services while putting Tennessee’s fourth-largest metropolis on the short list of sustainability leaders. The polluted city derided by Walter Cronkite as the “dirtiest city in America” in 1969 has come a long way in cleaning up its air, water and reputation.
“There’s an old saying, that when you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know there’s one thing for sure, it didn’t get there by itself,” says Dave Crockett, formerly a city councilman and director of the city’s Office of Sustainability. He attributes the city’s turnaround to “a culture of how to make decisions” that considers new initiatives holistically. In recent years, Chattanoogans have taken the lessons from their city’s triumphs in environmental and economic revitalization and applied them to a problem that plagues the Southeast: energy waste.
Lighting, the Chattanooga Way
Compared to incandescent bulbs, the 350 LED induction lights around Coolidge Park are brighter, require less maintenance, and demand less than half the electricity. If they are implemented across the city as planned, the system would pay for itself in about seven years.
At midnight the lights dim, reducing electricity use and light pollution. Outfitted with radio communications, however, the lights can be controlled individually and the luminosity can be raised by 200 percent or set to a strobe pattern at a moment’s notice. The local company building the lights is bringing jobs back from overseas to fill the city’s order and prepare for contracts with the system’s admirers.
Despite the energy-saving prowess of LED bulbs, technology is the least important element of this and other green advances, says Crockett. In the old streetlight system, about 5 percent of lights are broken at any given time, defaulting to the “on” setting where they run constantly until someone calls for maintenance. Installing highly efficient lights into that network, Crockett says, would be “like putting rocket boosters on horseshoes.” Upgrading the whole system with radio communications not only assists first responders, it saves an additional 25 percent in energy consumption by telling the city where broken lights are and which parts they need.
To truly capture the benefits of “gee-whiz” technology, Crockett says, any plan must begin with careful consideration of the environmental, economic, social and educational goals. “If you think in a single dimension, by definition you’re not thinking sustainably. And if you’re not thinking sustainably, then you’re giving up a lot of the benefits, including financial benefits.”
From the Ground Up
Chattanooga’s green streetlight project is an outgrowth of a comprehensive Climate Action Plan that the city council ratified in 2009. Behind that report is a visionary band of four, a dedicated group of 14, the input of 500 concerned citizens, and a mayor who approved it all.
In June 2006, Gene Hyde, the city forester, and June Coppinger, a realtor, approached Mayor Ron Littlefield to ask whether he would sign on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Prepared for a “no,” they were floored by Littlefield’s affirmative response. “I was the only city employee there at the time,” Hyde says. “(The mayor) said, ‘You want it, you got it, dude. Make it happen.’”
In his spare time, Hyde began meeting with Coppinger, Heather Adcox, now the director of the city’s Office of Sustainability, and Anj McClain, who leads the nonprofit sustainable building center Green Spaces. The four pounded the pavement, making connections with community stakeholders such as Chattanooga Gas and the Association of General Contractors. Everyone agreed that increased sustainability was something that Chattanooga should tackle, though each organization had different ideas about how.
On Earth Day 2008, the newly formed, 14-member Green Committee turned to the public for suggestions on how to make the city more sustainable. A public brainstorm session with five hundred participants generated over a thousand ideas, which the committee distilled into a list of 47 action items to form the basis of the 2009 Chattanooga Climate Action Plan. The proposal, which included the creation of the Office of Sustainability, was unanimously approved by the city council.
Adcox and Hyde attribute the document’s success largely to the Green Committee’s diversity. Members represented a cross-section of business, civic and environmental leaders, including the executive directors of the Homebuilders Association of Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Manufacturing Association. Industry representatives had a vested interest, and the result was a plan for environmental actions that the business community could publicly support.
One of the plan’s overarching goals is reducing the city’s carbon footprint.
On Aug. 5, 2012, Mayor Littlefield announced an executive order mandating 25 percent cuts in energy use at city departments and agencies by 2020, an initiative estimated to save $2.85 million of the city’s $11.4 million annual budget each year. The order includes benchmarks such as 35 percent reductions in buildings’ electricity use and 20 percent cuts in water use, and recommends actions like turning off equipment when not in use, installing sensor-controlled lights, and upgrading HVAC systems.
These announcements weren’t a surprise to most Chattanoogans, Adcox says. The most common response she heard was, “What took (the city) so long?”
Adcox is passionate when she talks about energy efficiency, calling it “almost a no-brainer” for municipal government. “It’s the easiest thing to measure, the quickest return on investment, it’s impactful, it’s visible, it’s the city leading by example, it’s job creation, it’s all of those things,” she says.
Progress has been slow, however, partially because of funding cuts to the sustainability office last spring. A new mayor, Andy Berke, is taking office in April 2013. His staff recently issued a statement supporting energy efficiency and saying that the incoming team will consider the existing goals as part of a comprehensive sustainability strategy. Adcox hopes he will back aggressive measures to curb energy use. “We can’t do it one lightbulb at a time, that’s not going to be an effective way to get things done,” she says.
To Littlefield, the executive orders are about leading by example. The two-term mayor grew up in Georgia’s textile country, and he remembers when mills routinely dumped waste into streams.
“Now industries are saying ‘We’re not going to do that anymore and we don’t expect anyone else to do that,’” he says. “(Chattanooga is) going to do our part to do just what we’re asking these industries to do.”
The outgoing mayor has good reason to believe that environmental standards can attract jobs. Under his watch, two of the city’s largest employers, Volkswagen and Alstom Power, chose to locate new manufacturing plants in Chattanooga largely because of the city’s commitment to what the mayor calls “a high quality of life.” Both facilities have achieved high LEED standards for green building, and the Volkswagen plant can churn out 12 percent of its overall energy use from on-site solar panels.
A high quality of life is important for its own sake, Littlefield says, but successful cities also need to recognize its economic value. Once a city views quality of life as goal, it makes sense to enhance the environment, protect the energy supply and be more energy-efficient. “You can’t be wasteful with energy and expect to not be wasteful with other elements,” he says.
Wired for Savings
If Chattanooga’s electric grid is any indication, city-wide energy use is on the same path as its streetlights. The Electric Power Board, a city agency that distributes power generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, has outfitted its 600-square-mile coverage area with fiber-optic cables that can deliver the fastest internet in the Western Hemisphere.
The same infrastructure that can deliver gigabit-speed connectivity also allows the utility to deploy cutting-edge “smart meters” to track when energy is used. This lets the power board offer lower rates for electricity that’s used during off-peak times. Savvy customers can then save money by drying a load of laundry at 9 p.m. rather than 5 p.m., and the utility avoids paying additional fees to TVA for using energy during high-demand hours. In theory, TVA can use those energy savings to avoid constructing a new power plant.
Smart meters are being discharged across the country, but Chattanooga is ahead of the curve, says Jim Glass, the distibutor’s manager of smart grid development. Once meter installations are completed this spring, the fiber-optic network will allow ratepayers see 15-minute updates to their energy use in real time via a secure online account. The whole idea, says Glass, is to make it easy for a customer to draw connections between their activities and electricity consumption.
As meter installations wrap up, Glass is excited about new ventures, such as experimental devices that can help hot water heaters take advantage of their natural thermal properties to avoid draining the grid during peak hours. But he acknowledges Crockett’s view that technology is only part of the solution.
“You can build all these great smart grids and put the best and the latest technology into the system but ultimately it really is up to the individuals trying to save,” Glass says. “That’s what we’re trying to do is just get that conversation going.” Regardless of how enthusiastic today’s customers turn out to be, electricity consumption is headed in the direction of increased efficiency, he says, and the Electric Power Board is ready.
When asked about what he wants his legacy to be, Mayor Littlefield cites the old Boy Scout guideline to “leave the campsite better than you found it.” When it comes to the city’s energy future, however, it seems another Boy Scout mantra applies — “Be prepared.”
The Southeast possesses some of the greatest resources for making energy use more efficient, and Appalachian Voices has a plan to help unleash that potential.
This spring, we are launching a new program focused on promoting energy savings and reducing the use of coal-fired power in rural Appalachia and the Southeast. Rory McIlmoil, a long-time advocate for Appalachia with a background in environmental science and policy, is joining the Appalachian Voices team to lead our Energy Savings for Appalachia program.
“I’m excited to join Appalachian Voices to help kickstart the energy efficiency industry in Appalachia as a way to develop new economic opportunities for the Southeast, something that state and federal leaders have not focused on,” says Rory. “At the same time, this work will help residents protect their communities, health, and the environment by reducing demand for coal-fired electricity.”
Rory interned with Appalachian Voices in 2007, and has spent the past five years heading the energy program at the West Virginia-based environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies. He will be working closely with our North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia programs to educate electric cooperatives (member-owned utilities) and their customers on the multiple economic and environmental benefits that saving energy can have.
“Appalachian Voices has crafted a common-sense, strategic plan to reduce residential electricity demand, and therefore electric bills, and to accelerate the growth of an energy efficiency services industry in Appalachia,” says Director of Programs Dr. Matt Wasson. “Rory’s knowledge of the science of energy issues in Appalachia and his in-depth analysis of economics data give him an edge in understanding how we can advance these solutions.”
“Very few financing programs exist for electric co-op members in our region,” says Matt. “In addition to grassroots outreach, one of our goals will be to help develop and build public support for state and federal energy savings and clean energy policies.”
One of the program’s first goals will be to launch an online Energy Savings Action Center to provide residents with information about making their home more efficient and their electric bills cheaper. The site will point consumers to programs offered by their electric provider, and connect them with small businesses that offer energy audits, weatherization and other services that result in savings on electric bills while supporting a clean, local economy.
The action center will also track how Appalachia’s congressional representatives vote on clean energy bills and will help citizens send messages to their elected officials and hold them accountable.
“Building these relationships is critical for helping communities develop forward-thinking solutions at a time when politicians seem to be looking backwards,” Rory says. “Joining the terrific staff at Appalachian Voices to lead the new energy savings program is a great opportunity and I’m excited to be a part of such a progressive organization.”
Rory received his B.S. in Earth and Environmental Science from Furman University and a master’s in Global Environmental Policy from American University. It was in graduate school that he learned about the devastation of mountaintop removal coal mining and coal’s impact on citizens throughout the Southeast. “As I became more aware of those problems, I began thinking of ways I could help make a difference.”
In addition to his policy and research work with Downstream Strategies, Rory has served as the Campaign Director for the Coal River Wind Project and conducted climate change science through a U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation research project.
A descendant of West Virginia pioneers, Rory lived throughout the Southeast before settling back in the Appalachian Mountains. He enjoys backpacking, beekeeping, growing his own food and woodworking.
“These are some of the oldest, most biologically diverse mountains in the world,” Rory says. “When you have lived in Appalachia and have learned how these communities are connected to the mountains, you become part of it and you can’t do anything else but try to protect it.”
When Tom Cormons left the East Coast to attend college in Charlottesville, Va., it didn’t take him long to fall in love with the mountains.
Every opportunity he had during his time at the the University of Virginia, he hiked, paddled and climbed in the rugged mountains of Appalachia.He eventually met his wife, Heather, while working as a whitewater guide on West Virginia’s Gauley River. Even through his years of pursuing an environmental law degree at UCLA and working in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Justice Department, Tom’s passion for the mountains — and a desire to protect them — never wavered.
That desire, combined with an extensive background in wildlife research and energy policy as well as six years of leadership experience at Appalachian Voices, is what led Tom to become the organization’s new executive director.
Tom joined Appalachian Voices as a member 12 years ago, inspired by the mission to protect the mountains he had grown to love. In 2007, he joined the staff to establish the organization’s Virginia office and program. In the past few years, he has expanded the Virginia office to a staff of five, and positioned Appalachian Voices in a leading role in the efforts to bring cleaner energy to the commonwealth.
“I am honored to now lead this organization, whose staff, board, members and partners continue to inspire me every day,” Tom says. “I’m very motivated to help our region transition to cleaner energy and to ways of supporting people’s livelihoods that respect our natural heritage.
“What we do to the mountains, forests, and creeks has tremendous implications for people living here now, as well as for what we’ll be passing on to our children and their children,” Tom continues. “With three young kids myself, this is always on my mind.”
Established 15 years ago, Appalachian Voices has evolved from a small organization focused mostly on forest and air quality into a regional force tackling major issues like ending mountaintop removal coal mining, reducing air and water pollution associated with the coal cycle, and transitioning Appalachian states to clean energy. The organization now has 20 full-time staff members and four offices, and works mainly in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
“As I’ve worked with Tom over the years, I have witnessed his thoughtful, contemplative, and intelligent work mature and shine,” says Kathy Selvage, a coal miner’s daughter from Wise County, Va., who has worked to end mountaintop removal, and currently serves on Appalachian Voices’ board. “His love of the Appalachians, its flowers and fauna, and its people and culture, will be the lynchpin of his leadership. Appalachian Voices is in good hands.”
By Brian Sewell
Dozens of coal industry groups and environmental organizations crowded into a Washington, D.C., courtroom on March 14 for the latest chapter of a long legal battle. A three-judge panel heard arguments on the legality of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to veto permits for one of the largest mountaintop removal coal mines ever proposed in Appalachia.
The original permits for Mingo County Coal’s Spruce Mine No. 1 were approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2007 after the company addressed EPA concerns by reducing the size of the permit by 835 acres. In 2011, however, the EPA revoked the permits, citing unacceptable damage to water quality. The agency said permitted valley fills at the mine would bury more than six miles of streams with millions of tons of mining waste, eliminating all fish, small invertebrates, salamanders and other wildlife.
The action received swift condemnation from Appalachian politicians and was challenged immediately by the National Mining Association. On March 23, 2012, the veto was overturned in a D.C. District Court. In her decision, Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote that the EPA’s attempt to veto permits after they had been issued is “unprecedented in the history of the Clean Water Act.” The EPA is back in court appealing the decision to overturn its veto.
Lawyers representing Mingo County Coal, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Arch Coal, argue that if the EPA’s veto stands, it will “create uncertainty, hinder investments and stifle economic growth in the region.” The EPA maintains that such concerns are unfounded because it has only retroactively rescinded two other permits in the 40 years since the Clean Water Act created the permitting process.
Arguments made on the EPA’s behalf by the Justice Department maintain that the agency’s role is not to duplicate the Corps’ responsibilities, but “to exercise independent judgment, based on the record, when deciding under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act whether adverse effects to waters of the United States will occur and whether or not these effects are acceptable.”
The court’s decision could have implications for the approval of valley fill permits at surface mines by deciding just how much environmental damage is “unacceptable” when it comes to mountaintop removal.
Opinions from our Readers
The Feb./March 2013 issue of The Appalachian Voice briefly introduced the prescribed burn being proposed for the Linville Gorge Wilderness. The burning of this rugged landscape would be attempted multiple times over the next decade, ostensibly to restore the natural fire regime and reduce future wildfire potential. These commendable claims face serious logistical challenges in the daunting terrain of the gorge, and the controllability of a prescribed burn has been questioned by forestry professionals, National Forest Service employees, and even the burn proposal document itself. Nevertheless, NFS was moving forward with the project until word leaked out and public opposition quickly grew.
The merits and risks of the burn proposal continue to undergo examination by NFS and the public alike. Meanwhile, one thing is clear: this process would have unfolded very differently if the public had not become involved. Without the demand for due diligence, without the raising of valid concerns, and without the contribution of viable alternatives, this project would be controlled by that single greatest factor facing NFS at this time: funding. It’s a fact, freely admitted by the agency, that serious budget shortfalls are currently shaping policy. It so happens that funding has been allocated for those ranger districts willing to burn their forests, and the Grandfather District encompassing the Linville Gorge Wilderness hopes to gain access to those funds.
Without public action on the various issues faced in national forests across the nation, a radically different National Forest Service may emerge from this time of fiscal crisis. Just as NFS is under pressure to reexamine its purpose in the context of new economic conditions, we too are under pressure to decide what we expect in the management of public lands.
Jonas Ridge, N.C.
OSM Approves Expansion of Appalachia’s Largest Slurry Impoundment
The Federal Office of Surface Mining recently approved an expansion of the Brushy Fork impoundment in West Virginia — one of the largest slurry disposal sites in the country — to hold two billion more gallons of the waste produced from washing coal. Unless the West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection denies the expansion, the earthen dam holding back billions of gallons of coal waste will expand to nearly 750-feet tall, larger than the Hoover Dam.
Photo by Vivian Stockman
Virginia Transportation Board OKs Coalfields Expressway
In February, Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board approved two sections of the Coalfields Expressway despite environmental impacts and public concerns that the route will bypass communities that could possibly benefit from the highway project. Proposed by Alpha Natural Resources, the four-lane highway project would begin as a 26-mile mountaintop removal coal mine. By proposing a public-private partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation, Alpha Natural Resources substantially reduced VDOT’s estimated costs. The project is under review by the Federal Highway Administration, which will either give VDOT approval to move forward with construction, or require a supplemental environmental study.
More Research Links Mountaintop Removal and Poor Health
A recent study focused in eastern Kentucky is the latest in a line of research by West Virginia University’s Dr. Michael Hendryx linking mountaintop removal to poor health in nearby communities. Published in the online “Journal of Rural Health,” the article compares survey responses gathered in counties where mountaintop removal occurs to counties where it does not. After ruling out factors including tobacco use, income, education and obesity, the study found that residents of Floyd County, Ky., suffer a 54 percent higher rate of death from cancer than residents of nearby Elliott and Rowan counties. Previous studies have found that cancers and other health problems increase with the amount of mining that occurs nearby. Researchers recommend that a more comprehensive study measure air and water quality to reveal exposure to pollutants.
Greenhouse Gas Rules May Have to Wait
The announcement of the EPA’s long-awaited plan to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants last spring brought cheers from environmental groups and added to fervorous accusations of an Obama-led “war on coal.” Now that the deadline for the rule has arrived, the agency is likely to revisit its provisions and limits. As proposed, the rule would impact new power plants and permitted plants that have not begun construction by limiting carbon emissions to 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour of electrical output — a level unlikely to be met by coal-fired power plants. Regardless of when the rule is finalized, it is almost certain to be challenged by the coal industry and receive substantial congressional attention. The delay comes as abundant natural gas is causing coal plant retirements and making the construction of new coal-fired units uneconomical. The EPA will likely reintroduce the rule for another round of public comments.
Last year, when the bankrupt Patriot Coal Corp. agreed to phase out mountaintop removal coal mining as part of a settlement with environmental groups, it was partially because the company was on the hook for more than $400 million in fines to clean up selenium pollution from several of its surface mines.
Increasingly, selenium is becoming a liability for coal companies in Appalachia. The element occurs naturally in different concentrations around the world and is found in everyday products ranging from anti-dandruff shampoo to vitamin supplements. But when it is exposed through coal mining, combustion and other industrial and agricultural activities, selenium puts aquatic ecosystems, along with birds, mammals and humans, at risk.
Selenium bioaccumulates as it moves up the food chain. People are exposed to toxic levels by eating contaminated fish or drinking from impaired waterways such as West Virginia’s Mud River. A 2003 report described the polluted river as being on “the brink of a major toxic event” due to selenium pollution from Patriot’s Hobet Mining complex, which it has been since.
In the wake of a series of lawsuits against Patriot alleging violations of permitted selenium limits at several surface mines, opponents of mountaintop removal hope the financial liability of selenium pollution will spill over, potentially making mountaintop removal altogether too risky. Supporters of surface mining, however, are keenly aware of the situation, and states where mountaintop removal occurs are taking steps to weaken selenium standards to lessen the risk of lawsuits that could result in devastating fines.
“The bankruptcy of Patriot Coal illustrates the danger of managing selenium compliance in the courtroom rather than in the boardroom,” says Ben Collins, a research and policy campaigner at the environmental advocacy group Rainforest Action Network. A report authored by Collins in February focused on the potential cost to Appalachian coal-mining giant Alpha Natural Resources from lawsuits alleging selenium contamination downstream from the company’s surface mines.
The report states that monitoring at Alpha’s surface mines between 2005 and 2010 identified 989 instances of selenium levels above federal guidelines. While Alpha reports selenium monitoring data to West Virginia environmental regulators, it is not disclosed to investors in the company’s sustainability reporting.
“Alpha can leave its exposure to selenium non-compliance risk to be handled by its lawyers,” Collins says, “but it does so at considerable risk to its investors.”
Selenium pollution is far from an isolated problem. In late March, the largest coal company operating in British Columbia’s Elk Valley announced it will spend $600 million over the next five years to develop a plan to prevent selenium pollution, which it predicts will add $6 per ton of coal mined. Until then, no new mine permits will be approved in the valley.
In Central Appalachia, lawmakers have shown they would rather weaken water quality standards to help put discharges at mountaintop removal mines in compliance.
In February, after a 30-day comment period for its three-year review of water quality standards ended, the Kentucky Division of Water attempted to raise the criteria for selenium toxicity to greater than ten times current standards.
Before a bill to require the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to back away from federal standards and develop state specific rules for selenium passed the House of Delegates 99-0, House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley called the bill “an important one for the coal industry.”
“There is no scientific foundation for this change,” Dan Radmacher of Appalachian Mountain Advocates wrote in the Lexington-Herald. “Only the corrupting influence of a declining industry could lead officials who are supposed to protect the environment and people of Kentucky and West Virginia to protect profits instead.”
Just as opponents of mountaintop removal strive to capitalize on the financial liabilities associated with selenium, the coal industry and its supporters are looking for an escape route. If they succeed, Radmacher warns, sooner or later the public will be forced to pay to clean up the problem.
“Always remember this: If public officials and regulators help the coal industry successfully evade these costs, the liability will almost certainly end up on citizens.”
The 113th session of the U.S. Senate began on Jan. 3, with the Democratic party gaining two seats as a result of the November election — only slightly increasing its majority control to 53. We take a look at the 10 central and southern Appalachian senators: Who represents us?
While serving as Virginia’s governor from 2006 through 2010, Kaine reached an ambitious goal to preserve more than 400,000 acres of open space and fund more than $1 billion in wastewater treatment projects to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Although Kaine was supportive of a new coal-fired power plant in Virginia, he also led a charge to implement voluntary greenhouse gas reporting. The effort did not pass the legislature but is indicative of his long-standing support for cap and trade policies to address climate change. Following Sen. Jim Webb’s retirement prior to the last election cycle, Kaine secured a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2012.
The senior senator from Virginia served as governor from 2002 through 2006 and was elected to the Senate in 2009. Typically possessing a strong environmental record including support of land conservation bills, the Democrat falters on issues of clean energy production and limiting pollution from fossil fuel power plants. Last year he voted for a measure to void the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants and against a bill that extended incentives for the development of wind energy. He also recently signed on to a letter urging the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
As governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin sued the EPA for allegedly overstepping its authority regarding mountaintop removal permitting guidelines, an issue the courts are still debating. In 2010, the conservative Democrat won a special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Robert Byrd, and in 2013, he became the Chair of the Energy Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining. His first bill in the Senate was yet another attempt to repeal the EPA’s veto power over mining permits. During the 112th Congress, Manchin received more contributions from the coal industry than anyone in the Senate, raking in $418,900, nearly three times the amount of the next highest recipient.
West Virginia’s senior senator is a moderate Democrat with a mixed record on environmental issues. In a 1970 gubernatorial race, Rockefeller proclaimed that the “strip mining of coal must be prohibited by law, completely and forever,” but his landslide loss prompted him to change positions. He reversed his stand so strongly that as a senator in 1999 he voted to exempt mountaintop removal from the Clean Water Act and environmental mining regulations. Recently, however, Rockefeller has criticized the industry’s “war on coal” rhetoric and called for diversification of his state’s economy. As he will not seek reelection in 2014, Rockefeller has a year and a half to close the gaps in his otherwise strong environmental legacy.
The Senate Minority Leader has voted with fossil fuels at nearly every opportunity since joining the Senate in 1985. In 1999, he co-sponsored a bill to exempt mountaintop removal coal mining from the Clean Water Act. He and fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul introduced the Mining Jobs Protection Act, a 2011 bill that would chip away at the EPA’s ability to veto coal mining permits. McConnell has received more total campaign money from the coal industry than any other member of Congress — more than $700,000 as of the 112th session. At the end of 2012, polls ranked McConnell as the least popular senator in Congress.
The son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, the junior Republican senator is a libertarian Tea Party member and a self-proclaimed “great friend to coal.” Paul advocates for an energy policy governed by the free market, and frequently claims there is a “war on coal” that enforces onerous environmental standards and stifles industry. A supporter of mountaintop removal coal mining, Paul once said, “I don’t think anybody’s going to be missing a hill or two here and there.” Last year, he introduced the misnamed Defense of Environment and Property Act, which would severely reduce protections under the Clean Water Act by narrowing the definition of “navigable waters.”
Originally elected to the Senate in 2005, this staunch Republican drew condemnation from environmental advocates and conservationists in 2011 when he introduced a bill to eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by folding it into the Department of Energy. As a member of the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure, he has routinely voted to reduce regulation on the fossil fuel industry. Although Burr voted against the expansion of wilderness areas during the 111th Congress, he is a co-sponsor of the Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act of 2013, which would make permanent appropriations for conservation initiatives on existing federal lands.
A junior Democratic senator who joined the U.S. Senate in 2008, Hagan is an advocate for small businesses and military families, and serves on the senate committees that represent both interests. She has consistently voted in favor of funding for renewable technologies and energy efficiency. Hagan introduced the Community Parks Revitalization Act of 2012 and is a co-sponsor of a bill to restore funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Shortly after the 2012 elections, Hagan joined other senators urging President Obama to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
A former governor, U.S. Secretary of Education, and presidential candidate, Sen. Alexander was first elected to the legislature in 2002. The veteran senator has served on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, was the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and this year joined the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Alexander has been criticized by the coal industry for his support of stricter controls on mercury and his opposition to mountaintop removal. In the 111th Congress, Sen. Alexander introduced the bipartisan Appalachia Restoration Act, a bill to prohibit valley fills from mountaintop removal operations, and held hearings on the issue. He strongly supports nuclear energy and is a fierce opponent of the development of wind energy.
Tennessee’s junior Republican senator was first elected in 2006 after serving as the mayor of Chattanooga. Sen. Corker often speaks about energy in terms of security and favors a broad approach including wind, solar, nuclear, enhanced oil and gas production, and investment in research and development. In 2007, he supported an amendment increasing fuel efficiency and he supports biofuel alternatives to foreign oil. Sen. Corker opposes a federal Renewable Electricity Standard that doesn’t include nuclear or hydroelectric power, but supports tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency.