Posts Tagged ‘Politics’
Tom Perriello, a lifelong resident of Ablemarle County, Va., is a steadfast supporter of environmental and poverty concerns. He used his background in law to prosecute warlords in West Africa, was named one of Time Magazine’s “40 under 40” in 2010, and represented Virginia’s 5th district from 2009 to 2011. While in Congress, he supported “cap and trade” legislation, a market-based approach to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and co-sponsored the Clean Water Protection Act to sharply curtail mountaintop removal coal mining. Currently, he is president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and counselor for policy to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. He spoke with Alix John, Appalachian Voices’ editorial assistant, earlier this summer.
Would you say that your faith has influenced your support on environmental policy and conservation?
I think one of the central tenets is certainly to feel some responsibility to take care of [the] beauty that we’ve been given, and I think it’s also true that there’s a core sense of personal responsibility … not to take from future generations or leave them in a worse place in terms of the environment and conditions. And I also think that from our faith that … there’s an emphasis on caring for the most vulnerable among us and I think what we know when it comes to many issues of the environment is that it is our poorest community as well as the youngest and the elderly who are most affected by much of the pollution that comes into the environment.
So I think in that sense my faith has been central to my sense of general personal responsibility, in which the environment plays off caring for what God’s given us and of that sense that we have to take particular care for those who have the least among us and that tend to be disproportionately affected by the pollution of our air, water, and bodies.
How influential would you say the coal industry is in Virginia politics?
You know, I think that there is some influence. Certainly not what it has been in the past … I think that the two most powerful things in politics are money and voters. And I think that the [coal lobby is] powerful to the extent that they have a lot of money but have a message that isn’t resonating and I think that’s much less powerful.
I think the coal industry has tried a series of arguments that have been working less and less effectively that suggest that somehow following 100 percent of their agenda is the key to those jobs. You saw this in the last election cycle, where they threatened that if Obama was re-elected, they would immediately have to lay off all of these workers. What you saw, actually was that they brought back workers and so I think they probably cried wolf a few too many times.
I think most voters are smart enough to look at the facts that these people seem a lot more interested in maximizing the profits of a few than protecting the jobs of the many — and that undermines the political influence they have.
How does the coal industry’s influence affect Virginia and the country?
I think that the best thing for our country is that the government reflects the people; that’s essential to a democracy. To the extent that they’re using money for threats to pervert that process, I think that is unhealthy for our country and I think that unfortunately you’ve seen from several of the key figures of the coal industry, repeated willingness to say things that are dishonest, to put workers at risk, to put jobs at risk, for protecting their own concentration of profits. I think in that sense you have both an economic perversion and a democratic perversion.
So, I don’t have a problem with any group organizing supporters. I think that’s important, but I have an opposition to any group that tries to buy the process, or use threats, to try to pervert that process. That’s not right for Virginia and that’s not right for the country.
Why do you think strong energy efficiency policies are important for our region and our country?
Fundamentally, we have to have a strategy to outcompete the world if we’re going to have the kind of job that can support middle and working class families. Energy efficiency, by its very nature, means we’re being more efficient; we’re reducing costs, which is going to be one of the keys for America outcompeting the world. We’re on the edge of innovation and technology and we’ve already seen this get internalized.
American families are already saving a ton of money because of these efficiency standards that are demanded by investments and by environmental groups. I think there are a lot of families out there who are glad to know they’re having to consume less energy and less electricity and less gas because of these efficiency standards that put us in there. So it makes us more competitive by increasing efficiency across the board but also by spurring the kind of technological innovation that we do better than anybody else in the world.
Do you think it’s difficult for politicians to implement strong energy efficiency policies?
I think it’s tough, but not impossible. I think it’s a combination of elected some officials that have the backbone to do what they know is right for the country and where we’ve seen that, we’ve seen great gains. Sometimes that can be done by executive action, which the president has done with fuel efficiency standards. And sometimes it’s with investments, such as the research development and battery technology and other things. Sometimes it’s by [supporting] the brightest minds of today, like we saw with Tesla, paying back its loan — I think 9 years early and in-full — for its groundbreaking work in automotive technology.
I think this is a place where success breeds success. I think where politicians have stepped up and supported this, the return for American families and American businesses have been quite significant and we can build on that.
What do you think can be done to fix the policy gridlock on something as simple as energy efficiency?
Well, I wish I had a magic wand on this one. I think we have to reach a point where political leaders are more interested in doing what’s right, than what scores them points with their base. I think the gerrymandering-on-steroids that we’ve seen in the last few years has made more and more officials, particularly Republican officials, more worried about a primary challenge than they’re worried about appealing to Independent voters. That’s a problem.
I think there are a lot of business leaders and economists who will tell you over and over again how important energy efficiency and clean energy are to our economy. But are they willing to just put that in a way that says, “I’m going to make this something that affects my political decisions of who I donate to and who I support.” And I think we’re starting to see, with the kind of extreme weather patterns and the billions of dollars that are associated with it, you see independent groups like actuaries who don’t have, you know, a political axe to grind building this into their models because of the enormous expense.
I think it’s a time where, frankly, we need a little bit of leadership and guts from our political leaders and then I think we need to look at some of the structural issues, like the role of money in politics and extreme gerrymandering.
What can regular citizens and citizen groups do to promote, or encourage energy efficiency policy?
I think people should never underestimate how much their voice matters. And even if you feel like you’re represented by someone in Congress who seems to … bury their head in the sand, and act like reality isn’t real, it’s still worth speaking up. Write a letter to the editor, make a phone call to the member, so I think that’s one thing — never stop using your voice as a citizen and joining with other citizens.
And the second thing, I think nothing breeds success like success and so one of the ways to do it is to start a business in this field, or to support a business in this field. You know, there is real money to be made in doing the kind of home efficiency rebuilds and other things that can increase efficiency over time and work with the business communities and others to do that. I think one of the ways to really do that is to try to lead by demonstrating and there’s a lot of room for that right now.
Some make the argument that reducing carbon pollution cost jobs. How would you respond to that?
I think you can look just in the last couple of years at what China’s doing. China is out-investing us in energy efficiency. They’re actually now looking like they may put in a cap-and-trade system before we do, because they understand this is going to be crucial in who wins jobs of the future. So, if you look at Germany and why one of the reasons they’ve been so successful when the rest of Europe has been struggling during this economic crisis, the huge part is they made a major investment in clean energy jobs and continue to have the kind of manufacturing jobs that you can support a middle class family with. The key to American jobs in the future is for us to be ahead of the curve, not following China on these issues.
In Congress you supported the Clean Water Protection Act, which would have kept toxic waste from mountaintop removal sites out of streams. Why is it important to you that we look to move away from mountaintop removal?
Well, I think your organization has done more than just about any others on educating people about the facts with mountaintop removal. I think at a minimum, citizens have a right to know what’s being put into their streams, and keeping toxic waste out of streams. This does not seem like a particularly controversial standard to me.
There’s been an argument made for a long time by people who got very rich making the argument that [mountaintop removal coal mining] is going to be good for these communities and the reality has not played out that way. And what we find is, rather than allowing a race to the bottom to exist, in which companies race to see how badly they can destroy communities and rivers, we should be able to set a base standard … We made a promise to our citizens for a long time that asking for clean air and clean water is not too much to ask for. We should continue to live up to that promise and believe that we can — it’s not too much to ask — that we’re not poisoning our citizens.
We’ll kick off this Tennessee Tuesday post with what seemed like a small story in the big world of Tennessee politics. Last week, the New York Times editorial page blog offered some extra thoughts on a Tea Party letter to Tenn. Senator Lamar Alexander, in which the Tea Party compelled Alexander to retire from office because “our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous.”
Here’s what the NYT had to say in response:
TVA says they are in line with the president’s plan on climate change! National Coal is packing their bags and leaving Tennessee! More solar is on the way! Cleaner air, healthier kids, fewer coal plants? It sure does make sense for Tennessee.
We’re having our Tuesday with a dash of Wednesday today over here at Appalachian Voices’ Tennessee HQ. It’s been a big week in the energy world, with President Obama delivering a much bally-hooed speech about his administration’s plans to address climate change through the remainder of his term, and the U.S. Senate Shaheen-Portman (S 761).
Let’s drive straight over to President Obama’s supposedly historic speech on his administration’s plans to address climate change. You can watch the full speech on whitehouse.gov, see the nifty infographic they put together here, and read Appalachian Voices’ statement here.
Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons said (and I agree, not only ’cause he’s my boss):
President Obama must stop industry from pushing the costs of doing business off on communities and our environment, while doing more to invest in energy efficiency and renewable sources, particularly in Appalachia and other regions that have borne the brunt of a fossil-fuel economy. For example, the administration’s plan to provide up to $250 million in loan guarantees to rural utilities to finance job-creating energy efficiency and renewable energy investments is a great start. Compare this to the $8 billion in the president’s plan for loan guarantees supporting fossil fuel projects, and its clear that we need to see a much stronger commitment.
Two of the key points of criticism from many environmental, health and public interest groups was that the president’s plan — while taking some important steps on emissions from coal-fired power plants — was essentially a green light for natural gas fracking, and didn’t mention mountaintop removal coal mining at all.
In fact, due to the looming speech, and a slowing Chinese economy, coal shares took a giant nosedive at the beginning of the week. Perhaps that’s another reason that we’ve just learned that National Coal — once Tennessee’s largest coal company — will no longer be doing surface mining in Tennessee. Congratulations to our friends at Sierra Club, SOCM, Tennessee Clean Water Network, and Appalachian Mountain Advocates. We will have more on that case on this blog soon.
On the heels of Republican-led legislative threats to environmental protection and renewable energy in North Carolina, Republican Governor Pat McCrory deemed June “Solar Energy Month” at a solar farm in Wake County on June 4.
This acknowledgment is definitely deserved, considering North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation for new clean energy projects and jobs during the beginning months of 2013. Clean energy has grown tremendously in the state over the past five years and has saved 8.2 million megawatt-hours, according to a study by Research Triangle Institute.
“We think the energy business, alongside with agriculture, will help North Carolina get out of this recession,” McCrory said at the declaration, according to the News & Observer.
Strata Solar CEO Markus Wilhelm, who owns one of the largest solar companies in the country, said to the News & Observer that he considered McCrory to be a “friend” of the solar industry.
Wilhelm also said that the growth in solar power usage in North Carolina is due to the state’s support of renewable energy.
…HaslamConnectedLobbyistSellingPublicLandstoCoalCompanies! OH MY!!
Good morning, and welcome to your Tennessee Tuesday, our weekly holler from your Tennessee hills.
Drop us a note in the comments to say hello, let us know a bit about yourself, what you’re interested in and what stories we might be missing. It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the Volunteer State in the world of energy, TVA and Congress, so let’s get right to it.
Believe it or not, both houses of Congress, with support from both parties, are moving on important pieces of legislation to protect our mountains, and to promote energy efficiency.
As several Appalachian Tennesseans came to Washington, D.C., the bi-partisan Clean Water Protection Act was introduced by Congressmen Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Dave Reichert (R-WA), and already has more than 50 cosponsors from both parties and from all across the nation. The Clean Water Protection Act is a simple bill that would make it illegal for coal companies to perform the “valley fills” associated with mountaintop removal coal mining. Congressman Cooper (D-TN-05) and Congressman Cohen (D-TN-09) are both original cosponsors of the bill! You can call them using the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 to say “thanks for cosponsoring the Clean Water Protection Act, and for protecting our mountains.”
We had a fantastic victory in the U.S. Senate, where the Senate Energy Committee passed a bipartisan Energy Savings Bill (S 761) by a vote of 19-3. Senator Alexander sits on this panel and voted AYE, and you can call his office at 202-224-4944 to say “thanks for supporting S 761 and promoting energy efficiency for our country.” This bill, introduced by Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Portman (R-OH), would save energy by improving building codes, while incentivizing industrial energy efficiency and promoting energy savings at federal buildings. That bill now moves on to the Senate floor while the House counterpart (HR 1616) awaits committee action.
During their push to abolish, obstruct and stymie the Environmental Protection Agency over the past few years, House Republicans have beleaguered the agency for regulatory measures they consider “job-killing” or “anti-industry,” hoping to revert federal environmental regulation to state control or make protections obsolete altogether.
Those in favor of federal rules have argued that national standards allow for the most effective and consistent protections and, as a result, will lead to reduced costs in health care directly associated with air and water pollution.
A new report from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget makes a clear case for why the country needs the EPA. The report includes an analysis of the costs and benefits of a number of federal regulations over the past decade and shows EPA rules, especially those pertaining to air protection, to be the most costly among all the rules evaluated but also the most beneficial.
The budget office estimates that the EPA’s rules account for 58 to 80 percent of the monetized benefits of all federal rules, but 44 to 54 percent of the total costs. Out of these benefits, close to 99 percent come from rules that seek to improve air quality. The report claims that the large estimated benefits of the EPA rules following the arrival of the Clean Air Act stem mostly from the reduction of a single air pollutant: fine particulate matter.
The litany of voices pointing to the writing on the wall for the Central Appalachian coal industry continues to grow. They’re saying the same thing in almost every way imaginable, and have been for some time.
Watching coal production decline and demand shift as other energy sources out-compete coal domestically, it is vital that policymakers in Central Appalachia begin implementing policies and investments aimed at building a foundation for economic alternatives in coal-producing counties. A report released this morning by the consulting firm Downstream Strategies is a pretty good reminder why.
“The Continuing Decline in Demand for Central Appalachian Coal: Market and Regulatory Influences” expands on a January 2010 study and provides a detailed look at the challenges Central Appalachia faces, further making the case for the urgent need to act.
As the report’s lead author, Rory McIlmoil, who recently joined Appalachian Voices’ staff as energy policy director, points out:
Numerous factors influence demand for Central Appalachian coal, each of which has had — and will continue to have — a significant impact on the local economies where the coal is mined. In 2010, we recommended that state and local leaders take immediate steps to help diversify coalfield economies. To a large extent, that has not happened. However, it is vital that public officials begin making the political and financial investments necessary to build the foundation for new economic development opportunities in coal-producing counties.
Among the scary legislation developing in the North Carolina assembly, there are two bills — one a monster of bad environmental reform and the other back from the dead in order to snuff out the state’s renewable energy — which stand out from the creepy pack. These bills are not exactly the slow and shambling kind of creatures from old 50s horror movies, though, and are moving quickly through the state legislature.
The first, the newly-drafted Senate Bill 612, or Regulatory Reform Act, could have many wide-sweeping and detrimental consequences for environmental regulations in North Carolina. The legislation, which passed through the state Senate last Thursday, would limit how local governments can produce and control regulations to protect the environment. Among other measures to weaken environmental protections, the bill would:
- Loosen requirements for cleaning up groundwater pollution
- Loosen requirements for burying demolition debris
- Force state environmental rules to be equal to or less strong than federal standards
- Loosen regulations in place to help wetlands
- Create a fast-track system for erosion-control permits
The first point, fewer requirements for cleaning up pollution in groundwater, is hugely concerning. This provision would increase compliance boundaries to a facility’s property line, allowing coal-fired power plants and other industrial facilities to pollute groundwater farther away from their sites.
Second on the list, demolition debris can contain anything from lead paint to asbestos to PCBs, all of which are more likely to pollute water sources if not adequately buried. The provision does not clarify how coal ash waste applies to “demolition debris” and thus the bill could help power plants avoid certain aspects of the permitting process for coal ash ponds.
Another worrisome aspect of the bill is that it would require state environmental agencies and commissions to identify and repeal any existing rules that are stricter than similar federal rules and likewise would not allow local governments to produce rules stronger than state or federal rules. (more…)