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Mary Anne Hitt's Posts


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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Powerful New Video: Protect the Moapa Band of Paiutes from Dirty Coal

The Moapa Band of Paiutes continues to fight the pollution from the nearby Reid Gardner coal plant in Southern Nevada, and the Sierra Club stands with them. Today, we are releasing this powerful new video that features members of the tribe telling moving personal stories about the devastating effects of pollution from Reid Gardner.

I first wrote about the Moapa in late April when we supported the Moapa Band of Paiutes on their three-day, 50-mile cultural healing walk from their reservation to the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas. The walk brought visibility to the damage that the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant is doing to the tribe's health, culture and economy.

Following that march, on May 3, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a hearing on the Moapa reservation about the pollution permits for Reid Gardner. That's when much of the footage was taken for this short, unforgettable video.

The hearing was packed with tribal members telling their stories of serious health problems:  asthma, other lung diseases, nosebleeds, severe allergies, heart disease, and more.  Members also talked about being unable to live their lives according to their culture: the toxic dust stirred by the wind keeps people indoors; they are afraid to gather herbs and use them because they know they are contaminated with coal ash; and they universally are concerned about the long-term survival of the tribe.

This is an issue of fairness and justice.  This Tribe deserves clean air and water, not an outdated coal plant saddled with second-rate pollution controls.

The Moapa are leading the way beyond dirty coal and to clean energy by developing a major solar plant on the reservation.

Now EPA needs to do its part by requiring first-rate technology to reduce air pollution at the Reid Gardner coal plant. You can help - take action today to tell EPA to protect the Moapa from dirty coal pollution.

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A Big Week for Public Health, Grassroots Activism

This has been a big week for clean air, public health, and grassroots activism that is moving America beyond coal.

First, we can breathe easier this week knowing that more aging, polluting coal plants are being retired as South Carolina Gas & Electric announced the retirement of six coal boilers.  As I've said with other coal plant retirements, now we must ensure that the transition from coal to clean energy happens in a way that protects workers and communities. We've seen it happen before – from the Pacific Northwest to the Tennessee Valley - and today we call on SCG&E to work with the employees at its affected plants.

Then yesterday we saw a victory against coal exports when the Seattle City Council voted "Unanimously (and Symbolically) Against Transport of Coal"- marking their disapproval of coal exports through their city and the region. We've seen amazing work by dedicated residents of the Pacific Northwest to get communities along the coal export rail lines to oppose or raise objections to new coal export facilities. With six new coal export terminals proposed that would ship 150 million tons of coal per year to Asia, these hard-working activists have been sounding the alarm all along the train routes - from points east, to Spokane, through the Columbia River Gorge; and from Portland, Oregon, to Bellingham, Washington. This news came just as the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its latest numbers, showing that coal generation was down to only 34% of US electricity in March - its lowest level since 1973, the first year the agency started keeping records. Meanwhile, wind increased by 28% from this time last year nationwide - Iowa is now getting 29% of its electricity from wind, and South Dakota hit 30%!

King Coal is struggling - they know Americans are fed up with their life-threatening pollution and their excessive lobbying for loopholes in our clean air and water laws. Americans wants clean energy. These winds of change are blowing not just on our coasts, but even in the heart of Appalachian coal country. Yesterday, the New York Times ran a major front page article that featured American Electric Power's massive 800MW Big Sandy coal plant as a symbol of both coal's decline, and the increasing pressure on ratepayers to prop up aging coal plants.

Later that same day, AEP announced it was withdrawing its plans to put a $1 billion scrubber on the Big Sandy coal plant, which would have caused local rate-payers' bills to skyrocket. It was a stunning reversal.

Until yesterday, American Electric Power was planning to sink over a billion dollars into new scrubbers on the plant. However, AEP faced strong criticism from the local community over a 30% increase in rates that would be required to finance the upgrades. This rate increase would have taken the average energy bill for a household from around $1,500 per year to over $2,000 a year.

"I went to the hearing and listened to AEP explain their plan," said Patty Wallace, an 82-year-old resident of Louisa, Kentucky and member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. "Their own presentation showed exactly why the proposal to invest more money in that old coal plant made no sense. On top of our existing bills, all of us would have to pay a billion dollars in surcharges. I said, 'We'd be fossil fools for sure to do that.' I'm glad to see that they are beginning to pay attention to what's going on in the world. It's time to invest in energy efficiency and clean energy."

Finally, there is a new voice in that fight for clean energy this week - in Indiana, the Sierra Club's new state Beyond Coal campaign representative, Dave Menzer, was the subject of a full-page profile in the Indianapolis Business Journal (article is behind a pay-wall). While the Journal said that coal interests in the state might see Dave as "the devil," his vision would seem pretty reasonable to most Hoosiers, and most Americans:

"It really makes sense to put that money into something cleaner, in our view, than into something past the point of its useful life," Menzer said.


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Tell EPA You Support Carbon Pollution Protections

At public hearings in Chicago and Washington, D.C. today, supporters, public health officials, and scientists are testifying in favor of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Carbon Pollution Standard, the first-ever limit on life-threatening carbon pollution from power plants.

Thousands of Americans have already spoken out via email in support of these standards to protect our health and clean our air, and now hundreds more will do it in person at these hearings.

This morning I spoke at the Washington, DC, hearing. I want to share that testimony with you and encourage you to follow along with the hearings online to both voice your support and to see the support from Americans nationwide.

(Also, looks like the coal industry is still paying people to say they support coal - look at how they paid people to wear pro-coal shirts to the Chicago hearing)

Here’s what I said to the EPA this morning:

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Coal use drops to record lows while clean energy soars

A version of this post originally appeared on Compass, a Sierra Club blog.

It's amazing how much can change in a year. At this time in 2011, we were testing our hair for mercury as a way to encourage the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt strong mercury pollution protections -- which the agency did. I was also celebrating generating my first clean kilowatt of energy from brand new solar panels on my home.

A mere one year later, some jaw-dropping numbers have just come in: In the first quarter of 2012, coal made up just 36 percent of U.S. electricity generation -- down from nearly 45 percent from the same period in 2011. That's a 9 percent drop in U.S. coal use in just one year.

The report, released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), had even more bad news for big polluters. Electricity generation from coal may drop another 14 percent this year. The EIA also believes coal production will decline 10 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, wind energy is thriving. In the first quarter of 2012, the U.S. installed 1,695 megawatts of wind, one of the industry's best quarters ever, up 53 percent from the same time last year, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Wind projects are creating jobs and economic opportunity across the country, with 32 new projects installed in 17 states in the first quarter alone.

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My Mother’s Day wish: Clean air for kids

A version of this post originally appeared on Compass, a Sierra Club blog.

As the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, I have to do a lot of traveling, which means spending more time than I would like away from my 2-year-old daughter, Hazel. Just the other day, I got home from a trip to find Hazel and her dad pretty exhausted after three days without Mom. I hope that someday, she’ll understand that I had to be away sometimes because I was working hard to protect her from the pollution that is a very real threat to her future.

For Hazel, I hope when she’s my age that the air and water are clean and safe, the mountains of her home state of West Virginia are still standing, and the threat of climate disruption has passed. I think that future is within our grasp, thanks to the work we are doing to move America beyond coal.

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Southwestern tribes lead three-day march to move beyond coal

Photo by Alan Goya.

I want to share a story with you about an amazing event that took place this past Earth Day. For three days, in 100+ degree heat, Native Americans led a50-mile march to draw attention to the devastating effects of coal pollution on their community

The Sierra Club was proud to support the Moapa Band of Paiutes on their three-day, 50-mile cultural healing walk from their reservation to the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas in order to bring visibility to the damage that the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant is doing to the tribe’s health, culture and economy. In the 50-mile march, tribal members and supporters from tribal nations across the Southwest walked from their homeland to the doorstep of federal decision makers.
"We were here, we are here, and we will be here," Moapa Paiute member Calvin Meyers says of his tribe's relationship to their historical lands.  The Moapa Band of Paiutes tribal lands abut Reid Gardner, Southern Nevada’s last coal-burning power plant, owned by NV Energy. Tribal members and local residents have been suffering for years from numerous pollution problems at the plant.
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Michigan State University stands up to Big Coal

MSU students protest the school's inadequate Energy Transition Plan.

Nationwide, students are leading the way in pushing their universities and colleges to invest in innovative clean energy solutions. There is a growing momentum on college campuses to move our nation off dirty, 19th-century fuels that are making people sick.

Twenty colleges and universities have won fights to phase out coal plants on their campuses, thanks in large part to the hard-hitting Campuses Beyond Coal campaigns of Sierra Student Coalition. These plants are responsible for dangerous pollution, including mercury, carbon dioxide, arsenic, and lead, and can lead to more severe asthma attacks, bronchial infections, and cancer.

Students can help reinvent the American economy by pressuring school administrations to invest in clean, safe, and reliable energy on campuses from California to Connecticut. Here’s the latest example of this amazing work by students -- from Michigan State University and Sierra Student Coalition Organizer Anastasia Schemkes:

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Why is the State Dept. pushing coal on a tiny Eastern European country?

Co-written by Justin Guay of the Sierra Club International Program.

That’s the question we have been asking the U.S. government over and over, after discovering their steadfast support for plans to build an extremely expensive, extremely dirty coal plant in Kosovo. We first sounded the alarm over this project months ago, and despite essentially admitting that our concerns are valid, the State Dept. and the World Bank are recklessly pushing forward a plan to leave the tiny country saddled with a heavily polluting new coal plant, along with unsustainable levels of debt, at a time when the EU’s debt crisis threatens the global economy.

So how do we know the project is so bad? We commissioned expert analysis from a former chief Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement officer who found glaring flaws (check out our initial analysis here [PDF]) in the project design.

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