The Dernogalizer

November 13, 2010

Weekly Mulch: For Cancun Climate Summit, Activists Consider the Long View

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 6:53 pm
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The following is a cross-post from the Weekly Mulch on the Cancun Climate Summit, and Coal

Weekly Mulch: For Cancun Climate Summit, Activists Consider the Long View

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

A year ago, it seemed possible—likely, even—that President Barack Obama would sweep into the international negotiations on climate change at Copenhagen and make serious progress on the tangle of issues at stake. The reality was quite different. This year, the expectations for the United Nations Climate Conference in Cancun are less wild.

The conference will be held from Nov 29 to Dec 10 and the same issues from 2009 are up for debate. Countries like the United States, Britain, and Germany are still contributing an outsize share of carbon to the atmosphere. Countries like India and China are still rapidly increasing their own carbon output. And countries like Bangladesh, Tuvalu, and Bolivia are still bearing an unfair share of the environmental impacts brought on by climate change.

A very different set of expectations are building in the climate movement this year. If last year was about moving forward as fast as possible, this year, climate activists seem resigned to the idea that politicians just aren’t getting it. Change, when it comes, will have to be be built on a popular movement, not a political negotiation.

Climate change from the bottom up

Last year, climate activists put their faith in international leaders to make progress. This year, they believe that it’s up to them, as outside actors, to marshal a grassroots movement and pressure their leaders towards decreased carbon emissions.

“There’s a recognition that the insider strategy to push from inside the Beltway to impact what will happen in DC, or what will happen in Cancun has really not succeeded,” Rose Braz, climate campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Making Contact’s Andrew Stelzer. “What we’re doing in conjunction with a number of groups across the country and across the world is really build the type of movement that will change what happens in Cancun, what changes what happens in DC from the bottom up.” (This entire episode of Making Contact is dedicated to new approaches to climate change, at Cancun and beyond, and is worth a listen.)

Fighting the indolence of capitalists

Here’s one example of this new strategy. As Zachary Shahan writes at Change.org, La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement, is coordinating a march that will begin in San Luis Potosi, Guadalajara, Acapulco, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, then converge on Cancun. The march will include “thousands of farmers, indigenous people, rural villagers, urbanites, and more,” Shahan reports.

After they arrive in Cancun, the organizers are planning an “Alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice” for the final days of the negotiations, which they say will be a mass mobilisation of peasants, indigenous and social movements. The action extends far beyond Cancun, though. Actually, they are organizing thousands of Cancuns around the world on this day to denounce what they see as false climate solutions.

These actions echo the strategy that environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and other climate leaders are promoting to push for climate change policies in the U.S. All this talk about building momentum from the bottom up, from populations, means that anyone looking for change is now looking years into the future.

The U.S. is not leading the way

Of course, ultimately, politicians will need to agree on a couple of standards. In particular, how much carbon each country should be emitting and how fast each country should power down its current emission levels. The U.S. is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to agreement on these questions, especially due to the recent mid-term elections. As Claudia Salerno, Venezuela’s lead climate change negotiator wrote at AlterNet:

Unlike what many suggest, China is not the problem. China, along with India and others, have made considerable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are already working to realize them. Other developing countries have done the same, although we only generate a virtual drop in the bucket of global carbon emissions. The key player missing here is the U.S.

China, the U.S. and Clean Coal

The most interesting collaborations on clean energy, however, aren’t happening around the negotiating table. This week, The Atlantic‘s James Fallows wrote a long piece about the work that the U.S. and China are doing together on clean coal technology, the magic cure-all to the world’s energy ills.

In the piece, Fallows recognizes what environmentalists have long argued: coal is bad for the environment and for coal-mining communities. But, unlike clean energy advocates who want to phase coal out of the energy equation, Fallows argues that coal must play a part in the world’s energy future. Therefore, we must find a way to burn it without releasing clouds of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s where clean coal technology comes in. So far, however, researchers have had little luck minimizing coal’s carbon output.

A few progressive writers weighed in on Fallows’ piece: Grist’s David Roberts thought Fallows was too hard on the anti-coal camp, while Campus Progress’ Sara Rubin argued that the piece did a good job of grappling with the reality of clean energy economics. And Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum had one very clear criticism—that the piece skated over the question of progress on carbon capture, the one real way to dramatically reduce carbon pollution from coal. He wrote:

All the collaboration sounds wonderful, and even a 20% or 30% improvement in coal technology would be welcome. But that said, sequestration is the holy grail and I still don’t know if the Chinese are doing anything more on that front than the rest of us.

On every front, then, the view on climate change is now a long one.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

October 24, 2010

Hundreds Rally on Kayford Mountain; Dozens to March Onto “reclaimed” Site to Plant Trees

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 4:29 pm
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A very creative MTR rally by activists.  Read more by Morgan Goodwin about the action.

Hundreds Rally on Kayford Mountain; Dozens to March Onto “reclaimed” Site to Plant Trees

Contact:
Nick Martin 304.854.7306
Debbie Jarrell 304.854.7306

Editors Note: Information, Directions, Photographs, & Video will be updated onwww.climategroundzero.org throughout the day.

Kayford, W.Va. – Hundreds of West Virginians and their allies will rally on Kayford Mountain and march from the Stanley Heirs Park onto the neighboring mountaintop removal site to plant trees on the surface mine. The rally begins at noon.

Lifelong Coal River Valley resident Junior Walk said, “Coal companies sure as hell aren’t going to take it upon themselves to do something about it – some one’s got to do it.”

Dozens of individuals intend to walk onto the mine site to plant trees on a “reclaimed” area of the site in an act of non-violent civil disobedience. They call for the abolition of mountaintop removal and thorough reclamation of the over 1 million acres flattened by surface mining in Appalachia. Standard reclamation involves regrading high walls into steep slopes and seeding the rocky soil with grass. The biodiverse mixed mesophytic forests of central Appalachia cannot regrow on reclaimed surface mines.

John Johnson, forester and environmentalist said, “The coal industry does not attempt to return the landscape to its previous biodiversity – leaving it up to the citizens to reclaim it themselves. Fixing the ruined landscape will provide long term jobs for those put out of work by the abolition of mountaintop removal.”

The rally and action comes on the heels of the EPA’s recommendation to veto the Spruce No. 1 mine’s permit and Appalachia Rising, the largest national gathering of people in opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining to date. Appalachia Rising culminated with a march to the White House of over 2,000 people and 118 arrests for non-violent civil disobedience at the White House, PNC Bank, Department of Interior, and Army Corps of Engineers.

“It’s up to us to fix our community,” said Chuck Nelson, a retired deep miner from the Coal River Valley, “the coal industry’s not gonna fix it.”

September 28, 2010

A Day of Fighting for Appalachia

I’ve written a number of columns in the University of Maryland student newspaper about the horrendous practice of mountaintop removal, in particular the Obama Administration’s failure to acknowledge the science behind mountaintop removal, a call for a ban on MTR following EPA regulations earlier this year which in hindsight were over-hyped, and an introduction to the practice and impacts of blowing up mountains for coal.  Although I’ve participated in protesting a bank over funding MTR and taken part in a few campus educational events about it, I’ve never gotten a chance to directly witness the passion, fight, and energy of the movement stemming from Appalachia to stop mountaintop removal.  That changed Monday, where I was fortunate enough to take part in one of the best organized rallies and fiercest urgent calls to action that I’ve seen in my years of environmental and climate activism.

How many people were there?  I don’t know, some people say thousands, others might guess lower, all I know is that there were a lot!  I arrived at the beginning of the rally at Freedom Plaza, where I joined up with a few friends and listened as artists played music along with passionate demands for justice and action from the Obama Administration, along with condemnation of the coal companies for their monumental destruction.  The speakers able to draw the best connection with the crowd and really define what’s at stake in this battle were coalfield residents who might not have been professional speakers, but spoke from the heart in a way that conveyed how dire the situation was to those like myself who are fortunate enough to have clean water and (relatively) clean air, something far too many of us take for granted.

After the speakers were done we were led away from Freedom Plaza and marched towards the White House, with a couple of pit stops on the way.  The first stop was at the EPA building, which in my opinion was the highest of many highs in this rally, as the energy that had been building up in the marchers for hours was unleashed.  As leaders of the march and the movement stormed the steps of the EPA flanked by cameras, reporters, and security, a frustration and anger swept over the crowd (see photo), including myself.  What the hell is the EPA doing?  Certainly not its job, which is why the crowd chanted extraordinarily loudly “EPA do your job!”, so thunderously that if Lisa Jackson was in the building, her desk may have shook.  More local coalfield residents spoke about how the EPA needs to regulate MTR because it’s poisoning their communities, and that Lisa Jackson needs to take a trip to Appalachia to understand the calamity being caused the corrupt politicians and their corporate coal masters.

After the EPA building, we marched onward to the steps of PNC bank, where speakers highlighted how PNC bank is a top funder of MTR.  It was great to see cameras flashing, security guards surrounding the entrance of the bank, and bewildered bank workers looking out onto the massive protest.  There’s a saying that all press is good press.  That quote was proven WRONG today.  What PNC got on September 27th was definitely very very BAD press, which is what it deserves.  Since PNC portrays itself as a green bank because of it’s building practices, it’s hopefully sensitive to this kind of negative attention, and will reconsider its policy of financing MTR.

Next we marched to an area across from the White House for more speakers along with instructions for the civil disobedience that was to follow.  One might expect a crowd to dissipate throughout the day, particularly with the rain that had been pouring on and off throughout the rally.  Not this rally!  If anything, the crowd grew as time wore on, to the point where I looked around when we got to the White House and realized that this wasn’t just a good turnout, this was a great turnout.  Now came the moment of truth, where well over a hundred of the protesters in the rally marched over to the White House fence, risking arrest.  The crowd watching stayed strong in numbers, chanting repeatedly alongside the soon to be arrested protesters.  It took a real long time for the police to start arresting people, and even then they appeared to move very slowly, which I’m sure is owed to so many people risking arrest.  Where were the police going to put all of them?!  I stayed until the very end, taking part in many more chants, and cheering on as one by one the protesters were placed in handcuffs and walked (and in a few cases dragged) away.  Many danced, egged on the crowd, and carried out the action right until the very end.  The was one incident where it appeared the police were being too rough with a protester, which is unfortunate but it demonstrated how big this rally was, as hundreds of rally participants scrambled over to the side of the police tape where the incident was taking place.  The police were forced to bring out officers on horses to push the crowd back and expand the perimeter.

Despite being hungry(but hungrier for change!) and needing to finish work on an essay, I’m glad I stayed for the whole event when I had only intended to march to the White House.  Everyone who came deserves a high five, but everyone who stayed all the way to the end to forcefully support those risking arrest deserve two, it really made a difference.  Needless to say, the protesters who got arrested deserve much more!

The energy in large numbers displayed throughout this rally was truly impressive.  The decision to hit the EPA for their inaction, PNC Bank for placing profit above people, and then President Obama for allowing this atrocity to take place under his watch was smart and strategic.  Apparently some activists also visited the Interior Department.

I have no doubt that those in power and big coal took notice of this day.  I’m very proud to have been a part of it, and sense I will eventually  look back on this day as a big stepping stone on the inevitable path to victory.  But I know that before any of us can look back, we have to move forward.  This was a great day of fighting for Appalachia.  Despite living in Maryland, I know I can do better than one day of action, and I encourage everyone to step up their efforts to win this.

Read more from: Get Energy Smart Now, AP, CNN International, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, Jeff Biggers, Wonk Room, Itsgettinghotinhere, Washington Examiner, RAN. MSNBC, Climate Progress

August 12, 2010

Two More Ways to Get After Coal

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 7:23 pm
Tags: ,

David Roberts at Grist has an excellent article about EPA regulations coming down the pipeline that deal with pollutants from coal(besides CO2).  As Roberts points out, the Bush Administration essentially did nothing over EPA regulation of coal pollution for 8 years, and Lisa Jackson and her EPA are playing catch up.  The impact of the regulations will decrease coal usage, help clean up the air around predominantly low-income communities, and increase the price of coal enough to advantage cleaner burning sources of energy.

Below is the summary of the two rulings coming down, please check out David’s article for a detailed explanation.

1. National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs)

By March of next year, EPA will release (court-mandated) new standards governing hazardous pollutants like mercury and acid gases under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act. These standards have been a looong time coming. (Frank O’Donnell tells the tale; see also “The Hidden Human and Environmental Costs of Regulatory Delay” from the Center for Progressive Reform.) Two significant things about them:

  • The standards apply to all coal-fired power plants, old as well as new.
  • These are MACT — maximum achievable control technology — standards, which means all plants will have to match the performance of the top-performing 12 percent. There are some options with mercury, but with acid gases that basically means installing wet scrubbers, which are extremely expensive. All power plants must be in compliance by 2015, which is a fairly short window.

Note: Natural-gas power plants emit no HAPs — no mercury, no acid gases. Obviously regulations on HAPs will differentially advantage gas.

2. The Clean Air Transport Rule (CATR)

The recently released CATR regulates sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). It’s designed to protect states (mostly Eastern states) from pollution that blows across state lines. EPA says the rule will reduce power plant SO2 emissions 71 percent over 2005 levels by 2014, and NOx emissions 52 percent. CATR is a revision of the Bush administration’s Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), key parts of which were invalidated in court.

Note: Natural-gas power plants

July 29, 2010

Massey Energy Files ’SLAPP’ Lawsuit against Environmental Activists

Filed under: environment — Matt Dernoga @ 11:58 am
Tags: , , , ,

Donate to the activists legal defense.

See photos

Massey Energy Files ’SLAPP’ Lawsuit against Environmental Activists

Company Responsible for Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster Actively Seeking to Silence Local Critics

July 22, 2010

CONTACTS:

Larry Hildes, (360) 715-9788

Rock Creek, W. Va. — Massey Energy has filed a politically motivated civil suit, also known as a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit, against fourteen activists arrested last year in relation to a protest on a mountaintop removal mining site. The suit seems to be part of a larger strategy on the part of the mining company to intimidate and silence critics of the company’s safety record and controversial mining practices, particularly mountaintop removal coal mining. (more…)

May 19, 2010

Breaking News: Montgomery County Passes Nation’s First Carbon Tax

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 4:04 pm
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Hats off to the Montgomery County Council in Maryland for passing the nation’s first carbon tax.  Here is a copy of the legislation.  Below is a summary of the hearing by Clean Currents, a local clean energy business.  CCAN also has an official statement on this legislation.  Also, here is CCAN’s press release on the passage, which I’ve posted below the Clean Currents Statement.

Its official: today, the Montgomery County Council passed a carbon tax bill- the first of its kind in the United States! The bill, proposed by County Councilman Roger Berliner, taxes stationary emitters in Montgomery County that release more than one million tons of co2 into the atmosphere annually. Currently, there is only one such emitter- a coal plant owned by Mirant Corporation. At a hearing yesterday, Mirant Corporation officials spoke against the legislation claiming it would only lead to rate hikes for consumers. However, Councilman Berliner said the $5/ton tax would not have an impact on ratepayers for numerous reasons.  This amount is marginal compared to the profits Mirant makes from the facility. The tax revenues will go to funding clean energy and other programs that are facing funding cuts during tough budgetary conditions. (more…)

April 16, 2010

Video: Youth Activists Confront Coal CEOs with the Dirty Truth

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 3:29 pm
Tags: ,

This video is from a Congressional hearing about the future of coal and it’s current impacts today.

April 13, 2010

AFL-CIO President Says Coal Mine Accident Was Man Made

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 4:55 pm
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As Wonk Room noted last week, the Massey coal disaster from last week caused by an explosion led to the worst mining accident since 1984 could be attributed to Massey’s blatant disregard for safety.  Massey’s mine in Montcoal had been cited for over 3,000 violations and $2.2 million in fines.  See the charts below.  The AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had some harsh words for Massey and its CEO Don Blankenship, which I’ve copied below.

“Those miners died because Massey Energy cares more about a lump of coal than human lives,” Trumka said during a denunciation of the country’s fourth-largest coal producer and its CEO, Don Blankenship.

“There ought to be a special place in hell for people like Don Blankenship and the corporate bottom-feeders of our world. And I’ll tell you, I’d volunteer to mine the coal to make the fire hotter.”

April 10, 2010

Weekly Mulch: Massey Energy coal costs the environment

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 7:27 pm
Tags: , ,

Here is a cross-post of the Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium

Weekly Mulch: Massey Energy coal costs the environment

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Coal consumption has costs — this week’s explosion at a West Virginia mine, which killed 25, made that clear. Those costs aren’t limited to human lives, either. Massey Energy Co., the owner of the West Virginia mine, has racked up not just safety violations but also consistently has disregarded the environmental effects of its work.

Black marks on Massey’s record

This week’s explosion is far from the first debacle associated with a Massey project, and past incidents have had disastrous impacts on the environment. In 2000, a break in a Massey-owned reservoir, filled with coal waste, caused more damage than the Exxon Valdez spill, Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly. Clara Bingham described the flood of sludge for the magazine in 2005:

“The gooey mixture of black water and coal tailings traveled downstream through Coldwater and Wolf creeks, and later through the river’s main stem, Tug Fork. Ten days later, an inky plume appeared in the Ohio River. On its 75-mile path of destruction, the sludge obliterated wildlife, killed 1.6 million fish, ransacked property, washed away roads and bridges, and contaminated the water systems of 27,623 people.”

A year later, another 30,000 gallons of sludge poured into a river in Madison, WV, “with nary a peep from Massey,” Kevin Connor points out at AlterNet.

The company routinely scorns environmental regulations, too, as Andy Kroll reports for Mother Jones:

“Between 2000 and 2006, Massey violated the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times by dumping sediment and leftover mining waste into rivers in Kentucky and West Virginia, the EPA said in 2008. (Environmental groups say the EPA’s tally is a lowball figure; they estimate that the true number of violations is more than 12,000.) As a result of these breaches of the law, the company agreed to pay the EPA a $20 million settlement.”

It appears that prior spills have not chastened Massey, either. Brooke Jarvis at Yes! Magazine notes that the company stores 8.2 billion gallons of coal sludge in the same West Virginia county suffering from this week’s explosion, and that two months ago, “West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation because the dam failed to meet safety requirements.”

Don Blankenship, denier!

Massey’s owner, Don Blankenship, has as dark a record as his company on environmental issues. Blankenship believes in the “survival of the most productive,” Mike Lillis writes at The Washington Independent, which means that safety and environmental concerns come second. He “loves to slam ‘greeniacs’ for believing in things like climate change,” says Nick Baumann at Mother Jones. The Colorado Independent’s David O. Williams calls Blankenship “a notorious right-wing climate change denier and outspoken critic of the policies of ‘Obama bin Laden,’” and notes that Blankenship is on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has tried its hardest to squelch any climate legislation eking through Congress.

Methane and mountaintop removal

Although Massey and Blankenship stand out for their scorn of the environment, all coal production extracts a cost. Accidents and violations like Massey’s can devastate forests and streams, but coal’s biggest environmental impact comes when it is burned and pours tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Yes! Magazine’s Jarvis puts it, “Coal may be cheap now, but that’s simply because we’re not counting—and don’t even know how to count—the long-term costs.”

The Obama administration has taken some steps towards limiting coal production. Last week the EPA announced restrictions that would limit mountaintop removal mining. But those regulations won’t ban the practice altogether. The Senate could, in theory, take up that task: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a bill a year ago that would make mountaintop removal mining so expensive it would be economically infeasible, effectively banning the practice, Mike Lillis reports for The Washington Independent. Although the bill accrued a few more sponsors during 2009, mostly liberal Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), it hasn’t attracted much attention and is still sitting in the Environment and Public Works Committee.

In the Mountain West, the Bureau of Land Management is opening up federal lands for coal mining and claiming it can’t require companies to flare off or capture methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, David O. Williams reports for The Colorado Independent. Without methane capture, the new mines would pour carbon pollution into the atmosphere. This BLM stance, Williams writes, has green advocates in Colorado “longingly reminiscing about the bygone days of the Bush administration,” which said it would require companies to manage methane.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

April 9, 2010

World Bank Ignores Pleas, Gives Loan for Massive Coal Plant

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 2:00 am
Tags: , ,

I made a cross-post a few days ago about the threat of a giant coal plant being financed by the World Bank.  Well..the bank approved it.  The only bright spot to take from this is the US abstained from supporting the project.

“The U.S. Treasury said in a statement it opposed the loan due to “concerns about the climate impact of the project and its incompatibility with the World Bank’s commitment to be a leader in climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

Below is a video of a protest in Washington DC from Wednesday at the World Bank headquarters

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