On Monday night, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent a long-awaited rule to regulate the disposal and storage of coal ash to the White House Office of Management and Budget for final review.
“We are pleased to see the draft rule move into the final phase of review needed for its release in December,” says Amy Adams, Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina campaign coordinator.
“Having experienced the consequences of poor enforcement and weak or non-existent state regulations, North Carolina serves as a clear example of why states must have federal baseline standards for coal ash,” Adams says. “We must place our hope in the strength of the EPA rules and the resolve of the federal government to protect citizens from this toxic waste.”
Observers say the administration should have enough time to finalize the rule by the EPA’s court-ordered deadline of Dec. 19, which the agency apparently “fully expects” to meet.
Until then, however, we won’t know much about how far the rule will go to protect communities across the United States from coal ash pollution.
Infographic: The Truth About Coal Ash
At least for the next several weeks, the substance of the rule is still subject to change and there are a few different ways it could go. Environmental groups have for years pressured the EPA to regulate coal ash as the dangerous substance that it is. This option would put the rule under the hazardous waste program of the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act’s Subtitle C. Utilities and other industries hope the rule will regulate coal ash under Subtitle D of RCRA, which emphasizes state oversight and enforcement through citizen lawsuits.
In both scenarios, the EPA says it won’t regulate the use of coal ash in concrete and other construction material, or as fill material — the latter will fall under the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s upcoming Mine Fill Rule. Beyond that, the description of the rule on OMB’s website offers little insight, which may be just how the White House wants it.
As Earthjustice’s Lisa Evans points out, the OMB review process is “a black box — opaque, inscrutable and exceedingly dangerous. Rules never come out the way they go in — the offices of OMB are littered with crumpled pages of strong rules gone soft after revision by the White House.”
Evans uses an example from 2009, when former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson sent the White House a plan to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste following the largest coal ash spill in U.S. history.
Timeline: Five years after the TVA coal ash disaster, what do we have to show for it?
The EPA received more than 400,000 comments on the rule, and thousands attended public hearings to support stronger protections. But heavy lobbying by the coal and utility industries ultimately weakened the administration’s resolve.
Since then, the EPA hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about the status of the rule. In fact, had it not been for a lawsuit brought against the EPA by Earthjustice on behalf of Appalachian Voices and other environmental and public health groups last year, the timeline for a final rule might still be murky.
While unavoidable, Evans says the OMB review “introduces uncertainty at the end of a rulemaking process that must, by law, be based on science and transparency and governed by the requirements of the enabling statute.”
The evidence that coal ash poses significant risks to human health is abundant, and the need to do more could hardly be more urgent. The White House should listen to the thousands of citizens demanding strong protections against coal ash pollution.
Learn more about Appalachian Voices’ work to clean up coal ash.]]>
By Kelsey Boyajian, Meredith Warfield and Emmalee Zupo
Appalachia’s rich history of community unites this region. Whether it’s neighbors lending a hand in the yard, or a dedicated group joining together to clean up a local river, the tradition of service and volunteering is a way of life.
The benefits of service are vast. When we help each other, we learn from one another too. It may be a new skill, such as gardening, or it may be opening up our minds to new perspectives. However you want to help, there’s no shortage of opportunities to join and serve. Below is a listing of some regional programs, but it’s certainly not exhaustive. If you have a favorite organization, just ask if they accept volunteers — because they probably do!
Environmental Summer Camps 2014!
Browse our online listing of summer camp programs for all ages. These programs emphasize environmental sciences and sustainability, with outdoor activities including hiking, wilderness skills, field science and more. Camp costs vary and some scholarships are available. View listing
Appalachian Power Company must bring large-scale clean energy to our area; that’s the message this week from hundreds of APCo’s Virginia customers.
The company goes before state utility regulators next Tuesday with its long-term plan to meet electricity demand, which includes only the most modest investments in renewable energy sources despite a new rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency intended to spur clean energy development and cut carbon emissions.
No one is more vocal about the need for APCo to invest in solar than those who already have: customers with their own solar arrays. Residents concerned by the utility’s recent proposal to levy a new fee on customers with solar are just part of a larger group of APCo customers demanding their utility stop limiting its proposals for energy efficiency programs and take advantage of the same opportunities to expand residential solar that utilities such as Georgia Power have taken advantage of lately.
At a program co-led by Appalachian Voices in Lynchburg on Thursday, APCo customers examined the utility’s proposed efficiency and clean energy investments and saw just how minimal they are. The risks of dirty energy are clear to Lynchburg residents who saw a train carrying crude oil derail and explode in the heart of the downtown district this past summer, polluting the James River and threatening historic properties.
The large, diverse area of Virginia served by Appalachian Power also is home to several thriving solar companies, and many successful community Solarize initiatives have encouraged more homeowners to go solar. So, increasingly, area residents see purchasing solar as a way get reliable, affordable and pollution-free energy. In other words, it’s money well spent.
Thirty-two solar homeowners sent a collective comment to the State Corporation Commission this week calling for Appalachian Power to build clean energy at the same scale they have built fossil fuel power plants. Those homeowners and other citizens who are following the EPA’s proposed carbon rule believe that their utility is acting unreasonably by not addressing the new limits in its long-term planning.
Following the hottest September on record worldwide and an historic demonstration in New York City, the need for Virginia utilities to shift to energy efficiency and carbon-free sources is now clear, and APCo customers are telling their utility it can make a start, while lowering bills and creating jobs at the same time.]]>
“Now we can open access to low cost capital for all cost-effective energy efficiency improvements sought by members with sound bill payment history, regardless of income, credit score, or status as renters or home owners.”
With that simple statement, Curtis Wynn, CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative (REC) in eastern North Carolina, perfectly summarized the benefit and accessibility that well-structured on-bill energy efficiency financing programs can offer. Wynn’s statement was part of yesterday’s announcement that REC had been approved for one of the first loans provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program.
The $6 million loan from USDA will fund REC’s new Upgrade to $ave on-bill finance program, which was modeled on the Pay-As-You-Save (PAYS) program developed in 1999 by the Energy Efficiency Institute of Vermont. We have written before about other on-bill finance programs that have also used the PAYS model, most notably the How$martKY program developed by the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development. This is also the model that Appalachian Voices is promoting to rural electric cooperatives in the region through our Energy Savings for Appalachia program.
The most important part of Curtis Wynn’s statement is the reference to the fact that the Upgrade to $ave program is available to all of REC’s members who have a demonstrated history of paying their electric bills. It doesn’t matter if the member owns or rents their home, what their credit score is, or what income bracket they fall under. This is a key aspect of on-bill finance programs because it means that financial support is available for the people who need it the most, but cannot pay for the upgrades themselves and may not be qualified to receive a loan from a traditional bank or credit union. And given that REC serves an area with an average poverty rate of more than 28 percent, there is undoubtedly a substantial number of residents that need such support.
One of the greatest things about on-bill finance programs modeled after the PAYS program is that they offer “debt-free financing” for households to pay for improving the efficiency of their home, which results in significant reductions in their energy bills. If the homeowner or renter moves away, they don’t have to pay off any remaining debt, and it doesn’t follow them around. Instead, the “debt” remains with the electric meter, and the next owner or tenant continues the payments through the monthly fee.
Perhaps the most important aspect of these programs, however, is that the monthly payments made by the member/customer end up being less than the savings achieved as a result of the upgrades! In other words, even though the resident is paying a new fee on their monthly utility bill, their energy costs still go DOWN! That’s the brilliance of REC’s simple title for their program: Upgrade to $ave. And for REC’s part, the way they’ve structured the program allows the cooperative to fully recover their own costs for offering the energy efficiency service, meaning that other customers don’t have to share any of the costs associated with the program. This is a true and elegant example of an “everybody wins” situation.
Based on information provided in REC’s press statement, the cooperative will be able to provide approximately 800 energy efficiency “loans” using the $6 million being guaranteed by USDA. That represents around 6 percent of the cooperative’s total membership, which is pretty outstanding, and this is likely just the first USDA loan that REC will apply for. Further, the savings potential of the Upgrade to $ave program is substantial. With an average savings of 25 percent per home, as much as 4 million kilowatt-hours or more will be saved each year as a result of the program. For an individual households that could amount to around $650 saved each year (of which 75-90 percent would be used to pay the monthly fee).
On-bill finance programs like Upgrade to $ave are a commonsense approach to achieving significant reductions in the amount of energy and natural resources we use; alleviating the impacts of poverty and high energy costs; and, promoting the development of local jobs in communities that need them. The term “commonsense” doesn’t even capture just how much of a no-brainer developing these programs should be for all electric utilities, especially rural electric cooperatives because they serve some of the most disadvantaged and impoverished communities across the United States.
As REC’s press statement notes, “As an electric cooperative, Roanoke EMC is committed to cooperative principles: voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training and information, and concern for community.”
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association describes “concern for community” as “working for the sustainable development of [the cooperatives’] communities through policies accepted by their members.” On-bill finance programs can go a long way toward contributing to the sustainable development of communities served by electric cooperatives such as REC.
It is notable that, partially as a result of our own efforts, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, in partnership with many of its member cooperatives and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, is currently in the process of designing its own on-bill finance program and is expected to submit a loan application to USDA in the near future. Appalachian Voices is also promoting on-bill energy efficiency finance programs to electric cooperatives in western North Carolina, and we hope that REC’s example moves some of them toward developing their own program.
Appalachian Voices wholeheartedly applauds Roanoke Electric Cooperative for taking this important step, showing in practice what “concern for community” really means, and for being the first cooperative in the U.S. to receive an EECLP loan for the funding of an on-bill finance program!]]>
Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed more than 500 mountains and buried more than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia. Yet, despite a growing movement of Appalachians and more than 100,000 concerned Americans rallying to end the destruction, it’s still happening.
Together, we have pressured the Obama administration to take a number of actions to limit pollution from mountaintop removal. But, much more needs to be done. This administration still has an opportunity to take strong, lasting steps to protect the health of Appalachian communities and create a brighter future for the region.
Add your voice to the movement demanding the Obama administration takes action to stop mountaintop removal]]>
Lenny left such an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of so many that it’s impossible to think about his passing without being heartened by his ongoing presence. It was Lenny who believed our movement could make the atrocious practice of mountaintop removal a national issue, and it was Lenny who knew how to do it. Most importantly, his example and instruction taught others how to do it as well. “I’m in the people empowerment business,” he would say.
I think what may have been most inspiring about Lenny in this age of cynicism and well-funded special interests was his abiding belief in democracy and the political power we have as citizens. With his decades of experience, Lenny knew that going toe to toe with giant corporations isn’t easy, but his wisdom on how to do it effectively instilled the confidence and hope that encouraged so many to engage. Lenny knew how to combine great passion with sound planning and organization to make things happen. The progress we’ve made is a testament to the kind of smart, strategic action, driven by our love of people and nature, that Lenny espoused.
Many of us, some from as far away as Alaska, will gather this Saturday near Boone, N.C., for a memorial service. It’s not too late to RSVP here, and if you’d like to honor Lenny with a gift, any funds remaining after the cost of the memorial is covered will be donated to causes he cared about and fought for. A Facebook page has also been set up, where everyone is encouraged to post memories and tributes to the Chief, and all will be posted to a memorial website, where we hope folks will continue to be inspired by Lenny’s passion and mission for years to come.
During his time in the Arctic, the native Gwich’in people were so grateful for Lenny’s work with their tribe that they made him an honorary chief. And the name stuck. Ultimately, we will continue to honor Lenny’s spirit and wisdom by embracing our power to change big things through the kind of passion, thoughtfulness, humility and dedication he exemplified.
Here’s to the Chief and his powerful legacy!]]>
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