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Mary Anne Hitt's Posts

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Clean Air Victory for Texas as Coal Plant Permit Struck Down

This week Texas residents cheered when a judge invalidated the state air pollution permit for the proposed Las Brisas coal plant in Corpus Christi. The Las Brisas proposal is only the second new power plant proposed to be built within city limits anywhere in the United States (Chicago's Leucadia is the other), and a coalition of concerned residents, business owners, and elected officials have fought the plant since it was announced in 2008, arguing that the petroleum coke-fired power plant will be a major new source of toxic air pollution in a city already plagued with industrial pollution. In addition …

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Black Lung: Coal’s Dirty Politics

Reading and listening to the recent NPR, Center for Public Integrity, and Charleston Gazette articles about the rise in black lung cases for coal miners saddens and angers me. Like many, I had -- mistakenly, it turns out -- assumed that black lung was declining, thanks to the efforts of leaders like West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd. Unfortunately, I was wrong. On top of that, it turns out that in recent days, Republicans in Congress (with the backing of the coal industry), have been successfully blocking mine safety measures that would help address this problem. Ken Ward, Jr., of the …

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Soot Hearings: Speaking Out For Public Health

On Tuesday, hundreds of Philadelphia residents rallied and spoke at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on new safeguards to cut deadly soot pollution nationwide. Today, many more will rally at another soot hearing in Sacramento. I grew up in the Smoky Mountains, where - believe it or not - dangerous levels of air pollution sometimes made it dangerous to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since becoming a mom two years ago, I know that I pay more attention to those "code red" and "code orange" days when the air pollution makes it dangerous for many kids to …

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Hundreds Rally Against New Chicago Coal Plant

On Tuesday hundreds of Chicagoans rallied against a coal gasification plant proposed for the city’s southeast side. These residents are against this planned facility because of the pollution it would bring – not to mention what a poor plan it is to build another dirty coal facility after the city just announced the closure of Chicago's two ancient Fisk and Crawford coal plants. Currently, legislation is sitting on Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's desk that would force the state natural gas utilities into 30 year contracts to pay for the construction and output of the Leucadia's coal gasification plant. We are …

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Blowing in the right direction: Two big wind projects are moving forward

As we continue to retire aging dirty coal plant after aging dirty coal plant nationwide (we just hit 112 coal plants secured to retire), we are also pushing hard to replace them with clean energy, and as little natural gas as possible. That's why we were excited this week to see two very large clean energy announcements from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

First, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the completion of the final environmental impact statement for a massive Wyoming wind farm. The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project would be comprised of up to 1,000 wind turbines across private and federal land in southeastern Wyoming, and generate up to 2,500 megawatts of clean energy.

This is a great move for a state where coal mining is devastating a beautiful and critical area -- the Powder River Basin. More wind power in Wyoming could mean less coal mining and fewer coal trains and coal plants in the West. It is also a smart move for a state that sees itself as an energy powerhouse, and wants to keep this role in a future that will have little to no coal in it.

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Urgent: Tell Your Senators to Protect Public Health – Don’t Roll Back EPA’s Mercury Standards

A big Senate vote this week will determine the fate of mercury safeguards that continue to garner overwhelming support from Americans nationwide. This past weekend the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution (PDF) supporting the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) mercury pollution standards. This comes on the heels of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's letter to the EPA, signed by 91 of his fellow mayors, in support of these critical public health protections. Millions of Americans believe EPA is doing the right thing in requiring that coal companies clean up their act when it comes to mercury pollution. This week, …

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New Soot Pollution Standard Benefits Americans, Saves Lives

Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a draft pollution standard for soot that will reduce one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution, saving thousands of lives and preventing tens of thousands of heart attacks every single year. Unfortunately, it is sure to come under attack by big polluters, so we will need to stand together to defend it. Soot, also known as particulate pollution, is the most harmful type of air pollution. Soot pollution is a significant health threat because these very fine particles, which come from burning fossil fuels, can be inhaled and lodge in the …

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Nearly 100 Mayors Speak Out in Support of Mercury Safeguards

Today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office publicly released a letter signed by nearly 100 mayors from across the U.S. supporting the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) mercury safeguards.

From Mayor Bloomberg's release:

Cutting mercury pollution will save countless lives and help millions of Americans avoid the terrible health consequences it produces. That is why today I am proud to join nearly 100 of my fellow mayors from around the country in offering our support for EPA's new mercury standards.Twenty-two years is too long to wait for this common sense measure.

A diverse range of mayors signed onto the letter, representing big cities, small towns, and everything in between. Lots of states are represented, including coal mining states like Kentucky. I'm proud to say that the mayor of my town, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, signed the letter – maybe your mayor did, too.

If your mayor signed the letter, I hope you'll thank them through Facebook, Twitter, or letter to the editor of your local paper – you can find the full list of mayors on page two of the letter (PDF).

Believe it or not, while coal plants are our nation's #1 source of mercury pollution, until this year there were no national mercury standards in place for coal plants. None at all! Coal plants could just spew 100% of their toxic mercury into the air, which then made its way into our waterways and the fish that we eat. Expectant moms would then pass that mercury onto their babies in the womb, every year putting over 300,000 newborn babies at risk of life-long developmental problems, like lowered IQ and delays in walking and talking.

Congress required these safeguards back in 1990, but the coal industry successfully blocked them for over two decades. That loophole was finally closed earlier this year, when the EPA put standards in place that will require all coal-fired power plants to reduce their toxic mercury pollution by 90%.

As a mom, I’m thankful to these bold public officials for speaking out for public health, and I stand with them as they tell the EPA, "Clean, healthy air and water are fundamental American rights and we are eager to work with your agency to ensure these historic protections are quickly implemented."

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Pressure Mounts to End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Mtr weekThis week hundreds of residents from Appalachia and beyond came to Washington, DC, to demand Congress end mountaintop removal coal mining and enforce the Clean Water Act.

They talked to their representatives in Congress and the White House, rallied, and made calls to call for and end this destructive practice that has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and flattened over 500 mountains, and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of mountaintops and forests by 2020. The visit was organized by several Appalachian grassroots organizations, including the Alliance for Appalachia and Appalachian Voices, where I previously served as executive director.

This week, I was deeply moved as I watched live streaming videos of local residents from Appalachia get arrested for holding sit-ins at Rep. Hal Rogers' and Rep. Nick Rahall's offices. I listened to them insist that they are sick and tired of the coal industry poisoning their drinking water, destroying the beauty of Appalachia, and strangling their communities while their Congressional representatives do nothing. I saw their elected representatives close the door in their faces.

At a Wednesday rally in DC, some shaved their heads as a symbolic act to draw attention to the stripping of our mountains - the photo with this column shows some of those folks. This followed on the heels of a similar demonstration led by some brave Appalachian women on Memorial Day on the steps of the WV state capitol. This time, Sierra Club organizer Bill Price was one of those who made this dramatic statement. See photos from I Love Mountains here.

This activism came the same week that many other local residents in Kentucky stood up to the coal industry at Environmental Protection Agency hearings about mountaintop removal coal mining permits. Our Kentucky Beyond Coal organizer Alex DeSha said the coal industry bused in hundreds of employees to the Tuesday hearing in Frankfort, but all left after former Massey Energy head Don Blankenship spoke only an hour into the hearing.

Meanwhile, Alex and other activists from the Kentucky Sierra Club and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) stayed until the hearing ended, offering "rational arguments recognizing the EPA's authority to step in where the state has consistently failed to act in the public interest."

Alex continued, "I was the last speaker of the night out of 120 speakers, making a final call for the EPA to not listen to the fear being peddled by the coal industry and stand strong on its objections in the face of systematic state failure to enforce the Clean Water Act."

He added that pro-coal attendees heckled many Sierra Club and KFTC speakers, with some of the hecklers even having to be removed by police. I know first-hand how intimidating these kinds of settings can be, and the fact that these volunteers stood their ground is very inspiring. There's video of the heckling here.

The next EPA hearing in Kentucky is today (Thursday) in Pikeville, Kentucky, and we and our allies will be there again.

Finally, last week my friend Maria Gunnoe, a powerful Appalachian woman and community leader, found herself in hot water at a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing in Washington, DC. Gunnoe - a mother herself - wanted to show a photo of the alarming water coming out of the tapat one Appalachia family's home as a symbol of what so many Appalachian coalfield families are facing - it was a photo of the family bathing their daughter in disgusting red water. The family lives near a mountaintop removal coal site.

A GOP representative not only refused to let her show the photo, but actually had Gunnoe questioned about child pornography by the Capitol Police. Mother Jones has more on the controversy:

"I had to pull my chin off the table," Gunnoe, a mother of two, said. "It gives you a very sick feeling when you're actually a protector of children." In 2009, she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her work defending rural West Virginia communities against the health and ecological impacts of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

Maria, who described the incident as a "new low" in her 15-year fight to end mountaintop removal, told Politico:

"I wanted Congress to see this because it's what we have to deal with," she said."It is an obscene photo, and it's not because this girl doesn't have a bathing suit on. It's obscene because our children shouldn't be sitting in bathtubs full of red water."

The coal industry and their allies will do everything they can to keep lining their pockets at the expense of our health, our communities, and our environment. They bully Appalachian residents and pay big money to members of Congress to keep public health and environmental safeguards weak. And as Maria's story shows, they are willing to stoop to new lows all the time.

I am sick and tired of this - just like all these Appalachian neighbors of mine. We must end mountaintop removal coal mining.

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Wind works — time to pass the Production Tax Credit

The wind industry supports more than 75,000 American-made jobs around the country, and is helping to lead the way toward America's clean energy future.  But right now Congress is holding the fate of thousands of those jobs in its hands.

The Production Tax Credit (PTC), a federal policy that helps level the playing field and supports these jobs, is set to expire at the end of the year. If the PTC is allowed to expire, approximately half of all existing US wind jobs are expected to be lost before the end of the year -- something we can't afford during this tough economy.

As my colleague Dave Hamilton, Director for Clean Energy of the Beyond Coal Campaign, said, "Every day of uncertainty for the industry is causing more delayed projects and more layoffs."

In response, today the Sierra Club launched "Wind Works," a new campaign to advocate for renewal of the PTC. This campaign is the Sierra Club's move to the next level in advocating for renewable energy jobs and ensuring America transitions to a clean energy economy.

"Wind Works" will ensure lawmakers know that Americans want clean energy solutions and that they won't sit back while congressional inaction causes further job losses.

Moving America toward a clean energy future will not only create new, high-quality American jobs, but will also yield significant public health benefits. Renewable energy like wind power replaces energy from fossil fuels that cause air pollution, which leads to heart attacks, asthma attacks and more than $100 billion in medical costs.

Wind energy is an important part of America's energy mix:

  • Over 400 American manufacturing plants build wind components.
  • Wind is supplying 25 percent more electricity to Americans than it was a year ago.
  • States like Iowa and South Dakota already generate 20 percent of their electricity from wind power and that number is growing quickly --  in March 2012 wind was responsible for 29 percent of the energy supply in Iowa and 32 percent in South Dakota.
  • The wind industry is on track to produce 20 percent of America's electricity by 2030.

Join us in supporting American jobs in the wind industry by telling your members of congress to renew the PTC now!

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