Posts Tagged ‘energy’
Urge your utility provider to provide debt-free energy efficiency financing for your community.
On a sweltering day earlier this month, several residents of North Carolina’s High Country packed into cars and made what for some is a one-hour trip to the annual membership meeting of their rural electric cooperative.
The reason? To tell the Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation (BRE) Board of Directors they want incentives to improve their homes’ energy efficiency, specifically, though an “on-bill” financing loan program.
While this may sound too boring to encourage anyone to take hours out of their day to address the co-op board, the benefits of such a program are so exciting that they warranted the trip.
On-bill financing is a type of loan offered by utilities that pays for energy efficiency upgrades with no upfront cost to the homeowner or renter, making these improvements accessible to people of any income level. Loan recipients receive immediate savings on their electric bill after the upgrades, which may include insulation or air duct sealing. A portion of that monthly savings goes directly to the resident and the rest goes to the utility to pay back the cost of the upgrades.
These programs are designed so that no money ever comes out-of-pocket for the residents, who not only see immediate savings but also immediate improvements in the comfort of their homes and often their health. When all the upgrades are paid for (usually in five to ten years), the resident can see as much as a 40 percent reduction in their average monthly electric bill. Further, on-bill finance programs have substantial positive impacts for local economies and job creation.
The folks from North Carolina who traveled to BRE’s annual meeting wanted to advocate for these benefits. Mary Ruble, who, like almost anyone, could benefit from an on-bill financing program, spoke to the BRE board. She is hopeful that members will become more engaged so they too can voice the need for energy efficiency programs like on-bill financing.
“I know for myself I never really understood I was a member. It was just an electric bill,” she reflected.
Marisa Schor, another BRE member, spoke about being a renter and her limited ability to improve her home’s energy efficiency. “I can’t do anything about the insulation quality or efficiency of the heating system — I’m barely allowed to put nail holes in my walls,” Schor told the board.
Schor believes on-bill financing is part of the solution for her situation and for other renters. “What this program would do, however, is make it easy and convenient for landlords to increase the energy efficiency of their rental units,” said Schor. “As a tenant, this program would allow me the opportunity to easily reduce my energy consumption and would provide me with an easy, convenient and sustainable way to save money on my electric bill.”
BRE’s CEO Doug Johnson responded after each comment and assured the members that the co-op is seriously considering adopting an on-bill financing program for their members. In a press release after the meeting, Johnson stated publicly for the first time: “As we evolve into the utility of the future, key areas we are studying for programs to offer to members include renewables, more energy efficiency options, peak demand management, and a home weatherization/conservation program.”
Listen to a recorded presentation by Johnson here.
Electric co-op customers are actually members who own equal shares in the company and have the ability to significantly influence co-op decisions and direction. Appalachian Voices is working in western North Carolina and northeast Tennessee to connect folks with their electric co-ops and help them advocate for energy efficiency programs like on-bill financing.
This is especially important in the Southeast, where almost half of all co-op customers in the U.S. reside. The Southeast also accounts for almost half of electric co-op sales in the nation, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As electric co-op members continue to speak up — as in the case of BRE co-op in North Carolina’s High Country — demand will grow for on-bill financing and other energy efficiency programs.
Visit Appalachian Voices’ Energy Action Center to learn more, and take action now!
Residents spend three times national average on energy bills
Rory McIlmoil, Energy Policy Director, 828-262-1500, email@example.com
Sarah Kellogg, North Carolina Field Organizer, 828-262-1500, firstname.lastname@example.org
Boone, N.C. — In announcing the three winners of its “High Country Home Energy Makeover Contest” today, Appalachian Voices said that the need for residential energy efficiency improvements in one of the poorest areas of the state is even greater than originally believed.
Nearly 70 residents of the High Country entered the contest, launched in October by Appalachian Voices, a regional nonprofit conservation organization based in Boone. Key information about household income, energy use and expenses, and basic information about the applicants’ homes was provided. Based on the submitted information, Appalachian Voices found that the average applicant spent more than 8% of his or her monthly income on electricity and gas between November 2013 and October 2014—nearly three times the national average of 2.7% reported by the Federal Energy Information Administration. A preliminary analysis had indicated that people in this area pay an average of 3.9% of their income on their energy bill. In addition, the contest revealed that more than a quarter of applicants spent 15% or more of their income on energy bills.
“While we are extremely glad that we can help these three families lower their energy costs and make their homes more comfortable this winter, there are thousands of homes in this area that are in dire need of fundamental improvements like insulation and weatherization,” said Rory McIlmoil, Energy Policy Director. “Energy costs can be a huge burden for families and are especially burdensome given the average poverty rate of 23% in this region.”
Appalachian Voices targeted the contest to the service territory of Blue Ridge Electric (BRE) Membership Corp.—generally, Alleghany, Ashe, Caldwell and Watauga counties, and parts of Avery, Alexander and Wilkes counties. BRE is the sixth largest of the 26 electric membership cooperatives in the state. In addition to providing the winners a combined total of $4,850 worth of home improvements to help lower their energy costs, the contest was aimed at generating public support for BRE to offer loans to its members that pay for home energy efficiency upgrades and are paid back by a portion of the money they save each month on their electric bills, with the remainder of the savings benefiting the participating members. Such “on-bill financing” programs have been extremely successful in other places, including in areas of North Carolina served by electric co-ops.
“If BRE offered this financing, and just 1% of its members took out a $7,500 loan, that would translate into roughly $4.7 million in local investment and 70 jobs created for this area,” McIlmoil said. “But more importantly, it would help improve the quality of life and reduce energy costs for people, alleviating the impacts of the high level of poverty we see in the region.”
NOTE TO EDITORS: Contact Sarah Kellogg to arrange interviews with the winners; see here for more information and pictures of the winners.
The grand prize winner, Zachary Dixon of Boone, heats his house with space heaters and chronically struggles to pay his electricity bill. His power has been cut off by BRE twice this winter due to overdrawing his pre-paid account. “I just don’t want to be freezing anymore,” he said. “There’ve been times when I don’t want to get out of bed and be in the cold. I never realized how much heat I’ve been losing.” Mr. Dixon’s prize will cover more than $3,000 in insulation for the floors and attic, and weatherization throughout the house to seal in heat and reduce his electricity use.
Runner-up Vance Woodie and his wife Thelma heat their turn-of-the-century home in West Jefferson with an oil furnace, but the old ducts have not been replaced and draw cold air from the basement, which also causes problems with air quality in their home. “I guess that’s why the dust still comes thick in the house,” Mr. Woodie said. The elderly couple shuts off part of their house in the winter, but they still spend 16% of their income on energy bills. “We needed something, some kind of help, so we took a chance.” They will receive $800 worth of work to remove and seal off the old air ducts, as well as adding insulation where possible.
The other runner-up, Sean Dunlap, lives with his wife and two children in a 1938 farm house in Sugar Grove built by his wife’s great-grandfather. Their $800 prize money will cover adding insulation and weatherization, the lack of which places their plumbing at risk and results in a cold home in the winter. “We are so excited to find out that we won,” said Mr. Dunlap. “Now our work with Appalachian Voices will continue as we upgrade our house. Their professionalism and expertise have already made a huge difference and now we are able to look forward to making our home more efficient, comfortable and livable for our family.”
“An on-bill energy efficiency financing program would allow households in our area to make tremendous reductions in their energy consumption instead of continuing to burn money by heating inefficient homes year after year,” said John Kidda, President of reNew Home, Inc., a Boone-based home energy improvement company. “Such a program would also stimulate the recovering construction and home improvement industries, putting more money in the hands of local tradespeople and creating jobs in the process.”
The work will be performed by one or more of the five local businesses that have sponsored or supported the contest and volunteered their time throughout the process. They include Blue Ridge Energy Works, LLC, High Country Energy Solutions, Inc., HomEfficient, reNew Home, Inc., and Sunny Day Homes, Inc.
The contest was also sponsored by the Blumenthal Foundation, LifeStore Insurance and ResiSpeak. The North Carolina Energy Efficiency Alliance provided home walk-through assessments and energy audits. Appalachian Voices extends its deepest gratitude to each of the businesses and organizations for their support.
More information about Blue Ridge Electric and the benefits of energy efficiency programs can be found at http://appvoices.org/press/energycontest/.
John Kidda, reNew Home, Inc., can be reached at (828) 719-5057.
Appalachian Voices is a nonprofit organization that brings people together to protect the communities and natural resources of the region by promoting a shift from harmful, polluting energy practices, including mountaintop removal coal mining, to a cleaner, more just and sustainable energy future. With 23 staff in offices in Boone and Raleigh, N.C., and Charlottesville, Va., Appalachian Voices works at the local, state and federal level, focusing on grassroots organizing and policy reform.
By Brian Sewell
The energy industry’s record of overestimating electricity price spikes as a result of pollution controls dates back 40 years, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. As a result of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, the Edison Electric Institute, an association of investor-owned utilities, estimated double-digit rate increases for most states between 1990 and 2009 with the largest spikes occurring in coal-dependent states. Nationally, predictions by the group were off by an average of 16 percent. In the 10 states most dependent on coal-fired electricity, the group overestimated by an average of 24 percent.
As industry groups attempt to deter carbon regulations with forecasts of soaring energy prices, the report’s authors, Daniel J. Weiss and Miranda Peterson, write that it is imperative that public officials and the media question those claims “even if they have an ‘expert study’ that purports to ‘prove’ them.”
Methane Leaks Complicate Natural Gas Reputation
Methane leaked during natural gas production could undermine the resource’s reputation as a “bridge” from fossil fuels to cleaner energy, according to a study published in Science. The study concludes that leaked methane — a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide — negates the benefits of switching from diesel to natural gas in the transportation sector, despite the fact gas produces 30 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than diesel. Even factoring in emissions from leaked methane, however, switching from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution, to natural gas-fired power plants will lower climate-changing emissions overall.
Supreme Court Rejects Spruce Mine Case
The U.S. Supreme Court says it won’t consider a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to veto mountaintop removal permits. Arch Coal, which owns Spruce Mine, petitioned the high court to hear the case after an appeals court sided with the EPA last year. In 2007, Arch subsidiary Mingo Logan was granted permits by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discharge mining waste into streams surrounding its Spruce Mine in West Virginia, but the EPA vetoed those permits in 2011 after determining the discharges would cause unacceptable harm to water quality and wildlife. Arch Coal claims the EPA overstepped its authority by retroactively vetoing permits.
Duke Energy Plans to Devalue N.C. Renewable Energy
Duke Energy says it wants to reduce the amount it pays North Carolina households with rooftop solar for feeding excess electricity into the grid. Under an existing policy, ratepayers that produce solar energy are paid the full retail price for electricity they send out to the grid — about 11 cents per kilowatt hour in North Carolina. But federal law only requires electric utilities to pay residential solar producers the amount it costs to generate their own power, which in Duke’s case is less than 7 cents a kilowatt hour.
The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association and local solar companies argue that Duke — the largest electric utility in the country — is using its market dominance to diminish the demand for solar in North Carolina.
Kentucky-India Coal Export Deal Stalls
In 2012, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear boasted about a $7 billion deal that would send 9 million tons of Appalachian coal to India each year for 25 years, calling the partnership “a great example of a new market for Kentucky resources.” But a year and a half later, the agreement appears to have stalled.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, those involved with the deal aren’t sure when shipments will start or where the deal even stands, citing global shifts in the market for coal. The state reported in early February that eastern Kentucky lost 2,232 coal-related jobs in 2013.
By Brian Sewell
Even as residential energy efficiency improves, the impact of home energy costs on low-income families in the Southeast has become more severe since the turn of the century, according to a report by Appalachian Voices.
The report, titled “Poverty and the Burden of Electricity Costs in the Southeast,” found that in 2001 the average southern family spent an estimated $1,500 on energy. By 2009, average energy costs had increased to more than $2,000.
“As the U.S. marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, it’s clear we have a long way to go to truly move the region’s most disadvantaged communities forward, and electric utilities should play a key role in making that happen,” says McIlmoil.
The report claims that rising energy costs can be alleviated if utilities offer their residential customers “on-bill” financing loan programs to make their homes more energy efficient. These programs, which have been successful in states including South Carolina and Kentucky, allow the homeowner to repay a loan over time through installments on their electric bill, while saving money in the short term as they use less electricity.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy also emphasizes the role energy efficiency plays in reducing electricity demand and overall consumption. As recently as the 1990s, electricity sales in the U.S. were growing more than 2 percent annually, but according to the ACEEE, energy efficiency programs and policies have helped reverse that trend over the last decade.
Despite the proven benefits of energy efficiency, however, many power providers across the southeastern United States do not offer efficiency financing options, and upfront costs to make efficiency improvements remain a significant barrier to low-income families.
A small percentage of utilities in the Southeast, particularly large investor-owned utilities, offer comprehensive loan programs. But according to McIlmoil, only one out of eight residents in the region has access to financing for home energy efficiency.
Appalachian Voices, the organization that publishes The Appalachian Voice, initiated its Energy Savings for Appalachia program in 2013 to shepherd the development of on-bill loan programs through rural electric membership cooperatives while building a broad movement to expand and promote the benefits of energy efficiency.
Learn more at appvoices.org/saveenergy
By Brian Sewell
The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement announced on Dec. 30 that it will investigate West Virginia’s surface coal mining regulatory program.
The announcement comes six months after the Citizen Action for Real Enforcement campaign — a coalition of 18 state and national organizations — held a press conference and delivered a nearly 100-page petition to the OSM’s Charleston, W.Va., office. The petition alleges that the state’s chronic failure to enforce the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 demands federal intervention.
Of the 19 complaints included in the petition, OSM will investigate five, including flooding caused by runoff, surface mining law violations on sites where Clean Water Act violations exist, and parts of the state’s reclamation program.
Criticism of inadequate regulation at the state level escalated after the coal-processing chemical spill by Freedom Industries left 300,000 West Virginians without safe water. The groups have drawn attention to the spill to strengthen their case against the DEP.
A petition on MoveOn.org by the CARE Campaign to the Office of Surface Mining demanding an enforcement program “that is accountable to the people of West Virginia” had more than 28,000 signatures at the end of January.
Southeastern States May Need to Reduce Air Pollution
By Kimber Ray
The Supreme Court heard arguments this past December on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, a case that has been debated for more than two years.
The challenges of addressing interstate air pollution have confounded regulators for decades. Due to natural wind patterns, pollution from upwind states — particularly Rust Belt and Appalachian states — typically blows downwind into the Northeast, where it results in federal air pollution fines and rising healthcare costs.
The rule seeks to address the fact that downwind states have needed to install more expensive pollution controls than upwind states in order to deal with their neighbors’ wind-borne pollution. Federal regulations would be based on cost-effectiveness rather than measured contribution to pollution. This would allow the EPA to impose regulations on upwind state industries where control mechanisms may cost less than $500 per ton of pollution, versus upwards of $10,000 in downwind states.
Although a federal appeals court ruled in 2012 that a cost-based approach to regulation exceeded the authority of the EPA, the Supreme Court is reconsidering the case in light of the complexity of interstate air pollution. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal reported that the court appears inclined to rule in favor of the EPA. A final decision is expected in June.
Municipal Water To Reach Most Families Along Mill Creek
By Molly Moore
The 94 families living along Mill Creek in Letcher County, Ky., have gone years without safe water for drinking or household use due to water pollution from poorly reclaimed coal mines. Due to persistence on the part of local activists, however, 70 families now have municipal water and another 23 are slated to receive water lines.
Elaine Tanner, a resident at Mill Creek, has been meeting with state and federal officials for 10 years in her push to get clean water to the area. Water testing by the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth revealed illegally high levels of arsenic and other toxins in residents’ wells.
Tanner and allies filed a petition for new funding under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in February 2013. Despite the progress, one residence on the other side of a railroad route was not included in the recent arrangement so Tanner is continuing the effort.
On Aug. 27, Appalachian Voices and our partners in the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition launched “New Power for the Old Dominion,” a statewide campaign to bring smart energy choices to Virginia. The campaign will organize citizens to urge electric providers, energy policy officials and state lawmakers to increase investment in cleaner energy generation, ultimately creating jobs and protecting the natural resources of the state.
The campaign kickoff included the release of a report offering an alternative to Dominion Virginia Power’s 15-year plan, which relies on new fossil fuel generation while ignoring the vast potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy in Virginia.
“Dominion is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and with its preferred resource plan, will continue to remain so for the indefinite future,” says David Schlissel, the lead author of the report.
The case for new power in Virginia could not be clearer. As coal companies that use mountaintop removal mining practices and utility companies that burn coal pass the costs of their pollution on to nearby communities, they also lobby against proposed improvements to the state’s outdated energy policy. Due in part to air pollution from coal-fired power plants, Richmond was named the asthma capital of America by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
The New Power report shows that there is significant potential for clean energy in Virginia. Among other findings is that opting for a plan that adds almost 4,000 megawatts of renewable energy and conserves nearly 3,000 megawatts through energy efficiency would cost between $633 million and $1.78 billion less than Dominion’s current plan to build two natural gas plants.
To educate citizens about the benefits of clean energy, the campaign includes a series of presentations given around the state and a petition to state lawmakers and the state corporation commission, which sets Virginia’s energy policy.
“All the pieces are in place except the political will,” says Kate Rooth, Appalachian Voices’ campaign director. “That’s where the New Power for the Old Dominion campaign will make a difference, in growing a statewide citizen movement to press our leaders to make this a reality.”
New Power for the Old Dominion is the next chapter of years of successful organizing in Virginia. Member groups of the Wise Energy Coalition have defeated a 1,500-megawatt coal plant in Hampton Roads that would have consumed massive amounts of mountaintop-removal-mined coal in 2012, and prevented a 1,200-acre mountaintop removal mine atop Ison Rock Ridge in Wise County.
Read the New Power report and learn how to organize a presentation in your community at newpower4va.org.
By Brian Sewell
Since being introduced to the Senate in July, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, also known as Shaheen-Portman (S. 1392), promised to be the first major energy bill passed by the Senate in more than six years. Hours after debate began on the bill, however, that possibility diminished with the addition of each unrelated amendment.
Shaheen-Portman is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that focuses on improving energy efficiency throughout the industrial sector and the federal government.
On Sept.18, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the bill would not move forward if lawmakers were unable to agree on narrowing down the dozens of amendments, some related, others not, that were added to the bill.
The most controversial amendments, sought by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republicans senators were attempts to delay provisions of Obamacare. Others would prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions or declare the Keystone XL pipeline to be in America’s national interest.
Of the more than 100 amendments proposed to Shaheen-Portman after it passed in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, several dozen were completely unrelated to energy or environmental or agricultural issues.
“No one was in opposition to the bill,” Rob Mosher, director of government relations at the Alliance to Save Energy, told Greentech Media. “It had broad political and stakeholder support, and there wasn’t any objection to the underlying bill.”
At press time, Reid had all but pulled the bill, saying “We’ll work on matters to craft a way forward on this bill, perhaps, or we may have to take the bill down.”
The bill’s supporters say that several proposed amendments could have increased its benefits by extending incentives to nonprofits who own their buildings, and allowing states and other entities to receive Department of Energy grants for energy efficiency upgrades in residential buildings.
“I’m disappointed that a small group of senators have delayed action on a bipartisan effort to create jobs, lower pollution, and save taxpayers money,” Sen. Shaheen said in a statement. “Shaheen-Portman is a bipartisan bill with an unprecedented amount of support because people from across the political spectrum agree that it is good for our economy and our environment.”
The bill has received support from a broad range of groups including environmental organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers — the largest industrial trade association in the country. The most outspoken detractors of the bill are The Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity.
While it’s possible that Shaheen-Portman could come back up for consideration after yet another budget battle between Congress and President Obama, the chances of it passing this session have decreased substantially.
First Utility-Scale Solar Projects Proposed in West Virginia
By Brian Sewell
Solar Thin Films Inc., a New York-based company, recently announced a contract to develop up to 35 megawatts of solar capacity in West Virginia. Through an agreement with property owner Tri-State Solar, the solar developer plans to install three sites in Alderson, Crawley and Fayetteville.
Tri-State Solar, a West Virginia company formed by a former coal operator, is in the process of obtaining financing for the projects, and is preparing each property for the installation of the solar panels. According to a Solar Thin press release, the company is assisting Tri-State in finding a local utility to buy the electricity generated by the solar fields.
Solar Thin Films expects all three solar projects to be completed by fall 2014, with plans to begin installation before the end of 2013.
While solar power currently accounts for just one percent of electricity in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, installed solar capacity nationwide is projected to grow by 81 percent this year.
State-Level Policies Provide Vital Support to Wind and Solar Industries
By Kimber Ray
A report released in July by the U.S. Department of Agriculture highlights the role of state-level policies in supporting renewable energy. By examining the factors that influence whether or not a farm adopts wind or solar energy, the report aims to help states form effective renewable energy policies.
State characteristics related to using more renewable energy included an abundance of organic farmland, high rates of Internet connection, and expensive conventional electricity. Farmers located far away from the electric grid also favor renewable energy due to its convenience. Financial incentives such as rebates, grants and tax credits did not seem to lead to more renewable energy use.
The strongest predictor of whether or not a farm would have renewable energy was the existence of state “renewable energy targets.” These are mandatory goals established by the state government which require utility companies to generate a portion of their electricity from sources like wind or solar. Farmers have been especially vocal advocates of renewable energy targets because of the profit potential from leasing their rural land to renewable energy projects.
Dominion Power Wins Federal Offshore Wind Auction
By Nolen Nychay
Dominion Virginia Power won a September auction for a tract that experts estimate has 2,000-plus megawatts of wind-energy potential. The $1.6 million bid purchased 112,800 acres along Virginia’s coastline that, if developed, could power over 700,000 homes.
Dominion’s winning bid, however, may not be a victory for the wind industry, according to Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “For a cheap price, they’re able to bask in the glow of perceived greenness and prevent another company from grabbing the mantle of offshore wind,” Tidwell told The Washington Post.
Filed on August 30, a week before the utility won the auction, Dominion’s 15-year plan states that a two-turbine “demonstration project” is the only offshore wind installation currently intended for the newly acquired tract. “Actual construction of larger facilities must await technological advances that would reduce costs,” the utility’s plan states.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, despite more than four million megawatts of total offshore wind potential, the United States currently has installed only one 20-kilowatt turbine to date, enough to power just a few homes, off the coast of Maine.
By Brian Sewell
While battles over mountaintop removal permits reach their boiling point and lawsuits are filed and settled, new research revealing the environmental costs continues to pile up.
In September, a study by Duke University, Kent State University and the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies compared the environmental toll of mountaintop removal to the economic benefits of coal as an energy source.
Considering the impacts of mountaintop removal on the health of Appalachian ecosystems, the study concludes that tremendous environmental capital is being spent to achieve what are only modest energy gains.
“While the scientific community has adequately demonstrated the severity of surface mining impacts,” writes Brian D. Lutz, the study’s lead author, “considerably less attention has been placed on understanding the extent of these environmental impacts and in providing the metrics necessary to compare these environmental costs to the obvious economic benefits of coal.”
To meet current U.S. coal demand through surface mining, the study found that an area the size of Washington, D.C., would need to be mined in Central Appalachia every 81 days.
Earlier this year, a report by researchers from the University of Kentucky and the University of California found that mountaintop removal could turn Appalachia from a carbon sink, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, to a carbon source in the next 12 to 20 years.
The new study further considers mountaintop removal’s contribution to an increasingly unstable climate. Based on the carbon sequestration potential of Appalachian ecosystems, researchers found it could take 5,000 years for 100 acres of reclaimed mines to sequester the carbon released from combustion of the coal removed from the same area.
Lutz’s study did not focus on the increased health risks faced by communities closest to mountaintop removal mines documented by more than two dozen studies. Despite the coal industry’s attempts to discredit the research, environmental advocates have used the conclusions to make their case in court.
Taking Coal to Court
Across Appalachia, environmental advocates and residents are challenging mountaintop removal coal mining companies in court. The variety of outcomes and legal actions reflect widespread opposition to the consequences of the practice.
Protecting a Family Cemetery
In Boone County, W.Va., residents are suing Appalachian coal mining giant Alpha Natural Resources to repair and protect the Jarrell Family Cemetery from being further damaged by the Twilight Surface Mine complex that surrounds the plot.
“I don’t know why anybody would want to be buried here now,” plaintiff Dustin White said to The State Journal. “You’re being buried in the middle of a construction zone basically with heavy explosives going off around you. I don’t know how anybody can rest in peace anymore.”
Jarrell family members hope to win a permanent entrance to the cemetery, and the right to visit their ancestors when they choose without an escort from Alpha or the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
An Appeal for Community Health
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Sierra Club are appealing an Aug. 23 court decision that said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency which issues permits for mountaintop removal, is not required to weigh the cumulative health impact of an entire mining operation.
In their arguments before the court, KFTC and the Sierra Club cited the growing research that has found a relationship between surface mines and health problems among nearby residents. Attorneys for Leeco Inc., a subsidiary of James River Coal, argued that the studies have not proven that mining is a direct cause of health problems.
Two weeks after the initial decision in the case, U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell directed the Corps of Engineers to temporarily suspend a permit for the contested 756-acre Stacy Branch mine in Knott and Perry counties.
Members of KFTC celebrated the decision to temporarily stop the Stacy Branch mine, saying a possible appeals victory would be fruitless if the court had allowed mining to proceed.
Closures on the Cumberland Plateau
In Tennessee, one of the state’s most prominent and unpopular mountaintop removal mines is being forced to close after a two-year legal action filed by the Sierra Club, Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment and the Tennessee Clean Water Network. The lawsuit alleged that National Coal repeatedly violated the Clean Water Act at the Zeb Mountain mine.
The agreement does not automatically prevent another coal company from attempting to mine Zeb Mountain in the future. “But if they do,” Tennessee Clean Water Network attorney Stephanie Metheny said, “we’ll sue them up one side and down the other.”
New Mountaintop Removal Mines Proposed
In September, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted Paramont Coal, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, a permit for an 860-acre mountaintop removal mine in Dickenson County, Va. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is concerned that the Doe Branch mine will discharge waste into streams already impaired by an existing 245-acre mine. The Doe Branch mine is slated to be part of the controversial Coalfields Expressway, a project that would subsidize mountaintop removal to build a highway in southwestern Virginia.
In East Tennessee, Appolo Fuels has submitted a permit application for an 804-acre mountaintop removal project in a heavily mined area of Claiborne County. Residents worry that expanding operations along the Cumberland Plateau will irreversibly damage streams and possibly lead to the local extinction of blackside dace — a ray-finned fish currently on the threatened species list — in streams surrounding the mines, which eventually feed the Cumberland River.