Weekly Mulch: With D.C. in GOP Hands, Environmentalists Must ‘Fight Harder’

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

For the environmental community, this coming year offers a chance to regroup, rethink and regrow. Two years ago, it seemed possible that politicians would make progress on climate change issues—that a Democratic Congress would pass a cap-and-trade bill, that a Democratic president would lead the international community toward agreement on emissions standards. And so for two years environmentalists cultivated plans that ultimately came to naught.

What comes next? What comes now? It’s clear that looking to Washington for environmental leadership is futile. But looking elsewhere might lead to more fertile ground.

Our new leaders

On Wednesday, the 112th Congress began, and Republicans took over the House. They are not going to tackle environmental legislation. This past election launched a host of climate deniers into office, and even members of Congress inclined to more reasonable environmental views, like Rep. Fred Upton, now chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, have tacked towards the right. Whereas once Upton recognized the need for action on climate change and reducing carbon emissions, recently he has been pushing back against the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending carbon regulations and questioning whether carbon emissions are a problem at all.

“It’s worth remembering that Upton was once considered among the most moderate members of the GOP on the issue,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. “No longer.”

Good riddance

The climate bill is really, truly, dead, and it’s not coming back. But as Dave Roberts and Thomas Pitilli illustrate in Grist’s graphic account of the bill’s demise recalls, by the time it reached the Senate, the bill was already riddled with compromises.

And so perhaps it’s not such bad news that there’s space now to rethink how progressives should approach environmental and energy issues.

“It’s refreshing to shake the Etch-a-Sketch. You get to draw a new picture. The energy debate needs a new picture,” policy analyst Jason Grumet said last month, as Grist reports.

Already, in The Washington Monthly, Jeffrey Leonard, the CEO of the Global Environmental Fund, is pitching an idea that played no part in the discussions of the past two years. He writes:

If President Obama wants to set us on a path to a sustainable energy future—and a green one, too—he should propose a very simple solution to the current mess: eliminate all energy subsidies. Yes, eliminate them all—for oil, coal, gas, nuclear, ethanol, even for wind and solar. … Because wind, solar, and other green energy sources get only the tiniest sliver of the overall subsidy pie, they’ll have a competitive advantage in the long term if all subsidies, including the huge ones for fossil fuels, are eliminated.

No impact? No sweat

Federal policies aren’t the only part of the picture that can be re-drawn. Even as Congress failed to act on climate change, an ever-increasing number of Americans decided to make changes to decrease their impact on the environment.

Colin Beavan committed more dramatically than most: his No Impact Man project required that he switch to a zero-waste life style. This year, he partnered with Yes! Magazine for No Impact Week, which asks participants to engage in an 8-day “carbon cleanse,” in which they try out low-impact living. Yes! is publishing the chronicles of participants’ ups and downs with the experiment: Deb Seymour found it empowering to give up her right to shop; Grace Porter missed her bus stop and had to walk two miles to school; Aran Seaman found a local site where he could compost food scraps.

The long view

Perhaps, for some of the participants, No Impact Week will continue on after eight days. After Seaman participated last year, he gave up his car in favor of biking and public transportation.

On the surface, giving up a convenience like that can seem like a sacrifice. But it needn’t be. Janisse Ray writes in Orion Magazine about her decision to give up plane travel for environmental reasons. Instead, she now travels long distances by train, and that comes with its own pleasures:

Through the long night the train rocks down the rails, stopping in Charleston, Rocky Mount, Richmond, and other marvelous southern places. People get on and off. Across the aisle a woman is traveling with two children I learn are her son, aged twelve, and her granddaughter, ten months. In South Carolina we pick up a woman come from burying her father. He had wanted to go home, she says. She drinks periodically from a small bottle of wine buried in the pocket of her black overcoat. The train is not crowded, and I have two seats to myself.

Our true leaders

Ultimately, though, sweeping environmental changes will require leadership and societal changes. American politicians may have abdicated that responsibility for now, but others are still fighting. In In These Times, Robert Hirschfield writes of Subhas Dutta, who’s building a green movement in India.

“The environmental issue is the issue of today. The political parties, all of them, have let us down,” Dutta says. “We want to be part of the decision-making process on the state and national levels. The struggle for the environment has to be fought politically.”

One person who understood that was Judy Bonds, the anti-mountaintop removal mining activist, who died this week of cancer. Grist, Change.org, and Mother Jones all have remembrances; at Change.org, Phil Aroneanu shared “a beautiful elegy to Judy from her friend and colleague Vernon Haltom:”

I can’t count the number of times someone told me they got involved because they heard Judy speak, either at their university, at a rally, or in a documentary.  Years ago she envisioned a “thousand hillbilly march” in Washington, DC.  In 2010, that dream became a reality as thousands marched on the White House for Appalachia Rising….While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Rally Against Mountaintop Removal in DC This Weekend

(crossposted on FDL Seminal)

I have lived in West Virginia my entire life. In this beautiful mountainous state, one economic horse drives the economy: Coal. Coal mines employ many people in West Virginia, and across Appalachia, and are a crucial part to the region’s economic sustainability. It is coal that employs the people and powers the country, and it isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

-A little bit of background is necessary-

Most can probably remember the horrible Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster earlier this year in Raleigh County, WV. The devastating catastrophe left many dead, and federal investigators searching for answers to the root causes of the explosion. Now I’ve done my fair share of blasting Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship (Massey Energy is one of the largest coal companies in the country) on the Seminal, but it has been completely necessary. The negligence with which his mines are handled have cost the lives of several miners. This is only one of many unfortunate consequences brought on by coal mining in the region known as Appalachia.

Mountaintop Removal Mining (MTR) is a cheaper and more efficient way of mining coal, and works exactly like it sounds. Mountains, quite literally, have the tops blown off of them in order to expedite the coal mining process and make it more efficient. The mental image itself does quite a lot to illustrate the horrible effects it has on the mountains. Where once beautiful rolling hills full of plush green forest stood, now appears as leveled off dirt "quarry-like" areas of surface mining.  . . .

Appalachia Rising is an event which is starting to catch on in the national scene. Here’s a piece of pertinent info mentioned on their website (AppalachiaRising.org)

Appalachia Rising, an event which will take place in Washington DC, September 25-27, 2010 is a national response to the poisoning of America’s water supply, the destruction of Appalachia’s mountains, head water source streams, and communities through mountaintop removal coal mining. It follows a long history of social action for a just and sustainable Appalachia. Appalachia Rising strives to unite coalfield residents, grass roots groups, individuals, and national organizations to call for the abolition of mountaintop removal coal mining and demand that America’s water be protected from all forms of surface mining.

An important group that makes things like Appalachia Rising happen, and that bring MTR awareness to the people of Appalachia, is a foundation called The Keepers of the Mountain. The Keepers of the Mountain was created to help fund the efforts of "preserving and fostering the culture of mountains" and to help educate people about MTR by a man named Larry Gibson. Gibson lives next to Kayford Mountain, located in the southern part of West Virginia. He has been forced to watch the destruction of Kayford Mountain for several years, due to MTR mining on the mountain.

The destruction of these mountains comes at a price, not only aesthetically, but to the toll taken on the people who live near the sites. Many health related problems have come as a result of coal ash, and coal slurries etc. that make their way into the surrounding towns and cities near an MTR site.

Perhaps one of the worst ramifications, as described on ilovemountains.org, is that of sludge dams.

Sludge dams represent the greatest threat to nearby communities of any of the impacts of coal mining. Impoundments are notoriously leaky, contaminating drinking water supplies in many communities, and are also known to fail completely. A sludge dam breach in Martin County, KY, in 2000, sent more than 300 million gallons of toxic coal sludge into tributaries of the Big Sandy, causing what the EPA called, “The biggest environmental disaster ever east of the Mississippi.”

I hope those who read this don’t just write it off as something that they need not care about. The issue of Mountaintop Removal Mining is one that destorys communities, permanently effects the health of thousands, and eradicates the beautiful mountains that make Appalachia what it is.

If you’re around DC this weekend, take a trip to Capitol Hill and see what these people have to say. Appalachia Rising will be a great event, although I will not be able to attend it. To raise awareness for something so dire, action must be taken directly to where it will get publicity. The people of Appalachia need the help of not just others from around the country, but of the lawmakers in Washington as a whole to stop this catastrophe.

WV Special Senate Election: Mountaintop Removal is Hechler's Priority

As of Yesterday (July 21st) only 2-3 people had come forward and filed for their official candidacy for the special election for Robert C. Byrd’s Senate seat. The primary is slated for August 28, 2010.

The only takers were Democrats yesterday and the big name in the field was Joe Manchin III, West Virginia’s current governor. Manchin, as many close to him figured, had most likely planned on making the run for the Senate when the seat opened up. Joe Manchin is nearing the end of his second term as West Virginia’s governor and hopes to lock in the Democratic Party nomination.

The biggest surprise in the filing so far has been Ken Hechler. Hechler is the former Secretary of State for West Virginia, and used to Represent the state in Congress for West Virginia’s 4th District. *Its worthy to note that West Virginia only has 3 districts now. Why is this a surprise? Hechler is 95, older than RC Byrd. According to the Gazette, his primary issue is mountaintop removal mining.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former congressman and secretary of state Ken Hechler has entered the race for U.S. Senate, and he’s running on one issue — ending the practice of mountaintop removal.

The 95-year-old faxed candidacy paperwork to the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday for the special primary to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

"I’m not running to get votes for myself," Hechler said. "I’m running to give people an opportunity to cast their votes against mountaintop removal … This is the only way I can get [the issue] on the ballot."

Charleston Gazette

Also on the Democrats list is Sheirl Fletcher, a former WV House of Delegates member who is looking to take the coveted nomination away from the heavyweights.

Sheirl Fletcher, Democrat from Monongalia County filed candidacy papers today in a bid to win the democratic primary for the unexpired term of the late U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd.

Fletcher, 53, was a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2008 and was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1998-2002.

Huntington News

According to the WV Secretary of State Website, 10 Republican candidates have also put in their papers for candidacy in wake of the upcoming primary election.

Not very many familiar names on the GOP list but the list itself includes John Raese, Mac Warner, Kenneth Culp, Harry Bruner, Daniel Rebich, Lynette McQuain, Scott Williams, Thomas Ressler, Albert Howard, and Charles Railey
(Courtesy of Natalie Tennant and the Office of WV Secretary of State.)

Mac Warner ran for the Republican nomination for the 1st Congressional District Seat in WV but lost earlier this year.

It should indeed be a very interesting race. More to come!

WV Special Senate Election: Mountaintop Removal is Hechler's Priority

As of Yesterday (July 21st) only 2-3 people had come forward and filed for their official candidacy for the special election for Robert C. Byrd’s Senate seat. The primary is slated for August 28, 2010.

The only takers were Democrats yesterday and the big name in the field was Joe Manchin III, West Virginia’s current governor. Manchin, as many close to him figured, had most likely planned on making the run for the Senate when the seat opened up. Joe Manchin is nearing the end of his second term as West Virginia’s governor and hopes to lock in the Democratic Party nomination.

The biggest surprise in the filing so far has been Ken Hechler. Hechler is the former Secretary of State for West Virginia, and used to Represent the state in Congress for West Virginia’s 4th District. *Its worthy to note that West Virginia only has 3 districts now. Why is this a surprise? Hechler is 95, older than RC Byrd. According to the Gazette, his primary issue is mountaintop removal mining.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former congressman and secretary of state Ken Hechler has entered the race for U.S. Senate, and he’s running on one issue — ending the practice of mountaintop removal.

The 95-year-old faxed candidacy paperwork to the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday for the special primary to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

"I’m not running to get votes for myself," Hechler said. "I’m running to give people an opportunity to cast their votes against mountaintop removal … This is the only way I can get [the issue] on the ballot."

Charleston Gazette

Also on the Democrats list is Sheirl Fletcher, a former WV House of Delegates member who is looking to take the coveted nomination away from the heavyweights.

Sheirl Fletcher, Democrat from Monongalia County filed candidacy papers today in a bid to win the democratic primary for the unexpired term of the late U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd.

Fletcher, 53, was a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2008 and was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1998-2002.

Huntington News

According to the WV Secretary of State Website, 10 Republican candidates have also put in their papers for candidacy in wake of the upcoming primary election.

Not very many familiar names on the GOP list but the list itself includes John Raese, Mac Warner, Kenneth Culp, Harry Bruner, Daniel Rebich, Lynette McQuain, Scott Williams, Thomas Ressler, Albert Howard, and Charles Railey
(Courtesy of Natalie Tennant and the Office of WV Secretary of State.)

Mac Warner ran for the Republican nomination for the 1st Congressional District Seat in WV but lost earlier this year.

It should indeed be a very interesting race. More to come!

An Interview With Jack Conway

By now you’ve no doubt heard of Jack Conway. He’s the young, articulate, and progressive Attorney General for the state of Kentucky, and he’s running for Senate in the Democratic primary against Dan Mongiardo, the state’s conservative, allegedly corrupt Lieutenant Governor. The Conway campaign has taken off in recent weeks, going from 18 points down to 3 points down externally and ahead internally.

Conway, part of the MyDD “Going on Offense” Act Blue page, was able to give us an interview last Friday afternoon. He promised 15 minutes and graciously talked to me for 30. Our interview was pretty wide ranging. He began with a Howard Dean-esque quote, stating that it's time Democrats act like Democrats. We talked about electoral strategy, Wall Street reform, filibuster reform, health insurance reform, energy and climate legislation, coal mining, his successful record as Attorney General, and more. Here are some key quotes:

On LGBT rights: “Admiral Mullen had it right when he said to Congress that it’s wrong to ask someone to lie about who they are to defend their country…  I look forward to casting a vote to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

On health care and the tea parties: “I try to be responsible here. The folks in the tea party crowd wanted Attorneys General to file a lawsuit without merit. I thought traditionally Republicans loved to rail against meritless lawsuits… I sort of say to them, look, don’t take my word for it; take the word of Ronald Reagan’s former Solicitor General, who said his copy of the Constitution doesn’t contain the right not to be insured.”

On mining reform: “It seems like we’ve gotten into a system where the ability of the mining companies to [delay and appeal] and fail to take remedial action outweighs the safety of the miner… My concern is that some of these mines put profits before the safety of the miners, and when that happens, inspectors need to have the ability to shut the mine down.”

On Netroots support: “You are keeping some of the wind at our backs right now, and a Senate seat is a Senate seat is a Senate seat, whether it’s in New Hampshire or Missouri or Kentucky… It’s the work of volunteers and the Netroots that sustains us, and we’re going to win this thing.”

The full interview is below the fold. I consider Jack Conway one of the brightest and most articulate politicians I’ve ever spoken with, right up there with Barack Obama and Cory Booker, so I hope you’ll read the full interview and consider supporting his campaign.

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