Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

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:

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

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

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.”

Climate Change has “firmly moved into the present”

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 - posted by brian


All right, everybody stay calm. We’ve learned (all over again) that not only is climate change real, it has “firmly moved into the present” and its impacts “are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond.”

That’s according to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, a report five years in the making released today that details the observed and projected impacts of climate change in the United States.

“Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” the report’s overview reads. “Scientists and engineers from around the world have meticulously collected this evidence, using satellites and networks of weather balloons, thermometers, buoys and other observing systems. Evidence of climate change is also visible in the observed and measured changes in location and behavior of species and functioning of ecosystems.”

What’s that? You’re not living in the den of denial that still refutes the overwhelming consensus that we as a nation have to get serious about climate change? Well read on anyway, the report may be dense but it has some startling regional and state-level analyses too, you know, for when the reality of climate change just seems too big to grapple with.

Take the Southeast, a part of the country that includes many Appalachian states and thousands of miles of coastlines. According to the assessment, significant sea-level rise, extreme heat and water shortages all threaten the Southeast, a region that more than 80 million people call home.

The authors also note that the Southeast is not only a “major energy producer” of coal, crude oil, and natural gas, it is also the highest energy user of any of the National Climate Assessment regions.

Plenty of other discomforts, and downright disasters, will likely result across the country from continued inaction. Among them are reduced crop and livestock productivity in the Midwest, deluges and freezing temperatures in the Northeast, wildfires in the west, and an increase in disease-causing air pollution inland and along the coasts.

Overall, according to the assessment, U.S. temperatures have warmed between 1.3 and 1.9 degrees since 1895, with most of the increase since 1970, and the period from 2001-2012 was the warmest on record globally.

From the report: “Bars show the difference between each decade’s average temperature and the overall average for 1901-2000.” Click to enlarge. (U.S. Global Change Research Program)

From the report: “Bars show the difference between each decade’s average temperature and the overall average for 1901-2000.” Click to enlarge. (U.S. Global Change Research Program)

The report also lays out the costs of climate disruption across sectors of the U.S. economy. The report places a particular importance on rural communities, like so many in Central and Southern Appalachia, because of their reliance on natural systems, and the fact that they provide the resources — food, energy, water, places to recreate, our national character and culture — that the rest of the America depends on.

In fact, the breakdown of the widespread and interconnected impacts of climate change is partially why the assessment should be a game changer: it provides local and state governments starting points and supporting evidence for swift action and adaptation.

“We’re pleased that the Obama administration and the scientific community as a whole takes the threat of climate change seriously, a fact made even more evident by today’s comprehensive assessment,” Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons said. “But to rise to the challenge at hand, state and federal legislators in Appalachia and the Southeast must join the administration in finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and rethink the ways we power our economy.”

You can browse the entire report here, but that’s the gist of it: climate change is happening predominantly due to burning fossil fuels, it’s making the hottest days hotter and the most destructive storms even more destructive, and it’s basically living up to its reputation as the greatest moral, environmental and economic challenge of our time, or any time.

For a look at what we’re already doing to combat climate change, check out this overview of President Obama’s climate action plan.

Let’s hope this latest reminder of the harsh reality and global implications of a warming planet converts more than a few climate deniers. If a congressionally-mandated assessment produced by a team of more than 300 experts, guided by a 60-member advisory Committee and extensively reviewed by the public, federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences isn’t enough, well, we’re kind of running short on time.

The multi-billion dollar denial machine has been mysteriously, pleasantly, quiet on the climate assessment. But when the fossil-funded lackeys take to whatever “balanced” coverage cable news sees fit for this objectively important report, you have our permission to plug your ears.

McAuliffe can pave the way for a cleaner future for Virginia

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 - posted by cat

{ Editor’s Note }This post ran as an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Tuesday, April 8 — the first day of the annual Environment Virginia Symposium, an environmental conference that brings together regulators, business people and entrepreneurs, elected officials, and citizen groups like Appalachian Voices.

In his keynote speech at the symposium, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he plans to diversify Virginia’s economy by boosting the clean energy sector, which would not only create jobs but also address climate change: “I believe humans contribute to climate change. I think it’s pretty much settled. I think the impacts are felt today.”

In his keynote address at the Environment Virginia Symposium, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he plans to diversify Virginia’s economy by boosting the clean energy sector.

In his keynote address at the Environment Virginia Symposium, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he plans to diversify Virginia’s economy by boosting the clean energy sector.

In almost every campaign speech, Terry McAuliffe told the story of how he started a driveway-paving business in his neighborhood when he was 14 to earn money to help pay for his college education. Now Virginia’s 47th governor, McAuliffe is clearly proud of the moral: Work hard, invest in your future and you’ll go far.

As Gov. McAuliffe begins to apply these values to his gubernatorial agenda, there’s no better place to start than by paving the way for a stronger, more equitable economy for all Virginians by investing in a 21st-century clean-energy sector for the commonwealth.

Wind and solar power and energy efficiency have not only proven to be cost-effective, they can provide long-term jobs throughout the state, stabilize energy costs for families and businesses and strengthen Virginia’s economy. As a first step, McAuliffe should require that all state-owned buildings in Virginia derive at least 20 percent of their power from renewable energy sources, and direct his agencies to become 20 percent more energy efficient.

McAuliffe has numerous other options at his disposal to put forth a clear vision for clean energy and take concrete steps to fortify the clean-energy business sector here in Virginia.

Energy efficiency:

Increasing investments in energy efficiency programs could create nearly 10,000 jobs and save Virginians over $2.2 billion annually on their electric bills by 2025.* But Virginia is far from realizing this opportunity; in fact, we rank 36th nationally for energy efficiency.

Seven years ago, the General Assembly set a voluntary goal to cut energy use by a modest 10 percent by 2022 (from 2006 levels). The state’s two largest electric utilities, Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power, are on track to meet just one-half and one-quarter of that goal, respectively. McAuliffe should press the utilities to invest in more ambitious energy-efficiency programs to benefit the economy, the public and the environment. He should also adopt improved statewide building code standards that could increase efficiency of new home construction by as much as 27 percent.

Solar power:

The solar industry is booming across the country — except in Virginia. Last year, the industry added 14,000 new jobs, while fossil fuel companies cut nearly 4,000 workers. North Carolina has installed enough solar to power more than 25,000 homes and is ranked third for solar installed in 2013 — much of which powers data centers. Virginia trails far behind, with not even enough solar to power 1,000 homes.

Virginia could catch up, or even surpass our neighbors. McAuliffe can jumpstart solar projects by discouraging penalties imposed by utilities on homeowners and businesses who install solar panels, and by supporting policies that allow all Virginians to easily finance solar installations on their homes and businesses.

Wind power:

Virginia has some of the strongest potential for offshore wind energy in the country and holds the first federal license in the mid-Atlantic region, with the potential to produce enough electricity to power 700,000 homes. Dominion holds the lease, but is currently planning to develop just a fraction of that potential, enough to power roughly 4,200 homes, by 2028. McAuliffe should urge Dominion to fully develop this resource, which could create 10,000 additional new jobs over the next 20 years.

Diversifying Southwest Virginia’s economy:

McAuliffe should take immediate and significant action to expand and diversify economic opportunities in Southwest Virginia, especially in communities where coal is mined. Investments in clean energy, tourism, education and manufacturing will help secure a stronger economic future for families that have unfairly suffered poisoned drinking water and streams, soot and dust in the air, severe health problems and other impacts of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

McAuliffe can lead Virginia toward a stronger, healthier, economically just future by championing positive clean-energy policies like these. Our organizations stand ready to work with the governor, his staff and administration to help make that happen.
As a boy, Terry McAuliffe aimed high when he started his first business to invest in his future. He should do the same now for Virginia.

Cat McCue, communications director with Appalachian Voices, on behalf of Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club of Virginia, Southern Environmental Law Center and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Contact her at

* Information for this article was drawn largely from an August 2013 report, “Changing Course: A Clean Energy Investment Plan for Dominion Virginia Power, by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Optimal Energy.

Court Strikes Down Bush-era Water Rule for Coal Mines

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Molly Moore

In February, a U.S. district court struck down the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule, which loosened stream protections near mountaintop removal mining sites, declaring it violated the Endangered Species Act.

Senior Judge Barbara Rothstein wrote that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement wrongfully proceeded with the environmentally harmful rule even when faced with clear evidence that mining operations near streams endanger sensitive wildlife and water resources.

Rothstein’s decision restores the 1983 Reagan administration rule which had established a more environmentally sound buffer zone around waterways to prevent debris and rubble from coal mining operations from burying streams. The 2008 version signed by President George Bush overwrote the 1983 rule and minimized those protections.

The National Mining Association, which intervened in the case, has not announced whether they will appeal Rothstein’s decision.

The decision will likely not have much immediate impact in Kentucky, Virginia or West Virginia, as the 2008 rule was not enforced in states that manage their own surface mining oversight.

A bill passed by the House of Representatives in March, H.R. 2824, would override the recent court decision and require that all states enforce the 2008 rule. It would also stop the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement from issuing an updated rule called the Stream Protection Rule, which the agency says will reflect updated science and technology and could be a “more protective regulatory strategy.”

The bill is unlikely to be considered in the Senate, and White House officials are prepared to recommend a presidential veto, stating that the proposed legislation “does not adequately address the community, environmental, and health impacts of strip mining.”

2014 Races to Watch

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Brian Sewell and Thom Kay

The November 2014 elections are months away, but the figurative starting gun has been fired and the horse-race coverage has begun. To both parties this midterm may seem especially significant. Halfway through President Obama’s second term, some Republicans believe their party is poised to take over the Senate.

Democrats currently have a 55-45 majority, but the party’s incumbents are under fire for standing by President Obama through the most turbulent period of his presidency. Meanwhile, several sitting Republicans will have to make it past a primary challenge by far-right candidates. In the Republican-controlled House of Representatives (234-198), the Democratic party’s highest hope is to keep their caucus intact, picking up seats where they can.

As the midterms approach, here are eight regional races worth keeping an eye on — for their careful (and clumsy) campaign strategies, the millions spent on attack ads, and their implications for Appalachia’s congressional delegation.

U.S. Senate – Kentucky


Mitch McConnell was first elected as a U.S. Senator 30 years ago and is currently the minority leader, the highest position for a Republican in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Considering that Mitt Romney won in Kentucky in 2012 by a staggering 23 percent, it would seem the only possible threat to McConnell’s re-election would be in the Republican primary from a field of challengers that includes businessman Matt Bevin.

But his real opposition comes from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. Grimes won her bid to become Kentucky’s Secretary of State by a huge margin in 2012. Now, however, she faces the difficult task of separating herself from Democratic congressional leadership and the White House.

A recent poll by the Louisville Courier-Journal had Grimes leading McConnell, who, according to the same poll, is slightly less popular than President Obama in the boldly red Bluegrass State.

U.S. Senate – North Carolina


In one of the most contested and costly Senate races in the country, a field of challengers are keeping first-term Sen. Kay Hagan and the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on their toes.

In the lead-up to the May 6 primary, the two GOP frontrunners — Thom Tillis, an influential state legislator, and Tea Party conservative Dr. Greg Brannon — have mostly been busy criticizing each other rather than Hagan.

That role has so far fallen to outside groups such as Americans for Prosperity and others supported by the billionaire Koch brothers, who have already spent more than $8 million on anti-Hagan ads. A spokesperson for Hagan called the Koch-backed efforts a “baseless smear campaign” from a group that “doesn’t speak for North Carolinians.”

North Carolina may be the epicenter for the GOP’s efforts to take control of the Senate, but some progressives are also sour on Hagan’s record due to her prominent support of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. An Elon University poll released on March 3 found that just one-third of registered voters in North Carolina approve of Hagan’s job performance.

U.S. Senate – Tennessee


Sen. Lamar Alexander’s seat is solidly Republican — even Democratic strategists say the second-term senator is more likely to be defeated in the Aug. 7 primary challenge than be unseated by a Democrat such as challenger Terry Adams, who recently declared his candidacy.

That may be why Tennessee State Rep. Joe Carr decided to enter the race last August. “[Alexander] is popular, but there is a disconnect with his popularity to the way he has voted,” Carr said upon announcing his candidacy. The race in Tennessee provides a look at how opposition aimed at moderate Republicans from the party’s far-right wing has been increasing. Last year, a letter from the Tennessee Tea Party urged Alexander, a former governor and two-term presidential candidate, to “retire with dignity.”

In his response, Alexander said he would rather stick around, because “Washington needs more, not fewer, conservatives who know how to govern.”

A recent poll conducted by Middle Tennessee State University found that 47 percent of self-identified Republicans favored Alexander in the primary. Just 7 percent favored Carr and 4 percent wanted “someone else.”

U.S. Senate – Virginia


Democrats considered Sen. Mark Warner’s seat safe until Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, entered the race. Warner, a rumored presidential contender, has been in the Senate since 2009. Gillespie has so far focused his campaign on health care and the economy. He has never held elective office, but nevertheless has the credentials and the fundraising experience from decades of advising GOP politicians to represent a serious challenge to Warner. A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University at the end of March, however, found Warner with a 15-point advantage over Gillespie.

U.S. Senate – West Virginia


Between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, West Virginia saw a monumental swing toward the Republican Party. Of the 3,410 counties in the United States, Boone County, W.Va., saw the largest pro-Republican swing, approximately 42 percent. Suddenly, five-term senator and incumbent Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat, seemed vulnerable. In November 2012, U.S. Representative Shelley Moore Capito announced she would run for Rockefeller’s seat. Two months later, Rockefeller announced he would not seek re-election. As of the end of March, Capito had a double-digit lead over the Democratic candidate, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. If she replaces Rockefeller, Capito will be the first Republican elected to represent West Virginia in the Senate since 1956. Either would be the state’s first female senator.

U.S. House – Kentucky’s 3rd District


Louisville, Ky., native Rep. John Yarmuth joined Congress in 2007 after defeating Republican incumbent Anne Northup. In September 2013, Yarmuth joined the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce, putting him in the middle of debates concerning environmental and energy policy.

This year, Yarmuth faces a challenge from Dr. Michael MacFarlane, a Louisville-based physician critical of the Obama administration’s health care initiative. MacFarlane is popular for his financial support of state and federal Republican candidates, but he must overcome his party’s losing record from the last three elections to bring Kentucky’s 3rd district back into Republican control.

U.S House – Virginia’s 10th District


When Rep. Frank Wolf announced he would not be running for an 18th term late last year, attention from both parties shifted to northern Virginia’s 10th District. A wide field of Republicans, including Virginia State Delegate Barbara Comstock, are vying for a primary win come April, while Democrats plan to nominate a candidate from their party’s pool — which includes Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust — ahead of the primary, to bolster their chances of winning the long Republican-held seat.

According to the Rothenberg Political Report, after Virginia’s redistricting in 2012, the 10th district is competitive but remains slightly Republican.

U.S. House – West Virginia’s 3rd District


Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat, has won 19 straight congressional elections, and while his margin of victory has shrunk in the past few races, he still managed to win somewhat comfortably in 2010 and 2012.

This year, however, may be different. Republicans have gradually made headway in southern West Virginia, where voters have strongly rejected President Obama. Republican strategists and outside groups have made Rahall a top target, dumping millions into attack ads attempting to tie Rahall to Democratic leadership and President Obama. State Sen. Evan Jenkins, formerly a Democrat, is the runaway favorite for the Republican nomination.

Attempts at Legislation, Regulation Follow Water Threats

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Molly Moore

Almost as soon as West Virginia American Water Company ordered 300,000 residents to avoid contact with their tap water, the question arose: why was crude MCHM, a chemical now known to be highly toxic, so poorly understood and regulated?

The lack of a clear answer brought national attention to the fact that few of the tens of thousands of chemicals used in commerce today are regulated. Of the more than 60,000 chemicals that were grandfathered in when the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, only 200 have been tested for safety.

Even before a Freedom Industries chemical tank leaked into the Elk River, efforts to upgrade the 35-year-old chemical safety law were underway. But while industry and environmental groups both claim to agree on the need for reform, opinions are split on the best way to move forward.

In the Senate, the most viable piece of legislation is the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, which was introduced last spring by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La). The bill represented a compromise for Lautenberg, who for several years had championed more stringent chemical regulations. Also in February, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) introduced a related bill — the Chemicals in Commerce Act — in the House. Both bills are supported by the American Chemistry Council, but the reception from public health and environmental organizations has ranged from lukewarm to hostile.

The bills would divide chemicals into high- and low-priority groups, with high-priority substances undergoing further review. If a chemical were deemed low-priority, however, states would lose the ability to regulate it, and it would be extremely difficult for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess or restrict the chemical later. Many of the concerns surrounding this system involve how the EPA would decide whether a chemical is high or low priority, and whether the agency could require a chemical manufacturer to provide enough information about a substance to make a sound decision.

In direct response to the West Virginia spill, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill about the storage of hazardous chemicals. Among other provisions, Manchin’s Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act would set minimum requirements for state inspections of above-ground chemical storage facilities and state-approved emergency response plans, and require that information about chemical storage be shared with drinking water systems in the same watershed.

Just as the chemical safety concerns raised by the West Virginia spill highlighted an enduring threat, Duke Energy’s February coal ash spill into the Dan River in North Carolina highlighted the persistent problems associated with coal ash storage. Following a 2008 dam rupture at a coal ash pond in Harriman, Tenn., which released one billion gallons of the toxic substance into nearby rivers, coal ash became a high-profile environmental issue. In early 2009, the EPA announced a plan to address coal ash and, among other measures, “order cleanup and repairs where needed, and develop new regulations for future safety.”

Five years later, however, there are still no federal regulations governing coal ash storage or the cleanup of contaminated sites, though the agency faces a court-ordered deadline to issue a rule by mid-December. The EPA is considering two proposals — one system would label coal ash as nonhazardous while the other would declare it hazardous and require stricter regulations. A bill that passed the House last summer and is pending in the Senate would negate any EPA regulations and leave oversight up to the states.

The Duke Energy coal ash spill also came just a few months before the EPA faces another court-ordered deadline, this one to address water pollution from coal-fired power plants. By May 22, the agency must update its 30 year-old effluent guideline rule under the Clean Water Act, which could impose the first federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in the wastewater that power plants discharge.

For updates on coal ash regulation, visit Appalachian Voices’ Red, White and Water campaign at, or track chemical safety legislation on the Green Chemistry Law Report at