Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

President’s Budget Proposal Includes Boons for Appalachia

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - posted by molly

By Brian Sewell

Central Appalachian communities weathering coal’s long decline would see a boost in funding under the White House budget released in February.

The Obama administration’s 2016 budget calls for an additional $200 million per year over the next five years to restore dangerous, unreclaimed mines, mostly in the Appalachian region.

The budget proposal also includes $20 million to provide employment services and job training specifically to help laid-off coal miners and power plant employees transition to jobs in other fields. The Appalachian Regional Commission would see its $70 million budget grow by roughly one-third, with $25 million in new funding directed to communities “most impacted by coal economic transition” to support a range of economic development initiatives.

The president’s proposed budget may never become law, but legislators are likely to debate the measures as Congress crafts its own budget proposals.

Fighting Mountaintop Removal During the Obama Years

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - posted by allison

It’s Still Happening

Editorial by Thom Kay, Appalachian Voices Legislative Associate

In 2009, after President Obama took office, there was a great deal of optimism among Appalachian Voices and our allies. New agency heads and White House spokespersons parroted the talking point that “the administration will do what the science calls for.” In Appalachia, the science calls for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining.

It’s been nearly six years since the Obama administration took over. In that time, together with those who have been directly impacted by mountaintop removal, Appalachian Voices staff has met with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement more times than we can count. On top of that, our supporters have sent tens of thousands of letters to these agencies.



A series of Google Earth images of Magoffin County, Ky., shows the growth of the Right Oakley Surface Mine operated by Licking River Mining, LLC. The images are from June 2008, June 2010 and October 2013, which is the most recent date available.

So what has all of that gotten us? The administration has fallen woefully short of what we had hoped. Of all of the ways to gauge success, one simple question sits atop the list: is mountaintop removal coal mining still happening in Appalachia? Sadly, the answer is “Yes.”

I don’t want to be unfair to the people in these agencies who have worked tirelessly to limit the pollution from mountaintop removal. Indeed, they have done far more to curtail the destructive mining practice than either the Clinton or Bush administrations. While that’s a low bar, they have made significant changes, and there is less mountaintop removal mining today then there was between 2002 and 2008. Part of that is due to market forces, and part of that is due to the actions of the Obama administration. These actions, however, have not been enough.

There is only one sufficient solution to the problem of mountaintop removal, and that is total abolishment. Anything short of that is a failure. At first glance, this may sound extreme, and even unreasonable. But there is never a time when it is okay to blow up a mountain, dump the waste into valleys, and put the health of local communities at risk by filling their air and water with dangerous chemicals, heavy metals and particulate matter. There is a right and wrong way to do many things, but there is no right way to do mountaintop removal coal mining.

The Obama administration should allow the science around mountaintop removal to drive their policy making. Regrettably, they have chosen politics and public perception as their top priorities. They want people to think they are moderate and reasonable, and they are willing to sacrifice good policy in order to maintain that appearance.

When I have met with administration officials, they seem to believe they have done enough work on mountaintop removal. They have taken steps to limit the amount of mines, valley fills and overall pollution. But modest steps are not good enough for us, and they are not good enough for communities in Appalachia who continue to live with the nightmare of mountaintop removal.

Since the beginning of the administration’s first term in 2009, Appalachian Voices has advocated for them to stop issuing any permits for mountaintop removal mines. Instead of refusing all permits associated with mountaintop removal mining, they have chosen to issue permits for mines and valley fills. The Obama administration has issued fewer permits than its predecessors, but permits have been issued nevertheless.

Our next goal was for the EPA and the Army Corps to work together to change the definition of the term “fill material” in the Clean Water Act to exclude mining waste, which would eliminate the use of valley fills, and, thus, eliminate the biggest mines in Appalachia. From the first meeting we had with them, the White House has refused to change the definition of “fill material.” While we pushed at the beginning of the president’s first term, it soon became clear that they would never even consider taking action.


Members of the Alliance for Appalachia rally outside the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 2013. During the citizen lobby week, members of The Alliance, which is comprised of 15 organizations including Appalachian Voices, met with representatives of the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.

Right from the start, we were met with disappointment, but there still are alternative paths forward. There are several things the administration can do between now and the end of Obama’s term in January of 2017. In order to make long-lasting changes that benefit Appalachia, the EPA, OSMRE, Army Corps and DOI will all need to be involved, and it will take White House leadership to make that happen.

Since 2009, OSMRE has been developing a much-needed Stream Protection Rule. A draft is not expected to be released until the middle of 2015, so the precise contents of the rule are unknown. What we do know is that the rule will regulate surface coal mining in or near streams, and would replace an outdated 1983 rule. It has the potential to be the most important action the administration takes to curtail mountaintop removal, if they choose to include strong safeguards against mining waste polluting Appalachian streams.

Politics will of course play a big role in the final version of the Stream Protection Rule. Coal industry allies in Congress have already put enormous pressure on OSMRE and Department Director Joe Pizarchik. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in spring of 2014 that would prohibit OSMRE from completing the rule-making process. While that effort has been blocked from moving forward in the Senate by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), next Congress will be different, as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), an ardent ally of the coal industry, is expected to take over as majority leader. It’s almost certain we will have a fight on our hands in the Senate at some point next year.

The administration’s next opportunity is for the EPA to create a water quality standard for conductivity. For years, the EPA has known that conductivity, a measure of the amount of dissolved solids in water, is a critical indicator of stream health. Based on the best science, mountaintop removal mining results in conductivity levels elevated beyond what is healthy for streams, and a science-based water quality standard for conductivity would result in violations for practically all mountaintop removal mines.

A rule-making can take years, and at this point the current EPA may have already blown their opportunity to do a full water quality standard for conductivity. With the knowledge that mountaintop removal mines result in unhealthy conductivity levels for nearby streams, the EPA should, at the very least, refuse to issue permits for new mines.

The EPA also has an opportunity to create a federal standard for selenium pollution. Selenium bioaccumulates within fish, birds and reptiles, where it causes serious deformities, reproductive failure and death.

Grassroots Progress Report

The agency is currently considering a new selenium standard, but their latest proposal for a standard is convoluted, unenforceable, and may take away one of our most reliable tools in fighting water pollution from mountaintop removal. Instead of relying on regulators to handle monitoring for the thousands of cases of water pollution from mountaintop removal — a task they have repeatedly proven incapable of doing — citizens need to be able to monitor water in their own communities. Together with community members, we have been able to do that monitoring, but rules that make such monitoring more difficult are a huge step backward. EPA needs to implement a protective selenium standard that is enforceable by citizens and regulators alike.

The coal industry will continue doing everything in their power to prevent strong conductivity and selenium standards. Most industry resistance has been in the courts, but in several congressional hearings over the past few years, members of Congress have spewed coal company talking points in an attempt to put political pressure on the administration. The industry and their allies in Congress will continue to push back against effective safeguards. They will use every dollar and every trick they have to maintain their grip on the region. And they will do everything they can to hold off the day Appalachia can move past mountaintop removal.

It’s true, the Obama administration has taken steps to limit the pollution from mountaintop removal. But mountaintop removal coal mining is still happening, and that is unacceptable. If the White House fully commits over the next two years, they can make huge changes that will benefit Appalachia for generations. If they continue to take half measures, however, it will be an enormous opportunity lost.

Climate Action Plan has Major Implications for Coal

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 - posted by molly

By Brian Sewell

In late June, President Obama announced his administration’s climate action plan. The speech at Georgetown University signaled to Congress that the president was keeping his promise to come up with executive actions to address the threat of climate change, and reignited claims of a “war on coal” in Central Appalachia and nationwide.

The centerpiece of the administration’s plan is an order to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set limits on the amount of carbon emitted from the United State’s nearly 600 coal-fired power plants.

While there is no promise that the EPA will meet future deadlines, a specific timeline for future rules was included in a White House memo sent to the EPA. The EPA is now required to finalize standards on existing plants by June 2015. States will be given a year to submit implementation plans for the rules.

In the meantime, coal’s future looks increasingly bleak. In July, the World Bank announced it will end the financing of coal plants except in circumstances where there are no feasible alternatives. And Goldman Sachs issued a paper with the blunt title “The Window for Thermal Coal Investment is Closing.”

Following Obama’s speech, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) led a delegation of state officials including West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, mine industry representatives, and union officials to the White House to urge the EPA to scale back its plans to impose stricter rules on both the burning and disposal of coal.

While Gov. Tomblin informed the media that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the receptive attitude of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, he told the Beckley, W.Va., Register-Herald that “if [the EPA] is making policies we can’t live with, then obviously the only alternative we have is to go back to court.”

Where Should Renewables Go?

A recent study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that wind and solar achieve greater health and climate benefits in Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia than in other parts of the country, because they replace the most electricity generated by coal plants. “A wind turbine in West Virginia displaces twice as much carbon dioxide and seven times as much health damage as the same turbine in California,” said Kyle Siler-Evans, a Ph.D. researcher from Carnegie Mellon University.

EIA’s Future: Not Without Fossil Fuels

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released its biannual International Energy Outlook, which forecasts worldwide energy use during the next 30 years. While renewable energy sources and nuclear power will be the fastest growing energy sources through 2040, the report projects that fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, will still comprise 80 percent of world energy use.

By 2040, the report estimates that renewables’ share of world energy use will be 15 percent, up from 11 percent in 2010.

Spruce Mine Veto Upheld, Again

A federal appeals court in July denied Arch Coal’s request to rehear their challenge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s veto of a permit for a massive West Virginia strip mine. A three-judge panel in April had ruled that the EPA had the legal right to revoke a Clean Water permit in 2011 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had awarded years before to Arch Coal. The EPA said destructive practices at the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County would cause irreparable environmental damage. Arch Coal currently has a 90-day period to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Forward on Climate!

Monday, February 18th, 2013 - posted by Appalachian Voices

By Matt Abele
Multimedia Communications intern, Fall 2012/Spring 2013

This past weekend’s Forward on Climate rally in Washington, D.C., made it more evident than ever that America is ready for a clean energy future. I arrived on a bus from Asheville, N.C., to join close to 50,000 people from across the country and world. As a collective, we showed up inspired and enthused, ready to bring the fight to the White House.

Join the nearly 80,000 people who have signed an open letter to the president calling for bold climate action!

People gathered around a central stage located next to the Washington Monument to listen to keynote speakers ranging from U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to indigenous leaders from the U.S. and Canada. These speakers rallied up the crowd as they charged them to stand behind President Obama and make sure he sticks to his promise of a clean energy future by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and promoting alternatives to coal, gas and oil.

Appalachian Voices staff attended the rally to support communities that have been devastated by mountaintop removal. We were there to join 167 fellow sponsoring organizations in a call for climate action, but also to remind those calling for major policy shifts that economic diversification in the region must be included in a national strategy to combat climate change.

President Obama Focuses on Energy Jobs

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 - posted by jw

Climate, Energy, Efficiency Feature as Key Pieces of SOTU

The first “State of the Union” address of President Obama’s second term had a little something for everybody. The President was aggressive about the need to tackle the problem of climate change, while using broad economic language to describe the potential benefits of growth in solar, wind, energy efficiency, and increased oil and gas exploration and consumption.

About the only energy industry the President didn’t throw a verbal bone to was the coal industry. But that doesn’t mean Appalachia isn’t directly implicated in some of the President’s new proposals.

Perhaps most importantly for our region, was how enthusiastically the President pushed rapid American investment in energy efficiency, saying:

I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

We live right here in the Saudi Arabia of energy waste – the southeastern United States. As such, Appalachian Voices staff and members listened to this proposal with great interest. Energy efficiency is the lowest hanging fruit to negate and replace declining coal demand. It is cheap, clean, and creates loads of good jobs while lowering electricity demand. Few places are better suited to take advantage of the enormous potential of energy efficiency than Appalachia and the southeastern United States, and efforts to use our resources more wisely could provide an out-sized benefit to our historically wasteful region…

WATCH: Appalachian Kids Give Science Lesson to President Obama

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013 - posted by matt

Children in Appalachian coal mining communities are 42% more likely to be born with birth defects and have a life expectancy that is almost 5 years lower than the national average. As this short video shows, they understand why:

Dozens of scientific studies have linked mountaintop removal coal mining to high rates of cancer and other diseases in nearby communities. But as these children explain, you don’t need to be a scientist to understand the devastating impact that mountaintop removal has on the health and quality of life of people living nearby.

Thanks to thousands of people who have spoken up for Appalachian mountains and communities time and again, President Obama’s agencies have taken major steps to reduce the destruction caused by mountaintop removal coal mining over the past four years.

As the president is sworn in to a second term later this month, we have an opportunity to finish the job and stop mountaintop removal once and for all. But we need to ensure that President Obama makes this a priority in his second term.

That’s where you come in. Please join these kids in sending a clear message to the White House: No more excuses, Mr. President. End mountaintop removal. Now.

Help these children spread the word about what’s happening in their communities by sharing this video with your friends, family and colleagues.

AV and iLoveMountains Launch No More Excuses Campaign

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 - posted by molly

Appalachian Voices, in conjunction with, recently launched a two-pronged campaign to solicit reelected President Obama to end the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.

With our new report summarizing the human cost of mountaintop removal coal mining and a nationwide campaign through, we are telling the Obama Administration, “No More Excuses — End Mountaintop Removal Now.”

Since the president took office, more than 20 peer-reviewed studies have concluded that mountaintop removal contributes to significantly higher rates of birth defects, cancer, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases among individuals in the region where the destructive form of mining occurs.

The No More Excuses campaign features children who are already campaigning against mountaintop removal through various groups, including some children that have lived in or near areas impacted by mountaintop removal.

Shortly after winning the election in 2008, President Obama said: “Science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation… It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient.” During his first administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made steps to curtail the rubber-stamping of permits, which made it more difficult for companies to obtain mountaintop removal mining approval, but the measure was struck down by a federal court.

Our special report, “Mapping The Human Cost of Mountaintop Removal,” is also a companion piece to an interactive mapping page unveiled last spring on and designed by Appalachian Voices’ technology team. To read the report, visit
Please join us in telling the Obama Administration that there are no excuses to legitimize the destruction of the Appalachian Mountains: visit to send a letter today.

Electoral Math for “All You Climate People”

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 - posted by matt

During a campaign season in which climate change featured most prominently as a laugh line at the Republican National Convention, the low point was when CNN’s Candy Crowley addressed “all you climate people” in her explanation of why climate didn’t come up during the presidential debates. Who knew that human disruption of the global climate had become such a narrow, provincial concern?

But there’s important information in the fact that a senior reporter for a major network could dismiss climate change as essentially a special interest issue. It’s evidence, if more were needed, that “all us climate people” got our butts kicked in the battle for the narrative in the 2012 election.

And like the Republican Party, which is now undergoing the usual soul searching that follows a big electoral defeat, those of us who believe that inaction on climate is the greatest threat facing our civilization (never mind the economy) have some serious soul searching to do about our own defeat, which occurred long before any votes were counted.

Crowley’s explanation was consistent with the conventional wisdom on why the president didn’t make climate an issue. Because it was an “Economy election” and everyone in the DC press must accept that government action on climate change could do serious harm to the economy (because “it’s become part of the culture,” even if it’s not true), any discussion of climate policy by the president would have been off-message and worked against his chances for re-election.

The unconventional wisdom, popular among “climate people,” is that the Obama campaign failed to recognize the high level of popular support for action on climate change and missed a golden opportunity to seize a winning wedge issue when they chose the more politically expedient route of ignoring it.

There’s probably some truth to both of these explanations, but here’s a third one that is particularly useful in the context of a presidential election: the campaigns avoided talking about climate policy because they believed that raising the issue would be harmful in a few swingy areas of key swing states that would likely decide the election.

Look, it’s tempting to point to all the national polls showing popular support for climate policy and say, “climate is a winning campaign issue.” But a political strategist would find nothing useful in those polls because campaigns are not won by appealing to the sentiments of the average American. Similarly, when a presidential candidate is speaking to a national audience, it’s easy to believe they are speaking to us — all of us. But they’re not. By and large, the candidates’ speeches are written to appeal to a handful of undecided voters in a few swing states, with just enough partisan red meat thrown in to motivate the party base to volunteer for the campaign and turn out to vote.

Americans understand that those swingy areas are the “tail that wags the dog” of our national elections but don’t necessarily think about the logical conclusion of that fact; the concerns and attitudes of swing voters in swing states are the “tail that wags the dog” of campaign messages, media coverage, and thus public understanding of what issues are important in the campaign.

The problem is fossil fuel interests have figured out how to wag that dog. They know they can’t win public opinion nationally, but by focusing resources in key areas of swing states such as Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, they can frame the local discussion of climate policy and environmental regulations to their advantage (i.e., as a “Job-killing war on coal“) and essentially neutralize those issues at the national level — at least during the election season.

If the Obama campaign’s pre-election polling looked anything like the maps of election results in coal-mining regions of southwestern Virginia and southern Ohio, it’s easy to imagine strategists telling the president, “Don’t exacerbate this ‘war on coal’ thing or it could hurt us in swing states” (see map):



OMB Watch Issues Report on Obama’s Rulemaking

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 - posted by jw

Our President has been very busy in his first two years in office. Taking steps to repeal a number of Bush Administration policies, and working to make his own stamp through the rulemaking process.

OMB Watch just released a report called “The Obama Approach to Public Protection: Rulemaking,” covering how the Obama Administration has made their mark with various guidance and rules through the federal agencies. Topics range from from coal ash, to mountaintop removal, to worker safety.

To download, click here or the image on the right.