Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Supreme Court Rejects Spruce Mine Mountaintop Removal Case

Monday, March 24th, 2014 - posted by brian
The U.S. Supreme Court won't consider a case alleging the EPA overstepped its authority by retroactively vetoing mountaintop removal permits it deemed unacceptably harmful to water quality.

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t consider a case alleging the EPA overstepped its authority by retroactively vetoing mountaintop removal permits it deemed unacceptably harmful to water quality.

The U.S. Supreme Court says it won’t consider the case of Mingo Logan Coal v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s authority to veto mountaintop removal permits that would cause unacceptable harm to water quality and wildlife.

In this case, the permits in question are for Arch Coal’s Spruce Mine No. 1., which would span more than 2,000 acres and is the largest mountaintop removal mine ever proposed in West Virginia.

The court’s decisions comes almost a year after an appeals court sided with the EPA in the case, which dates back to the agency vetoed permits approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2011.

Appalachian Voices applauds this decision and urges the EPA and the Obama administration to hold strong in their ongoing efforts to protect clean water and Appalachia from mountaintop removal coal mining. As it becomes more difficult for large-scale mountaintop removal projects like the Spruce Mine to move forward, the coal industry will likely become more aggressive and desperate in their attacks.

“The EPA acted in accordance with the law when they vetoed this permit,” says Kate Rooth, Appalachian Voices’ campaign director. “Preserving its ability to do so in the future is critical for protecting vital watersheds and downstream communities threatened by mountaintop removal throughout Appalachia.”

Today’s news is also another indication that the effectiveness of the coal industry’s “war on coal” narrative is waning. Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. shared this statement on his Coal Tattoo post earlier from Jim Hecker of Public Justice — one of the lawyers who worked on the case that initially blocked the Spruce Mine:

“The coal industry has falsely painted the Spruce mine veto as an example of EPA overreach and a ‘war on coal,’ when in fact EPA’s authority to veto this permit is obvious from the face of the statute and EPA’s decision is based on clear scientific evidence of serious environmental harm from mining.”

The yearslong case will now continue in lower courts that have yet to rule on parts of the lawsuit.

Pushing for Effective Coal Ash Rules

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

On Jan. 29, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was ordered to finalize the first-ever federal regulations for disposal of coal ash by Dec. 19, 2014, following a lawsuit brought by environmental and public health groups — including Appalachian Voices — and a Native American tribe. The settlement requires the agency to release a rule by the deadline, but will not influence the content of the rule. Read more about coal ash regulation on p. 16

In North Carolina, seven conservation groups, including Appalachian Voices, filed suit to participate in state law enforcement measures against Duke Energy. The utility’s illegal pollution of groundwater, lakes and rivers supplying drinking water for local communities spurred lawsuits from environmental and public health groups as well as the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.

Following a proposed settlement between the state and Duke Energy that does not require Duke to clean up its coal ash pollution, almost 5,000 citizens and organizations submitted comments opposed to the flawed agreement. Southern Environmental Law Center filed the motion in late January on behalf of the environmental organizations.

Unaddressed Concerns Keep Fracking in the Forefront

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Brian Sewell

Nationwide, stories regarding natural gas-related water contamination, waste disposal and property rights concerns keep bubbling up, bolstering arguments used by opponents of fracking.

And as natural gas prices rise due to cold weather and a slowdown in drilling, the fuel’s supporters are questioning how long claims of affordability will last. Increased demand this winter sent natural gas prices surging to levels not seen since 2010.

According to the Wall Street Journal, prices typically spike to between $40 and $50 per million British thermal units in periods of cold weather. But in mid-January prices soared to as much as $135 in some areas.

Regardless of price, however, natural gas’ desirability as an energy source is suffering from largely unaddressed environmental concerns related to drilling and transportation.

Despite evidence that fracking has contaminated water — cases in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia were recently confirmed by the Associated Press — natural gas continues to be a significant component of America’s energy policy and portfolio.

Fracking is regulated on a state-by-state basis and, according to a report by the EPA Inspector General released at the end of 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unlikely to step up enforcement efforts due to budgetary constraints and a lack of political will.

Fracking Appalachia

The proposed Bluegrass Pipeline, which would transport natural gas through northern Kentucky, led to the introduction of several bills clarifying when, and by who, eminent domain can be used for energy-related projects.

North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission recently finalized chemical disclosure rules opting to allow natural gas companies to maintain “trade secrets” related to chemicals used during drilling. Companies will have to make the case for chemicals they consider to be trade secrets in meetings with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. But those meetings will reportedly be “closed-door” and, according to Ray Covington, the vice chairman of the commission, DENR will not keep records of approved trade secrets.

The Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations committee approved a measure to limit the liability of drilling companies that use acid mine drainage to replace fresh water used in fracking.

The U.S. Forest Service is considering allowing fracking in Virginia’s George Washington National Forest despite a 2011 management plan that prohibited drilling in the forest.

Landfills in West Virginia can now accept an unlimited amount of solid waste from fracking operations after regulators quietly changed a rule in order to ease waste problems related to the practice.

EPA Publishes Carbon Rule for New Power Plants

On Jan. 8, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a draft rule to limit carbon emissions from new power plants. Under the rule, new coal-fired power plants can emit 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, around 35 percent less than the average coal plant produces. New natural gas plants are limited to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.

The EPA faces a June 1 deadline to release a draft rule for existing power plants, which are responsible for 40 percent of carbon pollution in the U.S.

Back on Track to Address Climate Change in the Commonwealth

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 - posted by hannah
The overhaul of SB 615, a bad bill for the climate and the commonwealth, puts Virginia back on track to addressing climate change.

The overhaul of SB 615, a bad bill for the climate and the commonwealth, puts Virginia back on track to addressing climate change.

As introduced, Virginia’s SB 615 was the kind of legislation that spells trouble for the nationwide effort to limit carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants: it would have preemptively kept Virginia from complying with the new limits that EPA will set this summer.

Thanks to the outpouring of opposition to SB 615, now we’re back on track to protect the EPA’s authority to regulate Virginia’s carbon pollution. Here’s how the story unfolded over the last few days.

The original version of SB 615, sponsored by state Senator Charles Carrico, would have dealt a staggering blow to the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon pollution in Virginia. But that plan changed course dramatically in committee on Thursday after citizens reacted swiftly to the news that passing SB 615 would amount to an abrupt about-face on addressing carbon.

With calls and emails to legislators, face-to-face constituent meetings, and a 60-person march on Capitol Square last Monday, Virginians demanded that our leaders stand up for our future and reject any step that moves us away from climate solutions. When the committee meeting convened on Thursday, citizens packed the room wearing anti-SB 615 stickers to watch the debate and hold senators accountable for their votes, and much to the pleasure of those attending, SB 615 was first on the docket, but in a new, drastically amended form.

The overhauled language was a tremendous improvement: the bill would only mean that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is required to study the costs and benefits of Virginia complying with the new EPA regulations, and only a few lines remained limiting Virginia’s efforts to address carbon, reflecting that the General Assembly intended to refrain from passing any limits on carbon emissions more stringent than the EPA regulations.

Representatives from manufacturing, utilities, and the coal industry spoke in favor of that version of the bill, and representatives on the anti-SB 615 side answered with appreciation for the idea of a balanced study while plainly voicing opposition to the one vestige of anti-EPA language contained in the new version. It is needless and premature, it was argued, to say that Virginia does not intend to act to reduce its emissions more than EPA requires when those limits have not yet been announced. In response to this point, a member of the committee moved that those lines be stuck, the change was accepted, and the bill passed unanimously in that amended, innocuous form.

We deserve be proud that legislators heard our call and did the right thing. It goes to show that getting mad, getting organized, and getting visible can work to get the outcomes we want from the General Assembly that represents our interests and responds to our concerns, including carbon pollution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McAuliffe Lauds Carbon Capture Technology, But Coal’s Impacts Go Beyond CO2 Pollution

Thursday, January 9th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Virginia Govenor-elect Terry McAuliffe says carbon capture technology could be the key to putting coal miners back to work in Southwest Virginia. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Virginia Govenor-elect Terry McAuliffe says carbon capture technology could be the key to putting coal miners back to work in Southwest Virginia. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This week, the press ran stories about the man who will soon be sworn in as Virginia’s 72nd governor hailing “clean coal” as “the answer to putting [Virginia] coal miners back to work.”

Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe’s claim that “we need to build on the assets we have” by using carbon capture technology paints a worrying picture of a fossil fuel-based economy dominating Southwest Virginia’s future for decades to come.

Rules to reduce carbon emission from new and existing coal plants are coming. The notion that experimental carbon-capture controls will help reverse the down-trending coal market is a catchy talking point, but isn’t a better goal to make coal communities healthier and more resilient rather than maximize coal company profit? Wouldn’t growing new sources of reliable, affordable energy matter more to the region in the long-term than prolonging fast and furious mining and burning of coal?

For an analogy, I think of a dieter who, believing he’s turning over a new leaf, plops down on the couch with giant bowl of low-calorie potato crisps, a bag of “lite” puffed-corn cheese poofs, and a 20-ounce diet soda to wash it down. He’s found snacks engineered to taste good although the customary oils and sugars are absent. When it’s all gone, he has satisfied his urge to munch without maxing out his daily calorie count. Great plan, right?

Maybe … if weight were the only measure of health. But it isn’t, and carbon pollution isn’t the only measure of coal’s impact on Virginia. Continuing to mine and burn Virginia coal will still cause serious problems: more destructive mountaintop removal, toxic mining waste, air and water pollution from power plants, and as southwestern Virginia feels the worst effects of deferring our clean energy future.

There are numerous risks to banking on a single industry to support a region, particularly when it receives state-backed support to the exclusion of other sectors that would better improve the health of the community. Cutting carbon emissions is an important end-goal, probably the most important priority of our time, but that’s not all there is to it. Shackling southwestern Virginia’s future to coal unfairly limits what the region’s talented and hardworking people can achieve.

Coal does not have to be the last chapter of Appalachia’s story if resources are put toward job training for other industries instead, home weatherization and wind turbine construction, for instance, and if leaders focus on overcoming the obstacles to economic diversity by truly serving the public interest.

Just because a certain food won’t make you obese doesn’t mean you can live on it forever. Just because something like carbon-capture technology comes along that might make burning coal a little cleaner, doesn’t make it a long-term solution for a richly beautiful region that deserves a diverse, sustainable economy.

For Patriot Coal, Ending Mountaintop Removal is a “Win-Win”

Thursday, December 26th, 2013 - posted by brian
Having recently emerged from bankruptcy, Patriot Coal CEO Ben Hatfield said the 2012 settlement that forced the company to begin phasing out its mountaintop removal operations proved to be a "win-win."

Having recently emerged from bankruptcy, Patriot Coal CEO Ben Hatfield said the 2012 settlement that forced the company to begin phasing out its mountaintop removal operations proved to be a “win-win.”

A little more than a year ago, amid its bankruptcy proceedings and multiple lawsuits, Patriot Coal announced it would phase out its use of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia as part of a settlement with environmental groups over selenium pollution.

Taken at face value, statements made at that time by Patriot’s CEO Bennett Hatfield held promise that the movement against mountaintop removal, focused on exposing the poor economics as well as the irreversible environmental impacts of the destructive practice, had reached a pivotal turning point.

Hatfield told the court that Patriot recognizes that its mining operations “impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways,” and that ending mountaintop removal will reduce the company’s environmental footprint. But the position the company took on phasing out mountaintop removal was largely strategic and focused on the financial benefits of reducing the company’s risks as it worked through bankruptcy.

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

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013 - posted by amy
Graphic courtesy of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy,

Graphic courtesy of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy,

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

On Dec. 22, 2008, the spill alerted many for the first time to the very real threat posed by coal ash impoundments, which can range from 100 to 1,700 acres. While the Kingston spill brought the issue to the forefront, there are also concerns that extend past the threat of a singular catastrophic spill. The slow leakage of contaminated waste into ground and surface waters from unlined coal ash impoundments and landfills has become a major issue across the country, and across the Southeast in particular. Coal ash toxics have leached from impoundments and landfills carrying heavy metals into streams, creeks, lakes and drinking water wells.

Appalachian Voices and Partners Challenge Kentucky’s Weakening of Water Pollution Standards for Selenium

Friday, December 13th, 2013 - posted by eric

This two headed trout was deformed by selenium pollution. Today, we have taken action to keep EPA and Kentucky from allowing pollution like this to get worse.

Earlier today Appalachian Voices and a number of partner organizations sued the EPA over their approval of Kentucky’s new, weaker standard for selenium pollution.

Selenium is extremely toxic to fish, and causes deformities and reproductive failure at extremely low levels. The pollutant is commonly discharged from coal mines and coal ash ponds, but currently Kentucky does not regulate its discharge from these facilities.

These new standards were proposed at the behest of coal industry groups, likely motivated by citizen groups’ success at requiring companies in other states to clean up their selenium pollution. We have also seen the state governments of Virginia and West Virginia take steps towards making similar rollbacks to their own standards, making the EPA’s approval of Kentucky’s weakened standards even more alarming.

Groups Challenge EPA Decision to Gut Clean Water Protections in Kentucky

Friday, December 13th, 2013 - posted by eric

New Guidelines for Coal Mining Pollutant Fail to Protect Waterways and Wildlife

Eric Chance, Appalachian Voices 828-262-1500
Sean Sarah, Sierra Club 330 338-3740
Doug Doerrfeld, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth 606-784-9226|
Judy Petersen, Kentucky Waterways Alliance 502 589-8008

Louisville, KY – Today, community and environmental groups took action against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a recent decision allowing Kentucky to weaken its water quality protections for selenium, a pollutant common to mountaintop removal coal mines. This new standard, which tests selenium levels in fish tissue instead of in rivers and streams where mine wastewater is discharged, is strikingly similar to one the Bush Administration rejected as too weak to protect sensitive aquatic species. The lawsuit alleges that the standard fails to meet protections in the Clean Water Act.

“There’s simply no scientific or legal justification for this EPA to approve a standard worse than one rejected by the Bush administration,” said Alice Howell, Chair of the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club. “In doing so, EPA has made a bad situation much worse. The new selenium standard endangers the health of Kentucky’s already compromised waterways while opening the door for other states to do the same.”

In mid-November, the EPA allowed Kentucky to change the way it monitors selenium pollution from surface mines, a change suggested by coal industry lobbyists, who appear to be motivated by citizen groups’ successful enforcement of the existing protections elsewhere in the region.

Selenium pollution is known to accumulate in fish and aquatic wildlife over time, causing deformities and reproductive failures. When a coal company destroys a mountain to get at the coal underneath, much of what’s left is dumped into nearby valleys and streams. This pollutes the local waterways with selenium, among other substances that pose a threat to fish and humans. Valley fills are a major source of the selenium pollution found at mountaintop removal mines.

“We repeatedly urged both EPA and the Commonwealth to have the US Geological Survey and US Fish and Wildlife Service look at the science behind the new standard. Both federal agencies were instrumental in the rejection of the prior Bush administration proposals. Ignoring our pleas, they moved to finalize the new criteria. We felt we had no other option to protect our waterways than to go forward with our legal challenge,” Judy Petersen, executive director of Kentucky Waterways Alliance stated.

In their lawsuit, the groups argue that the EPA decision was arbitrary and capricious. First, EPA violated the Clean Water Act by allowing Kentucky to institute a scientifically indefensible standard that fails to protect sensitive wildlife. Second, both citizens and EPA raised concerns about the difficulty of implementing a fish tissue based standard, yet EPA approved this standard based on a vague letter from Kentucky officials about how the new standard would be enforced. Kentucky’s assurances are not part of Kentucky state law and are thus unenforceable; therefore, EPA is not entitled to rely upon these assurances in approving the new standard.

“This new fish tissue based standard is just a novel way of letting polluters off the hook for poisoning our fish and waterways,” said Eric Chance, water quality specialist for Appalachian Voices. “The main point of this standard is to protect fish, but testing fish tissue can never tell you how many fish the selenium pollution already killed. A fish tissue based standard creates many more problems than just the ones mentioned in the letter EPA relied on to make this decision; I don’t think EPA or Kentucky have seriously thought through how this rule would work in the real world.”

Doug Doerrfeld of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth added, “KFTC and our allies have worked for years to make EPA fully aware of the systemic failures of Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet to protect our commonwealth’s people, waters and environment. In light of this history it is disgraceful that EPA would approve a weakened selenium standard that will not only leave aquatic life at risk but will make citizen enforcement all but impossible.”

This action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Sierra Club, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Appalachian Voices, and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance are represented in this case by Ben Luckett and Joe Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.