Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Successful Rally at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

Monday, September 15th, 2014 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note }This post about last week’s “Our Water, Our Future” rally in Washington, D.C. is by Dana Kuhnline, media coordinator for The Alliance for Appalachia, originally appeared on the Alliance’s website.

Dana Kuhnline

Dana Kuhnline

Last week, dozens of residents from Appalachia and allies from across the country rallied at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to pressure the Obama administration to protect Appalachia’s water and future from coal pollution. Those wishing to contact the CEQ to support residents can take action here.

The CEQ oversees the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Surface Mining and other agencies that are responsible for protecting Appalachian residents from the severe water and health impacts of mountaintop removal and other dangerous coal practices.

Unfortunately, Appalachian leaders who met with the agencies were disappointed with the attitude the administration showed toward concerned citizens that traveled many hours to D.C. for the visit. The agency representatives asked for more time to work on the issue of mountaintop removal, but mountain leaders have been waiting five years since an Obama administration Memorandum of Understanding that promised action against the destructive practice as well as reinvestment in the economy of the region.

The tragic and unbelievable series of toxic spills in Appalachia in 2014 — from the chemical spill that impacted more than 300,0000 people in West Virginia, to the slurry and coal ash spills in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina — are just the most recent disasters to showing the failures of the Obama administration to follow through on its promises to protect Appalachian communities. More than 500 mountains have been destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining and the region is ready for a just transition to a economy beyond this destructive practice.

The next day, residents engaged in a sit-in on the front steps of the CEQ and waited several hours for an agency representative to come out to speak with them — eventually even hosting a square dance with a live band playing traditional Appalachian music in front of the CEQ. In addition, residents organized a bucket brigade to collect clean water from D.C. to bring back home to their communities that do not have access to safe water to drink.

When no representative from CEQ agreed to meet with residents after several hours of waiting, residents placed a report card on the steps that evaluated the progress so far of the Obama administration on important areas such as protecting the health and water of Appalachia. Participants in the rally gave the administration a grade of “incomplete.”

Appalachian citizens rally in front of the White House for "Our Water, Our Future."

Appalachian citizens rally in front of the White House for “Our Water, Our Future.”

Advocating for a fair Internet, for all

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 - posted by brian
Appalachian Voices is participating in today's Internet Slowdown to support an open and fair web.

Appalachian Voices is participating in today’s Internet Slowdown to support an open and fair web.

If you find yourself staring at spinning wheels on some of your favorite websites today, take a moment to imagine what an unfair Internet would look like.

What if federal regulators currently considering how to regulate the Internet put your favorite small businesses or advocacy groups at even more of a disadvantage? That scary prospect is essentially what the Federal Communications Commission is considering right now.

Today’s Internet Slowdown is an effort to raise awareness around a policy known as “net neutrality.” The general idea behind net neutrality is that no individual website’s content should be prioritized above others. So, as this NPR piece puts it, “a user can go where he wants and do what he wants on the Internet without the interference of his broadband provider.”

If that basic, but threatened, fairness sounds like something you support, you’re not alone. The FCC has already received more than one million comments on the issue, the vast majority of which support stricter enforcement of net neutrality. Here’s how NPR describes what a positive outcome of this process might look like:

“Advocates for the open Internet are pushing for reclassifying the Internet from Title I to Title II under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. According to the supporters of this measure, it would make the Internet more like a public utility and give the agency more authority to regulate the Web and enforce protections for net neutrality.”

Supporters of net neutrality protections say that without the rules, Internet service providers like Comcast and Time Warner will have economic incentives to charge content providers …”

So where does that put groups like Appalachian Voices, who are stretching dollars thin and using the Internet the best way we know how to create the greatest impact and benefits for the communities where we work? I’d argue it puts us somewhere right near the center of the fight. If an open and fair Internet is not maintained, the near future could hold significant challenges for environmental and advocacy groups of all types, independent journalism, entrepreneurs, and really anyone who uses the web as a resource to learn or communicate about issues close to their heart.

Even worse, while concerned citizens are waiting, watching that spinning “wheel of death,” dirty energy interests would have no problem paying to take the fast lane — increasing their level of influence and ability to drown out our voices.

From our work to grow the nationwide movement to end mountaintop removal to more local efforts to build community support for clean water and put an end to coal ash pollution, the Internet has been essential as an educational and advocacy tool. So today, we’re joining in solidarity with other groups and businesses advocating for keeping the Internet open — the way it was always intended to be.

You can join the “Battle for the Net” and add your name to support a fair Internet here.

To tell the truth

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 - posted by tom
AV's Director of Programs Matt Wasson testifies before Congress

Appalachian Voice’s Director of Programs Matt Wasson testifies before Congress about the burden of mountaintop removal coal mining on Appalachian communities

Last month, our Director of Programs Matt Wasson got the chance to tell a rapt audience in Washington, D.C., that the emperor has no clothes. The audience was the U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, the reporters in the room, and anyone who happened to be watching on CSPAN.

The majority members of the committee had called the hearing in an attempt to portray federal environmental protections as overly burdensome and to trumpet state efforts to “streamline” them. As Matt described in his testimony, however, the facts for the people living in the Appalachian counties most heavily impacted by mountaintop removal coal mining under the ostensibly watchful eye of state agencies are these:

  • They are 50% more likely to die from cancer than others in Appalachia
  • Their children are 42% more likely to be born with birth defects
  • They have a life expectancy far below the national average and comparable to those in El Salvador and Vietnam.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, picking up on Matt’s revelations, noted the similarly atrocious handling by North Carolina officials — in the absence of any federal rules on coal ash — of the catastrophic Duke Energy coal ash spill in February. In the end, the hearing turned into an indictment of the fallacy that states can be counted on to defend their citizens against the profit-driven vagaries of the coal industry and energy giants like Duke.

And while Matt had a rare opportunity to provide a reality check in the ceremonial milieu of a congressional hearing room, it’s the people living in places like Wise County, Va., Pike County, Ky., and Stokes County, N.C. (the site of Duke’s largest coal ash pond), who know this reality better than anyone. It’s their voices, their courage and their persistence — in combination with technical experts like Matt speaking truth to power — that will ultimately bring about real change in their communities.

Appalachia’s Environmental Votetracker: Aug./Sept. 2014 issue

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 - posted by molly
Double-click to enlarge

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An activist is born

Monday, August 4th, 2014 - posted by Marissa Wheeler
Appalachian Voices interns Marissa Wheeler and Jeff Fend, and Virginia Campaign Coordinator Hannah Weigard outside EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Appalachian Voices interns Marissa Wheeler and Jeff Feng, and Virginia Campaign Coordinator Hannah Weigard outside EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Last Tuesday, on the first day of the carbon rule hearings at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., I stepped off the Metro full of anticipation for my first-ever public rally for any cause, let alone an environmental one.

I arrived at the Federal Triangle station slightly overwhelmed by the unfamiliar surroundings but, following the sounds of live music to the front of the building, I knew upon first glance that I had found my destination.

On the wide semi-circular lawn, children ran with toy replicas of wind turbines. People of many ethnicities and a range of ages stood chatting and putting the finishing touches on colorful posters. A woman and a young musician led a call-and-response demanding “Clean Energy Now.” And on the street, volunteers handed out Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

I accepted a Moms Clean Air Force sticker from a helpful volunteer and hunted for more free items to show my support. Meanwhile, inside EPA headquarters, Hannah Wiegard and Jeff Feng from Appalachian Voices presented their testimony on the dangers of mountaintop removal coal mining and the need to take swift action to combat climate change.

Proudly sporting my “I Love Mountains” button, I was ready to hobnob with other Americans advocating for clean energy and climate action including lawyers, career environmental advocates, interns like me, and citizens who traveled great distances to appear before the EPA and raise their voices in support of cutting carbon pollution.

These are the people I surround myself with at home and at school, but I’ve often felt like somewhat of an imposter in their presence. I can’t talk knowledgeably about “carbon capture and sequestration” like they can. I waste far too much water, paper, gas, food and electricity. And this was my first-ever environmental rally. In these kinds of situations, my insecurities tend to build inside me like guilt and create a sense of otherness in my mind between myself and the people I admire and want to emulate.

But that morning, I felt immediately welcomed into the fold because just being there meant that I was contributing to the cause. Building grassroots support and demonstrating the power of people mark the beginnings of social and legislative change, as rally speakers such as Green Latino President Mark Magaña and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus impressed upon the crowd.

For me, catching the spirit and optimism of the rally has given greater clarity to both a collective vision of a clean energy future and what I can do as an individual to help us get there. It’s one thing to wear the pins and stickers; it’s another thing to feel empowered by your peers to take action and work toward a common goal. This sense of belonging is the most valuable thing I’ll take with me from the rally. The free sunglasses are pretty cool, too.

Is Obama’s Climate Action Plan on Track?

Friday, July 25th, 2014 - posted by Jeff Feng

“While no single step can reverse the effects of climate change, we have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged.” – President Obama, June 2013

President Obama lays out his administration's Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University in June 2013. Photo: Whitehouse.gov

President Obama lays out his administration’s Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University in June 2013. Photo: Whitehouse.gov

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is pretty clear in establishing that if we don’t act now, our kids will be living on a different planet.

But since the release of his administration’s plan in June 2013, has Obama made strides in developing a clean energy economy and protecting the environment by fighting climate change?

Let’s take a look at his five-pronged approach to acting on climate: deploying clean energy; building a 21st-century transportation sector; cutting energy waste in homes, businesses, and factories; reducing other greenhouse gas emissions; and leading at the federal level.

First up is deploying clean energy. A major part of accomplishing this goal is first looking at power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution in the country. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first announced proposed carbon standards for new power plants in September 2013. Future power plants will have to adhere to these national carbon pollution limits. And just last month, the EPA made history by announcing the first-ever limits on carbon pollution for existing power plants.

Under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, states are given flexibility to meet individual emissions targets with an overall goal of cutting carbon pollution nationally by 30 percent below 2005 levels. Electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind and solar doubled during Obama’s first term, but the Clean Power Plan needs to continue the momentum. With that in mind, Obama hopes to redouble electricity generated through wind and solar by 2020. Utility-scale renewable energy is becoming more of a reality even with the reasonable, perhaps conservative guidelines of the Clean Energy Plan.

Seeing as it is 2014, Obama also wants to build a 21st-century transportation sector. The EPA and DOT are working to update heavy-duty vehicle fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards by March 2016. Implementing standards for heavy duty vehicles would build on the benefits of the fuel economy standards set in 2011, cutting emissions by 270 million metric tons and saving 530 million barrels of oil. Commercial trucks, vans, and buses are the second biggest polluters in the transportation sector, presumably behind passenger vehicles. Speaking of passenger vehicles, fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles now require an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

It seems like carbon dioxide has stolen the show, but what about other greenhouse gas emissions? What’s being done to stop hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) from doubling by 2020 and tripling by 2030? Who’s working to make sure methane levels that don’t increase to the equivalent of 620 million tons of carbon pollution by 2030 (despite the fact that, since 1990, U.S. methane emissions have dropped by 11 percent)?

HFCs were used to phase out ozone destructive chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and are found in refrigerators and air conditioners. While HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer, they have a high global-warming potential and are sometimes referred to as “super greenhouse gases.” Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is working to ban the most detrimental HFCs and develop suitable replacements.

The federal government’s plan to reduce methane emissions also takes a multifaceted approach. Just last month, the EPA announced its plans to strengthen air pollution standards for new municipal solid waste facilities, the third largest source of methane emissions, by requiring them to capture 13 percent more landfill gas than previously dictated. Under the EPA’s plan, landfills would need to capture two-thirds of methane and air toxin emissions by 2023. To cut methane emissions from agricultural operations, the second largest source of the potent greenhouse gase, the USDA, EPA, and DOE released their “Biogas Roadmap” of voluntary suggestions to implement methane digesters. Apparently using a bottom-up approach in going from lower to higher emitters, the EPA has yet to build on voluntary programs in the oil and gas industry, which is the largest source of methane emissions. Methane regulations may be considered later this year, but would not be finalized until the end of 2016.

On to cutting energy waste in homes, businesses and factories. Ideally, we’d all want energy that’s both reliable and affordable. Groups like Appalachian Voices have demonstrated that energy efficiency is both the cleanest and most cost-effective method to reduce pollution, grow our economy by creating thousands of jobs, and save money for families and businesses.

The Climate Action Plan and the Better Buildings Initiative imagine that commercial and industrial buildings will be 20 percent more efficient by 2020. In Obama’s first term, DOE and HUD helped more than two million homes become energy efficient. The DOE is also finalizing conservation standards for appliances and equipment that would help customers save more. Finally, the USDA recently announced it would allocate approximately $250 million to developing energy efficiency and renewable energy for commercial and residential customers in rural areas.

By virtue of all the stakeholders mentioned above, President Obama believes the federal government must lead the charge towards a cleaner future. Last year, he signed a Presidential Memorandum dictating renewable sources make up 20 percent of the federal government’s electricity by 2020. By working with the U.S. military and other federal agencies, he hopes to lead by example and prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change. The U.S. Geological Survey plans to spend $13.1 million to develop three-dimensional mapping data to respond to weather disasters. And the Bureau of Indian Affairs is allocating $10 million to teach tribes ways to adapt to climate change.

Even with these initiatives, the road to energy efficiency and clean energy won’t be easy. Considering that Obama’s Climate Action Plan was announced just last year, historic work is starting to move the United States to a sustainable and stable environment. It’s a start, but we certainly have miles to go.

Your comments needed to chart Virginia’s energy future

Friday, June 13th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Help ensure Virginia's upcoming Energy Plan makes clean energy like solar power a priority.

Help ensure Virginia’s upcoming Energy Plan makes clean energy like solar power a priority.

This month Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order to create an energy council tasked with assisting in the development of a comprehensive energy strategy for Virginia. In his announcement, the governor stressed the need for an aggressive analysis that puts Virginia in the position of being a leader in “new energy technologies.”

The results of this analysis will be compiled in the Virginia Energy Plan, a document that state law mandates be rewritten every four years and is due October 1. For those of us who would like to see robust investment in efficiency, wind and solar power as part of those new energy technologies, the task before us clear: make sure the Energy Council hears from us at every opportunity.

Gov. McAuliffe ran on a clean energy jobs platform, and now is the time to make sure that those same ideas are reflected in the plan as it will set the tone on energy policy for the rest of his term. Now is a critical moment to seize that opportunity.

The Energy Council is hosting listening sessions across the state to collect input from citizens on the Energy Plan. The format of these sessions will begin with a 15-minute informational presentation by an expert on a particular topic related to the plan. Citizens will then have time to comment, taking up to three minutes each. Arrive early to sign up to reserve your place on the speakers list.

The schedule for the sessions is:

Public involvement will be critical in making sure that the upcoming Energy Plan guides Virginia away from a dependence on fossil fuel and toward a cleaner energy economy.

Can’t make it to any of these session in person? Send in your comment on Virginia’s energy direction here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communities Pursue Revitalization Plans

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Carvan Craft

Convenient access to local food can be a rare commodity in rural communities. Thanks to the Appalachian Livable Communities grant program, founded in 2012, five Appalachian communities will receive a shared total of $375,000 to help make local food projects a reality.

The grant will fund a new agricultural education facility for local farmers in Berea, Ky. In North Wilkesboro, N.C., the farmers market will be moved to a new downtown location so local produce will be at the focal point of the town. The grant will fund local food networks that focus on education, sustainability, and healthy eating in Huntington, W. Va. The town of Albany, Mississippi will build a riverfront farmers market.

In Forest City, N.C., there are plans to build a Regional Agriculture Innovations Center where farmers can exchange new farming methods. Danielle Withrow, Forest City town planner, says this facility will be “the most comprehensive resource for agriculture in the foothills region.”

There are also plans to relocate the Rutherford County Farmers Market to downtown Forest City. Having a farmers market downtown provides greater access to locally grown food, explains Withrow. She says the city is promoting the farmers market to “give people a local alternative for buying local products.”

Withrow says other environmentally conscious industries will come to Forest City because the community is becoming more sustainability-minded. “In today’s world, people are looking for the places that are doing the right thing,” she adds.

The Appalachian Livable Communities grants are funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For more information, visit arc.gov

Poll Finds Increase in Support for Environment

By Kelsey Boyajian

A recent Gallup-Healthways poll reports that more Americans favor prioritizing environmental protection over economic growth. When the poll began in the 1980s, most Americans gave priority to the environment, but this trend reversed following the 2009 recession, with more Americans endorsing economic growth even if it compromised the environment. In this year’s survey, 50 percent of Americans prefer environmental protection and 41 percent prefer economic growth. Support for environmental protection has increased among both major political parties, and is endorsed by two-thirds of Democrats and one-third of Republicans.

We’re Back: Moral Mondays return to Raleigh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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