Electoral Math for “All You Climate People”

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 | Posted by Matt Wasson | 2 Comments

During a campaign season in which climate change featured most prominently as a laugh line at the Republican National Convention, the low point was when CNN’s Candy Crowley addressed “all you climate people” in her explanation of why climate didn’t come up during the presidential debates. Who knew that human disruption of the global climate had become such a narrow, provincial concern?

But there’s important information in the fact that a senior reporter for a major network could dismiss climate change as essentially a special interest issue. It’s evidence, if more were needed, that “all us climate people” got our butts kicked in the battle for the narrative in the 2012 election.

And like the Republican Party, which is now undergoing the usual soul searching that follows a big electoral defeat, those of us who believe that inaction on climate is the greatest threat facing our civilization (never mind the economy) have some serious soul searching to do about our own defeat, which occurred long before any votes were counted.

Crowley’s explanation was consistent with the conventional wisdom on why the president didn’t make climate an issue. Because it was an “Economy election” and everyone in the DC press must accept that government action on climate change could do serious harm to the economy (because “it’s become part of the culture,” even if it’s not true), any discussion of climate policy by the president would have been off-message and worked against his chances for re-election.

The unconventional wisdom, popular among “climate people,” is that the Obama campaign failed to recognize the high level of popular support for action on climate change and missed a golden opportunity to seize a winning wedge issue when they chose the more politically expedient route of ignoring it.

There’s probably some truth to both of these explanations, but here’s a third one that is particularly useful in the context of a presidential election: the campaigns avoided talking about climate policy because they believed that raising the issue would be harmful in a few swingy areas of key swing states that would likely decide the election.

Look, it’s tempting to point to all the national polls showing popular support for climate policy and say, “climate is a winning campaign issue.” But a political strategist would find nothing useful in those polls because campaigns are not won by appealing to the sentiments of the average American. Similarly, when a presidential candidate is speaking to a national audience, it’s easy to believe they are speaking to us — all of us. But they’re not. By and large, the candidates’ speeches are written to appeal to a handful of undecided voters in a few swing states, with just enough partisan red meat thrown in to motivate the party base to volunteer for the campaign and turn out to vote.

Americans understand that those swingy areas are the “tail that wags the dog” of our national elections but don’t necessarily think about the logical conclusion of that fact; the concerns and attitudes of swing voters in swing states are the “tail that wags the dog” of campaign messages, media coverage, and thus public understanding of what issues are important in the campaign.

The problem is fossil fuel interests have figured out how to wag that dog. They know they can’t win public opinion nationally, but by focusing resources in key areas of swing states such as Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, they can frame the local discussion of climate policy and environmental regulations to their advantage (i.e., as a “Job-killing war on coal“) and essentially neutralize those issues at the national level — at least during the election season.

If the Obama campaign’s pre-election polling looked anything like the maps of election results in coal-mining regions of southwestern Virginia and southern Ohio, it’s easy to imagine strategists telling the president, “Don’t exacerbate this ‘war on coal’ thing or it could hurt us in swing states” (see map):

US_Election_Vote_Margins2

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Front Row Seats at the Political Theater in Abingdon, VA

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments

Last Saturday, June 2nd, FACES of Coal and Americans for Prosperity held the “Rally for Appalachian Coal Jobs” in Abingdon, VA. The flier for the rally touts the usual “War on Coal” rhetoric: “Appalachian Coal Jobs have been under regulatory assault from the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. It’s time we stand up and defend them!”

The event, held at the Washington County Fairgrounds, was open to the public and claimed to be “family friendly,” so we at Appalachian Voices thought we should attend.

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Kentuckians and Friends Show State Officials Their Love for Mountains on Valetine’s Day

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments

Despite cool, rainy weather in Frankfort, KY, more than 1,200 individuals showed up on the steps of the Kentucky state capitol building for I Love Mountains Day. This annual event is held by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth so that KFTC members and other advocates can come together to show their support for protecting eastern Kentucky’s mountains and communities. Eric Chance and I were lucky to be part of a great event with a diverse and enthusiastic crowd.

We were initially met with the sight of several pro-coal billboard trucks circling the capitol building, but they did not appear to stay throughout the entire rally. The mood was immediately lifted upon reaching the steps of the capitol, where 2/3 Goat, a New York band that has become a regular part of many similar gatherings, began to play.

Speakers included Steve Boyce, Ada Smith, Teri Blanton, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Cody Montgomery, Randy Wilson and Stanley Sturgill. Each spoke to his or her own experience with mountaintop removal and other forms of destructive energy extraction. Senator Kathy Stein also made a brief appearance to voice her support for our continued work and the progress she believes we are making. Speakers voiced their support for their fellow community members who work as miners, but stressed that after over 100 years of providing coal for the state and the country, Kentucky needs to diversify its economy and energy resources. It is time to show the people of eastern Kentucky the respect they deserve, by providing for healthy communities, a healthy environment, energy efficiency, and economic opportunity.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, from Alberta, Canada, spoke about the impact of tarsands oil extraction on her local community. The problems, including poisoned water and high occurrences of rare cancers, were eerily similar to the problems seen in coal-impacted communities throughout Appalachia. As more studies have been completed, it is clear that these health problems are not just anecdotal, but are verifiable trends that reflect the injustices done to people living near mountaintop removal sites.

Despite the harsh realities many in eastern Kentucky still face, all of the speakers were upbeat and extremely motivating. The crowd seemed equally hopeful. The rally concluded with a march to Governor Beshear’s mansion, where 1,200 pinwheels were left, each on symbolizing 50 people living with cancer caused by strip mining in their community (Source: Journal of Community Health, July 2011). Eric and I left the rally with new motivation for the work we will do this week in Kentucky, as well as the hopefully not-so-long road ahead.

For more information and photographs, check out KFTC’s coverage of the event or click here to see more of our pictures.

Faces of Coal Hates Mountains

Great New Post about our Fight against Big Coal in Kentucky

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

We would like to thank Daily Kos and DWG for writing an awesome article about our ongoing legal battle with 3 coal companies and the state regulatory agency in Kentucky. Check out the article here.

Another Coal Company on the Run

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Yesterday we announced our intent to sue Nally and Hamilton Enterprises for more than 12,000 violations of the clean water act at more than a dozen of its strip mines in Eastern Kentucky. Click here for more information on that action.

Later in the day we noticed something odd about their website, it was gone. In its place was a slideshow of mostly green reclamation sites and by this morning even that was gone. Click here to see if they have anything on their site now. Luckily we acted quickly and were able to capture their old website, so we thought we would share it here. However, one big question still remains, why are they trying to hide? Any ideas? We look forward to your comments.

Click to enlarge images, then click again to make them full size:

Home Page

Locations

Blasting

Awards

Photo Gallery

There was one more page, under the History tab but this page just repeated the text on the homepage, so just go to the homepage.

See James Bruggers’ article on this amazing disappearing website.

Another Kentucky Coal Company Falsifies Water Monitoring Data

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | 2 Comments

Working in coalition with national and state-wide environmental and social justice groups, we are once again seeking justice for clean water in Appalachia.

At 2pm today, Appalachian Voices and partners announced an intent to sue yet another coal company in Kentucky for violations of the Clean Water Act – this time with a single outfit wracking up more than 12,000 violations.

The company named in this newest suit is Nally & Hamilton, a mining operation based in Bardstown, KY and is one of the largest mining companies in eastern Kentucky.

Nally & Hamilton is not known for being a good neighbor to local residents. In one instance, ex-coal miner Elmer Lloyd’s fish pond in Cumberland, Ky was completely destroyed by toxins, sediment, and mud flowing from a Nally & Hamilton owned strip mine above his home.

The notice against Nally and Hamilton alleges that the company may have filed false, potentially fraudulent, water monitoring reports with the state over the past three years, including cutting and pasting previous data in later reports in lieu of submitting actual data for each month. The suit also claims that the company repeatedly omitted legally-required data from its reports.

Appalachian Voices and its partners previously sued two other coal companies late last year in a legal case that has had as many twists and tangles as an errant patch of kudzu. That case currently has a court date set of June 14.

Appalachian Voices and partners, including Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the Kentucky Riverkeeper, the Waterkeeper Alliance, teamed up with lawyers from Natural Resources Defense Council on this case.

Nally & Hamilton and the state government have 60 days to respond to the allegations.

Great News for Clean Water in Kentucky

Friday, February 11th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

In a precedent setting move today, Judge Phillip Shepherd granted limited intervention rights to Appalachian Voices, KFTC, the Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance in the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Case against International Coal Group (ICG) and Frasure Creek Mining.

Cartoon

Here is the full press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Judge grants environmental groups the right to
intervene in Kentucky Clean Water Act case

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CONTACTS
Donna Lisenby…. 704-277-6055…. donna@appvoices.org
Sandra Diaz….407-739-6465…. sandra@appvoices.org
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

A Kentucky judge today granted environmental groups a motion to intervene in a legal case against two coal companies in violation of the Clean Water Act.

State Court Judge Phillip Shepherd set a precedent by issuing an order granting four environmental groups’ motion to intervene in a lawsuit between the State Energy and Environment Cabinet and defendants, ICG and Frasure Creek Mining, the two largest coal companies in Kentucky. The ruling marks the first time a third party intervention has been allowed in a state proceeding between a potential Clean Water Act violator and a state agency in Kentucky.

The plaintiffs in the case include Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance as well as four individual citizens.

Saying it would be “an abuse of discretion to deny those citizens and environmental groups the right to participate in this action,” Judge Shepherd ordered that the groups be allowed to fully participate in the legal proceedings leading up to a June 14th hearing on whether the proposed settlement between the Cabinet and the coal companies is “fair, adequate, and reasonable, as well as consistent with the public interest.”

“We look forward to working cooperatively with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to execute the Judge’s orders to conduct additional inquiry and get to the bottom of this case,” said Donna Lisenby, Director of Water Programs for Appalachian Voices.

The case was brought against the coal companies by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in December, in response to a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue filed by the environmental groups in October 2010. The original notice alleged 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act, with potential fines of $740 million for the companies. The Cabinet’s proposed settlement attempted to fine the coal companies a combined total of only $660,000.

The environmental groups moved to intervene in the proposed settlement between the state and the coal companies, providing evidence that the state’s plan did not sufficiently address the alleged violations or deter future violations. The judge ordered the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to allow public comments on the case, eventually receiving many letters from citizens across the state.

Judge Phillips summed up the key reasons for granting the intervention in his order, stating “The Cabinet, by its own admission, has ignored these admitted violations for years. The citizens who brought these violations to light through their own efforts have the legal right to be heard when the Cabinet seeks judicial approval of a resolution of the environmental violations that were exposed through the efforts of these citizens. In these circumstances, it would be an abuse of discretion to deny those citizens and environmental groups the right to participate in this action, and to test whether the proposed consent decree is “fair, adequate, and reasonable, as well as consistent with the public interest.”

“We are very pleased with the decision, which will allow us to conduct depositions and other discovery,” said Peter Harrison, a third year law student with the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic who argued on behalf of the environmental organizations and citizens in court last month. “By allowing our intervention, the judge has ensured that the people’s interest in clean, healthy waters will be adequately represented as we move forward.”

“Enforcement of clean water laws, enacted to protect the public from harmful pollution, was intended to be a transparent process,” said Attorney Mary Cromer of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and counsel for the plantiffs. “By allowing intervention, the Court has made sure that will be the case. This is a major victory for the citizens of Kentucky.”

Community members like Ted Withrow, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, were encouraged by the decision. “For over 100 years the people of Kentucky have been blocked by King Coal and the government they control, from redress of wrongs inflicted upon them,” said Withrow. “Judge Shepherd is to be commended for his brave action in upholding the rights of the people. He has put his finger on the scales of justice today and attempted to bring balance.”

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For interviews and images, please contact sandra@appvoices.org.
Visit www.appvoices.org/kylitigation/ for details.
For video from the court room in January, please see: Kentucky Legal Action Update

Come Out and Fight for Clean Water

Friday, February 4th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Attention Boonies!

Come out this Monday night to support strong new regulations on coal tar based asphalt sealants, the source of the Hodges Creek fish kill last summer.

The Boone Town Council will be having a public hearing on Monday, February 7th at 7:00pm at the Boone Town Council Chambers (next to the police station on 321 and in front of K-mart). We need everyone to come out and speak in favor of a newly proposed ban on coal tar based asphalt sealants, in the town of Boone. If you don’t want to speak that’s ok too, just come out to show your support.

Here is the proposed new rule.

Help keep this from ever happening again:

Kentucky Legal Action Update

Monday, January 31st, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Last Thursday there was a hearing to decide if we would be allowed to intervene in the interest of clean water in a legal case between the state of Kentucky and ICG and Frasure Creek Mining. The Appalachian Water Watch team shot a short video in the court room prior to the start of the January 27th hearing. We provided a little background on the case and interviewed some of our most valued partners, people the Commonwealth of Kentucky calls “unwarranted burdens”. You can watch it here:



The case was brought about by our investigation that found 20,000 violations of the clean water act. The judge heard arguments from all parties and now we are just waiting to hear what he decides.

For a bit more information on the story check out these articles from:

The Huffington Post: Big Coal’s Watergate? Nation watches as Clean Water Act Scandal Rocks Kentucky Court Today

The Institute for Southern Studies: Showdown over King Coal’s Rule in Kentucky

The Daily Independent Court Hears Arguments in Coal Case


The Lexington Herald Leader: Judge Hears Arguments in Coal Case

Why Fight When You Can Hide?

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | 5 Comments

Welcome to the biggest fight of 2011! In one corner, Appalachian Voices’ Water Watch team stands poised and ready to fight for clean water. In the other corner, Big Coal tries to defend their polluting ways. The next round of the showdown will begin on Thursday, January 27 at 1:30 pm in a Kentucky courtroom. Who will come out on top?

Read on to get the pre-match rundown.

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Breaking News: Kentucky refuses to post the full record against ICG and Frasure Creek

Monday, January 3rd, 2011 | Posted by Donna Lisenby | 2 Comments

On Dec 17, 2010, Judge Shepherd ordered the Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet to post the proposed consent judgments with ICG and Frasure Creek to its website and provide for a 30 day public comment period. When the Appalachia Water Watch crew went to the state’s website to see if they followed the Judge’s order we found that they did not post all the documents incorporated by reference into the consent judgments. Because the public needs access to the whole record so that they can fully comment on the proposed Consent Judgments, we sent a letter to Judge Shepherd and asked him to clarify his order and require that the full Complaints and Exhibits be posted on the cabinet’s website.

The Energy and Environment Cabinet objected and complained to the judge that our request was “unreasonable” and “unduly burdensome” because they would have to post an additional 400 pages of material. While we wait to see if the Judge will clarify the order and make the state provide the full record for public comment, we thought we would show the Energy and Environment Cabinet how easy it is to post everything to a website. We didn’t find it unduly burdensome to provide the full record of Clean Water Act violations made by ICG and Frasure Creek. For your viewing and downloading pleasure here is the:

I guess the larger question is why doesn’t the Energy and Environment Cabinet want the public to see the full record? Perhaps a recent editorial in the Lexington Herald Leader newspaper explains why the Cabinet is so embarrassed:

“The environmental groups uncovered a massive failure by the industry to file accurate water discharge monitoring reports. They filed an intent to sue which triggered the investigation by the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet. Also revealed was the cabinet’s failure to oversee a credible water monitoring program by the coal industry.”

Persons wishing to comment upon or object to either or both Consent Judgments are invited to submit comments electronically to the Cabinet at water@ky.gov or by U.S. mail to the Franklin Circuit Court, Division I, 669 Chamberlin Ave., Frankfort, KY 40601or to the cabinet at Division of Water, Attn: Public Information Officer, 200 Fair Oaks, 4th Floor, Frankfort, KY 40601.

Breaking News: Kentucky Filed Legal Action Against the ICG and Frasure Creek coal companies today

Friday, December 3rd, 2010 | Posted by Donna Lisenby | 2 Comments

Due to violations of the Clean Water Act by ICG and Frasure Creek Mining companies, discovered and made public by Appalachian Voices and our partners in October, the state of Kentucky today filed its own legal action against the two companies.

Kentucky charged ICG with 1,245 violations at 64 coal mining operations in 8 counties and Frasure Creek with 1,520 violations at 39 coal mining operations in six counties. The state levied a $350,000 fine against ICG and a $310,000 fine against Frasure Creek. The state cited the coal companies for:

· Failure to maintain required records
· Improper operation and maintenance,
· Failure to comply with effluent limitations contained in the KPDES permit
· Improper sample collection
· Failure to utilize approved test procedures, and
· Failure to comply with the terms of the permit.
· Failure to submit monitoring results with an authorized signature
· Failure to utilize approved test procedures,
· Contributing to pollution of the waters of the Commonwealth
· Degrading the waters of the Commonwealth.

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