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


Tenn Tuesday: SEJ, CAPP Coal Decline, Record Hydro!

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Now, with even *more* Chattanooga!

Happy Tuesday! A whole mess of Appalachian Voices’ staff spent most of last week and the weekend at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in one of the greatest cities in America — Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Scenic City, has the world’s fastest internet, the first LEED-Platinum certified factory at the award-winning Volkswagen plant, an aggressive energy efficiency plan for metro facilities and ranks as one of Outside Magazine’s “ best places to live.”

We’re the only city with our own crowd-sourced typeface, home of the world’s second longest pedestrian bridge, two great aquariums, a zoo, some fantastic art museums, great restaurants, and pretty soon, a downtown trampoline park.

This weekend, Chattanooga concurrently hosted the SEJ conference, the excellent Three Sisters Bluegrass festival, and the “River Rocks” festival. You can catch the block party finale on October 12. Did I mention I watched Michael Jordan play baseball against the Chattanooga Lookouts at historic Engel Stadium? Anyway, the point is that Chattanooga is incredible, and we were honored to play such an integral role in the conference.

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Tenn Tuesday! Spotlight on Shaheen-Portman Energy Savings Act

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Making 120 Energy Efficiency Amendments SEXY…

We’re going to do something a little different today by focusing on a specific piece of federal legislation currently before the U.S. Senate called the “Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act” (S 1392).

This bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) is the first significant energy bill to see the floor of the Senate since 2007, which President George W. Bush eventually signed into law as the Energy Independence and Security Act.

The Shaheen-Portman legislation (S. 1392) is not only an extremely exciting bill for Appalachian Voices and for our fellow advocates of energy efficiency, but it already has strong bipartisan support. The bill focuses on improvements in three main areas; 1) building codes, 2) industrial energy efficiency, and 3) energy improvements to federal facilities. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has MUCH more in “White Paper” form.

Energy Efficiency is pretty non-controversial, obviously, and we celebrated as the bill sailed through the Senate Energy Committee by a vote of 19-3. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander was one of the many Republicans to join his Democratic colleagues in taking a positive step for our energy future, our economy and the environment.

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Tenn. Tuesday: Football! Trampolines!! Technology!!!

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | 2 Comments

Fall is right around the corner and football season is upon us, so let’s get rolling!

Now this is just the kind of headline every Tennessean wants to see: Chattanooga; America’s Next High-Tech Hub?

Here’s what Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke has to brag about my hometown’s technological literacy and phenomenally fast internet:

In the past, we’ve called ourselves the ‘Boulder of the South.’ Then, the next Austin. All kinds of comparisons. My mantra has been: Now is our time. Let’s not worry about what others are doing. Let’s be proud of where we are and take advantage of all of our opportunities.

As if it wasn’t already cool enough that Chattanooga was opening its own trampoline park. C’mon guys, this isn’t even fair anymore.

Now, some bad news that bears repeating. Appolo Fuels is applying for an 804-acre surface mining permit in Claiborne County. But you can help stop this monstrosity of a permit. How?

A joint public meeting is being held on Tuesday, September 24 as part of the local interagency working agreement. This is a new process in which all the relevant regulatory agencies are working together to issues mining and water pollution permits. You can find much, much more on the proposed mountaintop removal mine here.

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Tenn Tuesday: The Good, the Bad, and the Solar

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Surface Mining Fights Heat Up, National Planting Day inspires us to get dirty, and Appalachia Welcomes you to the Disability Belt!!

I’m gonna get right off and get us started with some good news and some bad news regarding our mountains here in Tennessee, along with two great opportunities to get involved and meet folks across the state working to protect them. One is a public hearing September 24 in Knoxville, and the other is a multi-day get-together in mid-October.

Good News!
A nearly 600-acre surface mine permit has been withdrawn in Claiborne County, Tenn., thanks to the hard work of many citizens across Claiborne County and across the state. This is a fantastic win for the broad coalition of citizens fighting surface mining in Tennessee, and a step in the right direction for what is left of Claiborne County.

There will be a chance to get to know a lot of the men and women responsible for this victory in mid-October. From October 13-15 you can see mountaintop removal first-hand, while getting to know the Big South Fork, Cumberland Plateau, and a few incredible Volunteer staters just a little bit better Register here.

Bad News!
More surface mining could yet be on its way to Claiborne County. On the back of this good news, we receive word that Appolo Fuels is applying for an 800+ acre surface mining permit in the same area. But you can help stop this monstrosity of a permit. How?

A joint public meeting and comment period is being held on Tuesday, September 24 as part of the local interagency working agreement. This is a new process in which all the relevant regulatory agencies are working together to issues mining and water pollution permits.

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Tennessee Tuesday: Tourist Motorcade #1 Comes to Town! Efficiency Works!

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | 1 Comment

Welcome to Tennessee Tuesday! Today Tennessee continues to shine as the President and his crew come to Chattanooga to tout jobs and economic growth, unarmed armadas roam the Cumberland River in search of a world free from coal-pollution, groups like “Thrive 2055” highlight statewide watershed-based economic planning initiatives, and Rhea County prepares to improve the standard of living in…China.

Let’s start this week’s edition of Tennessee Tuesday with some positive news. Tennessee, once again is getting national plaudits for our wonderful outdoor resources (duh), making Men’s Journal’s “50 Great Places to Visit this Summer”, highlighting the reasons that tourism is a $15 billion industry in our state.

In 1969, Chattanooga’s industrial smelters belched so much smog the city was ranked as having the country’s worst air pollution. Forty years later, the smoke has cleared to reveal world-class climbing, Class IV kayaking, and nearly 100 miles of mountain-bike trails — all within 30 minutes of downtown. Treat it like a hub: Over a weekend, you can climb Sunset Rock, paddle the Ocoee River’s middle-section rapids, and bike the new 10-mile section of Stringer’s Ridge (located entirely within city limits). Cap it off with pints at downtown’s Boathouse raw bar – reachable along the river by standup paddleboard.

And, you’ve probably heard that we’ve got an especially noteworthy tourist visiting today. President Obama is traveling to Chattanooga, inciting local businesses to hilariously take to Twitter to get a bit of that Obama bump. Also, as you may have expected, OPINIONS!! The President will deliver a speech on the middle class today at 1:30 EST from the Amazon distribution center in Chattanooga, which you can follow here. Amazon announced that they are adding thousands of new jobs nationally, although labor advocates have been critical of the kinds of jobs Amazon creates in the past.


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Tenn. Tuesday: Thanks to Senator Corker, Senator Alexander

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Tennessee Senators Vote to Confirm Clean Air Expert Gina McCarthy to Lead Environmental Protection Agency

Last week, the United States Senate came down with a strange case of self-loathing and took the rare — some would say extreme — step of actually doing something. Old political professionals, say that this is called “action.” Appalachian Voices members will be most enthused to learn that one of the actions taken by the Senate was to approve longtime clean air advocate Gina McCarthy as the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

After a historic five months of obstruction and delay, the EPA has a leader again, and Republicans, Democrats and Independents can now return to their regularly scheduled lobbing of criticisms at the agency charged with protecting human health and the environment.” You may consider that quaint, but I say we empower them!

Unfortunately, it seems that the House representatives, ever-quicker to exercise their dysfunction, have caught the do-something-itis, and in doing so have proposed cutting EPA funding by 34 percent in their newest budget proposal. I hope you aren’t using your health or environment more than once a week.

Gina McCarthy was confirmed by a bipartisan vote of 59-40. Appalachian Voices urged a “YES” vote on her confirmation, and senators Alexander and Corker both deserve a big round of applause for voting to confirm Administrator McCarthy. Her expertise and experience working on air quality issues will play a key role in protecting the health and well-being of Tennessee’s citizens, not to mention our $15 billion tourism industry that depends on decent air quality in our beautiful mountains. Senators Alexander and Corker, THANK YOU.

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Tenn Tuesday: Haslam Can’t Keep Hands off the Family Business. Alexander and Corker To Support Critical Energy-Efficiency Legislation? Squirrel!

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | 2 Comments

Haslam Dragged Down by Coal Ties, TVA All Over the Place, Critical Energy Savings Votes in the U.S. Senate as early as this week.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s troubles continue to be front and center in the national media, with the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal and The Tennessean reporting on Governor Haslam failure to meet his recusal pledge to stay away from the family business, which understandably has serious trouble avoiding the coal industry advocates on its own board of directors.

In May, Tom Ingram told NewsChannel5 Investigates that his firm had not registered with the state that it lobbied for a coal [company] over a three year period because of an “inadvertent oversight.”

The coal company wants to mine on a state wildlife area.

Channel 5 has been doing fantastic work on Governor Haslam’s direct ties to the coal industry, and is finding more questions than answers.

Haslam’s connections to those who would surface mine on our public lands have angered Tennesseans from all walks of life.

Steve Gill, who is the head of Gill Media and a former conservative radio host, said the whole situation looks bad.

“The reason you have these reporting regulations in place is so that everybody will know what side of the game you’re playing on,” said Gill.

“If Republicans were looking at a Democrat governor doing the same sort of things we’ve seen with the private, under the table hiring of Tom Ingram, they’d be pitching a hissy fit,” Gill said.

Ingram declined our request for an interview or to even speak on the phone. His firm sent a letter in response to our questions.

Moving on, as soon as this week, but certainly sometime before Congress mercifully takes their August recess, we expect the Senate to vote on the Energy Savings Act of 2013, otherwise known as Shaheen-Portman (S. 761). This bipartisan legislation had broad support coming out of the Senate Energy Committee by a vote of 19-3.

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Tenn Tuesday: Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

I’m glad to live in a country where crazy stuff happens, but we are at least are able to stand up, criticize and even fire those in charge

Welcome to Tennessee Tuesday! We’ve got our grills, our flags, and our green tomatoes just waitin to be fried. We’ll be fairly succinct this week as we look to pack 5 days of work into an abbreviated work-week and planning for a trip back to our nation’s capitol next week to talk about some exciting energy efficiency developments happening in Congress.

TDEC brought on themselves another round of embarrassment after the (now former) Deputy Director of Water Resources called citizen water complaints “terroristic.” [audio]

Yes, yes, it’s a strange time in America when protecting Appalachia from being blown apart is a threat to national security and we have to poison our own water in secret to stop the terrorists.


A state environmental official suggested at a public meeting that Mt. Pleasant residents who have filed formal complaints about city water quality are committing “an act of terrorism” if their concerns have no basis.

Sherwin Smith, deputy director of the Tennessee Department of Environment’s Division of Water Resources, made the comment and repeated it during a May 29 meeting between TDEC officials, State Rep. Sheila Butt and members of the grassroots activism group Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment (SOCM).

Rep Sheila Butt and I have spoken on several occasions, and while we don’t agree on everything, I’ve found her to always have an open ear, and to be an avid enthusiast for the democratic process – at the very least. She was not impressed by Mr. Smith’s words.

However, Rep. Butt — whose district includes Mt. Pleasant — was present at the meeting for any clarification Smith may have provided and said his comments were out of place.

“I just have to say that meeting was set up with some citizens of Mt. Pleasant and we were simply talking about water quality and rates of service there, and that comment was really out of context for the meeting that we were having,” Butt said Thursday. “That was my take then and that’s my take now.

“I’m sure he’s sorry he even brought it up,” she continued. “Nobody was talking about terrorism in that meeting.”

It seems that these “terrorists” may have won, as the City of Mt. Pleasant was forced to test their water to make sure that it wasn’t poisonous. Encouraging!… (more…)

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Tenn Tuesday: More Sun! Less Surface Mining! TVA, Obama Agree on Climate Plan!

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

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, 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.

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President Obama’s Address on Climate Protection Plan

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Update: The speech covered a lot of ground and held a lot of promise – but was missing several critical points. Read Appalachian Voices’ press statement.

Watch the President’s speech, with coverage beginning at 1:55 EST. Do you think this plan is strong enough? What improvements or changes would you make? What do you think these changes will mean for your state, or for the Appalachian community as a whole? Let us know in the comments – jw

Read the President’s Climate Action Plan
Fact sheet

Fox News: Environmentalists, Conservatives Agree…

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Protect Tennessee’s Mountains

Appalachian Voices took to a national Fox News audience last night to spread the word about protecting Tennessee’s mountains. The theme of the piece is our exceptionally large and diverse coalition of environmentalists, faith groups, conservationists, and conservatives who are fighting to protect our mountains.

The Fox anchor let the coal lobbyist get away with more misinformation than I would have liked. For instance, we know that mountaintop removal has meant far fewer mining jobs, is linked with horrific health impacts, and has a negative effect on community well-being. Fox missed those facts.

We know that the Scenic Vistas Protection Act has an exemption for the “wonderful” re-mining that the coal industry is so proud of themselves for “doing.” But that wasn’t mentioned either.

In all, more than 2 million people heard our message that environmentalists, conservatives, independents, and progressives and people of all creeds from across Tennessee want to protect our mountains. And that is an incredibly important message that we will continue to share.

Our state has a simple choice to make. We can let a few radical, out-of-state, out-of-country individuals bring down our mountains and ship out a few tons of coal. Or, we can protect our invaluable mountains for all Tennesseans and for future generations. Appalachian Voices will continue fighting to ensure that these mountains remain standing.

Tenn. Tuesday: TVA’s Nuclear Nuisance

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | 2 Comments

Welcome to Tennessee Tuesday! We’ve been searching across the state, patrolling the web and scouring our inboxes (as has President Obama, of course) in order to bring you the latest on the state-est that’s the greatest! Let’s get right to it.

First of all, we’ve seen a brief clip from this morning on Fox News on the opposition to mountaintop removal in Tennessee. The controversial practice of mountaintop removal has all the me’s, we’s, and them’s across the state up in arms. A longer piece is scheduled to air this evening, and we’ll be on the lookout for that.

Now, besides the fact that most of our coal companies are owned out-of-state, we’ve gone over the fact that TVA didn’t use any Tennessee coal last year, and that a weakening Central Appalachian coal market is increasingly reliant on sending its product overseas. The New York Times recently did an excellent piece on what more coal exports could mean for American coal, export terminals in the Pacific Northwest and impoverished extraction communities. According to the NYT piece:

Last year, American coal exports set a record of 125 million tons in sales, roughly double the volume in 2009, with most of that going to Europe. Exports fell this spring because of slower Chinese demand for steelmaking coal. But energy experts say the big potential market for American coal remains in Asia, and several proposed Pacific Northwest export terminals would have the capacity to nearly double current exports.

125 million tons in exports last year! That’s more coal than the amount mined in West Virginia and Tennessee combined. And — in what is apparently the new standard for the United State’s coal industry — it’s “better than something happening in China®.”

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