Posts Tagged ‘Politics’
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.
“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’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.
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:
- Tuesday, June 17, 6 pm, Presentation by LEAP on Energy Efficiency R&D, Northern Virginia Community College, 8333 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, VA
- Thursday, June 19, 6 pm, Presentation on Energy Infrastructure and Efficiency, Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, 820 Bruce Street, South Boston, VA
- Tuesday, June 24, 6 pm, Presentation on Energy Efficiency and Coal as a Source, Virginia Highlands Community College, 100 VHCC Drive, Building ISC, Abingdon, VA
- Thursday, June 26, 6 pm, Presentation on Offshore Wind Power and Economic Development, Old Dominion University, Bluestone Avenue and 49th Street, Norfolk, VA
- Tuesday, July 1, 6 pm, Presentation on Advanced Vehicle Technology and Alternative Fuels, James Madison University, 127 West Bruce Street, Harrisonburg, VA
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
* 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.
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.”