A Watched EPA Never Acts: 5 Years After the TVA Coal Ash Disaster

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Amy Adams | No Comments

coalashTVA

It has been five years since the TVA Coal Ash disaster in Tennessee, which sent 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash into Emory and Clinch rivers. While the nation has watched and petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the agency responsible for issuing federal standards for coal ash disposal, little action has been taken. Perhaps this is similar to the old adage that says “a watched pot never boils.”

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Appalachia’s Economic Transition is Underway: Three Broad Strategies to Get Us There

Friday, November 15th, 2013 | Posted by Guest Contributor | 1 Comment

{ Editor’s Note } Anthony Flaccavento is a regional leader in sustainable agriculture, local foods and their overlap with economic development. This is the second part of a post on building a stronger regional economy in Appalachia. Click here to read the first part.

"What’s needed is not a dilution of our commitment to the environment or social justice, but an expansion of our strategy to include working folks and their needs and concerns as central to our efforts," Anthony Flaccavento writes about strategies to make real progress on strengthening Appalachia's economy. Photo by Jessica Kennedy

“What’s needed is not a dilution of our commitment to the environment or social justice, but an expansion of our strategy to include working folks, and their needs and concerns as central to our efforts,” Anthony Flaccavento writes about strategies to make real progress on strengthening Appalachia’s economy. Photo by Jessica Kennedy.

Last week, I briefly described three key questions to frame the discussion about economic transition in Appalachia and around the nation:

1. Is the economy for people, or are people for the economy?
2. What is the proper role of government, the right balance between the ‘public sector’ and ‘the market’?
3. How do we live within our means, cultivating more widely shared prosperity, with less energy, waste and dependency?

In this second part to last week’s post, I’ll suggest three strategies I believe to be essential to making real progress on economic transition that builds greater prosperity, self-reliance and ecological sustainability. As someone whose work focuses on the details of economic diversification and transition, my perspective here is deliberately broad in hopes of providing some guidance applicable across sectors, communities and regions.

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Of Loincloths and Lean-Tos: The Fight To Protect NC’s Water

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 | Posted by Sandra Diaz | No Comments

According to N.C. DENR Secretary John Skvarla, if you love clean air and water, here's the dress code.

According to N.C. DENR Secretary John Skvarla, if you love clean air and water, this is your dress code.

Out of the many things that were targeted in the North Carolina legislature, water quality took a huge hit. Not only did the state budget call for the consolidation of the Division of Water Quality and Division of Water Resources, it slashed the two agencies combined budget by more than 12 percent.

And there is the curious case of John Skvarla, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources who has derided his own agency as an “eco-enforcer” before he came onboard.

At a luncheon for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank, he claimed to not have a position on climate change since he’s not a scientist, and stated that if environmentalists had their way, “we would live in lean-tos and wear loincloths.”

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House Votes to Block EPA on Coal Ash

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 | Posted by Thom Kay | 3 Comments

States have consistenty failed to protect water resources from toxic coal ash. But the U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill to prevent the EPA from doing anything about it.

States have consistenty failed to protect water resources from toxic coal ash. But the U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill to prevent the EPA from doing anything about it.

This afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2218, a bill that strips the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate coal ash. The bill fails to protect human health and the environment from the unsafe disposal of toxic coal ash waste.

The bill’s supporters, led by bill author Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), continue to claim that the bill provides “minimum federal standards” while keeping states in the driver’s seat in regulating coal ash disposal. They even claim that states know best, and have done a good job so far. This is most certainly not the case, and state failures are well documented.

The bill’s true purpose is to stop the EPA from classifying coal ash as a hazardous material and implementing federal regulations to govern its disposal. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) repeatedly said of amendments that increased EPA oversight of state programs that they would “undercut” the purpose of the bill. In other words, the bill was not passed to ensure the safety of coal ash disposal sites or to protect human health and the environment. The only thing it accomplishes is stopping the EPA from creating a rule that the coal and utility industries would not like.

We will now turn to the U.S. Senate and work to ensure that it does not take up the bill, but instead supports the EPA’s authority and mandate to protect human health and the environment with enforceable federal standards.

How did your representative vote?

The Environment on The Hill: Congress Continues to Undermine Essential Protections

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013 | Posted by Thom Kay | 1 Comment

Rep. Jared Huffman asks fellow members of the House Energy and Mineral Subcommittee: “Why should we be allowing mountaintop removal mining to bury hundreds of miles of Appalachian streams, destroy mountain towns, and threaten people in the region with cancer, lung and heart disease?”

Rep. Jared Huffman asks his fellow committee members “Why should we be allowing mountaintop removal mining to bury hundreds of miles of Appalachian streams, destroy mountain towns, and threaten people in the region with cancer, lung and heart disease?”

Yesterday was a busy day on Capitol Hill. With multiple hearings on environmental issues in the House and Senate, Congress is trying to get a lot of business done before the August recess.

House Natural Resources Committee Questions OSM Director Pizarchik

Joseph Pizarchik, Director of the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSM) was questioned by the members of the Energy and Mineral Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee. The hearing was supposedly focused on the “war on jobs” and the Stream Buffer Zone rule rewrite.

The Bush administration changed the Stream Buffer Zone rule in 2008 to make it easier for coal companies to dump mining waste into Appalachian streams, and among many others, we have been fighting to get OSM to write a stronger rule ever since. The good news is that OSM is indeed in the process of creating a new rule, the Stream Protection Rule. The bad news is that they’ve been working on it for four years and don’t expect it to be released until next year at some time. We also don’t know how strong the rule will be.

Meanwhile, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) of the energy subcommittee has called Pizarchik to the Hill about a half-dozen times to criticize the rulemaking process. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) even criticized the rule, certain that it will cost “thousands of jobs.” Any claims of job killing are based on paranoid assumptions. After all, OSM has not even released a first draft of a rule.

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Court Victory for Clean Water in Kentucky: The Battle Continues

Friday, July 19th, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Acidic mine water being discharged from one of Frasure Creek’s Kentucky coal mines

Last week, an attempt by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to toss concerned citizens out of court failed.

Judge Phillip Shepherd denied a motion to dismiss our challenge of a settlement between Frasure Creek Mining and the cabinet. Appalachian Voices and our partners KFTC, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance, will now be allowed to proceed with our argument that the settlement should be vacated.

In October of 2010, we filed a Notice of Intent to Sue Frasure Creek for submitting false water monitoring data. Frasure Creek and the cabinet reached a settlement for those violations, but it has not been approved by the court. Before that, the data Frasure Creek submitted to the state never showed any violations. After our legal action, they switched labs and began showing hundreds of water quality violations every month.

We attempted to sue Frasure Creek for these subsequent violations, but the cabinet filed a complaint in state administrative court for the same violations. We intervened and became full parties to that case, but then a slap on the wrist settlement was entered between Frasure Creek and the cabinet completely without our consent. Our current challenge to this settlement is based on the fact that we are full parties in the case yet we had no say in the settlement’s creation.

The cabinet attempted to get our challenge thrown out because they claimed that we did not follow proper procedures when we filed it, but the judge dismissed their arguments. Now, the cabinet must respond to the substance of our challenge.

>> Click here to read the ruling
>> Click here to read more about this challenge
>> Click here for more information on our Kentucky Litigation

Help Update Our Retro Wastewater Standards on July 9th

Monday, July 1st, 2013 | Posted by Jessie Mehrhoff | 1 Comment

Join us on July 9 at a public hearing in Washington, D.C., to support the EPA and request that strict wastewater pollution limits replace the outdated rule.

The last power plant discharge standards were introduced more than 30 years ago. On Tuesday, July 9, join us at a public hearing in Washington, D.C., to support the EPA and request that strict wastewater pollution limits replace the outdated rule.

Each year, coal-fired power plants dump 80,000 pounds of arsenic, 65,000 pounds of lead, and 3,000 pounds of mercury into U.S. waterways. More than 23,000 miles of America’s rivers have been sullied due to the lack of pollution standards for wastewater discharged from power plants.

On Tuesday, July 9, you can help fix this.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a hearing on the proposed Effluent Limitation Guidelines, a set of standards that would reduce the amount of power plant pollution dumped into U.S. waters by up to 5.6 billion pounds annually. Attendance at the July 9 hearing is critical because it is the only public hearing currently planned for the proposed pollution limits.

The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 and the last power plant discharge standards were introduced ten years later in 1982. To put things into perspective: Michael Jackson’s song “Thriller” was also released in 1982. As a college student, I am glad that “Thriller” is a classic; it’s a catchy tune enjoyed by those of us born even decades after its release. I am not thrilled, however, by the fact that our current power plant wastewater discharge standards debuted the same year. Pollution standards should not become “classic.”

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June is “Solar Energy Month” in North Carolina

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013 | Posted by Chelsey Fisher | No Comments

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory recently deemed June "Solar Energy Month," despite attempts by the General Assembly to repeal the state's renewable portfolio standard.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory recently deemed June “Solar Energy Month,” despite attempts by the General Assembly to repeal the state’s renewable portfolio standard.

On the heels of Republican-led legislative threats to environmental protection and renewable energy in North Carolina, Republican Governor Pat McCrory deemed June “Solar Energy Month” at a solar farm in Wake County on June 4.

This acknowledgment is definitely deserved, considering North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation for new clean energy projects and jobs during the beginning months of 2013. Clean energy has grown tremendously in the state over the past five years and has saved 8.2 million megawatt-hours, according to a study by Research Triangle Institute.

“We think the energy business, alongside with agriculture, will help North Carolina get out of this recession,” McCrory said at the declaration, according to the News & Observer.

Strata Solar CEO Markus Wilhelm, who owns one of the largest solar companies in the country, said to the News & Observer that he considered McCrory to be a “friend” of the solar industry.

Wilhelm also said that the growth in solar power usage in North Carolina is due to the state’s support of renewable energy.

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A Legislative Lesson in Taking the Easy Way Out

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 2 Comments

A North Carolina bill includes proposes allowing groundwater contamination up to a landowners property line, a plan supported by Duke Energy, which is being sued for coal ash pollution at its Riverbend Plant. Photo by the Catawba Riverkeeper.

A North Carolina bill includes proposes allowing groundwater contamination up to a landowner’s property line, a plan supported by Duke Energy, which is being sued for coal ash pollution at its Riverbend Plant. Photo by the Catawba Riverkeeper.

In the midst of allegations against Duke Energy for coal ash pollution at multiple coal-fired plants, a bill in the North Carolina House of Representatives could give polluters a free pass and build a buffer against lawsuits.

Already passed by the N.C. Senate, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 (S 612) proposes a “boundary loophole” that would allow groundwater to be contaminated by toxic chemicals such as arsenic, selenium and mercury, as long as it remains inside the owner’s property line. That terrifying prospect is hardly assuaged by the sponsors’ claim that their beyond-polluter-friendly bill seeks to “provide regulatory relief to the citizens of North Carolina.”

If you’ve been paying attention to the recent exploits of the N.C. General Assembly, you’d assume that the bill goes beyond creating a boundary loophole. You’d be right. The entirely anti-environmental bill includes provisions to fast-track the permitting process for certain environmental permits and to prevent local environmental rules from being stricter than state or federal statutes or regulations.

The legislature already passed a reform bill forbidding new state rules from being more stringent than federal standards last year. Of course, like most of the ill-conceived crusades being waged in Raleigh, that’s easier said than done.

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Tenn. Tuesday: Haslam Pumps up Coal! Whitewater Industrial Complex! Cashing in on Efficiency!

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Welcome to Tennessee Tuesday, where Governor Haslam Refuses to Meet with Mountain Advocates, TVA Stays the Same More than it Changes, and our New Energy Secretary is Totally into the World’s Premier Spallation Neutron Source!

Governor Bill Haslam is generally not aligned with the plentiful far-right fringe voices in the state of Tennessee. His business background and family ties have led him to deliberately cultivate an image as “cerebral” on policy, while being a competent manager rather than a fire-breathing gut-speaking revolutionary — although it’s a little humorous to imagine what might have been had he chosen the latter.

Opinion is fluid, of course, as to how successful he has been in living up to his preferred billing as Mr. Manager. Rumors that Haslam is interested in national office are swirling and he’s being called everything from “The GOP Star You’ve Never Heard of to an “amiable squish,” as people seem unsure what to make of this sometimes unsure governor.

Consider the issue of mountaintop removal, where he has been of two minds. First, as a candidate, Gov. Haslam opposed mountaintop removal. Buuuuuut, now he ignores the voices of affected citizens and he pays un-disclosed amounts to consultants who are also coal industry lobbyists, advocating to let Tennessee sell off our protected public lands to private coal companies. So, theres that.

It was perhaps little surprise then, when Haslam was out last week touting the fact that “ coal keeps businesses in Tennessee running!

It reminded me of the soon-to-be-immortal words of former Presidential speechwriter Jon Lovett’s commencement speech at Pitzer College where he opined: “We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie.”

Is Haslam wrong? Well, no. But Haslam’s lofted platitudes towards what is left of the Tennessee coal industry are just true enough. We’ve been very kind, and very patient with the Governor, and will remain so for at least the next one, maybe two paragaphs.

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Kentucky’s Lab Certification- Is it strong enough?

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Yesterday, Appalachian Voices submitted public comments on a proposed wastewater lab certification program in Kentucky. To discharge polluted water, coal companies must receive a permit under the Clean Water Act. This permit that requires companies to test wastewater and report the data to ensure it falls within the limits of the permit. In Kentucky, there are currently no standards for labs that do this type of testing.

The proposed certification program is a direct result of the lawsuits for falsified water monitoring data we filed against three of the state’s largest coal mining companies. Our investigation revealed that many coal companies were repeatedly submitting the same data and knowingly leaving out reports of any violations of their permits. After we filed these lawsuits, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet inspected the labs being used for this monitoring and found that in many cases they were not even capable of correctly performing the required tests.

This graph shows some of the inaccurate data submitted by Frasure Creek Mining before our lawsuits lead them to start using a new lab. Click to enlarge.

We believe that enforcing standards on labs used by coal companies will help ensure that labs report accurate data, and that the regulations meant to protect water and those that depend on it from dangerous pollution are effectively enforced. This proposed rule will be a big step forward and we have applauded the cabinet for its efforts to fix these problems. However, there are several weaknesses in the rule that we hope are fixed before it is finalized.

All too often the cabinet has failed to live up to its obligations to protect the people and environment in Kentucky. That is why our comments suggest that discretionary duties given to the cabinet in this rule be made mandatory. Appalachian Voices will continue to work to require the state agencies to actually enforce these standards.

>>Click here to see our comments
>>Click here to read the proposed lab certification rule
>>Click here to read the draft lab manual

Stop Brushing off the Bad Stuff

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 4 Comments

However complex the causes of the ongoing health crisis in Appalachia, denial accomplishes nothing but the perpetuation of the status quo. Yet every time claims that could negatively impact the coal industry surface, Appalachian legislators throw up a black sheet.

However complex the causes of the ongoing health crisis in Appalachia, denial accomplishes nothing but the perpetuation of the status quo. Yet every time claims that could negatively impact the coal industry surface, Appalachian legislators throw up a black sheet.

West Virginia University professor and public health researcher Dr. Michael Hendryx’s latest article, “Personal and Family Health in Rural Areas of Kentucky With and Without Mountaintop Coal Mining,” appeared in the online Journal of Rural Health a couple of days ago. The study immediately gained the attention of Kentucky media, and supporters of the coal industry have been quick to write off Hendryx’s methods and conclusions — they just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

Hendryx has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles. He’s the director of the West Virginia Rural Health Research Center and after receiving a Ph.D. in psychology, he completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Methodology at the University of Chicago. Little of that seems to matter, however, because much of his research is concentrated on poor health in Appalachian coal-mining communities, especially those where mountaintop removal takes place.

Like other studies Hendryx has conducted, the eastern Kentucky-focused article relies on comparing data gathered in counties with mountaintop removal to data from counties without it. More than 900 residents of Rowan and Elliott counties (no mountaintop removal) and Floyd County (mountaintop removal) were asked similar questions about their family health history and incidents of cancer to those that the U.S. Center for Disease Control uses in gathering data.

After ruling out factors including tobacco use, income, education and obesity, the study found that residents of Floyd County suffer a 54 percent higher rate of death from cancer, and dramatically higher incidences of pulmonary and respiratory diseases over the past five years than residents of Elliott and Rowan counties.

These results should surprise no one, least of all the families in Floyd County that participated in the study. Yet somehow, supporters of the widespread use of mountaintop removal still refuse to consider that blowing up mountains might impact human health.

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