Posts Tagged ‘Appalachian Voices’

Tennessee sprouting up as a leader in home energy efficiency

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 - posted by ann

Summer has arrived in Tennessee. Gardens are starting to produce a bounty of flowers and veggies. The longing for home grown tomatoes will soon be satisfied, and energy efficiency prospects are springing up all across the volunteer state.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association have recently announced that the Volunteer state was selected as one of six states to participate in the National Governors Association retreat on energy efficiency. According to TECA’s website, the special retreat will help Tennessee focus on policy development and implementation strategies for “reducing energy consumption, stimulating economic demand for local energy-related jobs and services, and lowering emissions associated with the electricity generation”.

Appalachian Voices has been working with TECA and rural electric co-ops in Tennessee to explore the possibilities for the development of an on-bill financing program for home energy efficiency.

Very few co-ops in the region (only five in Appalachia, all located in Kentucky) provide financing for their members to make multiple energy efficiency improvements all at once — improvements that include weatherization, insulation, and upgrading heating and cooling systems. In truth, the majority of co-ops in Appalachia could be doing a lot more to help reduce energy costs for their members and move the communities they serve closer to achieving real sustainable development.

The fact that TDEC and TECA applied for and received this grant shows that they care about the people they serve, and are willing to work hard to help reduce electricity bills by providing energy efficiency incentives and financing programs. The Tennessee workshop will address specific challenges the state faces in advancing energy efficiency programs in rural areas served by co-ops, and will help the state develop tools and strategies for designing and deploying successful financing programs for co-op members.

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The Tennessee Team will consist of representatives from the Office of Governor Haslam, TDEC, TECA, other state agencies, the USDA Rural Utilities Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, Appalachian Voices and Pathway Lending, a community development financial institution.

It’s exciting to see Tennessee sowing the seeds of a sustainable energy efficiency program, and we couldn’t be prouder to be part of this effort. Visit our Energy Savings Action Center to learn more about your local energy provider.

From farm to fork to mountain trails: summer edition of The Appalachian Voice

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 - posted by Kimber

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You don’t need to travel far to experience a summer rich in laughter and discovery. In this issue of The Appalachian Voice, we scope out some of the region’s most lively farmers markets and showcase the natural beauty of the “Heart of Appalachia,” a region in southwest Virginia hailed as among the most biodiverse in the country.

Writer Megan Northcote explores the growing phenomenon of “destination farmers markets,” which host events and activities that lead Northcote to dub them “more than a market.” Visitors can enjoy cooking and artisan demonstrations, hands-on kids activities, live music and dancing -‒ all while enjoying fresh and delicious food from the surrounding community. And access to this healthy, locally-sourced produce is expanding. From a mobile farmers market in eastern Tennessee to a program in West Virginia where children grow and sell food from their school garden, the way that communities think about food is being transformed all across Appalachia.

At the same time, ecotourism is continuing to gain momentum as a way to promote and protect the natural features that shape a community’s unique identity. In the Clinch River Valley of southwest Virginia, the recent opening of a river tubing outfitter, as well as the development of driving, biking and hiking trails, have been attracting tourists from across the nation. Visitors are enticed by the region’s astounding biodiversity ‒ the crystal-clear waters of the Clinch River are home to more endangered and rare aquatic species than anywhere else in the country ‒ and the famous voices of the region’s musical history steeped in the origins of bluegrass.

Residents, organizations and businesses of the Clinch River Valley are banding together to preserve these assets by working towards the creation of a new state park. The state legislature is still working through the process of funding the park, but in the meantime the issue’s regular Hiking the Highlands column explores some of the trails that already traverse the area. The ability to discover and interact with the outdoors in the Clinch River Valley is further aided by several phone applications ‒ introduced throughout the articles ‒ that provide visitors with guided tours and wildlife interpretation.

Potential threats to our food and environment are also investigated in this issue. Valerie Bruchon analyzes some of the issues surrounding genetically modified food and what it could mean for Appalachia. You can learn more about which food labels exclude genetically modified foods and other controversial components from our “What’s in Your Food” chart.

You can also read about some of the continued difficulties associated with fossil fuel consumption. In “At What Cost?” residents of Belews Creek tell their stories about how coal ash ‒ the toxic byproduct from burning coal ‒ has endangered the health of their community. Brian Sewell examines the need for federal rules to regulate the practice of using coal ash as fill material for abandoned surface and underground mines. And in “Confronting Carbon Pollution,” Molly Moore investigates the Obama administration’s plans to implement carbon pollution regulations for new and existing coal-fired power plants.

Be sure to check out our regular features too. This issue’s Naturalist Notebook takes a look at the Eastern grey treefrog, whose mating song can be heard in Appalachia from April to August. Our This Green House column checks out the European Solar Decathlon, an energy-efficient home design competition. Appalachian State University has teamed up with a French university to compete in the decathlon this June.

Wherever your plans take you this summer, make some time to get outdoors! And while you’re out there, be sure to read this issue of The Appalachian Voice. You can pick up a copy from a newsstand near you, read the online version here or join Appalachian Voices to receive a one-year subscription in your mailbox. Questions or comments? Email voice@appvoices.org, or submit a letter to the editor!

On Capitol Hill, Appalachian citizens make the case against mountaintop removal

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 - posted by Marissa Wheeler
Appalachian citizens walk into the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency meet with officials about mountaintop removal coal mining and protecting clean water. Photo by Joanne Hill.

Appalachian citizens walk into the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency meet with officials about mountaintop removal coal mining and protecting clean water. Photo by Joanne Hill.

Last week, Appalachian Voices and Earthjustice brought a team of Appalachian residents to Washington, D.C., to lobby members of the U.S. House of Representatives to cosponsor the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1837).

The events of this lobby week — including meetings with 24 House offices, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement — paved the way for progress as we reminded our public officials that mountaintop removal is an urgent and even life-threatening issue for communities across Appalachia.

Representatives from Earthjustice also met with congressional appropriators to argue against amendments that would restrict federal agency action on mountaintop removal.

Representing five different organizations within the Alliance for Appalachia, our lobbying team sought to provide a comprehensive look at the environmental devastation and socioeconomic distress in Appalachia resulting from mountaintop removal coal mining. A representative from Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) mentioned the nearly $75 billion in annual healthcare costs attributed to coal pollution.

On the subject of unequal access to clean drinking water, one member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth pointed out that during the national coverage of the Charleston, W.Va., chemical spill in January, very few commentators asked why 300,000 people in nine different counties shared a single water system. The answer: Local wells were already contaminated by the chemical byproducts of mountaintop removal mining.

Another member of KFTC shared her opinion from more than two decades of work in surface mining regulation that the rules and standards set by state agencies simply aren’t doing enough to protect the land and water from serious damage. Further, members of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and the Coal River Mountain Watch called for federal oversight in surface mining operations in order to reduce environmental destruction and restore clean drinking water to some of the nation’s most impoverished counties and municipalities.

As a result of our lobbying efforts, five new representatives joined the Clean Water Protection Act by the end of the week, bringing the total to 91 cosponsors. These new additions to the bill were Lloyd Doggett (D-TX35), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA47), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY4), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA40), Paul Tonko (D-NY20), and Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI1). Encouraged by this success, we hope to gain even more support in the House as we continue to defend Appalachians’ right to clean water.

Acting on Climate: EPA unveils carbon rule for existing power plants

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 - posted by brian
The EPA's plan to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate. Photo licensed under Creative Commons.

The EPA’s plan to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate. Photo licensed under Creative Commons

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced a plan today to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.

The highly anticipated plan is “part of the ongoing story of energy progress in America,” McCarthy said in a rousing speech that covered the host of risks, and opportunities, that come with a changing climate. Not neglecting the significant role coal and natural gas will continue to play in America’s power sector, McCarthy said the plan “paves a more certain path forward for conventional fuels in a carbon constrained world.”

The rule provides states flexibility to meet required reductions — a framework the McCarthy says makes the plan “ambitious but also achievable.” It will likely lead to an increased reliance on less carbon-intensive fuels than coal, including natural gas and nuclear energy, which McCarthy mentioned several times during the announcement. But it should also be a precursor to unprecedented investments in clean energy, deployment of renewable energy sources and the adoption of programs to significantly improve energy efficiency nationwide.

Every American city, town and community stands to benefit from cutting carbon pollution, and Appalachia and the Southeast have abundant opportunities to move beyond both a historical over-reliance on coal, and the destructive methods used to extract it.

Act now to support a strong carbon rule that incentivizes renewable energy development and clean energy jobs for Appalachia.

“Appalachia has traditionally borne the brunt of the damage from the nation’s coal-dependent economy and is suffering the health impacts and environmental and economic devastation of mountaintop removal coal mining and related industrial practices,” said Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons.

“Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest and most equitable way to meet our energy needs while reducing carbon, and it’s a tremendous unexploited opportunity in the Southeast,” Cormons said. “Strong efficiency programs will also boost economic prosperity, creating thousands of jobs. This is especially important in many parts of Appalachia where good jobs are scarce, and lower household incomes preclude too many from the benefits an energy-efficient home.”

Charting the decline in carbon emissions from energy consumption. Graphic by  New York Times using Energy Information Administration data.

Charting the decline in carbon emissions from energy consumption. Graphic by New York Times using Energy Information Administration data

Opposition to the plan will be fierce. You’ve probably noticed that some of coal’s staunchest supporters, the National Mining Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, are already attempting to take the EPA to task for what they say will harm the economy and make little more than a dent in carbon emissions on a global scale.

The EPA is sure to be challenged in court. Luckily, the rule’s legality, in a broad sense, is almost as unambiguous as the science that compelled the Obama administration to take action in the first place.

Tell the EPA you support a strong rule to boost clean energy and cut carbon pollution.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to treat greenhouse gases as dangerous pollutants, enabling it to use the Clean Air Act to place limits on them. Then, in 2011, the high court issued a ruling in American Electric Power v. Connecticut that essentially requires the EPA to regulate carbon pollution from power plants.

Even Congress, albeit a past session, deserves a bit of credit. It was the enactment of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that gave the federal government the authority, and the responsibility, to regulate pollutants that it has determined endanger public health and welfare. So

Overall, carbon emissions in the U.S. have declined since peaking in 2007 due to many factors including an economic slump, greater energy efficiency and a growing share of electricity generation coming from natural gas, falling about 12 percent between 2005 and 2012, before climbing 2 percent last year.

But we’re still dumping billions of tons of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. And until a rule for existing plants is implemented, the nation’s fleet of more than 600 coal-fired facilities will face no cap on carbon pollution. Today’s announcement sends a strong signal that America is ready to act on climate.

Stay tuned for more of our coverage of the rule. In the meantime, read “Confronting Carbon Pollution” in The Appalachian Voice and visit Appalachian Voices’ carbon & climate pages.

We’re Back: Moral Mondays return to Raleigh

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 - posted by Roy Blumenfeld
Appalachian Voices North Carolina Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams addresses the crowd at the first Moral Monday protest.

Appalachian Voices North Carolina Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams addresses the crowd at the first Moral Monday protest.

As the North Carolina General Assembly convenes for the 2014 short session, so too have the Moral Monday protests aimed at holding the legislature accountable for its regressive agenda.

Continuing in the tradition of the protests that took place during the 2013 session, North Carolinians traveled from all ends of the state on Monday to voice their concerns about the path the state is being lead down. A crowd of thousands gathered on the Bicentennial Mall between the Legislative Building and the Capitol.

Rather than attack Governor McCrory, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger or their colleagues, the rallying call was for them to “repeal, repent, and reinstate.” Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, promised not to engage in any more civil disobedience without first giving the state leaders a chance to change their ways. The NAACP has organized a People’s Lobby Day on May 27 and plan to see how legislators respond before deciding how to proceed for the rest of the legislative session.

One issue that was front and center at the protest was the environment and the growing angst among North Carolinians was on full display. Signs about fracking, coal ash, and Duke Energy were seen throughout the crowd. Appalachian Voices’ N.C. campaign coordinator, Amy Adams, was invited to reiterate how dire the circumstances surrounding coal ash and Duke Energy’s grip on the state really are. Likening the power company’s affinity for coal to a drug addiction, Amy grabbed everyone’s attention when delivering her remarks.

Other topics various speakers touched on included public education, healthcare and voting rights. The opposition to recent policy changes has fostered the diverse coalition that was present in full force and will continue push back against future actions from North Carolina’s Republican majority.

The theme of the day was a love feast. In an illustration of what is possible through working together, everyone in the crowd was given bread by NAACP organizers. Instead of eating what was handed to them, the members of the crowd were instructed to swap the piece they had with someone standing nearby. The feast showed the power of collective action; as the entire crowd was provided for and had helped provide for each other. Following a short and inclusive prayer, everyone ate.

In the place of civil disobedience, which led to more than 900 arrests last session, Rev. Barber told the crowd that they would instead engage in direct action. Protesters placed tape over their mouths in a symbolic gesture aimed at the controversial new building rule passed last week. Lined up in twos, the protesters silently marched through the front door and out the back. Loaves of bread were left at the offices of Rep. Thom Tillis and Sen. Phil Berger. As Rev. Barber put it: “This is the first and last time I’m gonna ever be told I have to speak a certain way in the people’s house.”

EPA Proposal for Toxic Coal Pollutant Won’t Protect Clean Water

Thursday, May 15th, 2014 - posted by eric

Contact:
Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist, 828-262-1500, eric@appvoices.org
Erin Savage, Water Quality Specialist, 828-262-1500, erin@appvoices.org
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft of new national water quality standards for selenium, a toxic pollutant discharged from many mountaintop removal coal mines and coal ash ponds. Even at very low concentrations, selenium is extremely toxic to fish, causing physical deformities and reproductive failure.

EPA is proposing a more complicated system for measuring selenium. Currently, the recommended standard for selenium consists of a four-day average concentration in water of 5 parts per billion (ppb). As proposed, the new rule will primarily rely on testing for the pollutant in fish tissue, a more complex method of monitoring than stream water testing. The complexity of this new standard will make it more difficult and expensive to implement for state agencies, industries, and concerned citizens.

The new standard does include water-based testing, but increases the recommended testing period from four days to 30 days. The new standard can be adjusted for fewer days of testing, if necessary. Under that provision, the new allowable selenium concentration for a four-day time period would be seven times higher than the current standard.

A statement from Appalachian Voices Water Quality Specialist Eric Chance:

“This new selenium standard is a step backwards. The scientific community has been fairly clear for some time that the current standards were too weak, but this newly proposed standard will actually allow more selenium pollution, not less. Headwater streams below mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia, and the people who depend on that water, are going to suffer from this decision.”

“This new rule would make it almost impossible for citizens to exercise their rights under the Clean Water Act to protect waters they care about. Citizens would be required to collect seven times as many water samples as they do now, or they’d have to collect fish to analyze which generally requires a special permit.”

“Fish tissue standards are good for measuring the effects of selenium on fish but they don’t take into account effects on other species like birds, and they are nearly impossible to translate into limits on a Clean Water Act permit for a coal mine that discharges selenium. For these reasons, we are glad to see that EPA has included water-based standards as well, but they aren’t strong enough.”

EPA is collecting public comments on this proposed rule until June 13, 2014. Those wishing to submit comments can email ow-docket@epa.gov with the subject heading: “Attention Docket No. EPA–HQ–OW–2004–0019.”

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Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Knoxville, Tn. and Washington, D.C

Citizens Deliver Coal Ash Petition to Duke Energy

Friday, February 28th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg
Amy Adams of Appalachian Voices smiles as the crowd echoes her call for “No More Coal Ash!”

Amy Adams of Appalachian Voices smiles as the crowd echoes her call for “No More Coal Ash!”

Tuesday afternoon, more than 150 concerned citizens gathered at Duke Energy’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., to demand that the company take action to clean up its toxic coal ash. Coal ash, which is the byproduct of burning coal for electricity, is currently stored by Duke Energy in unlined, dangerous dams, next to vital waterways across the state.

The diverse crowd came together to deliver more than 9,000 petition signatures to Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good. The petition asks that Duke take full financial responsibility for cleaning up the devastating coal ash spill into the Dan River, and that the company agree to move the rest of its coal ash, stored in 31 ponds at 14 sites across the state, to dry,lined storage facilities away from rivers and lakes.

The event was the result of an amazing collaboration between a variety of environmental and social justice groups from the states affected by the Dan River spill — North Carolina and Virginia — as well as national interest groups. Appalachian Voices, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club collected petition signatures and planned the event along with Charlotte Environmental Action, Keeper of the Mountains, and NC Conservation Network. The official sponsors of the event also included We Love Mountain Island Lake, Democracy NC, Action NC, and NC WARN.

Chants about the importance of clean water and the dangers of coal ash opened the event. Citizens held signs with images of the massive coal ash ponds that plague North Carolina, some wore t-shirts describing the health effects of the different heavy metals found in coal ash, others carried banners and pickets, and a few drummers backed the chants.

The Green Grannies, a group of concerned women from Asheville, sang a few songs about coal ash and water, and the Reverend Nancy Hardy, from North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light said a prayer about peace and hope for change.

Amy Adams, the N.C. Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, gave a rousing speech emphasizing that the spill into the Dan River was completely preventable, and that Duke must be held accountable for the damage they have caused. Adams’ speech was received with cheers from the crowd, who eagerly echoed her call for “No More! No more coal ash in unlined ponds! No more leaks and seeps into our drinking water! No more stalling and no more excuses!”

Over 9,000 petition signatures collected by Appalachian Voices, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club asking Duke to clean up its coal ash.

Over 9,000 petition signatures collected by Appalachian Voices, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club asking Duke to clean up its coal ash.

Sara Behnke, a mother, cancer survivor, and founder of We Love Mountain Island Lake, followed Adams with a wonderful speech about her family’s experience living next to Duke’s coal ash ponds at the Riverbend Steam Station. Behnke expressed outrage that Duke’s coal ash ponds are leaking arsenic-laden water into Mountain Island Lake which supplies the drinking water for 860,000 people. Behnke drew connections between the recent chemical spill in West Virginia and the similar threat that coal ash poses to drinking water.

Following Behnke’s speech, Elise Keaton from the West Virginia Keeper of the Mountains expressed solidarity for the need for clean water in both states. Luis Rodriguez from Action NC followed by calling on Duke to pay for the Dan River cleanup without raising customers rates. Rodriguez was joined by Cora Little, a senior member of Action NC who has spoken out against Duke’s recent rate hikes.

The final event speaker was Mary Anne Hitt, the director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Hitt reiterated the need to protect North Carolina’s waterways from further coal ash pollution. She was joined by Amy and Cora to present two thick binders full of thousands of petition signatures to Duke security guards.

Although a Duke Energy representative had previously given the group permission to send three representatives into the building, a few minutes before Hitt’s speech concluded, security notified the crowd that Duke would not accept the petitions and that no one was allowed inside the company’s office.

In response, the crowd began circling in front of Duke Energy’s headquarters, chanting “Hear the voice of the people, accept the petitions now!” After about twenty minutes, as the group was beginning to disband, Hitt was about to leave the petition notebooks on the public side of the sidewalk in front of the company building, when a Duke Energy representative ran out and took the petitions inside.

While Duke Energy may have accepted the complaints of more than 9,000 people, concerned citizens, environmental groups, and social justice groups promise to be back with the same message: Duke Energy — clean up your toxic coal ash!

Bringing New Power to the Old Dominion in 2014

Friday, February 14th, 2014 - posted by hannah

By making energy efficiency a priority and investing in renewable energy sources we can bring New Power to the Old Dominion.

By making energy efficiency a priority and investing in renewable energy sources we can bring New Power to the Old Dominion.


New Power for the Old Dominion has kicked off 2014 in a strong way, hitting the road to illuminate the path toward clean energy development and engage Virginians from across the state in the movement to turn the commonwealth to cleaner energy.

In recent weeks, our New Power tour visited Front Royal, Staunton, and Christiansburg, and found overwhelming community support for safe, reliable, affordable electricity. To those who attended recent presentations, thank you for engaging in our discussion with your honest reactions and probing questions! If you belong to an organization you think would like to hear about the New Power campaign, however large or small your group is, get in touch with Hannah at hannah@appvoices.org and set up a date!

For someone like me who follows Virginia’s energy sources day in and day out, it’s exciting to unwrap and reveal the surprising truth of where Virginia gets its energy. Around Virginia, folks seem to share a belief in making electricity safer, more reliable, and more price-stable, and they want to hear more about renewable energy sources. Most people we talk with are already aware of our utilities’ current reliance on coal, but they’re often dismayed to learn that Dominion Virginia Power would keep solar and wind development at a marginal scale in Virginia for another 15 years. What I enjoy the most is painting a picture of the abundant clean energy resource potential we have in wind, solar, and energy efficiency and how local residents, businesses, universities, and counties are already proving that clean energy works here in Virginia.

Our presentations have taken place against the backdrop of recent disasters related to the fossil fuel industry — a chemical spill in West Virginia followed by a coal slurry spill and the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history in North Carolina. These calamitous events bring home the risks associated with our reliance on burning coal for electricity — from mining, to processing, transporting, burning and lastly the disposal of coal ash. Imagine if we relied as much on wind and solar as we do on coal what the worst-case scenarios might be: whoever heard of a city’s water supply polluted by a sunshine spill?

Looking ahead for the New Power for the Old Dominion campaign, we have stops in Roanoke, Winchester, Price’s Fork, and back to Front Royal, and we’re constantly adding more visits to civic groups, as well as presentations at area campuses, and discussions with church groups.

Request a presentation by emailing hannah@appvoices.org and we’ll keep the New Power tour rolling your way!

Common Sense, Nonsense, and a Climate Fight in the Making in Richmond

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Every year, a handful of pro-coal bills are introduced that perpetuate the coal industry's “war on coal” mantra. Of particular concern this year is SB 615, which seeks to undermine the EPA's authority to set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia.

Days into the legislative session, a slew of pro-coal bills have been introduced to the Virginia General Assembly, including SB 615, a bill to undermine the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia.

The 2014 session of the Virginia General Assembly is underway, and state lawmakers are wasting no time! We are tracking their activities and want to make sure you have all the information you need on several important bills coming up this session. Check back for regular updates and watch your inbox, we will be sending rapid response email alerts when important votes are coming up.

Legislation this session falls into two categories: the bright ideas that bring Virginia closer to a future of safe and reliable clean energy, and the downright crazy bills that do the opposite and must be stopped. Here is the breakdown, with a debt to the blog Power for the People for many of the details.

In Virginia, we have a voluntary goal for increasing our state’s investments in renewable energy. Increasing the state’s investment in carbon-free fuels depends on clarifying and reforming this renewable energy goal, but unfortunately that isn’t going to happen overnight. One big focus this year is the concept of “banking renewable energy certificates (RECs).” Virginia utilities purchase these certificates and apply them toward their contribution to the renewable energy goal.

Currently, the rules around this matter are lax, allowing utilities to save up their RECs indefinitely and purchase them only rarely, which defeats the program’s purpose of spurring new renewable energy development. HB 822 and SB 498 would address this problem by essentially stamping a “use by” date on RECs so that utilities have to use RECs within five years. This change would result in utilities purchasing RECs in the market more regularly, incentivizing emissions-free sources.

Energy efficiency is the cheapest way Virginia can reduce its dependence on carbon-emitting fuels. Yet electricity providers in the commonwealth offer little to no opportunity for their customers to invest in energy efficiency measures for their homes. Instead, customers are left having to do it on their own. HB 1001 would require power companies and cooperatives to adopt such programs — particularly benefiting folks with low or fixed incomes.

In addition, several proposals are being considered this session that would break down longstanding obstacles to clean energy installation. Some homeowners associations still have neighborhood rules against residents putting up solar panels, and as long as individual rules was in place before 2008, they are valid and legal. SB 222 would remove such a ban, although restrictions on size and placement would still be allowed.

Two innovative approaches to clean energy project funding are also in the works. HB 880 and SB 351 make it easier for a larger number of Virginians to put up money to crowdfund any community endeavor, including a community-owned solar project. Excitingly, HB 1158 would facilitate a grassroots approach to sharing the cost and benefits of a solar installation by allowing “virtual net metering” so the clean energy generated can be divided among participating residents, similar to a server splitting a check evenly between members of a large party.

Then there are the bad bills. Every year, a handful of pro-coal bills are introduced that perpetuate the coal industry’s “war on coal” mantra. Of particular concern is SB 615 which would cripple the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia. We are starting to see similar bills pop up around the country as part of a national effort to thwart the EPA’s plans to regulate carbon pollution. To voice our concerns about the bill, Virginians gathered in Richmond on Monday and marched for action on climate change. The march was coordinated with Virginia Conservation Network’s Annual Lobby Day, which brings citizens together to meet with their representatives on a whole host of legislation that impacts conservation, transportation and environmental issues in the commonwealth. SB 615 could come up in committee as early as this week.

Yesterday, citizen champions for clean energy and environmental protection assembled to hold briefings on the issues, visit legislator’s offices, and finally marching on Capital Square for climate solutions. Our fight isn’t confined to one day, but continues through the end of this legislative session and beyond, so keep an eye on this blog (and on your email inbox) and stay involved!

Penn Virginia Faces Legal Challenge for Toxic Water Pollution

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 - posted by eric

Community Groups Protest Coal Mining Pollution and “Bully Tactics”

Contacts:
Eric Chance, Appalachian Voices, eric@appvoices.org, 828-262-1500
Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, oliver.bernstein@sierraclub.org, 512-289-8618
Glen Besa, Virginia Sierra Club, glen.besa@sierraclub.org, 804 225-9113
Matt Hepler, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, mhepler24@gmail.com, 540 871-1564

Roanoke, Va. – Today, a coalition of citizen and environmental groups filed a legal action with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia claiming that Penn Virginia Operating Company is violating Clean Water Act protections on property that it owns that includes former coal mining sites near the town of Appalachia in Wise County, Virginia. The groups have found through their own research including open records requests that Penn Virginia is violating Clean Water Act protections by dumping toxic selenium into streams at seven locations on its property.

Penn Virginia responded to the initial notice informing the company of the coalition’s intent to sue by serving members of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) with cease and desist orders. These orders bar SAMS members from entering any Penn Virginia owned land, including land that contains members’ family cemeteries.

“This is a bully tactic and a serious insult to me and my family,” said Sam Broach, President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “Penn Virginia is using its corporate power to deny me the basic right to visit my family graveyard.”

“For too long the coal industry – including the out of state corporations that own the land and coal – has been able to get away with violating pollution standards,” said Glen Besa, Virginia Director of the Sierra Club. “This lawsuit is a message to Penn Virginia that they must obey the pollution laws or citizens will take action.”

Penn Virginia Operating Company, based out of Radnor, Pennsylvania, owns land in six states that it leases to third parties, including coal mining interests. Penn Virginia is a subsidiary of Penn Virginia Resource Partners, which is the largest single landowner in Wise County.

“Far too often, coal impacted communities are left with toxic water and depressed economies while large out of state companies make millions,” said Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist for Appalachian Voices. “Penn Virginia’s failure to address these longstanding sources of pollution shows a disregard for the health of the people, land and water of Appalachia.”

Pollution from coal mines is not limited to active surface mines. Because the ultimate source of the pollution comes from materials exposed through mining that remain on site, abandoned, and even reclaimed, mined sites continue to pollute. In many cases the owners of former mine sites do not have Clean Water Act discharge permits for these sites. Typically, these owners are large land holding companies who also own active mountaintop removal coal mining sites. Federal and state regulators typically do not monitor the discharges from these former mine sites.

The Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards are represented in this matter by Joe Lovett and Isak Howell of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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