Help for Coal Impacted Communities: Congress, Don’t Come Home Without It

Help for Coal Impacted Communities: Congress, Don’t Come Home Without It

Help for Coal Impacted Communities: Congress, Don’t Come Home Without It

Stephen Stetson

Stephen Stetson is Senior Campaign Representative for the Alabama Beyond Campaign of the Sierra Club. Email Stephen

Michael Hansen

Michael Hansen is the executive director of Gasp, a healthy air advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Email Michael

There’s been a lot of talk about Alabama’s recent Senate election, but it’s now time to turn an end-of-year eye to what Congress can do before 2018 is upon us. It’s time to pass the RECLAIM Act. It can happen before the end of the year with just a little direction and focus from the folks in D.C.

The RECLAIM Act is a piece of federal legislation addressing the legacy of America’s coal industry, and it has been stalled since passing the House Committee on Natural Resources in June by a wide margin. It’s hard to understand why it hasn’t moved. The RECLAIM Act has 40 bipartisan House cosponsors, bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, and favorable reviews from coal-impacted communities in states with historic coal mining. We need Rep. Terri Sewell to step up and help Congressional leadership get this bill passed this year, and time is running out.

The RECLAIM Act is a powerful step toward revitalizing communities hit hardest by the coal industry’s downturn. The bill commits $1 billion to projects that clean up abandoned coalmines, and waters polluted by them. It lays a foundation for future economic development and diversification in coal-impacted communities, and prioritizes public input and community participation on which projects are chosen and how they are run.

RECLAIM is a major opportunity for areas of Alabama that have historically depended on the coal industry for good jobs and economic stability to rebuild themselves by creating new, local economic opportunities. Let’s be honest: RECLAIM isn’t a cure-all for the parts of Alabama that have been hit hardest by America’s shift away from coal. However, it is a strong answer to the call for more opportunities in coal-impacted communities and can be a guiding light for future policies to help rebuild.

Our organizations, Gasp and Sierra Club, have been working hard to shine a light on the effects of the coal economy across Alabama. We support jobs and economic development, but are also aware of the costs to our health and our land presented by the extractive process of mining. Alabama has an opportunity to make something positive out of the mining sites across our state.

In other parts of the country, abandoned mines have already been leveraged to create jobs in agriculture, recreational tourism, retail, and even renewable energy production through sustained revitalization efforts. But funding has frequently been hard to come by. Bringing more of these opportunities to former coal mining areas across the country can be a boon to local workers and their families looking for jobs.

The funding supplied through RECLAIM isn’t just about cleaning up abandoned mining sites, it’s also about rebuilding communities to be stronger and more resilient in a changing economic landscape through planning and strategies that invest in local assets, workers and businesses, and create shared benefits. What’s needed in these communities is real economic diversity and opportunities that extend beyond coal mining with good family-sustaining wages and gainful benefits.

The RECLAIM Act represents an exciting opportunity to create jobs, empower local communities, and build long-term economic security for working families in communities where coal has historically been the backbone of the local economy. There’s no reason for it to be sitting idle in the U.S. House of Representatives, when it could be easily passed on its merits alone.

We need Rep. Sewell to step up and work with Congressional leaders to get this bill moving before the holidays. They shouldn’t return to their home districts without a signed law.


This essay was originally submitted to AL.com as an op-ed.

Show Your Support for the RECLAIM Act

The bipartisan RECLAIM Act would bring $1 billion back to coal-impacted communities. This legislation is a major opportunity for areas of Alabama that have historically depended on the coal industry for good jobs and economic stability to rebuild themselves by creating new, local economic opportunities. Send a personalized letter to your senators and representative saying you support passage of the RECLAIM Act.

Scott Pruitt’s Shameful Ploy to Undo the Clean Power Plan

Scott Pruitt’s Shameful Ploy to Undo the Clean Power Plan

On Monday, October 9, 2017, the EPA proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan. Once it is published in the Federal Register tomorrow there will be a 60 day public comment period. [Update: read Pruitt’s delusional press release here.] As we have before for the proposed and final rule, Gasp will be commenting. It is not only regrettable, but also disgraceful that we are commenting again, this time against repealing one of the most critical plans to address and combat climate change.

Clearly the motto of this new administration is to repeal, repeal, repeal with no thought of replacing. Where Scott Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times prior to being in charge of the EPA, I cannot say I’m shocked at this announcement. But this is conscience-shocking.

Where September of this year was the most active month on record for Atlantic hurricanes and the 10 hottest years recorded have all occurred since 1998, climate change isn’t a distant threat, it’s here. The time to act has long passed and we certainly do not have time to roll back existing regulations.

EPA estimates the Clean Power Plan will prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 childhood asthma attacks every year once it is fully implemented.

The message today? Meh, your health, your children’s health, they don’t matter. This administration would rather coyly and ignorantly pretend they’re unsure whether carbon is a pollutant. Such an absurd position is indefensible, especially when it’s well-known who has been buttering Scott Pruitt’s bread for a very long time.

This is a slap in the face to current and future generations. If you agree, please sign our petition for climate action!

TAKE ACTION

Coosa Riverkeeper Introduces New Fish Guide, Fish Advisory Hotline

Coosa Riverkeeper Introduces New Fish Guide, Fish Advisory Hotline

The Alabama Department of Public Health issues fish advisories for contaminants like methylmercury and PCBs — which are toxins hazardous to human health. ADPH also makes recommendations about portion size and frequency of fish consumed in specific waterbodies.

When our friends at Coosa Riverkeeper interviewed more than 125+ fishers, they found some startling results. Nearly half of the Coosa fishers didn’t know about the 34 fish advisories ADPH issues last year for polychlorinated biphynels (PCBs) and methylmercury — or how exposure to those pollutants affect their health.

In response, Coosa Riverkeeper released its new Fish Guide this week, which now includes a toll-free hotline that fishers can dial to find out about fish advisories throughout the state. Fishers can call 1-844-219-RISK and follow the prompts to hear advisories in their watershed.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that is emitted from coal-fired power plants like Alabama Power’s Gaston Plant located on the Coosa River in Wilsonville, Ala. It is converted by organisms in nearby water sources like streams and rivers into methylmercury, which is absorbed by fish. Infants and children under the age of 14 are the most at-risk. Women who are nursing, pregnant, or plan to become pregnant are also especially vulnerable.

“We saw a need for a better way to alert citizens of these advisories and were excited to tackle the challenge,” Executive Director Justinn Overton said. “We are confident our new toll-free hotline will be make these advisories more accessible and easier to understand for the hundreds of subsistence fishermen throughout the Coosa River and the entire state.”

In addition to the new hotline, Coosa Riverkeeper has also developed an interactive map with advisories as well as popular fishing locations along the Coosa. They also created two videos to compliment the Fish Guide. One demonstrates how to properly filet a fish — very useful info for folks like me who love to cook fresh food! The other video shows alternative cooking methods that help reduce exposure to the toxins found in these fish.

We urge you to use this resource from Coosa Riverkeeper and support their work! Air pollution does not happen in a vacuum — what goes up in the air can end up contaminating our soil, our water, and our food supply (like fish). That’s why we work so closely with local water groups. We’re all in this together!

Uber-Popular RECLAIM Act Would Benefit Alabama’s Coal Communities

Uber-Popular RECLAIM Act Would Benefit Alabama’s Coal Communities

A recent poll shows overwhelming support in Appalachia for a bipartisan bill called the RECLAIM Act that would release $1 billion to create economic development opportunities in coal communities affected by the energy industry’s transition away from dirty fossil fuels. The survey was commissioned by the Sierra Club and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, two groups who support the bill.

Voters in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia were polled; Alabama voters were not polled, but Alabama stands to gain from the RECLAIM Act. The poll demonstrates a broad base of support across demographic and partisan lines.

reclaim-act-poll-numbers

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced the RECLAIM Act in February 2016 and has the support of a large group of bipartisan legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives. It would distribute $1 billion from the federal Abandoned Mine Land Fund to communities and tribes in need.

How would this help put people back to work? For starters, the money could put laid off miners who already possess the skills necessary to reclaim mines. The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement believes the bill could create 4,600 jobs to reclaim abandoned mines. In Alabama, four congressional districts stand to benefit: $190 million in AL-4 (Rep. Robert Aderholt); $17 million in AL-5 (Rep. Mo Brooks); $230 million in AL-6 (Rep. Gary Palmer); and $10 million in AL-7 (Rep. Terri Sewell).

Due to several factors — e.g., lower demand for fossil fuels and increased demand for renewable energy — the coal industry has declined over the past decade, resulting in shuttered businesses, thousands of jobs lost, and abandoned mines. Gasp believes the RECLAIM Act could lift up communities struggling economically, and address the environmental problems left behind.

As advocates for clean air and renewable energy, we want to ensure that everyone has a healthy community and a shot at a prosperous future. Nobody should be left behind as as continue in our just transition to a more sustainable economy built on innovative solutions and energy independence.

We urge you to sign on to support this important piece of legislation that could provide a vital economic boost to struggling coal communities across Alabama and the U.S.

Sign On

Curveball at the Supreme Court: Clean Power Plan Blocked

Curveball at the Supreme Court: Clean Power Plan Blocked

On February 8, 2016, in a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court granted an administrative stay that halted the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan would have denied the stay.

On January 21, 2016 the D.C. Circuit Court denied a stay on the Clean Power Plan. From there, twenty-nine states, including Alabama, and numerous industry groups filed 5 separate stay applications with the U.S. Supreme Court. It is unusual for the U.S. Supreme Court to block federal regulations, especially where the D.C. Circuit court denied a similar request less than a month earlier. The justices did not explain their decision, but the order indicates that they believe the Clean Power Plan threatens imminent and irreparable harm.

The “harm” here would be the harms cited by the stay applicants when recalling the procedural history of Michigan v. EPA. In Michigan v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the EPA back to the D.C. Circuit Court to consider costs, and the D.C. Circuit did not invalidate the rule. The mercury and air toxics standards at issue in Michigan v. EPA were not stayed during the years of litigation, and EPA often cited as a reason to not invalidate the rule that “the majority of power plants [were] already in compliance or well on their way to compliance.”

The stay applicants argued that the harm that could be suffered absent a stay of the Clean Power Plan would be the same as the harm they suffered because the MATS rule wasn’t stayed: EPA effectively achieved compliance from power plants before the U.S. Supreme Court could even review the rule, and then the D.C. Circuit chose to not invalidate the rule based off power plants complying with the rule because it was never stayed.

At issue in the complaints against the EPA is whether the EPA has the authority at all to implement the Clean Power Plan. Because of the stay, the EPA may not continue to take any actions to implement or enforce the Clean Power Plan. The D.C. Circuit Court will hear oral arguments on June 2, 2016, which means a final decision is not likely until early Fall, at the earliest.

“We’re disappointed the rule has been stayed, but you can’t stay climate change and you can’t stay climate action,” EPA Spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said. If the EPA wins the case once it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, this stay may only delay implementation of the Clean Power Plan by two or three years.

Despite this legal setback, the public policy, public health and environmental interests of many Americans for the creation of the Clean Power Plan have not changed. In fact, it has been argued that the closure of some 200 coal-fired power plants was not only the result of the impending Clean Power Plan, but also because renewable energy is getting cheaper and cheaper, rate payers would not accept being ripped off, and communities would no longer tolerate dangerous pollutants being dumped on them.

Because Gasp maintains that clean air and healthy communities are what every Alabamian deserves, we look forward to the EPA prevailing at the D.C. Circuit Court and U.S. Supreme Court and Americans being able to realize all of the benefits that the Clean Power Plan has to offer.

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