The Dernogalizer

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 19, 2010

Smoggy Senators Protest EPA Plan To Save Thousands Of Children’s Lives

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 10:21 pm
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I recommend reading this post from last week in the Wonk Room.   A number of Senators, including a couple of Democrats, are criticizing the EPA of its move to strengthen the smog limits so that they are guidance with what the scientific community says is necessary to prevent unnecessary deaths from ozone.  It’s amazing how low these politicians will stoop to coddle the fossil fuel industry.  Below are a few excerpts from the piece…

“Under the guidance of administrator Lisa Jackson, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working to clean up one of George W. Bush’s most blatant acts of ignoring science and disregarding the law, when he personally overruled the unanimous recommendations of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee for an ozone limit no higher than 70 ppb, setting instead an arbitrary and capricious standard of 75 ppb. Jackson intends to instead follow the law by setting a 60-70 ppb standard. However, a group of Democratic and Republican senators led by retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) are trying to preserve Bush’s toxic legacy on behalf of the coal and oil industries in their states, complaining to Jackson that her plan “will have asignificant negative impact on our states’ workers and families”

“the conclusion EPA staff and scientists drew in 2008, based on the scientific evidence that “ozone has a direct impact on rates of heart and respiratory disease and resulting premature deaths,” was that a standard no higher than 70 ppb was needed. The agency calculated that a standard of 65 ppb “would avoid 3,000 to 9,200 deaths annually,” two to three times more than a 75 ppb standard. The difference is that George W. Bush is no longer the decider”


August 12, 2010

Two More Ways to Get After Coal

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

June 29, 2010

Much-Lauded Strict Mountaintop Mining Guidelines Not So Strict

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 10:41 pm
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I’m concerned that the EPA’s mountaintop removal guidelines they announced in April aren’t translating into the kind of result activists were expecting.  The rules were supposed to mark “the end of an era” and make it difficult if not impossible for coal companies to get permits for mountaintop removal.  By today, the Rainforest Action Network(RAN) called to attention the EPA’s first decision under the new guidelines, which was to grant three new valley fills.  See below, and stay tuned.

SAN FRANCISCO– Just last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave the Army Corps of Engineers a green light for the Pine Creek mine permit, a mountaintop removal (MTR) mining site in Logan County, W.Va. This is the first permit decision the EPA has issued under the new mountaintop mining guidelines, which came out last April and were anticipated to provide tougher oversight of mountaintop removal coal mining.

The new MTR guidelines were understood to provide greater protection for headwater streams by curbing the practice of dumping waste in neighboring valleys to create what is known as valley fills. The Pine Creek permit is the first test of these guidelines, and green lights three new valley fills (each over 40 acres large). It was anticipated that these guidelines, by requiring mining operators to control levels of toxins in nearby streams, would significantly reduce the dumping of mining waste in valleys, which the EPA said was scientifically proven to contaminate drinking water and wreck ecosystems.

“This is a devastating first decision under guidelines that had offered so much hope for Appalachian residents who thought the EPA was standing up for their health and water quality in the face of a horrific mining practice,” said Amanda Starbuck of the Rainforest Action Network. “The grand words being spoken by Administrator Jackson in Washington are simply not being reflected in the EPA’s actions on-the-ground. This continues the inconsistent and contradictory decisions that have plagued the EPA’s process on mountaintop removal coal mining all along.”

In announcing the new guidelines in April, Administrator Jackson told reporters: “We expect this guidance to change behaviors, to change actions, because if we keep doing what we have been doing, we’re going to see continued degradation of water quality… Minimizing the number of valley fills is a very, very key factor. You’re talking about no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this.”

The Pine Creek Surface Mine permit will allow Coal-Mac, a subsidiary of coal giant Arch Coal, to mine through more than 2 miles of streams that are already suffering dangerous levels of pollution from surface mining (see editors note for more details). Extensive mountaintop removal mining and the subsequent environmental and water quality damage have already ravaged Logan County W.Va., which is the location of the infamous Spruce mine.

In response to the possibility of more blasting in Logan County, West Virginia resident Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environment Coalition said: “In approving the Pine Creek permit, the EPA has failed our community. Any more mountaintop removal mining in Logan County is going to further degrade the watershed, increase pollution-related health impacts and increase the likelihood of more flooding.”

“Moving forward, it is clear that the EPA cannot end mountaintop removal coal mining pollution without abolishing mountaintop removal all together,” continued Starbuck.

Since 1992, nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have been filled at a rate of 120 miles per year by surface mining practices.  A recent EPA study found elevated levels of highly toxic selenium in streams downstream from valley fills. These impairments are linked to contamination of surface water supplies and resulting health concerns, as well as widespread impacts to stream life in downstream rivers and streams.  Further, the estimated scale of deforestation from existing Appalachian surface mining operations is equivalent in size to the state of Delaware.

A paper released in January 2009 by a dozen leading scientists in the journal Science, concluded that mountaintop coal mining is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits all together. “The science is so overwhelming that the only conclusion that one can reach is that mountaintop mining needs to be stopped,” said Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and the study’s lead author.

The Pine Creek permit is currently awaiting approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.

###

Notes to Editor
For more information on the EPA’s decision about the Pine Creek mine permit:
http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/guidance/pdf/CoalMac_ECP_letter_06-21-1…
http://www.lrh.usace.army.mil/_kd/Items/actions.cfm?action=Show&item_id=…

For more information on the Pine Creek permit:
http://ran.org/content/stop-blasting-pine-creek-west-virginia

For background on EPA guidelines and conductivity levels:
The new EPA guidelines were designed to gauge the health of nearby streams based on their levels of conductivity, which is an indicator of water’s purity. The runoff from Appalachian mines contains toxins like magnesium, sulfate, bicarbonate, and potassium — all ions that raise conductivity levels. The higher the conductivity, the tougher it is for aquatic life to survive.

EPA is warning that water pollution from these mining operations dangerously increases the electrical conductivity of streams. Under the guidelines, the EPA believes any mining proposals with predicted conductivity levels of 300 or below is generally okay. Anything above 500 is considered by EPA “to be associated with impacts that may rise to the level of exceedances of narrative state water quality standards.”

There is a plan for monitoring water quality that involves 2 thresholds. Should bi-monthly testing show conductivity levels of about 300 then the “adaptive management plan” kicks in. The second threshold is when levels exceed 500 at which point “chemical improvements to the watershed” will be made. Should water quality be in exceedence of 500 a subsequent valley fill would not be allowed to be constructed. The EPA acknowledges that conductivity levels at the left fork of Pine Creek are already approaching 500 S/cm.

June 24, 2010

A Slight Blast From the Past

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 9:13 pm
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The Diamondback has been slow about posting its opinion columns this summer, so my column out today isn’t online or linkable.  However, two weeks ago I wrote an op-ed column on the need to protect the Clean Air Act, which was under attack from Republicans and coal/oil state Democrats.  Ultimately, the attempt to gut the portion of the Clean Air Act that allows EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions failed.  However, this debate is still relevant since there is the possibility there will eventually be a vote on a weaker resolution of disapproval being pushed by WV Senator Jay Rockefeller which would delay EPA action for 2 years.  Below is my column from two weeks ago, which I timed with the Senate vote on the resolution.

Clean Air Act: Protecting the green initiative

By Matt Dernoga

Today, the Senate is going to vote on whether or not to gut the Clean Air Act. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska) is introducing what’s called a Resolution of Disapproval, titled S.J. Res 26, which would block the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from our largest and dirtiest coal plants. S.J. Res 26 would also block the Obama administration’s move last year to mandate new fuel economy standards of 35.5 miles per gallon for new cars and trucks by 2016, as well as recent moves to develop new standards for medium and heavy duty trucks.

The basis for new standards is the administration’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. They would save the U.S. over 1.8 billion barrels of oil over their lifespan, an average of $3,000 for someone who buys a car in 2016, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 900 million metric tons. The truck rule is also estimated to save truckers and consumers $24 billion dollars in the year 2030 and create about 120,000 jobs nationwide. These facts are why both the automobile and truck industries have applauded and stood behind these standards. S.J. Res 26 would erase this.

Ironically, one of the biggest losers in this would be Murkowski’s home state of Alaska, notoriously one of the states most impacted from rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The state is literally burning to a crisp as warming temperatures, drier air and millions of acres of dead forest cause unprecedented wildfires.

The grim reaper for the forest comes in the form of a tiny bark beetle that’s migrating further north because of milder winters, and reproducing faster during warmer summers at the same time. All the new dead wood is like throwing a gigantic log into an out of control fireplace.

Murkowski has even acknowledged these impacts, saying in a speech a few years ago: “Native whaling captains tell me that the ice pack is less stable, and that there is more open water requiring them to travel greater distances to hunt. The snowpack is coming later and melting earlier than in years past. Salmon are showing up in subsistence nets in greater numbers across the arctic. Different types of vegetation now grow where they never grew before. The migratory patterns of animals have changed. Warmer, drier air has allowed the voracious spruce bark beetle to migrate north, moving through our forests in the south-central part of the state. At last count, over three million acres of forest land has been devastated by the beetle, providing dry fuel for outbreaks of enormous wild fires. To give you some perspective, that is almost the size of Connecticut. Times have changed and we need a new Arctic policy.”

Taking away the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act would be a profit windfall for the oil companies, an early Christmas present for big coal and a collective head-in-the-sand headstand by Senate on the need for the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also a terrible Arctic policy, Senator Murkowski.
Contact your Senator. Tell them to protect the Clean Air Act, and vote no on S.J. Res 26.

Matt Dernoga graduated in May with a degree in government and politics. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

April 7, 2010

Off-shore drilling, auto emissions, mountaintop mining from Obama administration

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 9:15 pm
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The following is a cross post from the Media Consortium’s Weekly Mulch

Weekly Mulch: Off-shore drilling, auto emissions, mountaintop mining from Obama administration

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama announced this week that his administration would open areas from Delaware to Florida and in Alaska to offshore drilling for gas and oil. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation also released new guidelines for auto emissions to cut carbon emissions, and the EPA said new benchmarks for issuing mountaintop mining permits would prevent damage to waterways in Appalachia. The environmental community welcomed these last two announcements but both were overshadowed by the off-shore drilling decision, which green groups largely condemned.

Off-putting off-shore drilling decision

Although as a candidate President Obama began by opposing off-shore drilling, by the end of the campaign he said he would support an expansion of drilling areas. Mother JonesKate Sheppard explains the series of decisions that made this week’s announcement possible:

“In October 2008, amidst calls of “drill, baby, drill” from conservatives, Congress failed to renew the long-standing moratorium on offshore drilling. Months earlier, George W. Bush had lifted an 18-year-old executive ban on offshore drilling, which had originally been imposed by his father in 1990. Obama, of course, could have issued his own order, but didn’t.”

The administration had been considering the decision to go ahead with drilling for about a year but kept deliberations quiet. Key senators, however, knew the decision was coming, and it’s pushing Democrats like Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) to warm towards energy legislation, TPMDC reports.

Cars’ carbon emission

The EPA’s announcement on auto emissions, on the other hand, comes as no surprise. It marks the first big step the Obama administration has taken to limit carbon emissions through regulation. Auto regulations are a relatively easy sell. A chunk of Congress wants to keep the EPA from taking these sorts of actions, but in this case, the auto industry supports the federal regulations. At the Washington Independent, Aaron Wiener notes that “the guidelines drew immediate praise from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which has long advocated national emissions and efficiency regulations rather than patchwork state-by-state rules.”

Mountaintop removal mining

The coal industry will be less happy about the EPA’s announcement on mountaintop removal mining. The agency admitted that the practice causes significant damage to streams and said its new guidelines would lead to significantly less harm.

The new policies, Jeff Biggers writes at AlterNet, will “effectively bring an end to the process of valley fills (and the dumping of toxic coal mining waste into the valleys and waterways).” It could be, he says, “the beginning of the end of mountaintop removal.”

One sign that mountaintop removal’s doomsday is nigh? Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), one of coal’s staunchest and most powerful advocates on the Hill, praised the EPA’s decision, reports Mike Lillis at the Washington Independent.

Green groups groan

Green groups are lauding the EPA’s two announcements. (The Sierra Club called the mining announcement “the most significant administrative action ever taken to address mountaintop removal coal mining,” for instance.) But the push for off-shore drilling has environmental advocates squirming.

“As the president extends olive branches to his critics, he’s alienating allies in the environmental community, who say his policies are reminding them more and more of those of his predecessor, George W. Bush,” says Mother Jones’ Sheppard. “Some enviros are even likening Obama to Alaska’s oil-loving ex-governor, Sarah Palin.”

On Democracy Now!, Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity, called the decision “horribly disappointing” and said, “Obama is essentially embracing wholeheartedly the policy of: we can drill our way to energy independence.”

The Obama administration’s energy and environmental policy is creeping ever further towards the center. Ken Salazar, Secretary for the Interior, said this week that “Cap-and-trade is not in the lexicon anymore,” TPMDC reports. It’s no wonder that progressive members of Congress are starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction their climate bill is taking, as Sheppard reports. The president may be using up his reserves of political support from his allies as he stretches to meet conservatives and centrist Democrats on some shaky middle ground.

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 6, 2010

EPA: Reaching the mountaintop

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:28 am
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I’ve got a column out in the Diamondback about the recent groundbreaking decision by the EPA to heavily regulate mountaintop removal mining, and what needs to happen next.

EPA: Reaching the mountaintop

During the past two years, I’ve written a couple of columns harshly criticizing the Bush and Obama administrations for their failure to use the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Water Act when it comes to mountaintop removal. I’m thrilled to write now that the Obama EPA, under the leadership of Lisa Jackson, has issued a new set of strict environmental guidelines for mountaintop removal that is expected to sharply curtail, if not end, mountaintop removal mining. It’s being applauded by environmentalists and decried by coal companies. The National Mining Association is saying it could mean the “end of an era.”

Mountaintop removal mining uses explosives to access coal at the base of a mountain, generating large volumes of toxic waste that bury adjacent streams. The resulting waste ruins water quality, causing permanent damage to ecosystems and leaving streams unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. It is estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining. This has ruined the quality of life for many residents of Appalachia and has led to health problems for people who drink the water and breathe in the toxins from the waste.

There are a lot of reasons for this victory. The largest by far is the mountaintop removal activists in these Appalachian communities who mobilized year after year, repeatedly risking arrest (and getting arrested) through civil disobedience when there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Chances are their steadfast determination in putting the spotlight on this issue forced the EPA’s hand.

But this university did its part. Students have organized many educational events on this issue. I’ve been to four mountaintop removal events on the campus since the spring of 2008, and there’s another planned on April 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Nanticoke Room at the Stamp Student Union. It should take on a more positive tone for a change.

Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science was one of the leading authors of a recent groundbreaking study on the environmental damage from mountaintop removal and its human health effects. The study linked elevated rates of mortality, lung cancer and chronic heart, lung and kidney diseases to communities near mountaintop removal mines. Palmer helped garner attention for the science through countless media interviews, including a spot on The Colbert Report.

The fight isn’t over yet. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have penned legislation called the Appalachian Restoration Act, which would redefine mining waste as a pollutant. This would prevent companies from dumping mining waste into valleys and streams below their projects, forcing them to truck the debris off-site. This would make operations too expensive and effectively end mountaintop removal. There’s similar legislation in the U.S. House called the Clean Water Protection Act.

Hats off to the EPA and President Obama for delivering on change for these communities in Appalachia. Now it’s up to Congress to make this the beginning of the end for one of the greatest human rights abuses going on in the country today. Finish the job. Sell coal back its soul.

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

Will Lisa Jackson actually use the Clean Air Act to Regulate Carbon?

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 12:16 am
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There was a solid Newsweek article a few days ago about whether Lisa Jackson and the Obama Administration has it in them to move forward and regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act if Congress doesn’t seriously act.  The big question is whether the Obama Administration has the guts to go for it.  I want to excerpt a few pieces from it.

“But if that conciliatory approach doesn’t work, Obama can count on Jackson as his climate enforcer. Unless Congress acts by next January, Jackson says, the EPA will use its authority under America’s Clean Air Act to phase in new restrictions on carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. The U.S. emits nearly a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide; the EPA has identified it and five other greenhouse gases as a threat to public health. “The difference between this administration and the last is that we don’t believe we have an option to do nothing,” Jackson told NEWSWEEK.”

“But that doesn’t mean her job will be easy. Three months after announcing her intent, Jackson, a chemical engineer who spent years working within the EPA bureaucracy, is starting to see just how difficult it may be. For starters, the Nixon-era Clean Air Act was never intended to regulate a pollutant as pervasive as carbon. Both environmentalists and industry heads also acknowledge that Congress would be able to address the problem better. “The only thing everyone agrees on is that a regulatory approach would be more extensive and less effective than legislation,” says Paul Bledsoe, spokesman for the National Commission on Energy Policy, a Washington think tank. But until Congress takes up the question, Obama holds the only key to sweeping carbon cuts”

“Jackson’s do-it-or-else version will contain none of that. Yet despite protests by members of Congress that Jackson is infringing on their turf, leaders on Capitol Hill—mistrustful after the passage of health care and worried about a double-dip recession—have shown little interest in taking up the issue. Republicans, largely skeptical of climate change, are opposed to steep emissions cuts, and even many Democrats who are sympathetic to the cause in principle don’t want to make trouble with big employers (and donors) back in their home districts. (Some lawmakers have introduced protest bills that threaten to rewrite the Clean Air Act to curtail the EPA’s power, and even to dry up funding for the agency. They aren’t expected to go anywhere, although Jackson says she’s prepared to fight such measures.)”

“The big question in Washington isn’t whether the EPA has the authority to singlehandedly force polluters to radically cut their carbon emissions; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that it does. It’s whether the White House is actually serious about carrying out Jackson’s plan—or if it is just noisily bluffing to get Congress to take some action, even if it falls short of Jackson’s ambitious cuts.”

“The one to watch for that answer isn’t Jackson, but Obama. With a health-care victory under his belt, the president has new clout, both with Congress and with a growing number of voters. But if the January deadline approaches and Congress still hasn’t taken up a plan to reduce carbon, Obama will have to decide if he has the political stomach to make good on Jackson’s ultimatum—a move unpopular enough that it could land him back in the trenches. It wouldn’t be a quiet fight. The other side would attack him as anti-business and anti-jobs, and it wouldn’t all be Republicans.”

“”The president understands that EPA must follow the science and its legal obligations,” says a White House official who spoke under the usual rules of anonymity. “But he has made abundantly clear that his strong preference is for Congress to pass energy and climate legislation.” Hardball Washington translation: let’s make a deal.”

April 1, 2010

EPA lays the BOOM on Mountaintop Removal Mining

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 5:11 pm
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I’ve criticized the EPA a lot for it’s unwillingness to do anything serious about mountaintop removal.  See here.

But today, the EPA unveiled new pollution limits to curtail MTR.  You can read their full guidance notice here.  See the following excerpts from the Washington Post article, and below that a press release by the Sierra Club.  You can also read a great piece in the Huffington Post by MTR activist Jeff Biggers, who calls this “The beginning of the end of mountaintop removal. Let’s hope.”

The decision, announced Thursday afternoon by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, is expected to end or significantly cut the use of “valley fills.” At these sites, mining companies fill valleys to the brim with rock and rubble left over when peaks are sheared off to reach coal seams inside.

“Minimizing the number of valley fills is a very, very key factor,” Jackson said. “You’re talking about no, or very few, valley fills that are going to meet this standard.”

Both supporters and opponents of the practice said that, because large valley fills are such a common part of mountaintop mines, the move could curtail the mines in general. Mountaintop mining provides only about 10 percent of U.S. coal, but it is a much larger part of the economy in some sections of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

“It could mean the end of an era,” said Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association. He said that to limit valley fills “is tantamount to saying the intent is to strictly limit coal mining in Appalachia,” with serious economic consequences for regions dependent on the mines.

Sierra Club Applauds Environmental Protection Agency for
Cracking Down on Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Tough New Policy Should Protect Communities and Waterways

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a bold new policy to protect communities and waterways from the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. By setting tough guidance for mining near streams, the EPA will severely limit this most devastating form of coal mining. The EPA also addressed the negative impacts to communities caused by mountaintop removal coal mining.

In response Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued the following statement:

“The new policy represents the most significant administrative action ever taken to address mountaintop removal coal mining. Today’s announcement reaffirms the Obama administration’s commitment to science and to environmental justice for the communities and natural areas of Appalachia.

“We also applaud the EPA for recognizing the negative impacts to the communities of Appalachia, who have suffered long enough from the effects of mountaintop removal.

“After years of the coal industry making molehills out of Appalachia’s mountains, these new guidelines will reduce the destruction caused by mountaintop removal, and communities will be able to focus on building a clean energy economy. Tragically, mining companies have already buried close to 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams beneath piles of toxic waste and debris.

“Today’s announcement is a major step toward protecting Appalachia’s natural heritage. If effectively implemented and vigorously enforced, this policy will largely prevent coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams. We call on other agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the Office of Surface Mining and the Department of the Interior to follow EPA’s lead and take their own steps to protect the region’s communities and water resources.”


March 27, 2010

EPA Blocks Mountaintop Removal Mine!

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:26 am
Tags: , ,

I’ve been very critical of the EPA’s inability to follow the science on mountaintop removal, and halt the destructive practice.  However, it’s worth highlighting this recent positive piece of news.  According to Solve Climate, the EPA has “raised the bar for mountaintop mining today with a proposal to stop or at least significantly restrict one of Appalachia’s largest and most disputed mining operations, the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, W.Va.”

Below is an excerpted chunk of their article, and I’d suggest checking it out for some great context of the entire situation.

“The sprawling Spruce No. 1 mine site, already in operation, has been a point of contention and lawsuits from environmental groups for over a decade. EPA has gone back and forth with the Army Corps of Engineers over whether the owner, an Arch Coal subsidiary, would cause too much damage to the state’s waterways with its mining plan. In 2007, however, the Corps and the state of West Virginia moved ahead, authorizing mining to begin.

While the Corps has the authority to approve mining permits, EPA has veto power when it reviews environmental impact statements, and that’s what it is proposing to use now. It has used that authority only 12 times and never before for an already permitted mine like Spruce No. 1.

EPA Regional Administrator for the Mid-Atlantic, Shawn Garvin, said his agency tried to work with the mining company to decrease the environmental and health risks from the project but the talks failed.

“Coal, and coal mining, is part of our nation’s energy future, and for that reason EPA has made repeated efforts to foster dialogue and find a responsible path forward. But we must prevent the significant and irreversible damage that comes from mining pollution — and the damage from this project would be irreversible,” Garvin said. “EPA has a duty under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on these waters for drinking, fishing and swimming.”

In the proposed determination released today, Garvin wrote: “EPA believes that the predicted impacts from the Spruce No. 1 mine, if constructed as currently authorized, could have unacceptable effects on wildlife and fisheries.” He talked about the degradation of water from mining debris that is dumped into streams with unearthed metals and elements, such as selenium, which can cause birth defects in fish. The dumping of mining debris in streams also destroys habitat relied upon by the region’s salamanders, fish and smaller creatures, such as insects that are key elements in the food chain for birds, bats and other animals, he wrote. And pollutions would become a problem downstream from the valley fills and could contribute to conditions that support golden algae blooms, which release more toxins dangerous to aquatic life. There is a cumulative impact that needs to be considered, he said.

It is important to remember that the streams that would be filled with debris from Spruce No. 1 mining, particularly Oldhouse Branch and Pigeonroost Branch, currently “are generally healthy, functioning streams with good water quality,” Garvin wrote.

This is a region of West Virginia where state officials, in a 1997 assessment, identified as a priority the need to “locate and protect the few remaining high-quality streams.” The Coal River sub-basin has had more than 257 past and present mining permits, collectively occupying some 13 percent of the land, according to the EPA. At the same time, the area has about 51 species listed as endangered, threatened or state rear species, and many of them rely on aquatic ecosystems for their lifecycle.

“The streams that will be buried cannot be viewed in a vacuum,” Garvin wrote. “When those streams and wildlife are buried, there will be effects to downstream waters and downstream wildlife caused by the removal of functions performed by the buried resources and by transformation of the buried areas into source that may contribute pollutants to downstream waters.”

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