mountain top removal

Virginia Clean Energy Under Threat from Cuccinelli, Coal Companies, ALEC and Koch Front Groups

Image credit: ReneweBlog

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli is working with coal companies and State Policy Network groups backed by Koch Industries to rollback VA's voluntary clean energy program.

In states across the country, the American Legislative Exchange Council--or ALEC--and other State Policy Network groups are lining up to roll back clean energy laws, an effort complimented by captured politicians like Mr. Cuccinelli.

Ken Cuccinelli is a former ALEC member, and he's working with ALEC member company Dominion Resources to end Virginia's clean energy program. The same Dominion that just gave him $10,000 for his run for governor, on top of almost $46,000 in previous years for other political positions.

While Virginia's voluntary renewable portfolio standard is far from perfect, it's neither helpful nor inspiring for Mr. Cuccinelli to scrap the program altogether on behalf of a few vested dirty energy interests.

Rather, as Chesapeake Climate Action Network suggests, Virginia's law needs to be strengthened in ways that increase clean energy production and the good jobs that come with it. Both Cuccinelli and CCAN agree the law has flaws and loopholes that don't properly incentivize new clean energy development within the state of Virginia. Some of the law's weaknesses:

  • Dominion Virginia and Appalachian Power have each qualified for ratepayer subsidies without actually building any new clean energy facilities in Virginia.
  • The law's loose definition of "renewable energy" ensures that filthy energy qualifies for government support, including burning gas collected from landfills and producing energy from trash incineration, which is dirtier than burning coal and are usually located in areas with disproportionately high populations of people living in poverty, often people of color.
  • Unambitious targets for the proportion of renewable energy production by 2025.
  • The program is voluntary in the first place.

So far, Mr. Cuccinelli has not seemed to notice legislation alternatives proposed by CCAN that would "tie any RPS bonuses to investment in Virginia-made wind and solar energy. This solution will ensure that Virginians are getting the benefits of a cleaner environment. It also creates a market that fosters growth in the renewable energy sector which will create thousands of jobs within our borders."

Ken Cuccinelli and Climate Science Intimidation:

The point of making clean energy competitive with dirty fossil fuels is to keep our air and water clean and avoid runaway climate change, an issue where Ken Cuccinelli has been aggressively counterproductive.

Mr. Cuccinelli is well known for his harassment of Michael Mann, a climate scientist vilified by industry apologists for creating the "Hockey Stick" graph illustrating the increase of average global temperature measurements over the last millennium.

Mirroring the scientifically unfounded attacks of State Policy Network outfits like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and American Tradition Institute, Cuccinelli was heavily criticized by a Virginia judge for not having an "objective basis" for accusations of fraudulent research at the University of Virginia. Cuccinelli's persecution of science has even put off other climate science deniers, according to a Greenpeace Freedom of Information Act request.

Demonstrating direct cooperation with Koch-funded State Policy Network groups, Ken Cuccinelli will attend an Americans for Prosperity event in Richmond, VA on February 7. Tea Party activists will be bussed in on the dime of Koch and other AFP donors to hear Cuccinelli speak along with David Koch's top PR captain--AFP president Tim Phillips--and other Virginia politicians like Lt. Governor Bill Bolling.

We'll see if the renewable energy rollback is a point of discussion at AFP's event. Americans for Prosperity has promoted a fossil fuel agenda since David Koch helped re-birth AFP from its predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was also run by the Kochs and Koch Industries executive Richard Fink.

Ken Cuccinelli's Dirty Money:

Mr. Cuccinelli's financial conflicts of interest have drawn extra attention to this discussion on Virginia's commitment to renewable energy. Huffington Post reported that Intrust Wealth Management, a company whose board of directors has included Charles Koch since 1982, gave Cuccinelli $50,000 for his failed gubernatorial election bid, on top of a previous $10,000 from Koch Industries. Also on the Cuccinelli payroll were coal interests like Dominion Energy, CONSOL Energy and Alpha Natural Resources (which purchased the mountain top removal menace, Massey Energy).

Mr. Cuccinelli is used to being bankrolled by dirty interests. According to the National Institute for Money in State Politics, from 2003-2011 the following interests were top supporters of his VA Senate and Attorney General election campaigns:

  • COAL MINING AND BURNING$161,796
    • $46,500 from Dominion Resources -- ALEC member
    • $42,000 from Alpha Natural Resources
    • $10,000 from Massey Energy -- merged with Alpha after a fatal mining disaster
    • $33,000 from Consol Energy
    • $16,750 American Electric Power -- ALEC member
    • $6,996 from the Virginia Coal Association
    • $6,550 from Norfolk Southern, a railroad company that transports and markets coal
  • TOBACCO INTERESTS$58,000
    • $24,500 from Altria (owns Phillip Morris) -- ALEC member, ALEC Private Enterprise Board member
    • $10,000 from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco (owned by Altria)
    • $12,500 from Bailey's Cigarettes
    • $11,000 from S&M Brands (owned by Bailey's)
  • GUN LOBBY$17,000
    • $17,000 from the National Rifle Association (many of the illegal guns in this country are from Virginia gun shows) -- ALEC member
  • CORPORATE POLLUTER LOBBYING FIRMS: $19,562
    • $11,250 from Hunton & Williams, a corporate lobbying firm that runs the coal front group Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) to interfere with EPA pollution controls. Hunton was also caught up in a scandal to monitor and smear political opponents of Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
    • $8,312 from Troutman Sanders, a corporate lobbying firm that has recently represented coal and tobacco interests like Duke Energy, the National Mining Association, Southern Company, Peabody Energy, and Altria.

Dirty energy interests like Dominion, AEP, Duke Energy, Peabody and others are using their political allies and groups like ALEC alike to attack renewable energy across the board, in coordination with a familiar public relations play that victimizes dirty coal operations and mocks all forms of clean energy.

Coal pollution from companies like these prematurely kill thousands of Americans each year. The Clean Air Task Force notes that government action to reduce coal pollution has a direct effect on reducing these needless deaths. A peer-reviewed report by the late Paul Epstein in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences estimated up to $500 billion--half a trillion dollars--in annual costs to society from the life cycle of coal.

Clean energy generation doesn't pose the same terrible threats to our economy, air, water, health, and the global climate that life on this planet is adapted to, but good luck telling that to Ken Cuccinelli, another politician captured by the pollution lobby.

Rising Tide's Day of Action Against Extraction [VIDEO]

Photo Credit: It's Getting Hot in Here

Rising Tide North America has put together a short video demonstrating nonviolent protests and direct action for the Day of Action Against Extraction. Events across the United States and Canada were conducted on April 20, 2011--the one-year anniversary of the disastrous BP Deepwater Horizon oil gusher. In addition to the oil spill in the Gulf, protests called attention to other monumental forms of destruction, such as tar sands mining, mountain top removal and other forms of strip mining to extract coal, and air pollution from dirty coal plants in Chicago. In addition to the irreparable harm the fossil fuel industry places on ecosystems and the people they sustain, these products ultimately contribute to the looming global climate crisis.

Blankenship to Face Two Lawsuits from Upper Big Branch Widows

Don Blankenship


Massey CEO Don Blankenship, West Virginia's strip mining overlord, faces two lawsuits that hold him personally responsible for the Upper Big Branch coal mining disaster which killed 29 men.  A Judge in west Virginia ruled that two separate lawsuits, brought by two women widowed by Massey's UBB mine, will not be dismissed as Blankenship had hoped.

Blankenship is accused of being  “willfully negligent” in his direction of the company subsidiaries operating the mine, which violated a host of federal and state safety regulations prior to the explosion.

For more see the Bloomberg News article by Chris Stratton and Margaret Cronin Fisk.
 

Leveling Appalachia: Excellent Short Documentary on Moutain Top Removal

Photo Credit: Charleston Gazette

Yale Environment 360, MediaStorm and Appalachian Voices have collaborated on a 20-minute documentary titled "Leveling Appalachia: The Legacy of Mountain Top Removal Mining."  The cinematography and testimonials are amazing, and the film is an excellent look at how coal companies like Massey Energy have the state of West Virginia at their mercy. 

Accounts from local people who have been affected (poisoned, displaced) depict how communities have increasingly resisted the destruction of their homes and contamination of their air and water.

Massey Kicks and Screams its Way Through Investigation of Lethal Mine Explosion

As Don Blankenship makes a fuss over federal investigation of an April mine explosion that killed 29 of his employees, six other Massey managers are now filing a lawsuit against the West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training (OMHST) after being subpoenaed. 

The Massey managers, including vice president of safety Elizabeth Chamberlin, claim the subpoena is an abusive response to their lack of cooperation with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which is still investigating the disaster.  Massey is accusing MSHA of trying to pin blame on the company while avoiding their own responsibilities.

Blankenship continues to assert that some of the miners who died ignored signs of danger at their own peril.  Perhaps Blankenship's orders to employees to prioritize productivity above certain safety measures was taken too far?

Check out the Charleston Gazette for more.

Picture source.

Don Blankenship rails MSHA over investigation of deadly mine explosion

The Associated Press reports that Don Blankenship, the antagonistic CEO of the coal-mining and mountain-leveling company Massey Energy, is accusing the Mine Safety and Health Administration of leading a disingenuous investigation following the deadly explosion in Massey's Upper Big Branch mine in April. 

Blankenship's denies that methane monitors in the mine were tampered with, despsite Congressional testimony from employees stating otherwise.  The coal baron also asserts that combustible coal dust, which evidence shows was present in unsafe amounts before the explosion, was not the cause of the disaster.  Instead, Blankenship insists that safety precautions were overwhelmed when methane leaked into the mine from a floor crack, which MSHA is not buying.

On safety regulation,

"[Blankenship] said more must be done to prevent explosions, but with the realization that not every blast is avoidable."

This is typical souless Blankenship talk--claiming more should be done while fighting tooth and nail to avoid just that, with a dash of shocking honesty that he fully expects to oversee deadly accidents in the future.  After he himself has told employees to forgo certain safety precautions in order to maximize coal production, more deaths certainly seem inevitable.

The Upper Big Branch mine explosion, the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the Texas City Refinery explosion, and other similar disasters of varying scale are normal business for the fossil fuel industry.  Working with heavy machinery always has a danger component, and adding combustable material to the mix amplifies the likelihood and intensity of disasters.

Fossil fuel use is not an inevitable, indefinite future pathway.  We know an Energy [R]evolution is possible, and we can't expect any fossil fool CEO to ever act on it, even if they admit it in the first place.  From the Proposition 23 battle, the grief over EPA's ability to regulate coal ash and greenhouse gases, and Blankenship's continued heartlessness, it is clear that polluters are not going to step out of the way--it is up to people to demand that the dated era of fossil fuels transitions into a contemporary clean energy economy. Enough have died at the hands of the fossil-industrial complex.

More can be found at the Huffington Post and Canadian Business.

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