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Romney opposes mercury rule, beclowns himself again

Photo by Austen Hufford.

Today marks a symbolic vote in the Senate: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is putting forward a Congressional Review Act resolution [PDF] that would stop the EPA's impending standards on mercury and other toxic power plant emissions in their tracks.

I won't rehearse all over again why the mercury rule -- mandated by court order, more than a decade overdue -- is such a big deal, or why further delaying it is a terrible idea, or how it fits into a comprehensive GOP plan to dismantle the system of U.S. environmental law, a plan relentlessly advanced by the most anti-environmental House in the history of Congress. Nor will I go on about how popular it is with the public. UPDATE: As Philip reported, and as expected, Inhofe's resolution was defeated in the Senate, 53-46.

I just want to mock the Romney campaign for a minute.

Read more: Coal, Politics, Pollution

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EPA to consider whether Alabama landfill violates community’s civil rights

Coal ash from the Tennessee spill.

One of the core tenets of the environmental justice movement is that poorer communities and communities of color disproportionately bear the negative impacts of a pollution-rife economy. Power plants and water treatment centers aren't built in affluent areas.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being asked to decide if the location of a landfill is a violation of a predominantly black community's civil rights.

In 2011, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (DEM) renewed the permit for a landfill in Uniontown, Ala. The Arrowhead landfill is authorized to receive more solid waste per day than any other landfill in the state -- waste that includes coal ash, toxic residue from coal-burning power plants. Four million tons of ash from Tennessee's 2008 Kingston power plant spill ended up at Arrowhead.

This January, residents filed a complaint with the EPA, arguing that the renewal of the permit was a discriminatory violation of the Civil Rights Act. From a report at the Huffington Post:

The Uniontown facility has been the focus of a long and contentious battle between the mostly black residents living nearby and the developers of the landfill, which opened for receipt of municipal waste and other trash in 2007. The facility is currently permitted to receive up to 15,000 daily tons of municipal, industrial, commercial and construction waste -- as well as "special waste" like coal ash -- from nearly three dozen states.

Taken in aggregate, the civil rights complaint argues, the population of that expansive service area is predominantly white, while the population bordering the landfill is nearly 100 percent African American.

Read more: Coal, Infrastructure

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Will the Senate make you inhale mercury? We find out today

The EPA doesn't want you inhaling this.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), a first-of-its-kind baseline regulating the emission of mercury (and, as you might have guessed, other airborne toxics) from coal- and oil-fueled power plants. Today, the Senate, led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), will vote on blocking the regulation from ever taking effect. Thanks, Senate!

Obviously, everyone you know will be talking about this. Americans are obsessed with the intricacies of governmental regulation and the procedures by which they are overturned. So to ensure that you're the life of any party, we've put together this overview.

What is the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard?

The rule itself is straightforward. By reducing -- not eliminating -- mercury, sulfur dioxides, and particulate matter emissions, the EPA estimates that between 4,000 and 11,000 premature deaths can be prevented each year. That includes 4,700 heart attacks avoided, and 130,000 asthma attacks. The total economic benefits from this improved health are measured at between $37 billion and $90 billion annually.

The rule was originally proposed by the Bush EPA, but an appeals court determined that its scope was insufficiently broad. Last March, the EPA proposed a revised rule; last winter, they issued a final standard.

Read more: Coal, Oil, Politics

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Miner fired for whistleblowing gets his job back

Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

After being fired by Cumberland River Coal Company last year, Charles Scott Howard sued, alleging that he was fired for blowing the whistle on the company's safety issues. On Friday, a court agreed. From the Huffington Post:

A federal judge ordered Friday that Howard's company immediately reinstate him at the mine and pay a $30,000 fine for discriminating against a whistleblower. The sharply worded decision said managers at Cumberland River, as well as its parent company, coal giant Arch Coal, went to great lengths to find a reason to fire Howard after he brought his mine to the attention of federal safety officials.

"It is obvious that [Cumberland River] worked diligently to end Howard's employment," wrote Margaret A. Miller, an administrative law judge for the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. "The discrimination against Howard ran through [Cumberland River] and its parent, Arch, at the highest management levels." ...

In 2007, Howard recorded video of faulty seals in the mine that was presented to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. When he suffered a head injury on the job, the court determined that his employer unlawfully used the injury as an excuse to fire him.

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Why the power industry is running away from coal

Beautiful -- but deadly.

Last September, we reported that "peak coal" had come to Appalachia. There's a reason that the industry is relying on destructive practices like mountaintop-removal mining: Coal is harder to come by. Mines have increasingly small seams of coal to extract.

Now it seems that the marketplace is catching up. The AP reports:

The share of U.S. electricity that comes from coal is forecast to fall below 40 percent for the year -- the lowest level since the government began collecting this data in 1949. Four years ago, it was 50 percent. By the end of this decade, it is likely to be near 30 percent.

"The peak has passed," says Jone-Lin Wang, head of Global Power for the energy research firm IHS CERA.

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Mayors: We’d appreciate it if coal plants stopped poisoning people with mercury, thanks

Mayors from over 90 cities wrote a letter supporting the EPA's mercury regulations.

As local elected officials representing big cities and small towns, we want to express our strong support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently issued Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants (MATS). Mayors are on the front lines of protecting public health and this long overdue safeguard will reap tremendous benefits for our communities.

Mercury pollution, much of it coming from coal-fired power plants, represents a particularly widespread threat to families nationwide. According to your agency’s own analysis, as of 2010, all 50 states have fish consumption advisories in place to warn residents of the potential health effects of eating fish caught from local waters. Of these advisories, 81% were issued in part because of mercury pollution accumulated within the aquatic food chain. ...

Read more: Cities, Coal, Politics

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Energy companies, seeing a greener future, are losing their faith in coal

The stuff fortunes were made of.

Tallying the predictions of energy industry executives is an interesting exercise. Like any dominant business sector, the energy industry's predictive powers are limited by one key damper: a blindness to change that might undermine their dominance.

But we have an opportunity to look through their tinted shades. Each year, the consulting firm Black & Veatch asks utility executives for their predictions on how the field will evolve. Highlights from the survey:

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Here’s what Pittsburgh looked like before smoke control

These vintage photos of Pittsburgh, from before it passed a smoke-control ordinance in 1941, are so hazy that some of them look like they've been hit with some kind of artsy-grunge Instagram filter. But this is just what an industrial city looked like in those days -- clogged with a low fog of coal-based factory belchings.

Read more: Cities, Coal, Pollution

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Bathtub photo lands coal activist in child-porn hot water

Maria Gunnoe

West Virginia coal activist Maria Gunnoe is used to intimidation, as writer/blogger Aaron Bady points out. It's one thing to oppose coal companies from the office of the mayor of New York City. It's another to do it, as Gunnoe does, from the West Virginia valley floors where the coal companies live.

Gunnoe has been an activist for years, in 2009 winning the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work trying to stem mountaintop-removal mining. The prize came with a $150,000 award -- money she planned to use modestly: to extend the city water system to her house.

Her water, from a source on her property, wasn't usable. Like many others in the region relying on wells and local sources, she depended on water that had been contaminated by run-off from the coal industry's retrieval process. In some cases, the water was visibly polluted, running yellow- or copper-colored directly from the tap. Gunnoe's efforts to stem pollution somewhat ironically meant she might be able to escape it.

Her neighbors weren't (and aren't) as lucky. Last week, Gunnoe joined some of them in Washington, D.C., to present the stories of people in her community at an oversight hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. In a better world, the hearing would have ended with a commitment to stem the pollution. It ended much differently.

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The ‘war on coal’ is a myth

Photo by Nick Humphries.

A version of this post originally appeared on Climate Progress.

Big polluters and their congressional allies have created a new straw man to knock down with the invention of the so-called “war on coal.” It is a multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign funded by Big Coal polluters to protect their profits and distract Americans from the deadly effects of air pollution on public health.

However, with the number of coal jobs in key coal states actually on the rise since 2009, it’s more like peacetime prosperity than war in coal country. The War on Coal is nothing more than a new shiny object, designed by big polluters to distract Americans from the real war -- the polluters’ attacks on their health -- and the truth.

Coal companies and dirty utilities claim that long-overdue requirements to reduce mercury, arsenic, smog, acid rain, and carbon pollution from power plants will kill jobs. In West Virginia, however, coal mining employment was higher in 2011 than at any time over the last 17 years. Federal jobs statistics also show modest coal mining job growth in coal states like Virginia and Pennsylvania.

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