The Dernogalizer

May 11, 2010

The Gravity of Writing

Filed under: Dernoga,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 11:53 pm
Tags: , ,

I had my last op-ed of the year out today, and possibly my last with the Diamondback.  I have to decide soon whether or not to try and keep doing this while in graduate school.  I thought it would be good to reminisce about how I started writing columns, and what the experience has done for me.  Enjoy!

Dernoga: The gravity of writing

By Matt Dernoga

Back in March 2008, I wrote a joke guest column titled “Gravity is a Hoax!” that imitated a stereotypical global warming denier by arguing against the existence of gravity with ludicrous assertions. This prompted The Diamondback’s opinion editor at the time to offer me a columnist position with the stipulation I would write about environmental issues.

I was going to turn down the offer because I was afraid I wouldn’t consistently have good material to write about. Then, I got an e-mail from a man in Denmark who had stumbled across my column on “gravity” and seriously thought I was denying the existence of gravity. He apparently agreed and presented me with a host of links he had found proving gravity was, in fact, a hoax.

I had to politely tell him that I was actually referring to global warming in the column (which should have been obvious). In his response, he said global warming hadn’t crossed his mind while reading since it wasn’t a debate in Europe. He was flabbergasted that a sizable percentage of Americans actually thought it was an elaborate hoax (but apparently gravity was fair game). Though I’m probably not going to go to this guy for my physics homework, it struck me at the time that my column wasn’t the joke — we were.

Most people, including activists, just don’t know a lot about environmental issues, and in many ways, it’s the media’s fault. There isn’t much written in newspapers about those issues, and when they do get attention, they’re reduced to sound bites and straw man arguments. Usually, it’s “protecting the environment will hurt the economy” in a thousand different forms.

So I took the columnist position. I’ve found it to be one of the best uses of my time here as an undergraduate. By researching the intricacies of environmental issues I often knew little about, I learned how to frame them in ways both the reader and I could understand. As an environmental activist, writing these columns challenged me to actually investigate hot topics beyond the surface. I found this made me a more capable advocate for my issues because I could weave different aspects and angles of an argument together to make a strong case.

I’m grateful for the number of people who have e-mailed me with kind words about my columns and even suggested topics to write about. Sure, it’s The Diamondback, and we tend to think the appeal of content in this paper is limited to our university bubble, but there aren’t many reporters or columnists in this state who competently write about green issues on a regular basis. As a result, I received outstanding support and column ideas from people around the state. Almost half of my column topics were actually ideas or issues brought to my attention by others. Instead of struggling to write original material, I struggled with deciding which topic to go with each week.

My time as an undergraduate is drawing to a close. Depending on what I decide to do in graduate school, this may be my last column. Either way, getting my message across to you every week has been a fun and rewarding part of my college experience. I hope you learned as much as I did. More importantly, I hope you use it. Thank you.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com

February 6, 2010

Now Tweeting

Filed under: Dernoga — Matt Dernoga @ 5:07 pm

Yes, I have joined the Twitter crowd!  If you would like to follow, go here

December 14, 2009

The Wooded Hillock: Our Tipping Point

My last column of the semester is out today, and it’s about why environmental protection is important for protecting communities, and the prospects for saving part of a forest known as The Wooded Hillock, which the university wants to bulldoze so it can relocate facilities onto it.  This is my second column on the issue, I had one out back in February.  If you want to learn more about the issues surrounding the Wooded Hillock, please see here, and scroll down, or go to

Wooded Hillock: Our tipping point

A couple of months ago, I heard a speech from Adam Ortiz, the mayor of a town a few miles south of here called Edmonston. As Ortiz jokingly put it, Edmonston is a diverse town in every way, except there are no rich people.

Ortiz talked about how Edmonston had been hit with flooding for years, including a 2006 flood in which homes were left partially submerged and people lost everything. Ortiz said this flooding occurred not because Edmonston is located near the Anacostia River but because of its parking lots, shopping centers, highways and roofs. Edmonston flooded because of irresponsible development decisions made upstream that destroyed the natural environment and caused storm water runoff to be redirected rather than absorbed. It settled in Edmonston.

Typically, when there are disputes over developments between environmental groups and developers, the ecosystem advocates are trying to protect is seen as having aesthetic value. The argument is framed as, “We should protect it because we want to be able to enjoy it and know it’s there.” What is severely missing from the conversation, and what Ortiz’s experience exemplifies is that environmental protection is actually about protecting communities. Even if we can’t see it, someone always pays for the destruction, often disproportionately those who lack a political voice.

Fortunately, Ortiz and his community were able to get Prince George’s County to build them pumping stations to mitigate the impact of flooding. When environmentalists talk about tipping points, they refer to a problem getting so bad there’s no way to solve it. Another kind of tipping point is when an issue gets so bad it begins to impact people, and the resulting awareness builds until the politics of the issue suddenly shift in favor of one side to the other.

The dispute about the Wooded Hillock, a forest the university proposed bulldozing so it could relocate facilities there to make way for the East Campus development, is a sign a tipping point is nearing on how we make development decisions. In just the past year since the motion to destroy the hillock was made public, students, faculty, media and local College Park politicians have spoken out against this decision and pushed for an alternative. What once would have been socially acceptable is now socially horrifying.

Now, despite the developer backing out of East Campus, the university says it plans to relocate its facilities to as early as January. I don’t think they can afford to do it. If the university wants East Campus, they need the City Council to approve $5 million in relocation money from the state for the facilities, the Prince George’s County Council to approve the development and our state legislators to fight for more state assistance for the project. Based on conversations I’ve had with all three, that’s a trifecta from hell if the trees go.

Edmonston found its voice. Hillock advocates have echoed the lesson from that story. They’re still having trouble breaching through the thick walls of the administration building. But keep up the volume — the tipping point where that threshold is crossed is right around the corner. When next semester starts, the hillock will stand.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

November 3, 2009

Column on the College Park City Council Elections

I have an Op-Ed out today in the Diamondback about the City Council elections, what UMD for Clean Energy is doing, and how we need to move beyond the traditional “students versus the residents” mindset towards progress.

City council: More than who you side with

By Matt Dernoga

The College Park city council elections are today, and I’ve been actively involved in them. The student group I’m part of, UMD for Clean Energy, has interviewed every candidate for the city council — if you count a 30-minute phone conversation with Jack Perry declaring he would not meet with our ilk.

At both polling locations and at a rally to promote a greener College Park taking place today at 5 p.m. at the sundial on McKeldin Mall (that I am shamelessly plugging right now), we’ll be providing information about the candidates along with our endorsements. This information will include the candidates’ positions on the environment, transportation, development, green businesses and energy conservation endeavors. We’ll also be marching to City Hall during the rally.
I know, it’s hard to see why you should care. I’ve been there, too. Back in 2007, I attended a student-sponsored debate for one of the city council races and almost fell asleep.

I didn’t understand why anyone was wasting their time with College Park politics when it wasn’t remotely interesting. It turns out College Park wasn’t the problem. It was instead the issues students were trying to get me to care about: the same pro-student versus anti-student “issues” that are brought up every election. Usually when I ask someone what pro-student even means, that person is dumbfounded.

UMD for Clean Energy has done our best to change that and to bridge the divide between students and residents by crafting a platform that isn’t pro-student but pro-College Park. We think there should be financing mechanisms to make homes in College Park more energy efficient, a solution that would save everyone money. We think development needs to be smart, responsible and in cohesion with sustainable transportation policies that take cars off of Route 1 so students can get to class and everyone can get where they need to go. We even think there should actually be businesses besides Chipotle that recycle so you don’t have to carry your bottle a half mile to a bin or face throwing it in the trash. There’s plenty more, and it’s been well received by students, residents and candidates.

Ironically, what’s anti-student is the insistence of some that members of the city council solely fall into a category of being for or against students. These categorizations are based on issues such as how much noise council members think I can make at midnight or how tall I can grow the grass in my yard. The only aspect to housing seems to be whether or not it’s there — never mind the quality or the placement. The only expense anyone thinks of is rent, not the energy bill they’re paying in a 50-year-old house.

Pitting students against residents over uninteresting issues is a key reason students basically never vote, and it ensures there is never a student on the city council. If you want to disenfranchise students, make a category for them as a constituency with universal needs that allegedly contrast with the rest of the city. If you want to empower them, give them some credit and a little bit of substance.

There are already enough petty differences that divide us. We don’t need to invent another one.  Be done with it.

Oh, and vote.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com

October 14, 2009

Column on Campaign Slogans

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 12:19 am
Tags: , , ,

I had one of my rare humor columns out in the Diamondback Tuesday.  But, I did manage to sneak in a clean energy plug, so it isn’t too much of a stretch to post this one.

Campaign slogans: Making it memorable

Man, don’t you just love campaign slogans? “Change we can believe in.” “Country first.” “It’s morning again in America.” With the 2010 elections for state and county government right around the corner, expect to start seeing them on the road signs again pretty soon. I have to wonder how much stock voters put in these messages, seeing as how I don’t even remember any from 2000 or 2004. Then again, I probably blocked out those elections.

Back in the day, slogans were a little more interesting. Former President Jimmy Carter had “Not Just Peanuts.” Courting the vote of the allergic? Former President Herbert Hoover’s was a drawn-out “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” Former President Calvin Coolidge tried to come off as the cool guy with “Keep cool with Coolidge.” In 1916, former President Woodrow Wilson’s was “He kept us out of war.” That didn’t last long. No one, however, tops Abe Lincoln and his “Don’t swap horses in midstream.”

If I decided to run for office, I’d go a different route and garner media attention with unusual and outrageous campaign slogans. After all, no one has any clue who I am because no one reads this column (whew), so I’d have to act up to get more attention than that fly President Barack Obama swatted. Some of these warrant an explanation, which I will provide in debates and apology speeches.

“Matt Dernoga: More than you deserve.” The logic behind this is people like to be told you’re too good for them, and a superiority complex can help with governing. “Matt Dernoga: I lost a bet.”  People can relate to me because we both have an addiction to gambling. “Matt Dernoga: God told me to.” This will easily court the religious right, which will be necessary for me since I’m a Democrat. “Matt Dernoga: Taxes up, services down.”  This is what the other politicians are doing; people will appreciate my honesty. “Matt Dernoga: That’s what she said.” Listen to her, folks.  “Matt Dernoga: Don’t ask.” This will throw the media off guard.

“Matt Dernoga: Just say yes.” I’ll only use this one if it works for Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell. His slogan is also used by the Coalition for Positive Sexuality, which promotes “irreverent and unabashed sex education” for teens.

Really, Google it. Probably not what the family values guy was going for. Running for state’s attorney? “Live long and prosecute.” The Star Trek geeks will come out in force. “Matt Dernoga: Not for sale, but my house is!” This is how you kill two birds with one slogan.

The thing is, I’m a crazy environmentalist, and I need slogans for all my voting constituencies — even the hippies. “Matt Dernoga: Act like you live here.” I mean, we do live here, right? “Matt Dernoga: Reuse and recycle.” Only if I’m running for reelection. “Matt Dernoga: Lights out.” Obviously I’m talking about turning your lights out when you leave the room. “Matt Dernoga: Clean as coal.” Because neither the extraction nor the burning of coal will ever be clean. “Matt Dernoga: Going green with your green.” Because breathing cleaner air, drinking cleaner water, avoiding catastrophic global warming and leading in the multi-trillion-dollar clean energy economy will require an upfront investment with immediate and long-term benefits.

“Matt Dernoga: Couldn’t resist.”

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

September 1, 2009

Four Day Workweek Column

Filed under: Energy/Climate,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:35 am
Tags: , , ,

I have a column out on the benefits of a four day workweek, from a fiscal, energy, and environmental standpoint.  Enjoy!

Shortened work weeks: Take a day off

It must be tough being Gov. Martin O’Malley right now. He recently announced $454 million in budget cuts to address a $700 million budget shortfall. Not much there will win him a popularity contest. I have a way to cut costs and please everyone. Not magic — the four-day workweek!

Normally I wouldn’t suggest modeling anything after Utah, home to fundamentalist polygamists and Gary Coleman, but they’ve got the most successful four-day workweek program in the country. For a year, about 17,000 of the state’s 24,000 executive branch employees have been working 10 hours a day, four days a week. The result of having most of the electronics, heating and cooling turned off on Friday has been a 13-percent reduction in the government’s energy usage and $3 million in anticipated savings.

I’m not sure if our state employees are drinking the same water (if that’s what they’re drinking) as the Utah folks, but Utah’s workers love the four-day workweek. For one, it saves them money on their commute. By not having to drive on Friday, the state is estimating employees will save $5 to 6 million dollars yearly. At the same time, state employees are reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 12,000 metric tons.

The program is so popular that in order to keep it on track for meeting energy-saving goals, employees are modifying their behavior by turning off electronics and lighting when they are unnecessary. At the same time, workers find it easier to spend time with their families when they have three-day weekends, and they have no need to pay for child care on Friday. Overall in Utah, 82 percent of their workers prefer to keep the four-day workweek. It sure beats getting furloughed.

On top of the cost savings, Maryland could be an example for other governments. The last time the four-day workweek was seriously considered nationwide was in the 1970s during the oil embargo. It was seen as a way to save on oil. Can you imagine the effect of a nationwide four-day workweek for the vast majority of jobs? There would be an incredible reduction in miles driven, less congestion and faster commute times for those on the roads. We would reduce our oil dependence by millions of barrels every week. I can’t think of a way to more immediately reduce oil consumption and pollution so dramatically at no cost.

The university has an energy bill of about $50 million a year. Assuming we can’t beat the Utah government at their own game, a 13-percent reduction would save us at least $6.5 million a year. That’s not chump change.

The four-day workweek might not solve all our problems, but for all governments, institutions and businesses looking for innovative ways to save money without causing pain to existing programs or raising taxes and tuition, here is your no-brainer.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com

July 23, 2009

Burned by the Press

Filed under: Climate Change — Matt Dernoga @ 2:32 pm
Tags: , ,

I have a column out today criticizing the media’s coverage of global warming as being so poor that too many people don’t have accurate information, or any information at all about global warming or global warming legislation.  Sources are below the column.

The media: Problems of the news re-cycle


On June 16 the White House released the “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States” report. It was written by 13 government science agencies, compiled largely during the George W. Bush administration, and completed under President Barack Obama. The report lays out the specific devastating regional impacts a warming climate would have on all regions of the country, along with the current effects of greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere. The take-away message is the country would become a hellhole if there are not drastic reductions in emissions.

If a tree falls in a forest and the media aren’t around to hear it, does it make a sound? You probably didn’t hear about the report, but one story that did get a lot of press last month was how the Environmental Protection Agency suppressed an internal report that questioned the legitimacy of man-made global warming. I’m not surprised Fox News ran with the story without doing the slightest bit of investigative journalism. Even more disgraceful is how other members of the mainstream media followed suit: For example, CBS reported “EPA May Have Suppressed Report Skeptical of Global Warming”. 

Any respectable journalist could recognize the “report” is nothing more than comments on the EPA’s endangerment finding greenhouse gas emissions should be regulated under the Clean Air Act, comments proposed by an economist named Alan Carlin. Not a report, and not a scientist making the comment. Strikes one and two. Strike three is that the references Carlin used for this “report” consist of recycled global warming denial talking points from blogs. Heck, one was even copied and pasted nearly word-for-word from a fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Want another example of missed coverage? Think back to when Michael Jackson died. It was a day before major global warming legislation was getting voted on in Washington. Opponents were frustrated, since no one knew the House was busy passing legislation that would reorganize and replace the entire energy infrastructure of the country in a few decades. Proponents were in disbelief that the most important piece of legislation in a long time barely got a whisper.

Want more botched coverage? Try Rice University, which released a paper in Nature Geoscience about how climate models can’t explain all the heating indicated in the geologic record during a major climactic shift 55 million years ago. The message to take from the paper was “we could be underestimating how hot the Earth will get.” The headline by USA Today read “Could we be wrong about global warming?” Ladies and gentlemen, your mainstream media. 

This isn’t to say that all media outlets are to blame, or that every single story about global warming is done terribly. But properly reported articles are like needles in a haystack. The truth is that far too many stories on global warming have been missed or dismissed. Most that get covered are grossly misrepresented, and make up a 30 second “he said, she said” soundbite or a paragraph buried on page A20. Fair and balanced has become more important than truthful and objective. I’m sorry to say the end result may be ink tainted with blood. We’ve all been burned by the press. 

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at (on CBS messing up story) (CBS’s story) (the Global Impacts Report) (the Global Impacts Report) (Fox News reporting on EPA) (EPA report copying Pat Michaels) (more debunking of EPA “report”) (more debunking of EPA report) (Pat Michaels of the Cato Institute) (Rice University mistake) (USA today’s bad headline)

July 9, 2009

Chesapeake Bay: Speake of the Devil

I have a column out today about how despite the fact that every elected official in Maryland talks about the need for saving the Chesapeake Bay, the policies we have been passing(and not passing) are contradictory.  A lot of these issues such as highway construction over mass transit and unchecked growth are interconnected with our dependency on fossil fuels and our contribution to global warming.  This is one of my harsher columns, but called for in my opinion.  Sources are at the bottom.

Chesapeake Bay: Speake of the devil


Issue date: 7/9/09

Save the Bay! No really, I mean it. Back in 1987, federal and state officials set a target to finish restoring the Chesapeake Bay by 2000, whose value 20 years ago was pegged at $678 billion by University of Maryland economists. Inflation alone would push that value over a trillion dollars. Maybe we were counting on 2000 being the end of the world, but when computers failed to take over and clean the bay themselves, we were forced to set a target of 2010. Whoops.

So now the Environmental Protection Agency and state officials, including a number from Maryland, have gotten serious. They’ve said enough is enough: It’s time to set a target to which leaders can be held accountable. The new deadline for getting the bay off the list of the nation’s most impaired waters is now 2025, with two-year milestone goals sprinkled in between. Governor Martin O’Malley boldly declared Maryland would hit its own nutrient reduction goals by 2020. 

O’Malley and every other elected official in Annapolis will tell you they’re for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. It’s as easy as saying you’re for fighting cancer or for education. A closer look at our own state policies provides a clue as to why despite lawmakers’ happy proclamations on behalf of the bay, it still remains in shambles.

Doesn’t anyone find it ironic that we decided to have the words “Treasure the Chesapeake” engraved on the back of license plates? License plates which happen to be attached to cars running on roads which has sediment pollution runoff that is ruining the Chesapeake. This is symbolic of our problem. Our largest expenditure to affect the bay’s health thus far consists of billions of dollars spent on the maligned InterCounty Connector. This road blows through the Anacostia Watershed, which feeds into the bay. The Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) is now considering granting a permit for the cross-county connector. This new Charles County highway would drive right through the Mattawoman Watershed, which flows into the bay.

Annapolis recently ensured we’ll continue our happy highway construction by weakening a smart growth bill this past session that would have put some teeth behind responsible development and anti-sprawl benchmarks. Poor land-use planning and highway construction have become coordinated catastrophes that make our clean-up deadline of 2025 a flatline. From his policies, it’s tough to tell whether O’Malley’s personal 2020 target is to clean up Maryland’s pollution contribution or finish the bay off once and for all. 

The policies’ harmful effects are magnified by MDE dragging its feet on enforcing stormwater management rules passed in early 2007. The Stormwater Management Act has encountered two years worth of deliberations by MDE to figure out what to do with it. This culminated in a “please?” ordinance to county governments and local municipalities to only mitigate the runoff impact of 50 percent of impervious surfaces for redevelopment projects. Half-hearted by both my math and their effort.

News flash to Annapolis and O’Malley: When you build mega-highways across waterways which connect to the bay; when you water down smart growth bills that would encourage and enforce responsible development; when you water down our stormwater management laws so our runoff continues to pollute the bay – you’re not saving the bay. You’re killing it.

Now if only we could fit that onto the back of a license plate.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at

Sources: (death of smart growth bill) (blown deadline) (blown deadline) (2025 target) (value of the Bay) (O’Malley setting higher goal for Bay) (on Cross County Connector) (Stormwater management Act, to go to next page to see delays, go down to bottom and check archives) (pg 13 on stormwater management)

June 18, 2009

Column on Waxman-Markey Bill

I have an op-ed out today about how the Waxman-Markey bill is being misrepresented, and despite its flaws we should still support it, and push for strengthening.  Sources at the end.  By the way, this doesn’t mean I’m not at direct actions protesting what I find objectionable.

The environment: Don’t hate, legislate


Issue date: 6/18/09

There are multiple perspectives being offered on a federal climate change bill called the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill’s authors, Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, laud the bill as strong and tough on coal. The environmental camp is split into those who feel passing this bill is better than passing nothing, and those who think the bill is so weak it should fail. The bill’s opponents think it will bring about economic Armageddon. 

For the record, I’d like to see a bill that slashes greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, sells 100 percent of all its “permits to pollute” to industry for a steep price, has zero offsets, prevents construction of all new coal-fired power plants and invests $50 billion a year in clean energy. I’m feeling like Alex Rodriguez in the playoffs: 0 for 5.

The near-term target reduces emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, equivalent to 4 percent below 1990 levels. Most of the permits to pollute are given away for free. There are billions of tons of offsets available for use, coal plants can still be built and only $10 billion a year is invested in clean energy. Easy to make it sound bad. The reality is proponents of the bill exaggerate its strength, some environmentalists exaggerate its weakness and opponents are just plain wrong.

Take the 2020 emissions reduction target; it seems far too weak, until you look at the energy provisions in the bill, including a 20 percent renewable electricity standard, increasing emissions standards for existing coal plants and a mandate that all new buildings be 30 percent more efficient than they are now by 2012 and 50 percent more efficient by 2016. When these additional provisions are factored in, the bill can achieve a maximum reduction of 17 percent below 1990 levels. We’re going to overshoot our target. The energy efficiency provisions in the bill alone would save each American household $750 by 2020 and create 250,000 jobs. 

Ideally, you would want polluters to pay for 100 percent of the permits to pollute. The first test of the provision is how many permits are sold versus how many are given away for free. The bill fails here, giving away 85 percent at no cost. The bill is criticized as a massive corporate concession. Such quick judgment has disregarded the second test: How many of the permits are given away to public purposes versus to private industry? The critics have overlooked the fact that 80 percent of the permits are allocated to public purposes such as consumer rebates, low-income relief, international and domestic adaptation and technology transfer, just to name a few. Not a corporate giveaway.

These are just two examples of how the bill has been misrepresented. Opponents are expected to do this, but environmentalists undermine public support by calling the bill a lost cause. The media reports the misrepresentations of both sides, and neither gives Americans a reason to mobilize to make the bill stronger. It’s a real shame, since this bill is the only chance we have to get an international treaty in Copenhagen at the end of the year. As it currently stands, the legislation is mediocre, and it needs to be made stronger. Simply increasing the energy efficiency mandate by 5 percent would yield an extra $50 billion in consumer savings by 2030. 

There’s potential to do that and more, but people need to be inspired to step up. So, if you support producing more clean energy and less pollution, call your congressman. If you’re opposed, I’ve already cut your phone lines. 

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at (17%) (on 4% equivalent, just search  “4”) (permit allocations) (search offsets) (when energy provisions are considered % cut,  PG 3, bottom chart). (on building codes) (on energy efficiency numbers) (20% renewable standard) (on 10 billion a year investment number, go to “investments in energy technology”, subtract 60 billion from the 190 number cause carbon sequestration isn’t clean energy, you get 130, bill goes into effect in 2012, and these numbers are for up to 2025, which is 13 years.  130 billion divided by 13 years is 10 billion a year).

June 4, 2009

Column on Mountaintop Removal

I have a column out today in the paper about the Obama Administration’s shameful approval of 42 mountaintop removal permits.  I want to be sure to post it for you.

Mountaintop removal: No science, no ethics


The Environmental Protection Agency recently approved 42 of the 48 permit applications for mountaintop removal operations in West Virginia, deeming them environmentally responsible. A review of mountaintop removal would serve the EPA well. 

Mountaintop removal is a way for the coal companies to avoid having to mine the mountain the traditional way. Instead, they use millions of tons of dynamite to blow up the mountain so they can easily extract the coal underneath. Dynamite is cheaper than coal miners; no jobs created here. The toxic waste from this process is then dumped into the nearby valleys and riverbeds below, which can ruin the entire ecosystem. 

More disturbing is the effect on the communities that live in the area. Coal slurry is a toxic byproduct of the mining waste, with billions of gallons stored in dams around the mining sites. At mountaintop removal sites like those in the Appalachia in West Virginia, this can shatter the community in two ways.

There was an incident last December in Tennessee where a coal slurry dam between Nashville and Knoxville burst, causing 500 million gallons of sludge to flow into the tributaries of the Tennessee River, which is also the water supply for millions living in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. It was estimated to be 40 times larger than the infamous Exxon Valdez spill. 

Living near a mountaintop removal operation and living near a coal slurry dam is like living in a war zone. Explosions are going off all the time. Ash and rock is raining down around communities. Machinery is clanging all day and night. The air and water is contaminated with toxic metals and chemicals, including arsenic, lead, selenium, boron, cadmium and cobalt. A friend of mine recently traveled to a West Virginia community to see the devastation and said residents have numbness in their extremities because what they are ingesting is so toxic.

In desperation, coalfield residents of West Virginia wrote a letter to the EPA and Department of Interior begging them to stop the madness. “You are our last hope for justice at this point,” they wrote.

The EPA responded to a different letter instead. They wrote back to a West Virginia Congressman who was determined to ensure the permits went through. The EPA letter said, “I understand the importance of coal mining in Appalachia for jobs, the economy and meeting the nation’s energy needs.” You know the rest.

The health hazards mentioned came to light as a result of the EPA’s own analysis and report on the impacts of living near coal ash and slurry ponds. Both President Barack Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson have pledged to base decisions on science. Science has returned to the White House, we’re told. Exactly what kind of “science” are we talking about? This reminds me of my sixth grade “science” fair project that involved lots of burnt bread and no numbers. 

Jackson, the EPA and Obama have made a mockery of science. They placed the coal industry above human decency. They let the people of Appalachia’s hopes slip right through their fingers. In so doing, they’ve undermined (no pun intended) the moral integrity of America and failed West Virginia, as well as the rest of the country.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at


On the 42/48 approved…

The EPA’s response to the Congressman

Link for the coal slurry disaster  (article link is in the first paragraph, butthere’s a lot of background info in the entire post).

The following two highlight the dangers of being near coalslurry ponds.

Source for the letter..
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