Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

How coal ash impacts civil rights

Monday, April 18th, 2016 - posted by sarah

Residents of Walnut Cove have fought to win justice for those who have been harmed by coal ash pollution at the nearby Belews Creek power plant.

Residents of Walnut Cove, N.C., testified about the threats coal ash poses to their community during a hearing organized by the North Carolina Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Residents of Walnut Cove, N.C., testified about the threats coal ash poses to their community during a hearing organized by the North Carolina Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

March flew by in North Carolina, where coal ash continues to make headlines and the state government continues to make missteps.

Last month, more than 1,500 North Carolinians flocked to the 14 public hearings on coal ash basin closure held by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. The turnout was great, the news coverage was thorough, and the oral comments delivered by residents (many of whom live within 1,500 feet of Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds) were pointed and poignant.

Residents commented on a lack of science and data in Duke Energy’s groundwater reports and noted the cozy relationship between Duke, Gov. Pat McCrory and DEQ. They explained why they do not feel safe drinking their well water and demanded that all coal ash sites be made high-priority for cleanup and that no site be capped-in-place. And they shared heart-wrenching stories of family and friends who have passed away or are currently suffering from illnesses associated with exposure to heavy metals.

On the heels of the series of March hearings, the U.S. government added one more critical hearing to North Carolina’s expansive schedule: a hearing on coal ash as it relates to civil rights.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is currently preparing a report for Congress, President Obama, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on coal ash and its impact on civil rights, especially in low-income communities and communities of color. In February, the commission held a hearing in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of coal ash activists and coal ash neighbors from across the country gathered and testified about the impacts coal ash has had on their communities. State advisory committees to the commission also had the opportunity to hold local field hearings, but only two in the nation did, and one of those was in the small town of Walnut Cove, N.C.

This was a big deal for residents of Walnut Cove, who have fought for over three years to make their tragic story known and to win justice for those who have been harmed by Duke’s coal ash pollution at the nearby Belews Creek power plant. In response to the interest in coal ash expressed by the North Carolina Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Walnut Cove community showed up in a big way.

Citizens Speak Up

Throughout the day, the Walnut Cove Public Library was packed with local residents and allies. Several community members were featured on the panels, including Tracey Edwards and David Hairston, lifelong residents of Walnut Cove who spoke to their experience of growing up with the coal ash falling like snow and witnessing the alarming rates of illness, especially cancer, and subsequent deaths in their small, rural community.

“Duke Energy promotes poison for profit at the expense of human life,” remarked Edwards. “You can’t drive in any direction from the coal power plant without knowing someone who has cancer.”

“You won’t understand until you’ve lived what we’ve lived and lost what we’ve lost,” Hairston explained. “My only mother is dead, Tracey’s only mother is dead. Who else we gonna lose over the next ten years?”

Long-time volunteer and activist, Caroline Armijo, who grew up in a neighboring town of Walnut Cove, presented on a panel alongside DEQ Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder. While Reeder praised DEQ and the McCrory administration for their efforts to clean up coal ash in North Carolina, Armijo made it clear that those efforts were not enough. She cited the pervasive illnesses, and the desire among community members to look at solutions that would last longer and be more protective than lined landfills.

The advisory committee members were attentive and moved by the stories and information presented. They were concerned not just about the health impacts of coal ash, but also the associated health care costs and psychological trauma, repeatedly asking community panelists if anyone is helping them in their plight. Committee Member Thealeeta Monet commented on the shameful lack of mental health care available to coal ash neighbors saying, “You cannot be collateral damage without being damaged.”

To the surprise of the audience, committee member Rick Martinez, who has ties to the conservative John Locke Foundation and the McCrory administration, told Duke Energy’s Mike McIntire that he should tell his superiors that the people of Walnut Cove would not accept anything less than full excavation of the coal ash pond. “Tell your management to start budgeting for that eventuality,” Martinez said, “not just here but throughout the state.”

In addition to the scheduled panelists, around 40 additional community members and allies spoke during the open comment section of the hearing. Some speakers had travelled from other North Carolina communities near to Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds, and spoke for both their communities and in solidarity with residents of Walnut Cove. The final speakers of the day were all locals who had lost numerous loved ones to cancer.

Shuntailya Graves, a college student studying to become a biologist brought many in the audience to tears when she listed the cancers that each of her immediate family members have sufferred. Adding to the concerns of health care costs she explained, “My mother was diagnosed with thyroid, ovarian and uterine cancers. She had a full hysterectomy and later was diagnosed with thyroid and brain cancer. She has had nine cancerous brain tumors. Her medicines for a 30-day supply are $1,900. Who is going to pay for that? This all comes from coal ash.”

Vernon Zellers told the commission about losing his wife to brain cancer. The committee chair, Matty Lazo-Chadderton, walked over to give him tissues as he sobbed in front of the crowd. “When am I going to die?” he asked, “Am I next?”

Committee Members Respond

Not only were the committee members clearly moved by the day’s events, but so were the three presidentially appointed members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who sat in the audience. Because of the excitement felt by everyone in the weeks leading up to the hearing, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ chairman, vice-chair and another commission member all journeyed to Walnut Cove to listen to the day’s speakers. Chairman Martin Castro commented that the Walnut Cove hearing was the most powerful he had ever been to, both in content, community engagement, and emotional persuasiveness.

With tears in her eyes, Commissioner Karen Narasaki told the community members, “You have given life to the policy issues that can get so wonky. You have made it clear that in this case, it is just about common sense.”

Castro told the community that he related strongly with their stories, having grown up in an industrial area in a community that also suffered from high rates of cancer.

“Don’t tell me there is not a correlation,” he remarked. “This is not just a constitutional or public policy issue. This is a real life issue. Know your stories did not go unfelt or unnoticed. There is something wrong with the system and we need to figure out how to change the system.”

“You will have an advocate,” he promised, “not just here, but in Washington.”

The hearing was a blessing for the community of Walnut Cove, and not one person left without feeling the sense of sorrow, hope, love, passion and joy that emanated from the day’s speakers. As we continue to fight for justice for the little town next to Duke Energy’s Belews Creek power plant, we can take solace in the knowledge that when residents, DEQ and Duke each presented their testimonies during a federal hearing, the light of truth shone unmistakably bright upon the everyday people who have lived, lost, and fought a Goliath in the shadow of its smokestacks.

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Scientists Review to EPA Fracking Report

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board raised questions about the scientific basis of a report by the agency on fracking. Years in the making, the June 2015 report presented the groundwater pollution from fracking as localized and not a major threat to drinking water. The advisory board pointed out the ambiguity of this conclusion and requested more context for apparent data gaps — citing need for more toxicology information — as well as rewriting the conclusion to be more accessible to the general public. — Eliza Laubach

Clean Power Plan Clears Legal Hurdle

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Brian Sewell

Editor’s Note: This article was written before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay that temporarily halts implementation of the Clear Power Plan. To read more about this update, visit here.

States challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan in federal court are running out of legal options and losing valuable time as most states look to a carbon-constrained future. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals refused to suspend the Obama administration’s climate regulations while lawsuits move through the courts.

That’s bad news for states including North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky that are seeking to block the plan despite public support for clean energy and limits on carbon emissions from power plants. But according to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is leading the case against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the plaintiffs “remain confident that our arguments will prevail as the case continues.”

Days after the the decision, states and industry groups petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to put a stop to the Clean Power Plan. While early legal challenges appear to be floundering, attempts to obstruct the plan at the state level are alive and well.

Officials in North Carolina crafted what its critics are calling a “plan to fail,” primarily to draw the EPA into a legal battle, that achieves less than 3 percent of the reduction in annual carbon emissions required under the Clean Power Plan. Kentucky’s top environmental regulator announced the state would seek an extension for its compliance plan, taking care to note that there is no “minimal level of progress” required for an extension.

At press time, the EPA and groups supporting the Clean Power Plan — including 18 states, more than two dozen power companies, clean energy associations and public health and environmental groups — were filing their responses to the request before the Supreme Court.

SCOTUS pauses the Clean Power Plan, for now

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 - posted by brian

What the decision means, and doesn’t mean, for the historic climate rule

After a setback dealt by the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s imperative that decision makers in our region understand the opportunities presented by the Clean Power Plan rather than falsely attacking it as the cause of the coal industry’s hard times.

After a setback dealt by the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s imperative that decision makers in our region understand the opportunities presented by the Clean Power Plan rather than falsely attacking it as the cause of the coal industry’s hard times.

Last night, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily stayed the Clean Power Plan in a challenge brought by a coalition of states and industry groups.

Responses poured in from opponents and supporters following the court’s decision, some of which could cause a bit of confusion. Perhaps the most important thing to point out is that the Supreme Court did not “kill,” “block” or “overturn” the Clean Power Plan.

The hold is temporary until legal challenges to the rule are resolved, and we fully expect the plan will prevail. The court put the issue on an expedited docket, with oral arguments scheduled for June 2.

You also may see some opponents celebrating the decision as a “public victory.” But across the country, there is strong and growing public support for limiting carbon pollution from power plants — exactly what the Clean Power Plan is designed to do. In other words, public appetite for expanding energy efficiency and renewables has already been raised. Americans recognize the need to address climate change and the widespread economic and environmental benefits of clean energy. This temporary stay won’t change that.

As a spokeswoman with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said: “We’re disappointed the rule has been stayed, but you can’t stay climate change and you can’t stay climate action.”

The breakneck growth of solar and wind in many parts of the country, and coal’s concurrent decline, are not the result of the Clean Power Plan’s requirements, which would not be enforced until 2022. Instead, investments in renewables are taking off because of their increasing affordability and reliability.

In some cases, states in Central Appalachia and the Southeast could easily comply with the Clean Power Plan. Many are positioned to exceed their carbon-reduction targets, and they can do so while creating jobs, protecting ratepayers and fostering healthier communities. We hope states that are already pursuing compliance stay the course.

It’s imperative that decision makers in our region understand the opportunities presented by the Clean Power Plan rather than falsely attacking it as the cause of the coal industry’s hard times.

A statement from Appalachian Voices Economic Diversification Campaign Coordinator Adam Wells:

The Clean Power Plan has never been a factor in the decline of the coal industry in Appalachia. Rather, the decline is a result of depleted reserves and low competitiveness when compared to western coal and other energy sources. Those trends are unlikely to reverse, no matter what the regulatory environment is. The Supreme Court’s actions yesterday won’t undo the decades-long trend of declining coal employment and production in Appalachia.

At the same time, the job-creating potential of the Clean Power Plan has been put at risk. We want to see a future in Appalachia where energy efficiency and solar power save people money, create local jobs and help build wealth in our communities. The Clean Power Plan is still years away from being implemented, so we can’t rely on it to bring about change tomorrow. But we still urgently need as much investment as we can get for a just transition to a new economy, and that’s why we’ll continue pushing for passage of the RECLAIM Act, the POWER+ Plan and state policies that create clean energy jobs.

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A winning approach for the Clean Power Plan in Virginia

Thursday, January 14th, 2016 - posted by hannah

solar-worker,-housing-project-cropped

A new study out today discusses Virginia’s opportunity to comply with the Clean Power Plan — the first-ever standard on carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants — in a way that benefits ratepayers and the economy. It shows that Virginia should strongly prioritize renewable energy and energy efficiency and allow for participation in carbon trading with other states in order to boost economic activity, cut electricity costs, and safeguard healthy air.

Such a plan, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists report, will result in appreciable monthly bill savings for residents, lead to investment in clean energy development and workforce training that will connect workers with new jobs, and reduce dangerous air pollution long-term while addressing our state’s contribution to global warming.

In particular, the carbon-trading approach would yield some $251 million annually for Virginia between 2022 and 2030. If that money were apportioned in a way that is currently being proposed in a bill this legislative session, approximately $25 million a year would be designated for workforce training in the coal mining region of Southwest Virginia, which is struggling with the ongoing decline of coal markets. The region could also see some of the additional $87.8 million that would be distributed statewide for renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation programs.

Check out this post by Jeremy Richardson of the Union of Concerned Scientists for a closer look at how choosing a more ambitious path will create positive ripples across Virginia.

And stay tuned for updates on how you can be involved with Appalachian Voices as we work to ensure that Virginians get the strong state plan we deserve.

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Budget holds promise for Central Appalachia

Friday, December 18th, 2015 - posted by thom
The federal budget is settled. It’s not perfect. But it’s pretty darn good.

In the spending bill, Congress steered clear of the Stream Protection Rule and increased the budgets of agencies focused on economic development in areas including Central Appalachia.

Look for a deeper analysis on the budget deal from us next week.

Today the U.S. Congress passed a spending bill that covers all federal government expenditures and sets the budgets of agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, Department of Labor, and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The spending bill is a big deal for Appalachian Voices. And honestly, it looks pretty darn good.

Until President Obama signs the bill, which he said he will do, the details aren’t final. But negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders from both parties have been going on for months, including several straight all-nighters this past week. The horse trading has already happened. So while we can’t be certain that everything in the current draft bill will remain, I’d be shocked to see changes.

Spending bills offer a chance to do a lot of good and a lot of bad. Congress can fund projects to improve and diversify the economy of Appalachia (which it did, more on that later), and Congress can prevent federal agencies from completing much-needed environmental rules (which it did NOT(!), more on that now).

Appalachian Voices has been working for years to get a strong Stream Protection Rule. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) released a draft version of the Stream Protection Rule earlier this year, and while it’s in need of improvements, the rule is still expected to improve safeguards for streams near mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia.

Naturally, the coal industry and its backers in Congress have fought against the rule. They argue that protecting our streams from coal’s toxic waste will cost more than 100,000 jobs. While that’s absurd, it is true that forcing mining companies to stop haphazardly dumping all of their junk into streams, and instead coming up with plans to repair damage, will cost them money. So the industry has been begging its congressional advocates to block the rule from being finalized.

But the bill does not include a rider preventing OSMRE from completing the Stream Protection Rule, despite a large group of representatives pushing for one. We are relieved, to say the least.

On the positive side, there are elements of the POWER+ Plan in the budget. The Department of Labor will receive an additional $19 million in 2016 to aid displaced coal mine workers, which is a bigger problem in Central Appalachia than anywhere else. The Appalachian Regional Commission got a huge boost to its budget, from less than $90 million all the way up to $146 million. The agency has recently been concentrating its funding more towards economic development in the coalfield areas of Appalachia. We expect that trend to continue considering its exciting and unexpected 62 percent boost in funds.

Most surprisingly, the bill includes $90 million for abandoned mine cleanup in Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The money is designed to be a pilot program that can later be applied to other states, and we can’t wait to see it expand to Virginia and Tennessee. The interesting part about the funding is that it’s not just about patching up abandoned mine sites, but also focuses on our region’s transition away from a coal-based economy. The purpose of the money is to create jobs and support projects that will aid business development in areas hit hardest by coal’s decline. We have been working hard to see these sorts of projects happen, and while this short-term funding is definitely not enough, we’re excited about the new direction.

So the federal budget is settled. The government won’t close down. Our federal agencies can continue their work to protect Appalachia from mining waste. And our region just got tens of millions of dollars tossed its way for economic development.

It’s not perfect. But it’s pretty darn good.

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EPA May Take Over Cleanup of Asheville Superfund Site

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 - posted by interns

Civic action may influence the cleanup of a Superfund site that has been contaminating groundwater with toxic waste in south Asheville for decades.

From 1959 to 1986, the electronic manufacturing plant CTS of Asheville buried significant amounts of trichloroethylene. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed the area Superfund in 2012, and in the years since CTS Corporation has unsuccessfully challenged personal injury claims from individuals living nearby.

At a public meeting in mid-October, the EPA supported public comments calling for an expansion of the single acre CTS initially included in its cleanup plan. Craig Zeller, EPA project manager of the site, said that the agency is weighing whether to accept the plan or to manage the cleanup themselves, which would triple the corporation’s bill and may delay the cleanup, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported. At CTS’s request, the EPA gave the corporation another month to revise its cleanup plan. A decision about how the EPA will proceed is expected in January, according to the Citizen-Times. — Eliza Laubach

NC DEQ’s blatant bid for control

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 - posted by Ridge Graham

State agency clashes with the EPA and Coal Ash Management Commission

Donald van der Vaart, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

Donald van der Vaart, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

Over the past few months, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has seemed determined to have complete environmental regulatory control of the state, showing little regard for federal or public input.

In this endeavor, DEQ has taken every chance it can to highlight how external forces, including citizens groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are simply getting in its way. Upholding the best interests of North Carolina’s citizens and the environment only becomes a priority when the agency is threatened with losing power.

Rejecting the Clean Power Plan

DEQ joined a lawsuit with more than two dozen of the nation’s largest carbon-emitting states against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. In October, DEQ submitted a proposal that would only address coal-based emissions because it believes the first component of the Clean Power Plan — improving coal fired power plant efficiency — is the only aspect the EPA has the legal authority to regulate under the Clean Air Act.

TAKE ACTION: Demand a REAL Clean Power Plan for North Carolina.

But if the Clean Power Plan survives in court, and the EPA rejects North Carolina’s plan, federal regulators can intervene in North Carolina’s emission reductions process. So, in case their strategy fails, state officials plan to submit an alternate plan that aligns with the EPA’s proposal.

EPA threatens to take away DEQ’s permitting authority

This year, DEQ permitted a cement plant in Wilmington that would emit more than 5,000 tons of particulates, mercury and other air pollution annually. The agency also OKed a quarry in Blounts Creek that would discharge up to 12 million gallons of waste a day into the Pamlico River. Residents of these areas, along with coastal environmental advocacy and conservation groups, challenged these permits. The state dismissed those challenges on the grounds that the groups did not have standing.

The EPA sent a letter to DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart stating that the inability of citizens to appeal permits was troubling. The letter warned that if DEQ continued to skirt federal regulations, the EPA would revoke its authority to issue pollution permits under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

DEQ responded by shifting the blame to a court decision and presented a list of regulations required by the EPA but not by state law — insinuating that the public process for challenging permits is less burdensome on the state level. State officials said they have no intention of losing permitting authority.

DEQ takes on the Coal Ash Management Commission’s responsibilities

UPDATE: A draft summary by DEQ classified 27 of Duke Energy’s 32 coal ash ponds in North Carolina as posing a “high” or “immediate” risk. If the ratings stand when they are finalized on Dec. 31, Duke would have to excavate the coal ash from those sites.

In another isolationist move, DEQ wants to move forward on the priority classification of coal ash containment sites without the Coal Ash Management Commission. But the commission was created by the Coal Ash Management Act to be housed under the N.C. Department of Public Safety because the General Assembly determined that DEQ was ineffectual and untrustworthy in regulating coal ash.

These site classifications will determine timelines for the cleanup of coal ash at each site, with up to a decade of difference in cleanup response. Sites deemed low priority could be closed using “cap-in-place,” a method that would leave nearby waterways and communities at risk. The commission has 60 days to review the classifications before they go into effect.

However, the state Supreme Court has not yet ruled on Governor Pat McCrory’s lawsuit challenging appointments to the commission, so the group is unable to reach a quorum. When Commission Chairman Michael Jacobs wrote a letter to McCrory and legislative leaders to point this out, van der Vaart responded to say DEQ has it under control.

“Fortunately, legislators had the foresight to include provisions in the coal ash law that prevent delays to the cleanup process including a provision that ensures the prioritization and public participation processes can proceed in the absence of the Coal Ash Management Commission,” van der Vaart wrote.

He did not mention why the commission was not housed under DEQ in the first place.

DEQ blames EPA for delay in coal ash cleanup

DEQ is currently making a public fuss about the EPA taking time to review a state-issued permit to dewater the coal ash pond at Duke Energy’s Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly, N.C. DEQ claims that this is the fifth permitting delay this year from the EPA, and that North Carolina is receiving different treatment than other states with regard to its coal ash cleanup projects.

Duke Energy's retired Riverbend Steam Station, Photo from Flickr.

Duke Energy’s retired Riverbend Steam Station, Photo by Duke Energy, licensed under Creative Commons.

Duke’s plants are permitted a discharge rate of coal ash pond water as part of a multi-step treatment process. The nearby bodies of water, many of which supply drinking water to nearby cities and towns, are monitored to determine how much impact the discharge has on the surrounding environment and watershed. DEQ is rushing to dump the entirety of the coal ash pond water into Mountain Island Lake, which is already polluted from the coal ash ponds at the Riverbend plant.

Water samples taken from Mountain Island Lake in 2013 indicated there were levels of constituents in the surface water that exceeded public health standards. Tissues samples taken from fish caught in the lake were found to have high levels of heavy metals, which led to a state-issued fish consumption advisory. Mountain Island Lake is the drinking water source more than 750,000 people.

With these considerations, is it not reasonable to take more than 15 days to analyze such a permit? Or does DEQ just want to have its way regardless of what happens to the people downstream.

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EPA limits coal plants’ toxic discharges. Finally.

Thursday, October 1st, 2015 - posted by amy
Finally, a final pollution rule from EPA on power plants. Time to celebrate!

Finally, a final pollution rule from EPA on power plants. Time to celebrate!

The long-awaited update to the 34-year-old standards for wastewater discharges from America’s power plants were finally released on Sept. 30 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The “effluent limitations guidelines” are a giant step in the right direction towards protecting the environment and the health of citizens.

Coal-fired power plants are responsible for polluting our streams, rivers and lakes with billions of pounds of toxic waste every year, accounting for more than 60% of heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and selenium in our waters. Numerous studies link this pollution to fish kills, deformed wildlife and contaminated drinking water supplies.

The most important component of the updated rule is a requirement that power plants convert to dry handling of fly ash (from the smokestacks) and bottom ash (left in the boilers). This should eliminate the toxins from wet-ash impoundments, which contributes more than 60 percent of all toxic waste discharges to our waters and is responsible for the impairment of thousand of miles of streams and rivers.

>> Read a good summary of the rule from EarthJustice’s Thom Cmar.

EPA heard from many hundreds of citizens around the country–including Appalachian Voices members and activists–who urged the agency for the last several years to issue strong rules to protect our waters.

This rule is the good news we have been waiting for. Combined with the coal ash rule that EPA issued last year, it represent a huge stride towards finally staunching coal ash pollution that has been happening for decades. It sends a message that the free license to pollute has ended.

As power plants across the country start to implement the new standards, and the real costs of coal-generated electricity are considered, it is my hope that it drives the South, and the nation, towards the more cost-effective solutions of energy efficiency and renewable sources.

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Peculiar Patriot Coal deal raises questions

Thursday, August 20th, 2015 - posted by tarence
A train leads up to a Patriot Coal site in Kanawha County, W.Va. Photo by Foo Conner | Jekko.

A train leads up to a Patriot Coal site in Kanawha County, W.Va. Photo by Foo Conner | Jekko.

What would a health care executive-turned-environmentalist want with the dying business of mining coal?

That’s the question some are asking after it was announced this week that Tom Clarke, a Virginia businessman, plans to acquire assets, and assume around $400 million in liabilities, from recently-bankrupt Patriot Coal through one of his companies, ERP Compliant Fuels.

The deal is part of an elaborate and untested business model that will allow ERP — an affiliate of the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund — to continue mining Patriot permits in West Virginia, bundling this coal with “carbon offsets” accrued from planting trees, and selling these bundled products to electric utilities.

Because trees absorb atmospheric carbon, Clarke believes credits created through reforestation will help states meet carbon emissions targets set forth by the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. But the plan does not make clear that coal-carbon offsets will count towards states’ emissions targets.

According to The Roanoke Times, Clarke says he’s not in it for the money, but for the earth. But that isn’t clear from the available literature on ERP, which seeks to bring together a coalition of conflicting environmental and capital interests — “coal mining businesses, electric power producers, forestland owners, government, and the scientific community” — in order to reduce global CO2 emissions. In the same literature, Clarke and the ERP/VCLF tout their business partnership with Jim Justice, a notorious scofflaw mine operator who owes nearly $2 million in mine violation fines.

As if these relationships weren’t enough to raise suspicion, ERP/VCLF’s definition of a “carbon offset” is dubious. As The Roanoke Times points out:

It doesn’t matter that Clarke will target coal-fired electrical generating plants in the Ohio River Valley with his pitch, while the designated trees are in Central America and the U.S. South or would be planted in Appalachia. Carbon emissions spread in the atmosphere and the concentration evens out; a party that wants to offset its carbon output can fund tree planting or tree preservation anywhere and benefit the globe, he said.

If there’s no requirement that trees be planted on deforested land in Appalachia, what’s stopping ERP from destroying mountains and externalizing the costs onto Appalachian communities for the social mission of stopping climate change? How does ERP plan to address coal ash and mercury and the many other harmful externalities that are inflicted on communities as coal is mined, processed and burned? How will the company account for the numerous injuries, fatalities, and black lung incidences that result from both underground and surface mining? Coal’s impact goes far beyond CO2 pollution.

These are crucial questions to ask as the coal industry in central Appalachia undergoes massive structural changes. If the history of the coal industry in the region has taught us anything, it’s that we should be highly suspect of outside corporate interests looking to exploit the region’s natural resources.

This is just as true today, in an era in which investors and politicians stand to gain substantial material and social capital off of the region’s diversification.