Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Counteracting Coal’s Dirty Tricks

Friday, April 18th, 2014 - posted by tom
The coal industry is up to its old trick. But with your help, we're working to make sure they backfire.

The coal industry is up to its old trick. But with your help, we’re working to make sure they backfire.

The coal industry is up to its old tricks. But with your help, Appalachian Voices and our allies are working to make sure they backfire.

Just a month after a federal court threw out the Bush administration’s flawed 2008 stream buffer zone rule, the industry’s allies in the U.S. House passed a bill in March to reinstate this egregiously permissive rule that allows coal companies to dump mountaintop removal waste in streams with little regard for water quality impacts.

We acted quickly to undermine what symbolic success that legislation, H.R. 2824, would ultimately have. While we never expected to stop the bill from passing the unabashedly anti-environmental House, our efforts helped to narrow the margin and bridge the partisan divide that pervades Congress.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, a coalition including Appalachian Voices had Capitol Hill covered. We attended dozens of meetings to educate House members and ensure the truth about mountaintop removal was the message of the day. Sure enough, when the bill was debated on the House floor, opponents of mountaintop removal stood and spoke for the health and well-being of Appalachian communities.

We’re not going to let the coal industry take us backward by making an end-run around the court’s decision. And if this bill goes to the Senate, we’re confident that—with your help—we can defeat it. The White House even issued a veto threat, rightfully questioning why industry-backed representatives would want to “waste significant taxpayer dollars adopting a rule that has been vacated by a federal court” noting that the Office of Surface Mining is developing an updated Stream Protection Rule that it says will address the threats mining waste poses to water quality, wildlife habitat and communities downstream.

But here’s the kicker: by showing how far it’s willing to go to make mountaintop removal easy, the coal industry did its part in stoking stronger public and congressional support for clean water. Now it’s up to us to build on this support and pressure on the Obama administration to develop a Stream Protection Rule that protects Appalachian streams from mining waste.

Read Thom Kay’s blog post for a snapshot of floor speeches, both the good and bad, on H.R. 2824.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules on the “Sequel to Citizens United”

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 - posted by brian

If you weren’t recently rescued from a deserted island, you’re probably aware of role money plays in polluting our democracy, and the fact that its corrupting influence reaches issues related to energy policy and environmental protection. We even devoted an entire issue of The Appalachian Voice to the subject in 2012.

So anyone passionate about, well, anything really, should take note of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case that’s being called “the sequel to Citizens United.” Here are some of the best things we read today related to the case. But first, watch this video from last October that correctly predicts the case’s outcome:

Mother Jones has a good overview of the case and how it relates to other campaign finance laws left intact after today’s ruling. From the article:

The court’s five conservative justices all agreed that the so-called aggregate limit on the amount of money a donor can give to candidates, political action committees, and political parties is unconstitutional. In a separate opinion, conservative justice Clarence Thomas went even further, calling on the court to overrule Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 decision that concluded it was constitutional to limit contributions to candidates.

That piece also includes this strongly worded, and frankly terrifying, quote from the dissenting opinion by the court’s four liberal justices:

“Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”

For a brief explanation of what specific limits existed before today’s ruling and why those limits exist in the first place (i.e. preventing the corruption that’s happening anyway) take a look at this piece from The Washington Post written when the Supreme Court decided to hear the case. Also in The Post, Richard Hansen, a professor of law and political science, made the argument last month that blowing up aggregate limits could reduce the role outside money plays and “grease the wheels toward compromise” by strengthening party leadership.

Regardless of having a teensy chance to reduce gridlock, the McCutcheon ruling could rule out any hope for a functioning campaign finance system. ThinkProgress fears a future where donations to Republican or Democratic strongholds could be strategically redistributed to battleground states.

On the other hand, the Sierra Club says that while the Supreme Court sided with polluters and against the vast majority of Americans, the situation is far from hopeless.

In a recent poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, results showed 91 percent of respondents want elected officials to “reduce the influence of money in political elections.” Grassroots movements are emerging calling for public financing that levels the playing field and lifts up the voices of small donors. More and more Americans are demanding initiatives that pull back the curtain on political spending.

So what’s likely to happen next? The midterm elections are right around the corner, and rumored candidates come the 2016 presidential election are already testing the waters. Last fall, The Sunlight Foundation shared a fascinating look at the 1,000 donors most likely to benefit from McCutcheon and what they’ll probably do:

Our best guess is that parties and leadership committees will converge on these donors, giving roughly 1000 people a unique ability to set and limit the party agendas. Presumably, they will shift their money from super PACs to party committees because giving directly to party and leadership committees affords these donors more opportunities to talk directly to party leaders, and increases their bargaining power within the party structure.

Outraged by the court’s decision and want to get organized? Groups like Public Citizen, Common Cause,, Rootstrikers and Move to Amend are organizing rallies nationwide to speak out about the corrupting role that money plays in our political system. Find an event near you.

Still not satisfied? Head to SCOTUSblog, which covers all things Supreme Court, and comb through its extensive McCutcheon coverage.

Heroes and Hyperbole: U.S. House Passes Pro-Mountaintop Removal Bill

Monday, March 31st, 2014 - posted by thom
Speaking in opposition of H.R. 2824, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) holds a bottle of water from beneath a mountaintop removal mine, and says that ignoring the threats of mountaintop removal to clean water means "risking the health of families in mining communities in Kentucky and throughout Appalachia"

Speaking in opposition of H.R. 2824, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) holds a bottle of water polluted by mining waste, saying that ignoring the threats of mountaintop removal to clean water means “risking the health of families in mining communities in Kentucky and throughout Appalachia”

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to roll back stream protections in an effort to make it easier to dump waste from mountaintop removal mines into Appalachian streams. Given the makeup of the House right now, this comes as no surprise. But there is a silver lining.

We fought hard against this bill, because the key to preventing it from moving in the Senate and eventually becoming law was to show significant pushback from our anti-mountaintop removal allies in the House.

The bill may have passed, but the 229-192 margin is much narrower than most votes to roll back regulation in the House in recent years. We lost only nine Democrats and were happy to have seven Republicans on our side. And nine members took to the floor (including one during a previous hearing) to oppose the bill, making it clear that a vote for H.R. 2824 was a vote for mountaintop removal coal mining and against the health and well-being of Appalachian communities.

Together with our allies and the pressure from people across the country, we believe we can stop the bill from moving any further. We haven’t won yet, but the significant opposition shown on Capitol Hill last week was a step in the right direction.

The floor debate lasted for well over an hour. Below is a compilation of key quotes from Republicans and Democrats from the hour-long floor debate.

Doc Hastings (R-WA): If we do not stop the administration from implementing its new coal regulation, thousands of Americans will be out of work, and home heating costs for working middle class families will rise.

Let’s pass this legislation to protect American taxpayer dollars, to protect American jobs, and to end this administration’s reckless, wasteful rewrite by putting in place a responsible process that will allow a proper new rule to be written.

Rush Holt (D-NJ): Hospitalizations, hypertension, lung cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, increased flooding. Water with dangerous concentrations of toxic metals? Yes. That is what the science says. And the destruction of forests and streams.

These are the impacts of mountaintop removal mining that Congress should be addressing today. This is what we should be holding hearings on and writing legislation about. We should be making the protection of people and the environment of the Appalachian region our top priority and making the mining companies act responsibly, not just cheaply.

Doug Lamborn (R-CO): The legislation before us today is very simple. It would cripple the Obama administration’s war on coal by ending their unnecessary rewrite and it would require the Office of Surface Mining to implement the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule.

John Yarmuth (D-KY):
It is bad enough that children who live in mining communities color their streams orange when they draw their environment, but it is tragic that the water they drink is denying them the healthy future they deserve.

We are risking the health of families in mining communities in Kentucky and throughout Appalachia by continuing to ignore the toxic orange water that pollutes their drinking supply.

Nick Rahall (D-WV):
It is clear, at least to me, that the effort by the current administration to revise the 2008 rule is aimed at halting a mining practice that is specifically condoned by SMCRA.

Fundamentally, there is no question; this debate is about jobs. It is about good-paying jobs in West Virginia and other areas of the Appalachian region.

Mike Kelly (R-PA):
Listen, what we are doing today just makes sense. We have already run the traps on it. We have already run the tests. We have done all the metrics. Coal is good for America. Coal has always been good for America. Coal has cleaned itself up incredibly and will continue to do so. These are the most responsible people.

Jim Moran (D-VA):
The goal of this bill is to require all States to incorporate a now vacated 2008 rule that was issued in the very last days of the Bush administration and was then struck down by a U.S. Federal court. It was an eleventh-hour regulation that was designed to repeal Reagan-era protections for streams and waterways from the impacts of mountaintop mining by providing a buffer zone for waste disposal. Its vague and permissive language sets an alarmingly low bar when it comes to protecting communities and wildlife habitats near mountaintop mining operations.

Steve Scalise (R-LA):
The President continues to pursue this global warming agenda. It is snowing outside of the Capitol right now as we speak in support of this bill, and they are still talking about global warming and imposing more regulations that are killing–killing–American jobs.

Earl Blumenauer (D-OR):
People can see for themselves the devastation from mountaintop removal and the fact that we have been negligent as a country for years providing adequate protections.

Pro-Mountaintop Removal Bill Headed to House Floor

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 - posted by thom
Another bad bill: Pro-mountaintop removal legislation that would weaken protections for Appalachian streams will be considered on the House floor next week.

Another bad bill: Pro-mountaintop removal legislation that would weaken protections for Appalachian streams will be considered on the House floor next week.

It’s hard to get a good bill all the way through the legislative process to receive a vote on the House floor. Apparently it’s much easier to get a bad bill that far.

We’ve been following H.R. 2824, a bad bill sponsored by Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson, since it was in committee. The bill would force all coal mining states to adopt and enforce the flawed 2008 Stream Buffer Zone rule created under the Bush administration. That’s the same rule that was just vacated by a federal court for violating the Endangered Species Act. Regardless of the obvious flaws in both the Bush rule and the new bill, H.R. 2824 is expected to head to the House floor for a full vote sometime next week.

Contact your representative to help defeat this pro-mountaintop removal bill.

The 2008 Stream Buffer Zone rule is favored by the coal industry and opposed by environmental groups including Appalachian Voices. We are pushing the Obama administration to rewrite the rule to provide the strongest possible protections for Appalachian streams and nearby communities.

In an odd twist of party politics, most Democrats are fighting for the enforcement of a 1983 Reagan-era stream protection rule, which is much stronger rule than the Bush rule, while most Republicans are fighting to get rid of the older, but more effective rule. And Republicans are pushing a bill that would force coal mining states to adopt a federal rule, while Democrats are fighting to protect each state’s right to continue enforcing their own stream protections.

This fight is about mountaintop removal, coal mining pollution and how those threats are regulated. Rep. Johnson and his allies want minimal regulations (though even the bill’s co-sponsors don’t seem to understand that coal pollution is real), and opponents of the bill want to protect the environment and Appalachian communities from mountaintop removal.

There is good news. We’re fighting the bill in the House, trying to stop the bill’s momentum. It’ll likely pass the House, but the margin does matter. If we can dredge up enough opposition, the Senate will be disinclined to touch it. We also have a veto threat from the White House, and those hold a whole lot of weight.

Help us get your House representative to oppose the bill and give us the best chance to defeat it.

There are already members of congress across the country who are on our side. Watch Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida speak in opposition to H.R. 2824 during a rules hearing on the House floor recently.

Take action to help defeat this anti-environmental bill. Learn more about our work to end mountaintop removal.

With Important Energy Efficiency Programs Intact, Farm Bill Awaits Obama’s Signature

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 - posted by brian
It might be flawed, but the Farm Bill waiting for President Obama’s signature can go far in helping to expand energy efficiency in rural communities. Flickr Creative Commons: Scott Butner

It might be flawed, but the Farm Bill waiting for President Obama’s signature can go far in helping to expand energy efficiency in rural communities. Flickr Creative Commons: Scott Butner

On Monday, the U.S. Senate passed the version of the Farm Bill sent to it by the House a week ago. The rare compromise by Congress ends a 17-month impasse and will support “the continued global leadership of our farmers and ranchers,” according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The bill designates funding over the next 10 years for farm subsidies, crop insurance, and nutrition and conservation programs. But it also contains lesser-known, and exceedingly important, programs to support energy efficiency in rural communities across the country.

Funding under the bill’s Energy Title — largely for biofuels, but also to support renewable energy and energy efficiency — only represents around $1 billion of the nearly $1 trillion bill. Still, energy efficiency advocates and groups such as the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association are celebrating the Farm Bill’s passage alongside farmers and the agricultural communities they serve.

“Cooperatives serve 93 percent of the nation’s ‘persistent poverty counties’ and see firsthand the need for the rural economic development programs contained in this bill,” NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson said in a statement on the association’s website.

For one, the bill authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy Savings Program to distribute up to $75 million in zero-interest loans for energy efficiency for each of the next five years.

The program is specifically intended to help rural co-ops create “on-bill financing” loan programs. Last year, we launched our Energy Savings for Appalachia program to shepherd the development and implementation of these programs in our region.

Through the Rural Energy Savings Program, co-ops can obtain federal dollars, which they can then pass on to their customers to invest in efficiency retrofits and updates. Borrowers will gradually pay loans back through charges on their electric bill that are less than their overall savings.

On-bill financing programs have proven successful in Kentucky, South Carolina, Kansas and other states, and co-ops have been advocating for a federal loan program for several years. In December 2013, the USDA announced its Energy Efficiency Conservation and Program, which did not require Congress’s approval.

Expectedly, not everyone is happy with the Farm Bill. Hunger groups are condemning cuts to foods stamps and changes in the eligibility requirements for food assistance programs. The notoriously picky meat industry is opposed to mandatory “country of origin labeling” rules, and too many to count are criticizing the way the bill overhauls farm subsidies.

“The farm bill isn’t perfect,” Obama said in a statement, “but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America’s food, but for our nation.”

We know that energy efficiency can grow rural communities. So even though the Farm Bill may not be perfect, “a positive difference” and stable funding for efficiency programs mean a lot.

Click here to learn more about Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia program, and find out what energy efficiency programs your electric provider offers using our Energy Savings Action Center.

Former Coal Regulator Shows How Little He Knows About Coal Regulation

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 - posted by thom

A proud former coal regulator should know that miles of Appalachian streams have been buried in mountaintop removal waste. But North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer claims dumping mining waste into streams is illegal.

One might assume that the House Natural Resources committee would be tired of holding hearings on the Stream Buffer Zone Rule after the fifth or sixth time, especially since the rule has yet to be introduced. But one would be mistaken. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the GOP-led committee is sure they are on to something.

Last Thursday’s hearing provided an opportunity for the committee members to question Robert Knox of the Office of the Inspector General on its recent report concerning the Office of Surface Mining and their rewrite of the Stream Buffer Zone.

The Inspector General’s office basically found that there was nothing to find. OSM is rewriting the rule and politics have not influenced job estimates. As could be expected, the thorough and public report released before the hearing provided the same information that Knox provided at the hearing, and, as could be expected, the Republicans on the committee are still not satisfied. They want a scandal, and by jove, they’ll get one, evidence be damned.

The hearing did provide one enlightening moment: North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He was, as he put it, a “coal regulator” in North Dakota for ten years. Yet he believes, and smugly pointed out to his colleagues on the committee, that current stream protections are sufficient and dumping mining waste into streams is illegal.

To be clear, more than 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried or poisoned by the valley fills associated with mountaintop removal mining. The 2008 rewrite of the Stream Buffer Zone and the Bush fill rule of 2002, both allowed for increased dumping of mining waste into intermittent and ephemeral streams.

It’s not fair to expect each member of congress to be an expert on every issue, but a former coal regulator should know this stuff. Watch Cramer attempt to make the case that his colleagues and the millions of Americans concerned about mining wastes impacts on streams are worked up over nothing.

Rep. Morgan Griffith Proudly Accomplishes Nothing

Friday, December 6th, 2013 - posted by thom
"I don't want to mislead anyone, I don't think it will pass in the Senate and maybe not the House," Virginia Rep. Morgan Griffith said of his bill, the latest futile attack on the EPA, which would to force the agency to layoff 15 percent of its employees.

“I don’t want to mislead anyone, I don’t think it will pass in the Senate and maybe not the House,” Virginia Rep. Morgan Griffith said of his bill, the latest futile attack on the EPA, which would to force the agency to layoff 15 percent of its employees.

Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA) introduced a new bill this week titled the “EPA Maximum Achievable Contraction of Technocrats Act,” or “EPA MACT Act.”

The bill would require the EPA to layoff 15 percent of its employees. The title of the bill is a play on words, referring to EPA’s Utility MACT rule, which would drastically reduce air pollution in the United States. Because if there’s one thing that makes a good piece of federal legislation, it’s a title that pokes fun at pollution controls.

The bill would reduce employment at EPA over a three-year period, though no rate of contraction would be mandated over that time period. It also includes a long “Findings” section full of disjointed talking points that are seemingly meant to explain the need for staff cuts. Griffith uses the fact that 95 percent of the EPA’s employees were deemed ‘non-essential’” during the government shutdown to justify the reductions and makes the trivial point that “the EPA occupies space in fourteen different buildings in the District of Columbia.”

The 5 Worst Political Lies in Support of Mountaintop Removal

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 - posted by thom

Part 5 in a 5 part series

Lie 5: Energy Security. The United States does not need mountaintop removal for our energy security. In fact, mountaintop removal likely provides no more than 3.5 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Lie 5: Energy Security. The United States does not need mountaintop removal for our energy security. In fact, mountaintop removal likely provides no more than 3.5 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Lie 5: Mountaintop removal mining is necessary for our nation’s energy security.

While coal is in perpetual decline, more than one-third of America’s electricity still comes from the fossil fuel. It is on this premise that supporters of mountaintop removal stand when arguing that the practice is necessary for our nation’s energy security. But in order to go from that first point to their conclusion anyone arguing for mountaintop removal has to ignore quite a few facts along the way.

“Energy security,” in this case, is a somewhat vague term. An unrealistic argument indicates that, without mining coal in the U.S., we’ll be without electricity. A more realistic argument states that if we don’t mine coal in the U.S., we’ll have to buy coal from other countries like Russia or China. In either case, the argument is based on a potent concoction of misinformation and fear tactics.

Tenn Tuesday! Spotlight on Shaheen-Portman Energy Savings Act

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 - posted by jw

Making 120 Energy Efficiency Amendments SEXY…

We’re going to do something a little different today by focusing on a specific piece of federal legislation currently before the U.S. Senate called the “Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act” (S 1392).

This bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) is the first significant energy bill to see the floor of the Senate since 2007, which President George W. Bush eventually signed into law as the Energy Independence and Security Act.

The Shaheen-Portman legislation (S. 1392) is not only an extremely exciting bill for Appalachian Voices and for our fellow advocates of energy efficiency, but it already has strong bipartisan support. The bill focuses on improvements in three main areas; 1) building codes, 2) industrial energy efficiency, and 3) energy improvements to federal facilities. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has MUCH more in “White Paper” form.

Energy Efficiency is pretty non-controversial, obviously, and we celebrated as the bill sailed through the Senate Energy Committee by a vote of 19-3. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander was one of the many Republicans to join his Democratic colleagues in taking a positive step for our energy future, our economy and the environment.

Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth Joins Influential Energy and Commerce Committee

Friday, September 20th, 2013 - posted by brian
A champion in the fight to end mountaintop removal, Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth is joining the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

A champion in the fight to end mountaintop removal, Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth is joining the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth joined the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce this week, putting him in the middle of debates concerning environmental and energy policy.

The committee will also oversee the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Yarmuth voted for Obamacare, and has been its lone defender in Kentucky’s federal delegation.

Yarmuth is filling the vacancy on the committee left by former Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who was recently elected to the U.S. Senate.

The panel’s ranking Democratic member, California Rep. Henry Waxman, proposed that Yarmuth serve on Energy and Power Subcommittee, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, and the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee.

For years, Yarmuth has been a leader in the fight to end mountaintop removal coal mining. And as a Democrat from an Appalachian coal-mining state his voice is especially meaningful. Yarmuth has been a primary sponsor of the Clean Water Protection Act in previous sessions of congress and is currently a cosponsor on the bill.