The Front Porch Blog, with Updates from AppalachiaThe Front Porch Blog, with Updates from Appalachia


Proposals to put new nuclear reactors near coal mine sites ignore geological hazards

Wednesday, November 29th, 2023 | Posted by Matt Wasson | 2 Comments

In October 2022, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced a goal of building a new nuclear reactor in Southwest Virginia within the next 10 years, setting off a flurry of excitement among local economic development officials and outrage among local residents who are concerned about the health and safety risks of nuclear power. [ Read More ]

Remembering Harvard Ayers, founder of Appalachian Voices

Friday, March 10th, 2023 | Posted by Matt Wasson | 5 Comments

Harvard Ayers, founder of Appalachian Voices, passed away on March 9, 2023. Ayers was a true visionary and leaves behind a powerful legacy for the people and environment of Appalachia. [ Read More ]

Duke Energy’s sham plan for net-zero carbon

Friday, August 28th, 2020 | Posted by Matt Wasson | No Comments

Duke Energy's failure to move quickly to clean energy would worsen global warming, put the public’s health at risk, and hurt North Carolina families and businesses. [ Read More ]

Help protect North Carolina’s forest wilderness

Monday, December 14th, 2015 | Posted by Matt Wasson | No Comments

More than 50 years after the Wilderness Act was signed into law, less than one third of one percent of North Carolina's land area has been protected as wilderness. The U.S. Forest Service is revising its plan for the Pisgah and Nantahala Forests, and is seeking public comment to help determine the future of some beloved places in the state. [ Read More ]

A huge win: Gainesville enacts policy to stop using mountaintop removal coal

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Matt Wasson | 3 Comments

10473369_10204895340603095_18108058309890580_nBecause of the heroic efforts of a group of citizens, Gainesville, Fla., became the first city in America to enact a policy to reduce its reliance on mountaintop removal coal. This victory was the culmination of three and a half years of work that included five hearings by the city commission, hundreds of hours of volunteer work and dozens of meetings with city commissioners. [ Read More ]

Hey Duke Energy – Buy a Bigger Dump Truck!

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 | Posted by Matt Wasson | 3 Comments

dumptruck Duke Energy and its army of lobbyists apparently have convinced N.C. lawmakers that it's just too expensive to clean up all of its leaking coal ash dumps. The company's argument is based on an assumption that it would take 30 years to remove the ash from JUST ONE SITE. "What??" I hear you ask incredulously. So let's take a deeper look at that ... [ Read More ]

One fish, two fish … Dead fish

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 | Posted by Matt Wasson | 1 Comment

onefish_twofishA study from researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published this month provides strong new evidence that mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia is devastating downstream fish populations. Fortunately, the Obama administration has an opportunity to take meaningful action to protect Appalachian streams. [ Read More ]

Who Owns West Virginia’s Water? A Cautionary Tale

Thursday, January 16th, 2014 | Posted by Matt Wasson | 14 Comments

WVAWC The paper trail of West Virginia Public Service Commission filings document the dramatic expansion of American Water Company's network over the past two decades, and why so many people in this water-rich state depend on a single, privately-owned treatment system and distribution network that sprawls across nine counties for their supply of drinking water. [ Read More ]

WATCH: Appalachian Kids Give Science Lesson to President Obama

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Matt Wasson | No Comments

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.

Electoral Math for “All You Climate People”

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 | Posted by Matt Wasson | 1 Comment

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):



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Big Coal Wins Latest Battle to Blast Historic Blair Mountain

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012 | Posted by Matt Wasson | 15 Comments

Is nothing sacred to coal companies in Appalachia?

March on Blair Mountain

In a jaw-dropping display of contempt and disregard for the communities and landscapes where they mine coal, three coal companies back in 2009 challenged the listing of West Virginia’s Blair Mountain on the National Register of Historic Places. The companies, including mining behemoths Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, opposed the listing of Blair Mountain as a historic site because it could interfere with their plans to conduct mountaintop removal mining operations on the Spruce Fork Ridge battlefield, site of the “largest organized armed uprising in American labor history,” and the most important historic landmark in Central Appalachia.

The 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain was the culmination of a three-year struggle to unionize the coal mines of southern West Virginia and ended only when federal troops intervened on behalf of anti-union coal companies. There are few sites as significant as Blair Mountain that commemorate the brave men and women who laid down their lives for a movement that has brought Americans everything from the weekend to child labor laws to the largest and most prosperous middle class the world has ever seen. (more…)

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Despite Court Ruling, Obama Administration Can Still Protect Streams from Mountaintop Removal Mining – And Should

Friday, August 3rd, 2012 | Posted by Matt Wasson | 4 Comments

Mountaintop Removal Mine above Homes in Eastern Kentucky
Environmental and community advocates got some jarring news Tuesday when a federal judge rejected EPA’s “guidance” on surface mine permitting in Appalachia — the centerpiece of its 3-year effort to curtail the environmental damage caused by mountaintop removal coal mining.

While it was unwelcome news, it was not as devastating as portrayed in the initial round of news stories, which appeared to be heavily influenced by the coal industry’s false narrative about an “out-of-control” EPA issuing regulations willy-nilly while going out of its way to trample on the Constitution and kill jobs.

In fact, the court objected to the procedural approach EPA took to reduce what top scientists have called the “pervasive and irreversible” impacts of mountaintop removal, but specifically not to the authority — or obligation — of EPA and other federal agencies to protect streams from being polluted or obliterated by mountaintop removal coal mining. Nor did the court challenge the overwhelming evidence by scientists, health professionals, and the findings of EPA’s independent Science Advisory Panel that mountaintop removal mining has disastrous impacts on streams and people.

Even the arcane procedural issues on which the decision was based are far from a settled matter of law — the decision is likely to be appealed by the EPA.

Nevertheless, the headlines left many Appalachian residents terrified by the prospect that regulators would revert to the lame permit rules of the Bush Administration. While there is always a chance that could happen, Appalachians can take some comfort that agencies rubber-stamping piles of permits is not a logical or inevitable outcome of the court’s decision.

The risk, of course, is that the Obama Administration will see this as an opportunity to abandon its efforts to rein in the impacts of mountaintop removal, efforts which have caused a fierce backlash from the coal industry and its allies. In the heat of campaign season, there’s probably some temptation to try to offset the political damage that the rhetoric about “Obama’s war on coal” is doing in remote corners of swing states like Ohio and Virginia, even if it means the president turns his back on his oft-repeated commitment to science-based decision-making by his agencies.

On the bright side, the way the administration perceives that political calculus is something that everyday Americans can do something about. But we’d better speak up now. Seriously, anyone who thinks that America’s oldest and most biologically diverse mountains ought not be obliterated to pad the pockets of coal company executives and shareholders needs to say so. Loudly.

The administration has all the evidence and authority it needs to deny mountaintop removal permits. While EPA appeals the D.C. court decision, and/or figures out a different way to ensure that permits comply with the Clean Water Act, it’s crucial that other agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Surface Mining make darn sure that science is applied in the permitting process. Based on what we know, that should be tantamount to denying any permit that involves disposing of mine waste into streams.

But there is also a lesson here for the EPA — and an opportunity to address the root of the problem. Despite tens of thousands of comments urging EPA to act, the agency has yet to overturn the Bush Administration’s nefarious change to the so-called “fill rule.” This rule defines what sort of material can be used to modify a stream, wetland or other water body for the purpose of building a road, dredging a river, etc. In 2002, the Bush Administration changed the definition of “fill” such that any waste from a surface mining operation is, by definition, fill – meaning it’s not only OK to dump in streams, it’s essentially considered a public benefit. Yes, you heard right – a benefit.

Every mountaintop removal-related permit issued by the Obama Administration has been based on that perverse logic. The lesson for EPA is that it would be futile to try to build a sensible, protective permitting regime on top of this absurd foundation laid by the Bush Administration. The EPA should overturn and replace the Bush-era fill rule.

A final lesson from this court decision is that we cannot rely solely on administrative guidances and rules to protect Appalachian citizens, the oldest mountains on the continent, or the headwaters of the drinking water supply of millions of Americans. Mountaintop removal coal mining is an outrage that should be banned by Congress, or there will always be the risk of a court striking down or a new administration overturning it, no matter how well the science supports it.

In 2002, Representatives Chris Shays (R-CT) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced the Clean Water Protection Act, which would overturn the Bush fill rule. Since then, people and organizations across Appalachia have supported the bipartisan bill by carrying a simple message to universities, church groups and Rotary Clubs across America: They’re blowing up our mountains and there oughtta be a law! Today, the bill has 130 bipartisan cosponsors in the House of Representatives. Additional legislation has been introduced recently that would put a moratorium on mountaintop mining permits.

The bottom line is that Appalachian citizens need better protection than a non-binding agency guidance. EPA should begin a formal rule-making to undo the violence done to Clean Water Act enforcement by the Bush fill rule. And ultimately, citizens won’t be satisfied until Congress passes the Clean Water Protection Act, the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act, or some other law that will not be so easily overturned or manipulated by ever-changing administrations and courts.

It’s not only what the science dictates, it’s what Appalachian citizens deserve.



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