There's only one more day til the deadline to comment on Keystone XL. Check out this great video from National Nurses United on why President Obama should reject Keystone XL.
There's only one more day til the deadline to comment on Keystone XL. Check out this great video from National Nurses United on why President Obama should reject Keystone XL.
A new generation of kids is becoming more dependent on "fast-food" and "smart phones," rather than understanding the importance of "perseverance" and "patience." I'm not alone in feeling that my generation have not taken the time to really to dive deeper into learning our Black History, enough to supplement the enormous gap that leaves the history of people of color out of our schools' lesson plans.
I have tried to impress upon my daughters that knowing your history is important -- even if it's just to recognize that you cannot take for granted the opportunity to attend school, the house and neighborhood you live in, and last but certainly not least, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the safe, green space we enjoy.
In 2014, we celebrate several milestones in civil rights. Sixty years ago, we desegregated our public institutions with Brown vs. the Board of Education, and 46 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the strike of the sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, which was the civil and human rights movement that would soon become known to many as environmental racism.
Environmental justice is a movement that has fought to bring a solution to end environmental racism -- making sure that no person, despite, race, ethnicity, social status, political power, or the amount of income, will be disproportionately, or negatively impacted by environmental laws and policies that are not protective of public health.
Communities across the county began to speak out about all forms of racism. They were tired of living near hazardous-waste landfills, tired of waking up to the spells of the chemical manufacturing facilities that violate the comfort of their homes. They were tired of their family members getting sick and dying because of some chemical that infiltrated their water system. These were the types of harsh realities that engendered a generation of community activities and leaders that -- through pressure and persistence -- led to signing of the first executive order to mandate that all federal government agencies make their policies and programs in accordance with the principles of environmental justice.
On a very snowy winter's day February 11, 1994, President Clinton signed a historic executive order: EO 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations."
The executive order directs, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations. The order mandates that each agency develop a strategy for implementing environmental justice (EJ). The order also directs promotion of nondiscrimination in federal programs that affect human health and the environment -- and that minority and low-income communities have access to public information and public participation.
The road to the environmental justice executive order has been a long and hard one for EJ communities and activists. The road is still uphill, with many tough and treacherous areas. Communities of color and low-income communities, urban and rural, have been sited for decades near toxic and noxious facilities and extractive processes.
It is commonly accepted that the EJ movement formally started in 1982 when black residents in Warren County, NC, lay down in road near where a carcinogen-laden landfill was about to be sited. This county, which was mostly African American already, had a number of such landfills, and the community had had enough. Indigenous communities, farmworkers, and workers inside industrial plants had long agitated for environmental justice, as well. The research and documentation started piling up that the government was acquiescing to disproportionate pollution in communities of color and low-income communities.
The following is testimony from Nick Mullins, a former coal miner from Virginia, given Thursday before the Environmental Protection Agency public hearing in Washington, DC, on carbon pollution standards. Nick is pictured above speaking to a press conference outside EPA before giving his testimony inside.
My name is Nick Mullins and I am a 4th generation former underground coal miner from Southwestern Virginia.
Like many of the men in my family, I worked in the coal mines to support my family and to give my children a better future, but it came at the cost of more than just our battered bodies and polluted lungs. It also came at the expense of clean water and clean air for future generations. After decades of mining and mountaintop removal practices, I had to move my family away from our ancestral Appalachian home, fleeing from the detrimental health effects associated with decades of chemicals released into our environment from coal extraction and the “cleaning” process.
The proud heritage of the coal miner has been soiled by the greed of an industry that knows no bounds in its exploitation of decent, hardworking people. While billions of dollars in coal profits have left our communities, thousands of people continue to face a seemingly endless cycle of poverty and drug abuse. Of the billions of tons of coal extracted from our mountains to power this great nation, most of it has gone up in waste for the sake of comfort, convenience, and enormous profit.
After decades of careless energy use by our nation, Appalachians are being left with poisoned water, eviscerated mountains, and little economic hope. But the problems in Appalachia are only some of the many caused by the overuse of a cheaply extracted-resource. Now we are facing the inevitability of human-created climate change, of which we can no longer be apathetic.
By limiting carbon emissions from power plants, we are taking steps towards a transformative future. Though many will find themselves fearing, and even resisting change, we need to realize that smart policies designed to protect public health and spur innovation are absolutely necessary. For example, by creating a more energy efficient, carbon-conscious economy, we are also creating new jobs for thousands of skilled workers who can install equipment, upgrade infrastructure, and build a better, cleaner future for our children. In doing so, we are accomplishing the same goals so many coal miners work hard towards every day.
I speak out on behalf of fellow fathers, Appalachians, skilled workers, and the 4,000,000 other Americans who support strong standards to limit pollution from our nation's power plants. We are standing together, in pursuit of a healthier, safer, cleaner future for our children.
This week, actresses Amy Smart, Eva Amurri Martino, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Dawn Olivieri joined the Sierra Club in an online video asking California Governor Jerry Brown to make a "clean break" with fossil fuels, and commit to replacing the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station with 100 percent clean energy. Check out the great video.
The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to begin its decision-making process within the next few days as to how much of the shuttered nuclear plant will be replaced by clean or dirty energy.
Take action and learn more here.
The Sierra Club's My Generation Campaign is a statewide effort to ensure that every Californian is able to enjoy the access and benefits that come from the use of affordable, local clean renewable sources of energy, thereby reducing our overall reliance on dangerous fossil fuels.
The site of the Dan River spill in North Carolina. Photo by Appalachian Voices. See more photos here.
On Sunday, a stormwater pipe burst underneath an unlined pit storing wet coal ash at a retired Duke Energy coal plant in Eden, North Carolina, spilling up to 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River, six miles upstream from a drinking water source. Even more disturbing than that deeply disturbing news is that Duke Energy did not issue a press release and inform the public about this massive spill until 24 hours after it was discovered.
This event is far from over as the river is grey from the coal ash and Duke Energy has yet to implement a permanent solution to stop the flow of coal ash into the river.
Officials are saying the water treatment plant will be able to handle the coal ash, which contains arsenic, selenium, lead, mercury, and many other toxic materials, but I'm guessing North Carolinians in that area still aren't feeling very safe when they turn the tap on. And now the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources says the water is not safe.
The Dan River after the coal ash spill. Photo by Appalachian Voices.
Sierra Club in North Carolina is responding to this coal ash spill with a coalition of groups. Unfortunately, the dangers of coal ash pollution are not new to the state Duke Energy operates thirteen additional coal ash waste pits in North Carolina, meaning more waterways and communities remain at risk.
Duke Energy is also responsible for the coal ash contamination of Mountain Lake, which is the drinking water source for 75,000 people in Charlotte. Meanwhile, its coal ash pollution in Sutton Lake kills 900,000 fish every year. And in Asheville, where Beyond Coal campaign is calling for the retirement of the Asheville coal plant, the old coal ash ponds are leaching toxic chemicals into the French Broad River.
Duke Energy and the state of North Carolina have known about contamination from aging and dangerous coal ash storage pits for years, yet have taken no action to clean up the waste pits and protect our waterways and our people. In fact, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources only took legal action against Duke's unlawful coal ash pits after conservation advocates like the Sierra Club forced their hand. Even then, DENR's customer-service approach would allow Duke Energy to continue business as usual.
As Grist's John Upton pointed out, Duke was quite confident their coal ash sites were all perfectly safe:
"We are confident," Duke's general manager at the power plant told the EPA in a 2009 letter, "that each of our ash basin dams has the structural integrity necessary to protect the public and the environment."
We know that confidence is far from reality.
Even Duke is changing its tune, as a spokesperson recently told the LA Times that storing coal ash in lagoons is outdated.
The Sierra Club calls on both Duke Energy and the State of North Carolina to be fully transparent with the public, releasing accurate and timely information about the scale of this latest spill and its consequences. As the spill is ongoing, nothing less than full disclosure and cooperation is acceptable.
Last week a settlement was announced that will require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release its first-ever regulations for the disposal of toxic coal ash toxic waste product. But this deadline alone is not enough. These coal ash sites in North Carolina and across the U.S. are poisonous time bombs. We cannot afford any more coal ash spills.
-- Kelly Martin, Sierra Club North Carolina Senior Campaign Representative
MSNBC's Chris Hayes had a great commentary on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline this weekend.
Are you attending one of the more than 280 Keystone XL protest vigils tonight?
"Saying this chemical spill has nothing to do with coal is like saying the tobacco industry has nothing to do with lung cancer."
Those are the words from Beyond Coal Director Mary Anne Hitt on this morning's Diane Rehm Show. Mary Anne was on to discuss last week's Freedom Industries coal chemical spill in West Virginia, which has left more than 300,000 people without water. You can listen to the whole interview here.
While WV Governor Tomblin is trying to act as if this coal chemical spill has nothing to do with the coal industry, West Virginians know better:
"This crisis is about much more than a renegade chemical company," said Bob Kincaid, board president of Coal River Mountain Watch, an organization that fights mountaintop-removal mining and is based in Raleigh County in the state's southern coalfields. "It's about an entire state subjected day after day for more than a century to a laundry list of poisons by renegade companies. This particular poisoning happened to catch the world's attention, but for us, it's another day in the Appalachian Sacrifice Zone."
While some areas are being allowed to flush their home and business water systems now and start using their water again, a huge amount of people still do not have access to water. And we have reports from folks in Charleston that they’re not ready to trust the tap water yet.
As for those being allowed to drink and bathe in their water again, Ken Ward, Jr., of the Charleston Gazette and many others are asking, "how do they know it's safe?" From Ward's article:
(WV Governor) Tomblin administration officials continued on Monday to decline to provide detailed answers why they think 1 part per million of Crude MCHM is safe for West Virginians to drink. Federal agencies also refused to explain how they calculated that figure in the absence of any real regulatory guidelines or published health standards for the material, also known as 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol.
Stories are also coming out about parents coping with the lack of clean water for special needs kids and babies. Others are wondering how long the spill had really been going on before it was discovered.
Even Erin Brockovich was in West Virginia for a meeting with affected residents Monday night. Watch her discuss the crisis in this Democracy Now interview.
The long-term effects on the environment from this chemical are uncertain as well.
Running alongside the Little Coal River in Boone County, West Virginia, is the sleepy town of Van. Technically an unincorporated census-designated place, this small residential area calls itself home to around 200 people -- all of whom, since last Thursday's spill, have been without water.
While state and federal agencies have focused on getting water to the big towns in the region, like Charleston, only dedicated volunteers have made the journey to Van, and to the innumerable other places like it in the sparsely populated valleys and hollows that make up much of the region left without running water by the Freedom Industries chemical spill.
Thankfully, a corps of community-minded citizens has risen to moment, delivering water to underserved areas throughout the region, calling in to let folks know when water has been delivered to local stores, and acting as a rapid response team for folks in need in central and southern West Virginia.
One of the people deeply involved in this effort is Boone County resident Dustin White. Dustin, the son of a coal miner, grew up at the foot of Cook Mountain, named for an ancestor of his, in a place called James Creek Hollow. It is quintessentially Appalachian and, as Dustin puts it, "I never had a lot of fancy toys and gadgets -- none of the luxuries of the modern-day kid, but I never knew I went without. The hillsides and all they had to offer were my playground. The rocks, the sticks, the wildlife -- they were my best friends. I spent most of my childhood in the mountain stream that flowed in front of my home catching crawdads and salamanders, seeing what could be found, or just simply how far I could go."
Now, Dustin is going as far as he can for his neighbors; donating his time to make sure that communities across the Coal River Valley have the water they need. On Sunday, Dustin, along with a team of volunteers, drove down from Charleston to the Pond Fork area in Boone County to deliver water to people in Van and other communities along the Little Coal River.
Sadly, this isn't the first time chemicals related to coal mining have been dumped into the Little Coal River. In fact, it's not even the first time in the last six months. Last September, the Wharton coal prep plant, owned by a subsidiary of Patriot Coal, dumped 2,000 gallons of a chemical called DT-50-D into a tributary of the river, turning the water white for miles downstream.
People in mountaintop-removal mining communities across the Appalachian region are faced with these spills, and the health implications that come with them, far more frequently than anyone else in the nation. Lax oversight from the state government and inaction on federal protections mean these sorts of events are likely to continue into the future.
There is a dual tragedy here. First, the inability of anyone in power to do anything about the underlying problem: proper protection of our communities and our water from coal pollution. But, in some ways, what's worse is that the responsibility to ensure the well-being of Appalachians in crisis has to fall on the shoulders of people like Dustin. But, thankfully for the people of Van, he and others like him are there when the state government can't be.
Top photo courtesy of EarthJustice. Bottom photo by Shawn Poynter.
On Thursday night, a chemical spill on the Elk River in West Virginia, just two miles above the Elk River water treatment plant near Charleston, contaminated drinking water for more than 300,000 residents in central and southern West Virginia. Residents in nine counties have been advised not to use the water for any purpose other than flushing.
The spill, which occurred at a Freedom Industries storage facility, involved a 48,000 gallon tank of a chemical used to treat coal before it's sent off to be burned at coal-fired power plants. The chemical, called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, may seriously impact the health and safety of local residents with symptoms including vomiting, skin blistering and burns in the throat.
Our thoughts are with the more than 300,000 people in West Virginia affected by this toxic chemical spill, upstream from the largest drinking water source in West Virginia.
Officials have no timeline for when the water will be back to normal, and federal authorities announced Friday afternoon that they would be investigating what caused the leak.
According to Appalachian Voices, Freedom Industries did not self-report the spill, and we encourage everyone to follow the local news media and local grassroots organizations in the area for the best updates.
We recommended supporting and following these local groups as this tragedy unfolds: Keeper of the Mountains, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC on Twitter), the West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC on Facebook), Coal River Mountain Watch, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Sierra Club West Virginia. For news and technical updates, both West Virginia Public Broadcasting (on Twitter here) and Downstream Strategies are excellent resources.
Coal mining communities are faced with the dangers of water pollution from coal mining and pollution every day. This spill pulls the curtain back on the coal industry's widespread and risky use of dangerous chemicals, and is an important reminder that coal-related pollution poses a serious danger to nearby communities. Americans, and the people of West Virginia, deserve greater accountability and transparency about coal industry practices.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
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