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Huge anti-coal ash turnout at EPA hearing in Colorado


By 1Sky Colorado/regional organizer Micah Parkin. -- Luis

This month, the EPA is holding a series of public hearings across the nation regarding their proposal to place stronger regulations on storage and disposal of "coal combustion residues," a.k.a. coal ash. On the heels of the horrific coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008, the EPA is proposing the first-ever rules to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. Coal ash, which is laden with mercury, arsenic, lead, radioactive elements and other toxins, poses serious threats to our drinking water and to the health of people who live near the 40 storage sites in Colorado and around the nation.

Unfortunately, the danger isn’t just theoretical: A recent study found that 39 sites in 21 states where coal-fired power plants dump their coal ash are contaminating water with toxic metals such as arsenic and other pollutants, and that the problem is more extensive than previously estimated. A little closer to home, I recently learned that two of the coal ash storage sites in Colorado have had spills in the last four years, one of which was at the Valmont Coal Plant in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Its on-site coal ash storage area reported a 25-cubic-yards spill into water reservoirs near the plant in 2008. As the mother of two little girls living within five miles of this facility, I wasn’t impressed.

The only coal ash public hearing in the western U.S. was held this past Thursday, Sept. 2nd in Denver, Colorado. Members of 1Sky, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Colorado Interfaith Power and Light, Earth Guardians and others worked together to turn out more than 250 people to the hearing. Many of the attendees gave testimony calling on the EPA to approve stronger regulations to protect the public from the many toxins in coal ash. Citizens ranging from kids group Earth Guardians to ranchers, ministers, doctors, retirees, college students and members of Native American tribes affected by the coal ash on their tribal lands urged the EPA to regulate coal ash under the more protective option proposed, Subtitle C, which would provide federal regulation, oversight, water testing, and enforcement.

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Holding Congress accountable across America


This past month has been such a whirlwind of actions for the campaign! We hit the ground running with shadowing events all over the country to hold Congress accountable for their inaction in climate. Many of you went above and beyond, leading in your communities during the congressional recess.

Now that the recess is over, it’s time for a redux on what we were able to accomplish as a team. Below are some of the notable mentions. Beyond that, dozens of you got out there and held events demanding Congress step up its game. So, without further ado, some highlights from the August recess:

Susan Shamel wowed us all with her access to Senator Scott Brown this August. In her husband Roger’s words:

After 45 minutes of demonstrating outside the first fundraiser, the protesters marched past the offices of both Senators [John] Kerry and Brown on their way to a second fundraiser... Then, just as the demonstrators were told that "security had been notified," the improbable happened: Senator Brown approached the restaurant on foot. Seeing her chance, Susan immediately went to the senator's side to voice her request for strong climate legislation. Susan and Brown spoke for nearly a minute before the senator waved to the other activists and disappeared inside.
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Here's an idea for a 10/10/10 Work Party


By 1Sky blogger Andy Silber. See Andy's bio at the end of this post. -- Luis

On Sunday, October 10th, 2010 (i.e. 10/10/10), 1Sky is co-sponsoring a Global Work Party with First, a bit about what’s up with the number 350; it symbolizes the parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere that our climate can probably tolerate without catastrophic disruption (we’re already above that, so we have a lot of work to do).

So what’s the Global Work Party? The idea is rather than march or gather for a big photo, we actually do something with our friends, our neighbors, our communities. Hundreds of events are planned all over the world, from tree planting in the Philippines to a bike rally in Dharamsala to cleaning up a creek in Texas. No matter where you are, you can probably find an event that is already planned.

In addition, there’s still time to organize your own. I think a good event has two components: it should build community and reduce CO2 at least a little bit. A good photo opportunity is also nice. There are lots of possible ways to do this: carpool (if you happen to work on Sunday); plant a tree; work on a community garden; and so on.

Here’s an idea that I think incorporates some important aspects. Get 350 Compact Florescent Lightbulbs (CFLs). You can either buy them or you might be able to get the conservation department of your electric utility to donate them. These bulbs are one of the easiest and cheapest way to reduce our electricity consumption, which in the U.S. is the largest source of our greenhouse gas emissions. If you are reading this, I’m guessing that you already have a bunch in your house. But your neighbors may not. So on 10/10/10, go knock on your neighbor’s doors and offer to come inside and screw in a bunch of free CFLs for them. Talk with them about your concerns, about how important it is for us to drastically reduce our energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Talk about what’s happening in your community. If there’s nothing happening, talk about starting things. Go from house to house. Bring a bottle of wine. It should be fun. Invite your first neighbor to join you at the second neighbor’s house. Make it a rolling block party. Have fun!

The most important thing is for everyone to understand that this is but one step, for some the first, for others just another step in years of work. But for no one should it be the last step. Getting people signed up for updates from 1Sky and is a good step, but getting people involved in what’s happening in their community is best.

See you on 10/10/10!

Andy Silber is a astrophysicist, engineer, project manager, husband, father, and energy activist living in Seattle. Visit Andy's blog on Sustainable West Seattle. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.

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Weekly roundup 9/17/10: Coal, Clean Air, and Local Action Making a Change


This week seems to have been ruled by the great climate dichotomy: Coal and clean air – or more specifically, the Clean Air Act (CAA). This makes sense, as we're but a week away from Appalachia Rising's arrival in Washington, DC. Appropriately, the Clean Air Act turned 40, becoming "over the hill" while folks from coal country are coming to DC to protect their mountains. There was also a great victory against Dirty Coal in Chicago this week. The CEO of the biggest mining company in the world (not American) even came out for clean energy. Finally, yet another study came out showing decreasing Arctic ice. Our job isn't done just yet, kids. Read on.

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Overflow crowd at NC coal ash hearing favors strong regs


By Peter Waltz, Organizing Director at the North Carolina Conservation Network. -- Luis

The EPA held one of several hearings on the regulation of coal ash on September 14 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The hearing was being held at a Holiday Inn which is overflowing with folks here to comment on the two proposals EPA has put forth. The EPA is hearing comments on two proposals: one regulating coal ash merely as solid waste under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enforceable only through citizen suits and requiring no state regulation; and the other, more stringent regulation as “special waste” under Subtitle C of RCRA which would allow EPA to regulate and enforce rules.

The room was so packed that this blog entry was being typed from the overflow room set up to allow people who can’t fit in the room to listen to the audio. The crowd appeared to be heavily in favor of strong regulation of coal ash, as evidenced by the number of folks walking around displaying their yellow stickers reading “Protect Families: Clean Up Toxic Coal Ash.”

The day started out with three strong speakers in favor of the Subtitle C option. A resident of Roan County, TN, the location of the TVA coal ash disaster, started the day off arguing the cost of not regulating coal ash, which far outweighs the costs that those opposing the regulations claim will hamper their business. This speaker was followed by the State Director of the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club, a biologist, the Sierra Club’s national coal ash expert, and a private citizen all arguing for Subtitle C. Several speakers from the concrete and other industries argued that regulating it under Subtitle C and would cause a stigma and severely hurt the industry, or that beneficial use, not covered by either of the proposals, should be regulated differently from coal ash disposal.

It was a long day for everyone, but by the makeup of the crowd it was especially long for those arguing for the Subtitle D regulation.

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Organizing in Maine to protect the Clean Air Act


By Greg Kimber, a Climate Precinct Captain in Maine. -- Luis

On September 1st, a group of eight friends and I staged a visibility action at the offices of our senators, demanding that they act on the climate crisis and work to protect the Clean Air Act. We delivered letters and stood vigil with signs and banners. In addition to delivering the message directly in the form of 28 hand-delivered letters, we were also able to send a message via the local newspapers. We had contacted the media beforehand, sending out press advisories and following them up with phone calls.

The result: The Morning Sentinel ran a front page story, using our action as a starting point for a more in-depth view on the senators’ positions on the issue. Also, our local small town paper ran a front page article using a press release that we had sent in on the evening of the action.

I had never organized something like this before, so it was an interesting learning experience. And, hey, it was even kind of fun! My advice to anyone out there who hasn’t organized much before but is thinking about it would definitely be “go for it!” I’m kind of a shy person, but after the tragedy in the Gulf and a year of Senate inaction, I felt like I had to do something beyond the usual emails and phone calls. It was gratifying to connect with others in my community who shared my concern and to be able to do something together to send a message. And now: On to 10/10/10!

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Policy update 9/21/10: Dirty Air Act threats persist

US Capitol small

The Clean Air Act continues to come under fire from all angles. Last week, the Senate Appropriations process was nearly hijacked by amendments to de-fund the EPA's Clean Air Act enforcement. Luckily, the markup in question was delayed. Primary drama continues to dominate the political news cycle as the November elections draw closer.

Congressional Timeline:

  • 9/13: Congress returns from recess
  • 10/8: Target adjournment for the House and Senate
  • 11/2: Election Day
  • 11/15: Beginning of Senate lame duck session (tentative)

Clean Air Act Dodges a Major Blow in the Appropriations Committee

Last week the Senate Appropriators Committee nearly took a close vote on an amendment to strip the EPA of its Clean Air Act funding. Committee staff said the potential vote was delayed to make room for an amendment from the Obama Administration to increase the budget for offshore drilling regulation by $100 million. In the meantime, representatives from the oil and coal industries led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce worked to drum up support for the "Rockefeller-like" appropriations amendment, which will likely resurface, despite the shifted schedule.

Rockefeller's Dirty Air Act Remains a Threat

The potential partisan amendment in the Appropriations Committee led some Democratic Dirty Air Act co-sponsors to renew their call for a cleaner gutting of the Clean Air Act. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) both came out in opposition to the Appropriations amendment, but unfortunately remain set on blocking Clean Air Act rules more directly with legislation before the end of the year.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) reiterated his promise to hold a vote on the measure this year. "I spoke with Harry again today and he again said, 'You're going to get your vote,'" Rockefeller said. Rockefeller claims he has 53 votes, and that 7 more are "highly gettable." Forty-seven senators supported Senator Lisa Murkowski's (R-AK) attempt to gut the Clean Air Act, which lost in a vote in July. Of the 53 who voted against Murkowski, 5 have co-sponsored Rockefeller's Dirty Air Act, making 52 Senators (47+5) who would likely support Rockefeller's bill.

Midterm Election Update

In the Delaware Republican Senate primary, climate denier and Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell came out of obscurity to beat the establishment candidate Rep. Mike Castle. This new development makes it much more likely that the seat will be picked up by a Democrat who supports climate legislation, but it does not bode well for the future of bipartisanship on climate. Castle was the only GOP Senate candidate to support climate legislation. Other Senate candidates like Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have backed down from previously strong climate stances in favor of toeing the party line.

Dirty Air Act author Sen. Lisa Murkowski has decided to run as a write-in candidate, after losing to a Palin-endorsed challenger in a recent Senate primary. Challenging the winner of the Republican primary has forced her to step down from her position within the Republican leadership, a move that could be good news for climate advocates. Nate Silver at the New York Times says that she can pick up a solid chunk of the independent vote and win.

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Prop 23: California's Dirty Air Act


By 1Sky blogger Nick Santos. See his bio at the end of this post.-- Luis

As a Californian, I thought the broad debate on whether to act on climate change solutions was over in 2006 when the state legislature passed AB 32, California's Global Warming Solutions Act. In 2008, the legislature even passed follow-up legislation that directed specific emissions cuts to come from changes in how we use urban land.

Yet, now I see the most negative portions of the national climate debate back in California. Using our state's powerful and damaging initiative process, opponents of climate change solutions have placed an initiative on the ballet, Prop 23, to repeal AB 32 until unemployment drops below 5.5% for consecutive quarters. California is a state whose monthly unemployment rate in good times, let alone a down economy, tends to ride around 5.5%, so this initiative amounts to nothing more than an effort to kill the bill entirely.

Three things about this initiative get me worked up and angry. First, I see a mirror of the Dirty Air Act efforts in the Senate this last year. Progress has been made on climate change in California and through Clean Air Act requirements nationally, but there are also have major attempts to destroy that progress and the opportunities it presents.

The second, and probably most important thing in my mind, is that this proposition is the pet project of a few wealthy out-of-state donors who don't live in California -- they just stand to make oil money off of it. We're talking here about Valero (upwards of $3.5 million), Tesoro (upwards of $.5 million), a small, Missouri-based foundation ($498,000), Flint Hills Resources (an oil refiner) of Wichita, KS ($1 million), and the recently infamous Koch brothers ($1 million). These companies have given millions of dollars to advance Prop 23 in order to keep their profits flowing at the expense of Californians. On a deep level, that's disgusting to me.

My final major problem with this proposition is that, just like in the debate surrounding EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act, it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what carbon reduction does for us and the jobs it can create. As the New York Times writes "The Kochs and their allies are disastrously wrong about the science, which shows that man-made emissions are largely responsible for global warming, and wrong about the economics" (emphasis mine). Maybe that's why California businesses support keeping AB 32 intact. The clean energy jobs sector in California grew 10 times faster than the statewide average since 2005, with the clean technology sector receiving $2.1 billion in investment capital last year.

As a Californian, I want this law. Our state needs it. We have a 12.5% unemployment rate and can't afford to kill one of our most successful sectors through misleading ballot initiatives funded by out of state oil companies. I stand with a broad coalition of groups representing health professionals, economists, environmentalists, and in-state businesses. AB 32 is good for us and Proposition 23 is absolutely toxic. Please support the No on 23 campaign's efforts!

Nick Santos is a former 1Sky policy fellow and now works with The Environmental Consumer in California. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.

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Appalachia Is Rising Up Against Mountaintop Removal


Two years ago this month, I flew in a helicopter over Appalachian coal country in Kentucky.

After we landed and I drove off, I cried.

I was in Kentucky because the amazing group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) had asked me to come down to see firsthand what mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining was really like. I took a Litehawk helicopter flight for an aerial perspective of the damage from MTR mining in the area. During the flight, I took picture after picture of these gouged-out mountaintops:

People who know me can tell you I'm a strong-willed activist who thinks and acts decisively and pragmatically. But after an hour of circling these stripped-out circles of land among the trees and hills that make up this beautifully hilly country, seeing truck after truck moving mountains of earth away from these scars, I felt like I could hear the ground screaming in pain. I had seen pictures, but nothing had prepared me for this. As I was driving off in my car, I really wasn't sure if I would be able to stop crying. I felt like I had just witnessed a murder I wasn't able to prevent.

During trip through Appalachia I also met many of the people directly affected by the devastation from MTR. These men and women took me to their homes -- their Kentucky "hollers" -- and talked about the death threats they received from coal companies for speaking out against MTR. These weren't "activists": They were people who came from Appalachian families going back several generations, many of whom worked in the coal mines and were part of the mining community. For them, community and tradition were replaced by health problems caused by contaminated drinking water from coal slurry and homes that had to be abandoned because of cracked foundations due to the blasting. The health threats and pain of a changing landscape were all too real, every day. I think about them often and what they have faced. It makes me realize that we have to stop these companies from destroying the land and these communities.

Since my trip to the Appalachians, my respect for the leaders and groups working to end mountaintop removal has soared. Make no mistake: no one is fighting coal companies on the front lines harder than the fearless anti-mountaintop removal activists in Appalachia. The climate movement can learn a lot from how these anti-MTR activists and groups work together to take a hard stand against Dirty Coal.

This weekend, those alliances come together in Washington, D.C. for Appalachia Rising!, billed as "a national response to the unmitigated destruction of Appalachia's mountains, air and water through mountaintop removal coal mining." The two-day conference this weekend will bring together scores of groups and speakers to discuss mountaintop removal and share stories, followed by a day of action that includes a rally and march in downtown D.C. on Monday, September 27, and a day of lobbying Congress on Tuesday.

Recently, 1Sky worked with Appalachian Voices on a video that speaks to the need to protect Appalachia from the reprehensibly destructive practice of mountaintop removal:

This video, cut to a song by Mary Anne Hit of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, features Appalachian natives who are tired of seeing their homes abused and want something better for future generations in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and the rest of the mountain states. We look forward to Monday's Appalachia Rising! action against MTR with determined resolution. Let's send a message to our leaders that this tearing of the earth must stop.

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Weekly roundup 9/24/10: "Hockey Sticks" warming theory holds


Let's start this week's roundup with the latest on climate science. As Joe Romm tells us, two new independent studies confirm the "hockey sticks" theory of global warming:

The rate of human-driven warming in the last century has exceeded the rate of the underlying natural trend by more than a factor of 10, possibly much more.  And warming this century on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions is projected to cause a rate of warming that is another factor of 5 or more greater than that of the last century.  We are punching the climate beast — and she ain’t happy about it!

The worsening trends of climate science makes it more important than ever that we protect the tools we have at hand to fight climate change. The Clean Air Act is one such took, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson took to the Huffington Post recently to celebrate the successes of the Clean Air Act...

Forty years after the passage of the Clean Air Act, it is extraordinary to look at the numbers.

Numbers like 200,000 -- which is the count of premature deaths the Clean Air Act prevented in its first 20 years. Over the same period, the Act prevented 672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis and 21,000 cases of heart disease. It avoided 843,000 asthma attacks and 18 million child respiratory illnesses.

1.7 million is the number of tons of toxic emissions removed from our air every year since 1990. In the last two decades, emissions of six common pollutants dropped 41 percent. Lead in our air is down by 92 percent since 1980.

...and defend it against those who would gut it today:

None of the doomsday predictions have come true -- and there is no reason to believe they will come true as we write the next chapter in the history of the Clean Air Act. It is our time to promote innovation, grow a clean economy, and address the new challenges and the unfinished business of the Act. Those include long-term health threats in the air we breathe, as well as first steps -- like the clean cars program -- in our fight against climate change.

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