Posts Tagged ‘Coal’

Wondering how to raise $50k for Energy Justice Network

October 3, 2009

Illustration by Linda Zacks from Orion Magazine for Ted Nace’s article on Energy Justice Network, “Stopping Coal in It’s Tracks.”

Can you spare $10? (Or more, if you have it…)

I’m trying to figure out how to provide financial support to Energy Justice Network. Thjs shoe-string operation hosts the No New Coal Plants list which is so helpful to us here in Appalachia (plus lists and fact sheets on biomass, natural gas, ethanol, nuclear energy, incinerators and more). It also provides organizing help to a myriad of local activists fighting polluting energy industries.

The goal is $50,000. All deduction are tax deductible. Online, you can charge a donation Action Center, Inc., Energy Justice Network’s 501 (c)(3) umbrella. The link is: There, you’ll be able to donate once or sign up for a recurring monthly donation. Willing to tweet about donating or post a request to your facebook or myspace feed? The short link is:

It’s a good investment. I’ll quote from the funding request Mike I sent out earlier this year:

Since 2001, Energy Justice Network has provided activists with web pages and fact sheets on the hazards posed by a variety of energy and waste technologies. We’ve linked the most-threatened communities with the resources and energy of students and with the wisdom of hundreds of hard-to-find grassroots leaders with whom we furiously network. Rather than take the NIMBY approach (Not In My Backyard), we always fight for NIABY: Not In Anybody’s Backyard. We’ve done more with less money, and based our assessments on the grassroots realities so many of us face, not a compromised sense of what will make it easy to get foundation funding or earn us the admiration of industry collaborators.

If you’d rather write a check, make it out to Action Center Inc.and mail it to:

1434 Elbridge St
Philadelphia PA 19149

I’ve already chipped in and hope you’ll join me. If all of us donate and ask our friends to join us, we can continue to build this resource for our fight against polluters and their suporters. Remember, “Not in ANYbody’s backyard!”


End Mountaintop Removal Day of Action: October 30

September 30, 2009

Photo by Robin Markle of the “We need 86 Mountains Because…” project in Philly 9/11/09

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it is questioning 79 of the Army Corps of Engineers permits for mountain top removal mining in WV, KY, OH and TN. Questioning, but not cancelling. I’m glad the EPA has taken this action and we need for the agency to do more. The Corps needs to be overruled. And Lisa Jackson, the agency’s chief has yet to accept our office to come to the region and see exactly what is being destroyed.

Mountain Justice and Energy Justice Network are again calling for rallies in every city where the EPA has an office. This is our third national action, following up on ones in June and August. At that time the agency, in response to an letter from WV Congressman Nick Rahall, had rubber stamped 42 out of 48 of the permits to blow up mountains in in that state for thin seams of coal.

Chris Irwin and I are looking for bottom liners and other who will attend a rally in each of the 11 cities. Here’s who we’ve got so far:

*DC–Kate Rooth
*Philly–Robin Markle
*KC–Kellis Bayless
*SF–Scott Parkin

Can you please contact us and let us know if you can play a role. Write me at

And if you can’t attend, you can still help:

*spreading this invitation to your friends
*donate to our two small, shoe-string operations, so we can continue to do this work
*write your epa regional office on October 30 and say you support the protesters

To Donate:
Energy Justice Network:
Use this link or send a check to our 501-3c umbrella
Action Center Inc.
1434 Elbridge St
Philadelphia PA 19149

Mountain Justice:
Use the pay pal button at or send a check to
Mountain Justice
PO Box 86
Naoma, WV 25140

To find your epa regional office:

Check this space as we provide updates for each city.


If you’re on facebook, you can find out about more event like this, by joining The Dirty Truth About Coal:

Are Electric Co-ops All So Different?

September 30, 2009

Photo taken by Joseph Robers on September 10 on his way to work.

The Old Dominion Electric Cooperative argues it is different than commercial utilities because it adheres to the “Seven Cooperative Principles,” the last of which is

Concern for Community—While focusing on members needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policy.

But sustainable development evidently includes forging ahead in its efforts to build yet another coal fired plant in Virginia, which I first wrote about last December 6, at a time when utilities in other states are abandoning such efforts–the proposed Cyprus Creek Power Station, currently slated to cost $6 billion.

Tamara Deitrich (email), news columnist for the Daily Press wrote on June 7, 2009 in ” “Surry coal plant: Just say no,”

1.7 million adults and 400,000 children in Hampton Roads are already within 30 miles of three existing coal-fired power plants.

And those plants happen to be among the four largest in the state: the Yorktown Power Station in Williamsburg, the Chesapeake Power Station and the Chesterfield Power Station in Chester.

No wonder the Environmental Protection Agency keeps putting us — as it did again in April — on the list of places with air unhealthy to breathe. [I’ve written Dietrich to ask her for her sources and will update to include them if I hear back.]

Groups opposing the plant include the Coalition to Keep Surry Clean, the Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices and Chesapeake Climate Action Network. They suffered a blow September 14, when the Dendron Town Council reversed a July action and voted Monday 4-3 (with Mayor Yvonne Pierce breaking a tie) to cede to Surry County Planning Commission review of Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s yet to be filed application. According to Cory Nealon’s (email) September 16, 2009 Daily Press story “Dendron Town Council: Surry County to review coal plant plans” Councilwoman Misti Furr said that since the 1,600-acre facility would be built on Dendron’s main street,

I felt this should’ve been put in the hands of the people of Dendron.

Furr had submited the resolution establishing the town’s own planning commission in July.
ODEC had objected and Town Attorney C.B. Fison advised that the July vote was illegal since such a commission had been on the books since 2001.

The Smithfield Times‘s Jim Tuttle (email) reports in his September 16 story “Dendron to send project to county planners,” that about a dozen people spoke in favor of retaining town control. Bill Richardson, a nominee for the town commission said,

Surry may not have the best interest of Dendron in mind

Local businesswoman Julie Verdaguer, another nominee added,

I don’t believe we should make anyone else responsible.

According to Tuttle, after the opposition had spoken, Mayor Pierce invited a representative of the supporters to speak. Thomas Byrd held up a petition that he said contained the names of 190 people in favor of using Surry’s Planning Commission. (Tuttle does not report how many of the 190 were town voters, but it seems likely that not all were, since the total population of the town in 2000 was 297 and that, of course, includes children.) Although there are 11 on the County Planning Commission, Byrd argued that the membership of Councilwoman Furr would serve to represent the town’s interests.

Economist Paul Krugman (email , webpage) told us on September 24

The truth about the economics of climate change is that it’s relatively easy being green….

He explained,

Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of the effects of Waxman-Markey, concluding that in 2020 the bill would cost the average family only $160 a year, or 0.2 percent of income. That’s roughly the cost of a postage stamp a day. By 2050, when the emissions limit would be much tighter, the burden would rise to 1.2 percent of income. But the budget office also predicts that real G.D.P. will be about two-and-a-half times larger in 2050 than it is today, so that G.D.P. per person will rise by about 80 percent. The cost of climate protection would barely make a dent in that growth. And all of this, of course, ignores the benefits of limiting global warming.

But ODEC and and its member cooperatives, with their sustainable development are part of an effort to get co-op customers to contact Congress complaining about how climate legislation. The form letter reads,

Now more than ever, I am very concerned about what rising energy costs will do to the average person. Many do not have the ability to pay higher electric bills. Please balance any votes you cast about electricity with the need to keep it affordable.

Sounds familiar? It reminds me of those forged letters that Bonner and Associates sent to Charlottesville CongressmanTom Periello and others, which I wrote about on August 28. So do ODEC’s statements that the arguments brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center are fiction.

Makes me think that electric co-ops don’t seem all that different than others lobbying to preserve coal interests.

Can you hear us now? Verizon Wireless sponsors climate denial rally

August 31, 2009

Photo of Ted Nugent from Rolling Stone story, “Ted Nugent Threatens to Kill Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton During Vicious Onstage Rant.


New York Times columnist David Pogue drew the attention of Verizon Wireless CEO when he wrote about the cell phone industry. In his latest efforts as journalist and gadfly, he’s conducting a “Take Back the Beep” campaign to get the companies to stop making money off of customers with their long instruction messages for voice mail. In summing up his success, he wrote,

Next up: war, disease and global warming.

I’m going to take him up on that and invite him let his readers know that folks are writing Lowell McAdam, President and CEO of Verizon Wireless, asking that he issue a public apology and withdraw support from the Friends of America Rally, a pro-coal extravaganza to promote climate change denial and mountaintop removal mining. Put on by the Friends of Coal, it even has a YouTube invitation by Massey’s CEO Don Blankenship (Friends of Coal is an astroturf group for the West Virginia Coal Association.).

Hello I’m Don Blankenship and I’d like to invite you to a Labor Day rally in West Virginia. We’re going to have Hank Williams and have a good time but we’re also going to learn how environmental extremists and corporate America are both trying to destroy your jobs.

You can read about the rally, as detailed by Ken Ward in the Charleston Gazette. (UPDATE: 9/1/09, he writes about Verizon here.) There has been coverage by Peter Rothberg in The Nation, following up on a post by Jeff Biggers at HuffPo. Speakers include prominent global warming denier Lord Christopher Monckton and conservative pundit Sean Hannity, with Ted Nugent and others (including a WV State Policemproviding the music. Ted Nugent is a real charmer, having ranted, while waving a machine gun around:

Obama, he’s a piece of sh_t. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary, You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless b_tch”

Verizon may call its co-sponsorship of the rally advertising, not a political statement, but Pogue;s colleague at the NYT, Adam Liptak, reported how Verizon Wireless, unlike other carriers, decided to block NARAL Pro-Choice America’s text messages from its network.

So if you want to write McAdam, his email is Lowell McAdam’s email is:

And as Jeff suggests, why not write the head of Verizon, too. Dennis Strigl is President and Chief Operating Officer of Verizon Communications. His email is:

If you like snail mail or the phone, Verizon HQ is:

1 Verizon Way
Basking Ridge, NJ 07920-1097
(908) 559-7000‎

Ten years ago, Julia Fox of University of Oregon and later Marshall University published a journal article called “Mountaintop Removal in West Virginia: An Environmental Sacrifice Zone.” It later became the second chapter of 2005 edition of the book Environmental Sociology. In the abstract she says:

Although the coal industry is regulated by the state and national governments, the regulators, it is argued, have been captured by Big Coal. The result is one of the most egregious and little-known instances of environmental degradation taking place in the United States today.

Well, things haven’t gotten any better and Verizon shouldn’t be casting its lot with the ravagers.

So, Mr. McAdam, can you hear us now?

Do you have to be a liar to sell coal?

August 28, 2009

Exhibits B from The Front Porch Blog post of August 26 by my friend JW Randolph.


August 25, Jim Hoggan of DeSmogBlog reported:

“The Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security (FACES of Coal).” the latest “grassroots” organization to join the public conversation on behalf of the coal industry, appears to be a project of the K-Street public relations firm, the Adfero Group, one of industry’s most accommodating voices in Washington, D.C.

The FACES website, which includes no contact information, is registered to Adfero.

His post included a screenshot of the website showing a the owner of a flower shop with copy about how coal boosted the economy. I’ve included it at the bottom of this post.

Then, August 26, at 9:50 PM, folks on the Friends of the Mountains list received an email from Jamie Goodman at Appalachian Voices referenced, “buying ‘grassroots’ coal group members on stock photo websites!” She listed three links to the Faces of Coal website along with corresponding royalty-free photos from

Don’t you love it when you can find ready-made members on a stock photography website?…Couldn’t find the rest as easily, but i know they are there. Can smell an iStock photo from a mile off.

For instance, the above screenshot from the website shows a group of folks with the caption:

The Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security (FACES of Coal) is an alliance of people from all walks of life who are joining forces to educate lawmakers and the general public about the importance of coal and coal mining to our local and national economies and to our nation’s energy security. In addition to keeping tens of thousands of people employed in good-paying jobs, coal is the lifeblood of our domestic energy supply, generating half the electricity consumed in the United States today.

Take action and join us today!

Except, that actually they’re from a stock photo labeled “Group of adult students standing in campus corridor.”

So I was really happy to see the story had made it to Rachel Maddow Show August 27.
And when Brad Johnson of Grist and the Wonk Room posted his research on the ad company behind the shenanigans on August 28. It seems that Adfero Group spun off its online communications arm as Fireside 21. And then, Adfero

stopped hosting the FACES site, transferring it to Liquid Web hosting, a Lansing, MI company.

Like tossing the hot potato of coal is supposed to confuse us? Of course, Maddow’s report on the FACES of Coal was just her latest coverage of coal lies. August 4 and 5, she had featured Bonner & Associates and how the company said it had made a “mistake” and forged letters from local minority rights groups opposing the ACES climate bill to Charlottesville U.S. Congressman Tom Perriello. From August 4th, when her main topic was the astroturf groups organized to disrupt Town Halls on health care:

Let me give you another example of what’s being passed off as politics right now by lobbying interests on the political right.

When the climate change bill came before the House last month, the Democratic congressman named Tom Perriello of Virginia received a letter purportedly from a nonprofit Hispanic group in his district, and the letter urged him to oppose the cap-and-trade legislation. He received similar letters from what were purportedly his local branches of the NAACP. Only, these letters weren’t actually from that Hispanic group in his district or the NAACP. A Republican lobbying firm in Washington has admitted to impersonating those local nonprofits and sending Congressman Perriello fake letters to get him to oppose the climate change legislation.

Congress is now investigating this incident.

This is a lobbying firm. This is the establishment. This isn’t a lone nutjob passing himself of as a group he doesn’t belong to. This is well-paid lobbyists doing this as a strategy.

I had sent July 31 tweet alerting Maddow to Brian McNeill’s story in the Charlottesville Daily Progress that date breaking news of the skulduggery, but who knows how she came by it.

The latest on Bonner is a hoot, too. August 28, Justin Elliot of Talking Points Memo revealed that Bonner had now announced an ethics policy preventing forged letters. So, we’re going to have “clean” astroturf. Come on. Deception is Bonner’s middle name. Jack Bonner told the WaPo for a 8/23/94 story that

if you’ve got the money and need some ‘regular people’ to flog your issue, Bonner will find them for you.

And there’s more, of course. See the annotated list which hink Progress researcher Victor Zapanta compiled on July 31, 2009. And in the irony of ironies, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the coal group which hired Bonner, has dispatched Bonner for its impropriety, according to Amy Harder’s August 21 article in the National Journal.

ACCCE did nothing wrong. Looking back, there would be many things we would do differently.

Keep in mind the group knew of the forged letters June 24, before the climate bill came up for a vote. That’s long before the story broke and did nothing at the time, according to its own background information supplied for the Congressional investigation:

Based upon information ACCCE received from the Hawthorn Group, it was Bonner and Associates’ own internal process that identified these falsified letters and it was Mr. Bonner who first brought this to the attention of the Hawthorn Group. ACCCE was then made aware of the situation by Hawthorn on June 24, 2009.

In that discussion, we were assured by Hawthorn that senior management with Bonner and Associates had committed to making personal contacts with the affected organizations and the congressional offices who received falsified letters. Throughout this process, ACCCE has been told that Bonner and Associates had made contacts with the affected organizations and was continuing to make contacts with congressional offices. It was only by reading last Friday’s media accounts that we learned that these matters had not been satisfactorily resolved.

Maddow summed it up on August 27:

You know, when the coal industry‘s P.R. firm stole letterhead from the NAACP and use it to write letters to Congress, to make it look the NAACP was against cap-and-trade, political science textbooks all across the country had to be scrapped and rewritten to account for the new, most blatant, fake grassroots corporate P.R. effort ever. Eventually we‘ll just scrap political science textbooks altogether and just send everyone to advertising school instead.

As Dave Cooper pointed out in an email with a link to the Mountain Justice training camp in Pipestem in May 2009.

Want to see some REAL people?

So, I wonder, is this woman from the stock shot in the flower shop actually a job provided by the coal economy? Yeah, right.

Green Delaware, Del. Electric Coop & Coal (& Mr. Boucher, Oh, My)

August 14, 2009

Carol Overland (email), whom I know from Energy Justice Network‘s No New Coal Plants list, has awarded another horses ass. You can read her account at the link and it’s a hoot. It seems the folks at the Delaware Electric Coop didn’t take kindly August 12 to its members receiving information on the coal fired power plant in Dendron, Virginia, along with their chicken dinners. The plant has been proposed by Old Dominion Electric Coop (of which the Delaware Coop is a member) and word has it that ODEC hadn’t gotten an endorsement from its members before it proceeded.

Alan Muller (email), whom I also know as a no-coalista, heads up Green Delaware and had sent out this action alert. He and Carol handed out a great fact sheet prepared by the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition based on the testimony of David Schlissel of Synapse Energy Economics.

Alan’s working on his on write-up and sent me a preview:

The annual meeting was an interesting experience. Probably about a thousand people came for a free chicken dinner. What they learned, if anything, about the Coop’s electric policies is unknown to us because officials wouldn’t let us stay and listen, and wouldn’t let us see the information being distributed to members.
DEC has 83,000 meters (customers) and annual revenues of about $140 million. The cooperative (member owned) idea is powerful, and theoretically eliminates the conflict of interest between customers and stockholders that makes “investor owned” utilities like Delmarva Power work so hard against the public interest. Some people think DEC is the most progressive among the coops belonging to Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, DEC’s power supplier. This may be so.
But DEC management does not respond well to questioning or criticism, and seem’s determined to promote a new coal plant. DEC is also aggressively promoting the PEPCO “MAPP” transmission line. This isn’t surprising given that DEC want’s to sell power generated at big new coal plant in Virginia–the Coop can’t sell that power without getting it to Delaware. DEC is plainly not on board with the intent of Senate Bill 106 to reduce electricity sales in Delaware by 2% per year.
Delaware made a mistake in removing DEC from regulation by the Delaware Public Service Commission. At present, DEC management is effectively accountable to nobody. The General Assembly needs to reverse this bad decision and “reregulate” DEC.

Would be nice to put the democracy back in the cooperatives, if it were ever there. If not, it’s time to inject it.

Of course, my candidate for the award would have to be Rick Boucher:
“This campaign against surface mining is new, it is led by the more extreme environmental organizations, they clearly have targeted the Appalachian states, and unfortunately, the administration has responded to that to some extent…we’re going to do something about it.”

This according to Debra McCown (email) in her August 13 Bristol Herald article, “Boucher: Coal profits supersede environmental concerns,” which recounts his talk at the quarterly meeting of the Eastern Coal Council. I’m still seeking a copy of his remarks.

When I posted this on facebook, my friend Tom Palumbo responded,

New? Extreme? It is the #2 environmental concern of all of Virginians! (as reported by Virginian Pilot)

I’ve asked him for a link and will share it, if he has one.

Judge to Dominion: You Can’t Make Up Your Own Mercury Standards

August 11, 2009

Photo of Cale Jaffe (email, bio) who won a decision today over Dominion Resources, Inc.

Today, as even miners were protesting in WV about the sham that is the Department of Environmental Protection, activists against coal-fired electric plants learned of a victory in Virginia reversing a permit issued by the Virginia Air Board. After the Board’s decision, Dominion officially broke ground near St. Paul, although a route of appeal existed which led to a lock down last June outside Dominion Resources offices in Richmond.

Judge Spencer issues her order overruling exception to mercury standards

In an order issued August 10 and released August 11, Richmond Circuit Court Judge Margaret Poles Spencer (bio) invalidated an “escape hatch” which would have permitted Dominion Resources to release mercury at its proposed coal-fired plant in Wise County at levels which violated Federal law.

The State Air Pollution Control Board MACT permit (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) set a mercury limit but added a condition 33 that if Dominion

reasonably demonstrates using operational and other related information collected for a period not shorter than the first 12 months of operation of all the equipment used to control mercury … that the [set limits] are not achievable on a consistent basis under reasonably foreseeable conditions, then testing and evaluation shall be conducted to determine an appropriate adjusted maximum achievable annual emission limit …

What the plaintiff’s argued

Today’s decision reflects the pleadings July 31, where Southern Environmental Law Center attorneys, argued on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups (petition filed August 22, 2008) that the exception meant that the permit authorized emission limitations to be set after completion of construction, and a relaxation of emission limitations “beyond what has been achieved in practice by the best controlled similar source.”

Judge Spencer was pretty succinct:

The Court agrees.

She explained,

The Clean Air Act requires the MACT determination prior to construction of VCEC. 42 U.S.C. §74 12(g)(2)(B), CAA § I 12(g)(2)(B). The law does not allow “an after-the-fact analysis” of the emission limitation. See United States v. Ohio Edison Co ., 276 f.. Supp.2d 829, 864-865 (S.D. Ohio 2003). The establishment of a flexible “limitation” with an ongoing analysis, in Condition 33, is not a limitation determination prior to construction of a facility, as required by law. The Clean Air Act also requires that the mercury emission limit “not be less stringent than the emission control that is achieved in practice by the best controlled similar source.” 42 U.S.C. §7412(d)(3), CAA §112(d)(3). This “best controlled similar source” mandate would be negated if Dominion demonstrates it could not achieve the mercury emission limit in the permit. This result, authorized by Condition 33, therefore violates the CAA. See Cement Kiln Recycling Coalition v. EPA, 255 F.3d 855. 86l-62 (D.C. Cir. 2001) and Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority v. EPA, 358 F.3d 936, 955 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Moreover. Condition 33 states that determination of an “appropriate adjusted maximum achievable annual emission limit” will be based, at least in part, on what is “achievable on a consistent basis under reasonable foreseeable conditions” by Dominion. The law requires the mercury emission limit “not be less stringent than the emission control that is achieved in practice by the best controlled similar source” regardless of the permittee’s ability to achieve the set limit. Indeed, the limit must be set “irrespective of cost or achievability.” Cement Kiln Recycling Coalition, 255 f .3d at 857-58 ; See Nc.Md. Waste Disposal Auth. v. EPA, 358 F.3d l936, 955 (D.C. Cir. 2004).

What Dominion claimed

Dominion tried to argue that Condition 33 stated a procedure, available under state law, for requesting an amendment of the MACT permit.

Judge Spencer wasn’t buying that argument:

to the extent it states an existing post-construction procedure, it is at best, unnecessary. and at worst, violative of the Jaws addressing pre-construction mandates.

She also found that Condition 33 violated precedent in two other cases. It

has ‘”direct and appreciable legal consequences .” Golden and Zimmerman. L.LC v. Domenech 599 F. Supp. 2d 702, 71 0 (E.D. Va. 2009). It negates the requirement of all absolute MACT limit prior to construction. As noted above. Condition 33 allows a flexible “limitation” during the first 12 months of operation in that the permittee (Dominion) is allowed to demonstrate it cannot achieve the set limit. See Sierra Club v. EPA, 479 F.3d 875, 880 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

Another TVA spill–this time Widow’s Creek in AL

January 9, 2009

TVA photo of Widow’s Creek Fossil Plant

This time the news spread faster than after the much worse spill December 22 which resulted in a Senate hearing yesterday. Anne Paine and Brad Schrade of The Tennessean broke the story of a 10,000 gallon leak of process water from the gypsum pond at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson, Alabama discovered just before dawn this morning.

TVA is now on the radar screen: I just looked it up and the story has made it to Memeoranum, with a related AP story here. USA Today was the first major paper to post story. And although it was merely a syndication of the same piece, it drew national attention, with some 86 comments in the first two and a half hours.

(Something is off with the Memeorandum permalink, however…here are the links to the complete discussion:

Paine and Schrade write:

TVA official Gil Francis said today’s leak at its Widows Creek coal-burning power plant in northeastern Alabama, was caused by a break in a pipe that removes water from the 147-acre gypsum pond.

The water leaked into a settling pond, where water then escaped into Widows Creek.

Paine and Schrade’s piece revealed an interesting quotation from a Scottsboro, AL man merely identified as “Morgan.” While TVA says the spill was just gypsum, Morgan refutes this. The story on the web has been updated, but there is still no comment on from TVA about his allegations:

This is ash. It’s not gypsum. This is the same stuff on the shoreline up there at Kingston. It’s very obvious what’s happening. All the rains we’ve had, these retention ponds haven’t been inspected and are rupturing. The TVA is not being honest about this and that is very bothersome.

Morgan is a member of a Blue Ridge Environmental Defense affiliated Bellefonte Efficiency Sustainability Team and provided photos he says he took today of a silvery sludge coating the shore at Bellefonte Landing, near a site for which TVA is seeking a permit to build a nuclear power plant his group opposes. That’s 12 miles downstream of Widows Creek, on the Tennessee River.

I added stories on AL spill to get news out to general consumers at NewsTrust. To keep up to date, visit the link for the #coalash tweets at Twitter. You can also take a look at prior environmental release reports for the plant at Scorecard.

Mary Ann Hitt, who until recently served as Executive Director of Appalachian Voices, but has moved on to be deputy director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign,
just sent me a link to an article she co-wrote the the campaign’s director Bruce Nilles. “Coal Waste Spills by the Dozen?” The spill occurred around 6 a.m. and they were writing at 1:48 p.m., according, at least, to the time stamp where it’s cross-posted to Kos.

While full details on the Widows Creek spill aren’t yet available, this new spill raises a simple, obvious question – what is going on here?

One explanation is that this is just an unfortunate coincidence, perhaps brought on by the weather. But a much more likely explanation is that smaller coal ash spills and releases – like the ones we’re learning about in Alabama and now East Tennessee are all too frequent, and the magnitude of the TVA disaster in Tennessee finally shined a light on a quiet tragedy that has been going on for decades.

In fact, there are at least 23 states where groundwater or surface water has been poisoned by coal ash. In 2007 alone there were 24 cases of water pollution linked to ash ponds in 13 states and another 43 cases where coal ash was the likely cause of pollution. Smaller spills often take place, but get little attention outside the immediately affected area.

The Kingston disaster has brought long-overdue attention to what many communities have been suffering for decades. And according to a recent study by the Environmental Integrity Project, There are over 100 sites similar to the TVA site in Kingston that pose a danger to communities across the nation.

The danger and devastation of Kingston are such that environmental groups have invited President-elect Obama to come view the spill there.

The sad truth is that coal ash represents only a small part of the danger of coal. Normal operation of this one coal-fired power plant cuts short the lives of more than 140 people every year from regular air pollution that causes heart disease, respiratory ailments, lung cancer, and other illnesses; nationally, more than 24,000 Americans die each year from pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Furthermore, mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed more than 450 mountains throughout Appalachia, including many in Tennessee, permanently destroying thousands of miles of streams and other waterways. And of course, coal is the number one U.S. source of global warming pollution. Here in Tennessee, we’re already seeing the impacts of global warming: temperatures across the state have increased one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years and are projected to rise at least 2 – 3 degrees over the next hundred years in Tennessee. If we don’t end our reliance on coal, heat waves and other extreme weather events are projected to increase; forests and wildlife are projected to diminish significantly; and our plentiful water resources could diminish significantly.

If our country doesn’t act quickly to phase out our use of coal and move to clean energy like wind and solar power, Tennessee will no longer be the same great place we grew up with and love.

Meanwhile, after the Alabama spill, John Atkeison (email), Director of the Climate and Clean Energy Programs for the Alliance for Affordable Energy sent me a joint news release from the and Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club. He tells me, as his group is “between versions” of its website, he doubts it will get posting, so I’m running it here. Don’t have time for more, as the library is closing…

Reports of a spill of coal ash waste at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Alabama again confirm the dangers of burning dirty coal to make electricity. Even when toxic byproducts like mercury and arsenic are removed before they are released from the smokestack, these poisons must still be disposed of. Several spills in the last three weeks demonstrate that when stored in the customary ponds at a plant site, coal ash and other residues threaten nearby residents and waterways.

The spill in Alabama is also noteworthy because the pond that is reported to be leaking contains material slated for sale as recycled construction material. Entergy recently claimed that coal waste should pose no obstacle to the conversion of its Little Gypsy generating plant to burn coal and pet coke because it asserts that it will recycle the waste as it claims to at its Westlake facility. (Note: we have been unable to confirm sales of waste material in quantities greater than 36 lbs. from that facility.)

According to John Atkeison, Climate and Clean Energy Director for the Alliance for Affordable Energy, “Making electricity from coal contributes nothing special except a grave and growing threat to the climate and poisons in the air and water.”

“Our creeks, bayous and rivers and all who rely on clean water are threatened by dirty coal plants. It’s time we got serious about clean energy solutions,” said Aaron Viles, Campaign Director with Gulf Restoration Network, a member of Louisiana’s Say Yes to Clean Energy coalition, which is challenging the spread of coal-fired power plants across the state.

According to media reports, after the TVA coal-ash spill the Alabama Department of Environmental Management inspected all the coal ash retention ponds and announced they were safe.

“This clearly demonstrates need for better regulation of coal waste and the coal plants themselves,” says Jordan Macha, Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club. “The EPA must improve regulations to better protect our communities and the environment.”

“Coal is dirty, destructive and unsustainable,” said Maylee Orr, Executive Director of Louisiana Environmental Action Network. We must phase out the use of coal while increasing the use of sustainable energy sources. Our natural resoucres, our health and our economic future depends on the choices we make today. Say yes to clean energy and no to dirty coal.”

The Associated Press reported this morning that, “Millions of tons of toxic coal ash is piling up in power plant ponds in 32 states, a practice the federal government has long recognized as a risk to human health and the environment but has left unregulated. An Associated Press analysis of the most recent Energy Department data found that 156 coal-fired power plants store ash in surface ponds similar to the one that collapsed last month in Tennessee.”

Recent coal waste spills include the infamous billion gallon disaster in Kingston, TN, which has been economically wrecked as well as environmentally assaulted. The TVA has also admitted to poor maintenance and releases into the Ocoee River in East Tennessee.

Clean, renewable solutions exist to our energy needs. These tragic incidents underscore the need to both prioritize energy efficiency and require that utility companies purchase a certain portion of their energy from renewable sources, instead of relying on the dirty, 19th century technology of burning coal.

Foreshadowing the Bush Legacy on Coal

January 8, 2009

Photograph by J. Miles Carey of the Knoxville News Sentinel accompanied December 25’s NYT story by Shaila Dewan, “Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards.”


leg·a·cy (lg’-s)–The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

  1. Money or property bequeathed to another by will.
  2. Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past

In these final weeks leading up to the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the media has turned to writing stories on the legacy of George W. Bush. In the past, I’ve written on Mr. Bush’s record on torture, secrecy, the unitary executive, concentration of wealth, the increasing deficits, the economic downturn (recession, depression?), warrantless domestic spying, reproductive rights, children’s health care, organized labor and the erosion of civil liberties under the Patriot Act.

To assess what has been handed down from his eight years in office is doable. To write about what will last long term is harder. One exception, though, comes to mind: here in Appalachia, we face a permanent hole in our vistas (and our lives) in the wake of so-called mountaintop removal mining (MTR). So-called because I prefer to call it Mountain Range Destruction. This type of mining pulverizes whole mountains for their underlying coal and dumps the resulting toxin-laden rubble in headwater streams. I’d love to provide you with the latest figures on the extent of this destruction and how much has occurred during the Bush administration, but I cannot find the data. And while I might consult with Ken Ward, Jr. over at the Charleston Gazette for arcane sources, right now he’s covering the coal sludge spill pictured above.

In looking at the Bush legacy on coal, in the past, I’ve written about:

  • the National Mining and Health Safety Administration including
  • the firing of West Virginia mining engineer Jack Spadaro for refusing to sign on to the final report on the Martin County coal sludge spill
  • the appointment of industry officials in a case of “foxes guarding the henhouse
  • the result on the weakening and stalling of regulations to protect miners
  • resistance to the Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2007, in which George Miller (D-CA) attempted to address weaknesses in the MINER Act of 2006, passed as a result of West Virginia’s Sago mine disaster and subsequent mining deaths in West Virginia and Kentucky.
  • the Army Corps of Engineers and its redefinition of “waste” to “fill” in the Clean Water Act, which reversed court rulings preventing MTR rubble from being dumped into valleys
  • the unsuccessful attempts to pass the Clean Water Protection Act to reverse the rule.
  • the midnight change which canceled the Stream Buffer Zone rule which said that mining companies may not dispose of the rubble within 100 feet of an intermittent or perennial stream, unless the company can prove the mining activity won’t hurt water quality or quantity. Environmental lawyers had successfully used this rule in court to stop MTR permits. For examples, see Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. the Army Corps of Engineers on October 11, 2007 and before that the Haden decision in favor or Kentuckians for the Commonwealth From May 8, 2002.
  • the ties of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to the coal industry prior to his nomination and how he fought against citizen standing in environmental suits.

I’ll add links to the above, as time allows. Today, though, I thought I’d go back to almost the very start of the administration, to January 29, 2001, and look at how it went on to foreshadow his legacy on coal. That’s the day George W. Bush signed the executive order establishing The National Energy Policy Development Group, more commonly known as the Cheney Energy Task Force, whose recommendations served as the basis of Joe Barton’s (R-TX) Energy Policy Act of 2005 which included a lot of money for the coal industry including funding for things I questioned before such as coal-to-liquids and “clean coal.” The task force revealed, like later events, the administration’s penchant for public secrecy and its alignment with the interests of, among others, the coal and the primarily coal-fired electric power industries.

The National Energy Policy Development Group
aligns closely with industry

The task force, working quickly, produced its National Energy Policy report by May 16, 2001. The composition of the task force, according to the report, was confined to government officials. It prominently featured a quote by the president

America must have an energy policy that plans for the future, but meets the needs of today. I believe we can develop our natural resources and protect our environment.

Sounds good, as do so many turns of phrase, starting with “compassionate conservative.” The plan’s recommendations, however, often looked like a wish list from industry. For instance, the President should:

  • issue an Executive Order to direct all federal agencies to include in any regulatory action that could significantly and adversely affect energy supplies, distribution, or use, a detailed statement on: (1) the energy impact of the proposed action, (2) any adverse energy effects that cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented, and (3) alternatives to the proposed action.
  • direct the Secretary of Energy to explore potential opportunities to develop educational programs…long-term in nature…funded and managed by the respective energy industries, and should include information on energy’s compatibility with a clean environment.
  • [increase funding for]the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP [which is used primarily to pay energy bills for low-income individuals[and]… allow funds dedicated for the Weatherization and State Energy Programs to be transferred to LIHEAP
  • [put] FEMA…[in charge of planning for how to address] power shortages
  • direct the EPA Administrator to work with Congress to propose legislation that would establish a flexible, market-based program to significantly reduce and cap emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury from electric power generators…over a reasonable period of time to allow utilities to make modifications to their plants without fear of new litigation [note no carbon dioxide caps]
  • direct the Secretary of the Interior to work with Congress to create the “Royalties Conservation Fund”… [to] earmark potentially billions of dollars in royalties from new oil and gas production in ANWR [the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
  • issue an Executive Order…directing federal agencies to expedite permits and other federal actions necessary for energy related project approvals on a national basis.
  • [direct]to propose appropriate funding of those [energy efficiency] research and development programs that are…modeled as public-private partnerships.
  • direct the Department of Energy to continue to develop advanced clean coal technology by…[i]nvesting $2 billion over 10 years to fund research in clean coal technologies [and] Supporting a permanent extension of the existing research and development tax credit.
  • direct federal agencies to provide greater regulatory certainty relating to coal electricity generation through clear policies that are easily applied to business decisions.

You get the idea. You can read other examples here.

The court fight to reveal who met with Cheney and the Task Force regarding the report

In April 2001, Representatives Henry A. Waxman and John D. Dingell asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the process and costs associated with the task force. Subsequently, Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, Ernest F. Hollings, Carl M. Levin, and Byron L. Dorgan, chairs of their respective committees or subcommittees, also requested this analysis.

After Cheney refused to cooperate, David Walker, the GAO’s comptroller general sued for the information. On December 9, 2002, United States District Judge John D. Bates ruled against Walker. Walker did not pursue an appeal. The GAO, instead, issued an incomplete report on August 22, 2003.

The skewed task force recommendations also led Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club to sue for disclosure of just whom had met with Cheney and the task force and when. But, on June 24, 2004, the Supreme Court ruled, returning the case to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

At the time John Dean wrote that the election of John Kerry could make the suit moot. If Bush were re-elected, he noted

I remain hopeful that the underlying lawsuits in Cheney v. District Court will open the records of the National Energy Policy Development Group.

That is the right result legally and constitutionally – and the right outcome for our democracy. We deserve to know if private interests are unduly influencing purportedly governmental bodies.

Such was not to be: the court closed the book on disclosure, when it ruled May 10, 2005 that Cheney and the task force were not subject to the federal open meetings law.

An anonymous whistleblower emerges

And then years after all the stonewalling, the WaPo’s energy reporter Steven Mufson heard from a whistleblower. On July 18, 2007, in Papers Detail Industry’s Role in Cheney’s Energy Report (transcript of chat with readers), Mufson wrote that a former White House official provided his paper with a copy of a

confidential list prepared by the Bush administration shows that Cheney and his aides had… held at least 40 meetings with interest groups, most of them from energy-producing industries.

And sure enough that list included the National Mining Association, Entergy (a company with coal-fired electric plants) and others. Mufson writes,

Jack N. Gerard, then with the National Mining Association, had a meeting with Lundquist and other staffers in February. He urged the administration to give the Energy Department responsibility for promoting technology for easing global warming and to keep the issue away from the Environmental Protection Agency, which could issue regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. The administration adopted that position.

All these meetings were held before a meeting with environmental groups on April 4, for which Cheney was not even present. And the official who supplied the list indicates

By the time of the meeting…the initial draft of the task force was substantially complete and President Bush had been briefed on its progress.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who unsuccessfully pushed for details of the meetings, told Mufson

Six years later, we see we lost an opportunity to become less dependent on importing oil, on using fossil fuels, which have been a threat to our national security and the well-being of the planet.

And, I might point you to just how inefficient that dependence is, as I wrote about in the recent research of Stanford’s Mark Jacobson, who found that

options [such as clean coal] that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options [such as wind].

And all of this dependence on coal continues to take its toll, the most recent example I wrote about being the massive fly ash spill right before Christmas at a coal-burning electric plant in Tennessee.

December 22, 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge ruptured a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train….

According to the EPA the cleanup will take at least several weeks, but could take years. Officials also said that the magnitude of this spill is such that the entire area could be declared a federal superfund site.

Of course, looks at legacy benefit from 20-20 hindsight. But isn’t it interesting to see how even in his earliest days in office, the President was revealing a pattern which would emerge in the years to come, a pattern which will effect us for years in the future?

But to me, there’s a larger question. While those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it, is it really our best use of time right now to be writing about the Bush legacy? I think we’ve already had a lot of coverage on how Bush operated. The time for researching how Mr. Bush got us to where we are today is long gone and could be spent more wisely. Mother Jones (see, even we centrists in Appalachia quote her) said “Pray for the dead but fight like hell for the living.” Translating that as a metaphor for journalism (and activism)–it’s time to concentrate on holding Barack Obama accountable.

Another 11th Hour Gift: Bush EPA guts CO2 emissions for new coal plants

December 18, 2008

Photo from Repower America’s campaign to encourage the public to comment on its CO2 rulemaking encouraging regulation.

November 28 marked the EPA’s deadline for public comment on “Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions under the Clean Air Act” (EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0318), notice of which was filed July 11, 2008. NRDF had a similar campaign for regulating greenhouse gasses. Meanwhile, the Citizens Against Government Waste opposed EPA making a finding. While I haven’t seen notice of a final rule, we can can probably guess which side won.

First, the Bush Administration gutted MTR rules. Then today, it gave a new parting gift to coal, saying that new power plants will not be required to install technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. You can find this latest in “EPA’s Interpretation of Regulations that Determine Pollutants Covered By Federal Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Permit Program”, a memo issued December 18 by EPA Chief Stephen L. Johnson.

David A. Fahrenthold and Steven Mufson wrote about the memo in “EPA Eases Emissions Regulations for New Power Plants” which will appear in tomorrow’s WaPo. (Since the internet version is available before the print version, I can tell you that the paper will bury the item on the third page of the D section.)

Johnson’s memo, according to the reporters

turns on a seemingly arcane regulatory question that could govern the future of new fossil fuel-burning buildings and power plants under the Clean Air Act.

Readers here know that the Bush EPA has flat-out ignored the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide should be regulated under the Clean Air Act just like other kinds of air pollution such as soot. The current memo is the latest in a Sierra Club legal challenge to the 2007 permit for a new coal-fired power plant in Bonanza, Utah that included no requirements to control carbon dioxide emissions.

The club argued before EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board that given the Supreme Court ruling, the EPA must follow its own rule which required plants to use the best available technology to control all “regulated” pollutants. November 13 the Board held that the rule was unclear.

The Board denies review of the Region’s alleged failure to consider alternatives” to the proposed facility, but remands the permit to the Region for it to reconsider whether to impose a CO2 BACT limit and to develop an adequate record for its decision….

The administrative record of the Region’s permitting decision, as defined by
40 C.F.R. section 124.18, does not support the Region’s view that it is bound
by an Agency historical interpretation of “subject to regulation” as meaning
“subject to a statutory or regulatory provision that requires actual control of
emissions of that pollutant.” The Region did not identify in its response to
comments any Agency document expressly stating that “subject to regulation
under this Act” has this meaning.

Robert Meyers, the head of the EPA office of air and radiation, said in an interview with the reporters,

That is our established interpretation….We’ve been applying it that way for 30 years.

Meyers said he does not know if plants are positioned to receive final approval before President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20. Officals “close to the president-elect’s team, according to the reporters,

say that the Supreme Court ruling and the EPA’s power to regulate carbon dioxide can serve as powerful levers to bring corporations and other parties to a bargaining table about broad framework for controlling greenhouse gases.

That’s a little vague for me. I’d much rather hear that permits will not be granted under the new administration without emission controls.