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


Tenn. Tuesday: More Sun! More Wind! More Healthcare?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | 2 Comments

[Spoiler Alert] Yes, Yes, and Almost Certainly Not.

American clean energy advocates are celebrating the revelation that solar energy made up half of new generating capacity for the first quarter of this year. Tennessee is a recognized leader in our region, and we have been particularly active in advancing new solar for years. Already in 2013, TVA has put 7.5 MW of new solar up. Of course, they also capped the program at a ridiculously low level, meaning that solar installers will have to wait until 2014 to be a part of the program again (DOH!). In the meantime, wind advocates will have no problem highlighting the potential for thousands of homegrown jobs in wind energy in Tennessee.

But let’s just look at how we in Tennessee are doing compared to some of our neighbors when it comes to solar. Alabama, WE’RE CALLING YOU OUT!

  • Between 1990 and 2010, Tennessee created nearly 10 times more solar jobs than Alabama.
  • Tennessee has 142 solar companies compared to Alabama’s 22.
  • Tennessee has 3856 solar homes compared to less than 100 solar homes in Alabama.
  • Solar jobs per capita nationally: Tennessee is ranked 13th, while Alabama ranks 50th.
  • BOO-YA!!

    Alabama native Pat Byington has lamented Alabama’s failed leadership on solar development and all the jobs that come with it, saying:

    And the jobs will keep coming once [Tennessee] completes the “Tennessee solar supply chain,” which will include not only multinational manufacturers, but also local jobs for distributors, sales, system design, installation and maintenance of this new source of energy. These will be permanent, home-grown jobs.


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    TN Representative Gloria Johnson Calls Out the Coal Lobby

    Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

    Tennessee State Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) went on WBIR this week to discuss her efforts in the legislature to protect our mountains. Representative Johnson mentions the fact that Tennessee coal is not used in Tennessee, popular support for her Scenic Vistas Protection Act legislation, and how the coal lobby is standing in the way of protecting Tennessee mountains.

    If you have any thoughts on the piece, you can call Representative Johnson at 615-741-2031 or visit her website and let her know you support her efforts to protect Tennessee’s mountains.

    Tenn. Tuesday: Haslam Pumps up Coal! Whitewater Industrial Complex! Cashing in on Efficiency!

    Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

    Welcome to Tennessee Tuesday, where Governor Haslam Refuses to Meet with Mountain Advocates, TVA Stays the Same More than it Changes, and our New Energy Secretary is Totally into the World’s Premier Spallation Neutron Source!

    Governor Bill Haslam is generally not aligned with the plentiful far-right fringe voices in the state of Tennessee. His business background and family ties have led him to deliberately cultivate an image as “cerebral” on policy, while being a competent manager rather than a fire-breathing gut-speaking revolutionary — although it’s a little humorous to imagine what might have been had he chosen the latter.

    Opinion is fluid, of course, as to how successful he has been in living up to his preferred billing as Mr. Manager. Rumors that Haslam is interested in national office are swirling and he’s being called everything from “The GOP Star You’ve Never Heard of to an “amiable squish,” as people seem unsure what to make of this sometimes unsure governor.

    Consider the issue of mountaintop removal, where he has been of two minds. First, as a candidate, Gov. Haslam opposed mountaintop removal. Buuuuuut, now he ignores the voices of affected citizens and he pays un-disclosed amounts to consultants who are also coal industry lobbyists, advocating to let Tennessee sell off our protected public lands to private coal companies. So, theres that.

    It was perhaps little surprise then, when Haslam was out last week touting the fact that “ coal keeps businesses in Tennessee running!

    It reminded me of the soon-to-be-immortal words of former Presidential speechwriter Jon Lovett’s commencement speech at Pitzer College where he opined: “We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie.”

    Is Haslam wrong? Well, no. But Haslam’s lofted platitudes towards what is left of the Tennessee coal industry are just true enough. We’ve been very kind, and very patient with the Governor, and will remain so for at least the next one, maybe two paragaphs.

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    Tenn. Tuesday: Energy Savings! Victories!

    Tuesday, May 21st, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | 1 Comment

    …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.

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    VICTORY: Senate Committee Passes Energy Savings Act

    Thursday, May 9th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

    With Overwhelming Bipartisan Support, the U.S. Senate Yesterday Began Moving a Common Sense Energy Efficiency Bill. Here’s Why We’re Celebrating.

    Well, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Appalachian Voices all agree — it’s time for America to move forward with energy efficiency.

    Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed the Shaheen-Portman Energy Savings Act (S 761) by a vote of 19-3. This legislation focuses on improving building codes, while increasing energy efficiency at the industrial level and for federal government facilities.

    There was some very encouraging discussion on the bill (starting at 30:35-41:10, and picking up again at 42 minutes).

    Democratic Chairman Sen. Ron Ryden of Oregon and Ranking Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski were among those speaking in favor of the measure. Appalachia’s senators all voted AYE, including Republican bill sponsor Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Tennessee’s senior Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Appalachian Voices applauds these members in their pursuit to increase energy efficiency in our region.

    Below is Appalachian Voices’ statement on passage of the bill, followed by the full vote count:

    On behalf of our members, Appalachian Voices strongly supports the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 761). Since much of the region’s economy depends on the manufacturing and industrial sectors, this Act will provide significant benefits for Appalachian businesses, communities and local economies. These benefits include reduced energy costs, increased competitiveness, economic development and job creation, and healthier communities. As we expand our recently-launched Energy Savings for Appalachia program, our goal will be to serve as a partner to state and local governments who would benefit from the opportunities provided by this Act.

    Appalachian Voices applauds the collaborative, bi-partisan nature of this legislation. For too long, partisan conflict has negatively impacted our ability to maximize our nation’s economic potential. That potential is directly tied to the efficient use of resources and energy. In addition, impacts to the environment and to the health of our citizens resulting from the extraction and consumption of fossil-fuels have a direct negative impact on the economy. Therefore, it is refreshing to know that our elected representatives have found common ground with the understanding that a strong economy is an efficient economy.

    The requirements and models laid out in the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act provide a strong boost for energy efficiency, which has long been promoted as the “low-hanging fruit” for energy development. As recognized by the Act, energy-efficient technologies are already available, and are extremely cost-effective, paying for themselves over a short period of time. The Act also recognizes that strengthening our economy through improvements in energy efficiency is also a long-term investment, one that requires research and development, workforce training, and strong financial incentives for businesses.

    While we fully support the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act as currently written, Appalachian Voices believes that the bill could be strengthened in the following ways:

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    Tennessee Tuesday: What Do We Do Now?

    Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | 4 Comments

    This is a post about how we can improve life for Tennesseans, protect an American culture that has endured for centuries, and promote our beloved Appalachian Mountains that once stood higher than the Himalayas, and are now threatened by mountaintop removal coal mining.

    Tennessee Tuesdays is a new weekly feature on the Appalachian Voices Front Porch blog. While our main goal is to end mountaintop removal, we also hope to spread the gospel of hope, bring light to issues facing Tennesseans, and offer solutions on how we can move our state toward a cleaner and more energy efficient future.

    Are you from Tennessee or nearby? Introduce yourself in the comments and let us know what you’d like to hear about. For now, welcome! Have a cup of coffee and take a minute to enjoy your Tennessee Tuesday.

    What’s been happening in Tennessee lately?

    Tennessee Legislature 2013
    My home state has been in the national news a lot the last few months and not for the greatest reasons. Our legislature was constant fodder for late night comedians (catch Daily Show and Colbert’s greatest Tennessee hits here, here, and here) and was generally considered a bumbling embarrassment for most Tennesseans who don’t respond to “Senator.”

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    Appalachian Voices Applauds the Nomination of Marilyn Brown to TVA Board

    Monday, April 8th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

    Dr. Marilyn Brown has the background to promote energy solutions in the Southeast and nationwide. So why are U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker opposing her nomination to TVA Board of Directors?

    Appalachian Voices applauds President Obama’s decision to re-nominate Marilyn Brown, a longtime advocate for energy efficiency, to the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors. The president’s move was criticized by Tennessee senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, who had been pushing for a nominee more friendly to “economic development” in the Tennessee Valley.

    Dr. Brown has done a great service to the southeastern United States by serving on the TVA Board since 2010. A veteran of Oak Ridge National Laboratories, she has a long and distinguished career promoting solutions that help move America’s energy policy forward.

    Brown was a co-lead of the “Scenarios for a Clean Energy Future” report, which was a groundbreaking look at the potential costs and benefits of cleaner energy alternatives. Other reports led by Brown have focused on the unharnessed economic potential for energy efficiency, industrial energy efficiency, metropolitan carbon footprints, and reviving manufacturing with federal cogeneration policy.

    She is currently the director of the Climate And Energy Policy Laboratory at Georgia Tech, which researchs global energy security, clean energy employment, energy efficiency, climate change mitigation, renewable energy policies and trends in the American South, smart grid policies, and demand response. Brown was also cofounder of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, where she currently serves on the Board of Directors.

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    Elevated Selenium Levels Found in TN Streams

    Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

    From the folks at United Mountain Defense, comes the sad but unsurprising news that Tennessee watersheds are suffering from surface mining. New stream data shows some of the highest selenium levels ever collected by UMD.

    Selenium In Water Points to Destruction of Appalachian Streams, Water Quality

    KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (April 03, 2013) – New water testing results obtained by United Mountain Defense (UMD) from a proposed coal strip mine near Claiborne, Tennessee show levels of selenium- an element known to cause developmental abnormalities- in water high enough to disrupt or destroy ecosystems and potentially effect human health.

    The water testing, conducted on the site of Cooper’s Ridge (36.553086,-83.892117) and the site of a proposed surface strip mine by Kopper Glo Fuels LLC, analyzed 10 water samples from sediment pond discharge points. This analysis detected selenium at four testing points, ranging from 1.1 to as high as 5.0 mcg/L (parts per billion).

    “These are some of the highest levels of selenium ever detected by our organization” said James Kane, UMD president and director of field operations, “5.0 mcg/L is unbelievable- this level of selenium is death for wildlife and could affect all downstream users. What happens to children who play in these streams? These results show that the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) are utterly failing the people of Tennessee by allowing these toxic discharges and not adequately regulating mining activities.” (more…)

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    Rep. Gloria Johnson Stands Up for Tennessee

    Monday, March 25th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

    TN State Rep. Gloria Johnson, Delivered this Powerful Address for our Mountains

    Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), gave the following remarks regarding the Scenic Vistas Protection Act to the House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources on Wednesday, March 20. Representative Johnson, despite being a freshman legislator in the minority, showed a tremendous amount of courage, even standing up to a hostile line of question from western Tennessean Andy Holt (R-Dresden). Representative Johnson highlighted the fact that people from across the ideological spectrum were coming together in support of protecting our mountains.

    Over the last three decades, while the portion of our coal that comes from surface mining has grown, we have watched our mining jobs plummet and our miners be replaced by machines. Over this same period, Tennesseans from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, hunters and fishermen, conservatives and liberals, and people from all religious backgrounds have come together in support of this legislation – the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, and one of our greatest assets – our mountains. – Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville)

    Watch the speech in full:

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    Text below, as prepared…

    Many of us are privileged to represent the beautiful, proud, and profitable mountains of Tennessee. These mountains are the oldest on the continent, and help drive a tourism industry that brings in more than $15 billion dollars to our state every year. Not only that, but they bring joy and peace of mind for millions of Tennesseans and our visitors.

    The Senate killed this bill earlier this morning, but I wanted to speak on behalf of those who have prayed, called, and gathered here from all around the state. I think there is a lot of passion in the state for our mountains, and a lot of agreement in this room. We all want to protect our homes, our livliehoods, and create a better future for our mountain communities. Tennessee should be a leader in protecting our mountain way of life, not for sale to the highest bidder. What symbolizes our state more than our mountains? The mountains that were crossed by Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, and Jack Daniel… (more…)

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    What We Weren’t Allowed to Say

    Thursday, March 21st, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | 2 Comments

    In this legislative session, Tennesseans’ voices were silenced. Here’s what I would have said.

    Yesterday, I was honored to be called to testify before the Tennessee State Senate Committee on Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, along with a friend, hero and colleague, Ann League. Ann is a property owner and resident of coal-bearing areas in Tennessee, who has lived in the shadow of Zeb Mountain. After Ann and I were called to the bench, Chairman Steve Southerland cut us off before we could sit down and say a word. The committee killed the bill on a procedural mechanism without ever allowing for discussion or taking a vote on its substance. This was despite the fact that thousands of Tennesseans from across the ideological spectrum have called for the passage of this bill. We have prayed, pleaded and lobbied on behalf of our mountains and mountain communities. Yesterday our voices were shut out, and our bill was ignored. If allowed to speak, here’s what I would have said:

    “Good morning, my name is JW Randolph and I’m the Tennessee Director for Appalachian Voices.

    I grew up outside of Birchwood, Tenn., in a log cabin my father built on the shores of the Tennessee River. Walking the hills and hollows of our state is how I learned what home means. Hiking and fishing out in the woods and waters is how I got to know the best of what our country has to offer, the best of what our state has to offer, and its how I got to know my family. These experiences taught me about freedom, self-reliance and responsibility.

    Later in life I learned that not too far away, these same mountains were being filled with ammonium nitrate fuel oil and being brought down, poisoning the streams we ran through. These streams are no different than the one in Hamilton County where I proposed to my high school sweetheart, and where I now take our two year old daughter to learn how to skip stones.

    Although she doesn’t quite yet understand, I try to explain to her the fact that when I was her age, there were 500 mountains in Appalachia that are no longer standing.

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    Protecting Tennessee’s mountains? Not worth the Senate’s time.

    Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

    Despite broad citizen and political support for a bill protecting Tennessee’s mountains, the state Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee today decided to not even allow public testimony on the measure and instead killed the bill.

    SB99, the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, was slated to be heard by the committee during its usual meeting time at 9:30 (CST) this morning. The bill would prohibit mountaintop removal coal mining from ridges above 2,000 feet on the Cumberland Plateau.

    Along with our good friend Ann League, a resident and property owner in Tennessee’s coal-bearing region, I had been scheduled to testify before the committee. But just as we were called up to speak, the chairman stopped us short. Several Members had left the room, and when none of the committee members offered a motion on the bill, the Chairman declared the bill dead, and we were not allowed to speak.

    Despite the fact that Tennesseans from the left, right and center, and from a broad array of interests have come together to protect our mountains, our voices were silenced.

    Instead, the senators chose to side with the coal industry whose political influence has long outlasted its ability to grow jobs in our state or protect the health and well-being of citizens in the coal region.

    Two senators who have generally supported mountain protection, Ophelia Ford and Jim Summerville, didn’t come to the meeting, and a third, Charlotte Burks, who has voted for the bill in the past, left.

    Update: We’ve posted my prepared statement here, and a powerful speech by Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) here. The news has been picked up by outlets worldwide including Chinese television, Switzerland, Singapore, Businessweek, NBC News in states from coast-to-coast, and in dozens of outlets across Tennessee. Local blog Nooga.Com has a great summary

    Tennessee Game Changer: Conservative Union Running Pro-Mountain Ads Statewide

    Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

    Conservative Ad Buy Turning Scenic Vistas Bill into Bipartisan Bombshell

    When it comes to Tennessee, most everybody has their reason for supporting our mountains. Whether it is a liberal urban Democrat like Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), or a mainline Republican like Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), its not a complicated equation.

    Now, it turns out, a radically right-wing group in Tennessee – the Tennessee Conservatives Union – has not only come out in support of the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, but is planning to run statewide television ads in support of protecting Tennessee’s mountains. This is astounding, to say the least. The Conservatives Union is no small player in Tennessee politics, calling itself the oldest and largest conservative organization in the state. With more than 12,000 members, they are widely credited for defeating the state income tax, among other things. Now they are looking to protect our mountains from, allegedly, a Chinese company that has bought out mineral rights in Tennessee.

    Appalachian Voices doesn’t necessarily agree with every sentiment in this advertisement. It doesn’t matter if somebody is from Beijing or Bristol, we don’t think they should be blowing up mountains. We certainly don’t agree with the Conservatives Union on many important issues related to energy and the environment, but the fact that the Tennessee Conservatives Union is stepping up to stop mountaintop removal shows that the breadth of support for protecting Tennessee’s mountains ranges all the way from left-to-right, odd-to-even, and low-to-high.

    According to the TN Conservatives Union, this ad will begin airing tomorrow (3/19) on Fox News.

    Now is the time for you to pick up the phone and call Committee Members to tell them YOUR reason for supporting the bipartisan Scenic Vistas Protection Act (SB 99/HB 43). The Senate Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee will take up the bill first at 9:30 AM on Wednesday. The House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources is scheduled to vote at 1:30 the same day.

    These committee offices have told us that they are hearing from a LOT of people who are working to protect our mountains, so keep up those calls! Talking points below…

    Senate Committee Members:
    Chairman Steve Southerland (R-Morristown)/615-741-3851
    Mae Beavers (R-Mt Juliet)/ 615-741-2421
    Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) / 615-741-4499
    Mike Bell (R-Riceville) / 615-741-1946
    Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey) / 615-741-3978
    Ophelia Ford (D-Memphis) / 615-741-1767
    Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) / 615-741-6682
    Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) / 615-741-2368
    Frank Niceley (R-Knoxville) / 615-741-2061

    House Committee Members:
    Chairman Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett) / 615-741- 7084
    Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) / 615-741-7478
    Andy Holt (R-Dresden) / 615-741-7847
    Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) / 615-741-7448
    Billy Spivey (R-Franklin) / 615-741-4170
    John Tidwell (D-New Johnsonville) / 615-741-7098
    Ron Travis (R-Dayton) / 615-741-1450
    Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) / 615-741-1997 [This is a “Thank you!” as Representative Gilmore is a cosponsor of the Scenic Vistas bill.]

    Please pass this along, so that legislators hear from as many Tennesseans as possible. Talking points and bill information below…

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