After years of delay, the Environmental Protection Agency is finally issuing safeguards that will protect Americans by reducing the amount of mercury pollution and other poisons emitted by coal plants around the country. It's good news for mothers, children, communities near dirty coal plants, people who eat fish - pretty much everyone, actually, so it's no surprise that Americans overwhelmingly support rules to reduce mercury pollution from power plants. So who isn't pleased? Well, lobbyists for the dirtiest utilities like Southern Company seem pretty down about it - Scott Segal, for example, called the upcoming rule "unfortunate."
You might remember Scott Segal from his appearance on The Daily Show, in a bit about how lobbyists kill legislation. Mr. Segal works for K Street lobby firm Bracewell & Giuliani, where he represents clients like Southern Company, Arch Coal, and Duke Energy, along with his colleague Jeffrey Holmstead. (Holmstead has worked for years against meaningful mercury protections, as a top George W. Bush EPA official and as an industry lobbyist - read our Jeff Holmstead profile and our new report: Jeffrey Holmstead: the Coal Industry's Mercury Lobbyist for much more). They’ve got the tough job of trying to weaken and delay these popular, life-saving rules so their clients can keep dumping mercury into our air and water without restriction.
To help hide this, Mr. Segal often represents himself as the director of a coal industry front group called the "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council." For example, a few weeks ago Mr. Segal, writing as the director of ERCC, sent a letter requesting a meeting with the Office of Management and Budget as it was analyzing the Mercury Rule. And when Mr. Segal testified before Congress against the Mercury Rule in April 2011, he also used his preferred title of director of ERCC, instead of, say, a lobbyist for Southern Company.
But what exactly is this "Electric Reliability Coordinating Council" that has spent much of the last year trying to weaken and delay these badly needed mercury safeguards? ERCC's website describes the group as "a broad-based coalition of energy companies committed to the continued viability of diverse, affordable and reliable electric power supply in the United States." But nowhere does its website list the member companies in ERCC's supposedly "broad-based coalition." When challenged in a debate on the Mercury Rule by John Walke of NRDC to disclose ERCC's full list of member companies, Mr. Segal declined after naming just four companies: Southern Company, Duke Energy, Progress Energy, and EFH (Energy Future Holdings, which owns Luminant).
It's no surprise for Southern Company and EFH - those companies have openly attacked the Mercury Rule, and were the second and third worst mercury polluters in 2010, after American Electric Power. But what about Duke Energy? Has it been using this front group to lobby against the Mercury Rule? After we sent Duke CEO Jim Rogers a letter asking if Duke was a member of ERCC, and whether the company supported the ERCC's efforts to delay and weaken the Mercury Rule, a spokesman for the company told the Charlotte Business Journal that Duke is a member of ERCC, “But, as with many organizations we are affiliated with, we don’t agree with them on every issue.”
So are ERCC's attacks on the Mercury Rule too extreme even for its coal industry member companies? Or is Duke Energy backing those attacks after all, and misleading the public about what exactly it has been doing with the $1.6 million it spent on lobbying in just the last three month period? Well as it turns out, Mr. Segal got that meeting he requested with the Office of Management and Budget. According to White House records, he was there with Jeffrey Holmstead, three executives from Southern Company - and Duke Energy's Vice President for Federal Affairs. It seems like Duke Energy has some explaining to do.
Written by Kyle Ash, Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
Today Greenpeace released a report, “Polluting Democracy,” featuring 15 members of the Dirty Money Team - Members of Congress who often work for polluters with money instead of their voters.
We live in a representative democracy. Every citizen should not need knowledge and influence with every important decision made by the government. Our representatives are supposed to learn how best to represent our interests, and it's their job to try to make the case for a vote we don't currently support. The fifteen members of Congress in "Polluting Democracy" consistently vote against cleaning up coal pollution so we can breathe clean air.
Representative Upton (R-MI) voted to restrict pollution from coal in 2009. Even if the majority of his voters were against the idea (they are not) representing their well-being means it's his job to make the case again. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are like Upton today, and appear to represent polluters that pay for campaign ads or have money to retain mercenary lawyers to lobby Capitol Hill.
Sometimes paying polluters are not even from the recipient Representative's district. As shown in "Polluting Democracy," Mike Rogers (R-MI) has no large coal plants in his district, but takes coal company cash and votes against pollution controls on coal plants in neighboring districts that kill about 454 people every year, very likely including people in his district. Other Representatives guilty of this type of fatality-friendly politics include Fred Upton (R-MI), Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), and Doc Hastings (R-WA).
Politicians like to talk about creating jobs and slashing wasteful spending, but many of them forget their party's talking points when they are introducing bills and voting. The wind and solar industries have created far more growth than the coal industry in the last several years, and this is expected to continue. The growth potential by 2020 of renewable energy jobs is twice that of fossil fuels.
In the states for 14 of the 15 districts covered in “Polluting Democracy” there are more jobs in wind and solar than in coal-fired power. Representatives Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Mark Critz (D-PA) might consider joining the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus (SEEC) since in Pennsylvania there are twice as many people employed in wind and solar than in coal-fired electricity.
Like Altmire and Critz, Jerry Costello (D-IL) is a member of the Congressional Coal Caucus. Meanwhile, Illinois employs triple the number of people in wind and solar power compared with coal-fired power plants. In Missouri, there are about as many jobs in coal-fired power as in wind and solar. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) has just as many coal-fired power plants in his district as Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO). Carnahan is a member of SEEC, while Emerson is in the coal caucus.
Wind and solar energy don't release toxic mercury like burning coal does, while mercury is among the many pollutants causing a variety of costs on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Coal costs just from mercury pollution, due to cardiovascular disease, mental retardation and lost productivity, are as high as $29,312,500,000 per year.
The coal industry in the United States has unjustified pull on the levers of democracy. It is nothing new that polluters choose to invest in stopping public health policy instead of investing in pollution controls. But every year a new group of at least 34,000 people die and hundreds of thousands of other people get sick from pollution caused by burning coal in America.
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.
Most people who went to school in the United States know of Scholastic books. You might not have heard until last week that they were pushing coal industry propaganda on 4th-graders. We teamed up with Center for Commercial-Free Childhood, Rethinking Schools, and Friends of the Earth in asking Scholastic to reconsider a contract with the American Coal Foundation (ACF).
Materials provided in the United States of Energy teach children the benefits of coal-fired power but conveniently fail to point out any of its foibles. A few include blowing tops off thousands of mountains, spreading 110 million tons of toxic ash around the country every year, and there's that climate change thing.
I can't really say it any better than the description of ACF on Kentucky's educational network television website: “ACF’s objective is to educate the public about the advantages and potential of coal: It’s abundant; it’s affordable; it’s American; and with the commercialization of innovative new technologies, it can be used in an environmentally acceptable manner.” ACF manages to get its url onto the websites of departments of eduction, where teachers can pull down lesson plans such as one in which children mine chocolate chips out of cookies.
While we expect the coal industry to lie that coal can be affordable and environmentally acceptable, should we have really expected Scholastic to become the coal industry's hired clown? It turns out this isn't the first time that Scholastic has shown poor judgment. Last year, for instance, the US Chamber of Commerce borrowed Scholastic's goodwill to cajole middle-schoolers into supporting polluters rather than federal pollution limits to protect children.
Scholastic has produced good materials. I myself recall being excited in 1st grade about the Scholastic book fair. And the realm of influence of Scholastic expands far beyond the borders of elementary school playgrounds in the United States. Greenpeace has been engaged with Scholastic before, pushing the company to use recycled paper when printing chronicles of Harry Potter. They even published a book in which Greenpeace was a main character.
On Friday Scholastic admitted that they 'were not vigilant enough as to the effect of sponsorship…', and over the weekend pulled the ACF materials off its website. We've won this battle, but not before thousands of schools received the materials. Scholastic needs to do more than avoid contracts with polluter lobbyists in the future. Scholastic needs to recall United States of Energy and publicly explain how its internal review will result in a better, brighter company. As a for-profit company with direct access to children's minds, mistakes like this ACF incident mean Scholastic has to work hard to regain credibility.
Note: if your interested in what we do here at Greenpeace, check out our Global Warming and Climate Change page as an example.
According to a statement released shortly afterward by Peabody, "The site is in fact a hoax, making inaccurate claims about Peabody and coal."
Sadly, Peabody's reputation doesn't reflect a willingness to own up to its ongoing peddling of coal, which causes death and illness from extraction to combustion. However, they are known for being Newsweek's most environmentally destructive company, their massive Black Mesa strip mining operation and persistent global warming science denial through mouthpieces like Fred Palmer and fronts like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
Peabody's statement continues [emphasis added], "Peabody is proud to help hundreds of millions of people live longer and better through coal-fueled electricity," except of course for at least 13,000 people in the U.S. coal prematurely kills each year from air pollution alone, let alone the impacts of strip mining, rail transport, mercury contamination, and other phases of coal's life cycle. Check out the conclusions of Dr. Paul Epstein, director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, for the True Cost of Coal.
While Peabody's statement pledges to be a "global leader" in scrubbing its inherently dirty operations, their money does not appear to be where their mouth is. Since the beginning of 2011, Peabody has already spent almost $2,000,000 on federal lobbying on numerous dirty legislative deeds, such as attacking the Clean Air Act, preventing pollution regulation of coal operations, promoting false Carbon Capture and Storage solutions, which the American Physical Society just declared to be prohibitively costly. Prior to 2011, Peabody spent over $20 million on similar efforts from 2008-2010, on top of almost $400,000 to federal politicians and their leadership PACs in the same time frame.
More about the Peabody prank can be found on the website of the Yes Men, who have taken credit for the actions that Peabody should actually commit to. Too bad for the asthmatic children whose parents do have to take economic responsibility for the coal industry.
Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
In the midst of attacks from Congress on virtually all things environmental, EPA has announced a rule to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollution. The two-decade history of this long-developing rule is a frustrating anecdote of the success of the anti-public health coal lobby.
Coal industry has contributed heavily to the campaign coffers of our lawmakers. Senator Inhofe (R-OK), America's most iconic politician against environmental logic, introduced the speciously entitled CARE Act. When it comes to public health, the bill is better called the 'Don't Give a Damn Act.' CARE would strip EPA's ability to protect people against airborne toxics. American Electric Power is clearly supportive of Inhofe's stalling bill. Other companies willing to pay evil lobbyists, but not to pay to invest in pro-public pollution technology, include Southern Energy and Duke Energy.
To their disappointment, this rule requires polluters reduce emissions of heavy metals, toxic gases, and other dangerous pollutants. Let's be clear, these companies have a choice.
'Mad hatter's disease,' named after a symptom of mercury exposure, wreaks havoc on the central nervous system and eventually the entire body. Also called Minimata disease, named after the river and community who suffered from wanton mercury pollution by industry in Japan, chronic mercury poisoning has been studied for several decades now.
Mercury contributes to thousands of deaths annually and may adversely affect the development of over 400,000 babies per year. Mercury exposure is serious problem for the lungs, brain, heart, stomach, kidneys, and the immune system. About 90% of human exposure is through the diet. Because of 'bioaccumulation' (mercury collects over time in organisms' bodies, including human bodies) and 'biomagnification' (concentration increases as animals eat other animals) we are most exposed through eating animal products. Newborn babies are most vulnerable, since they act as a mercury filter in the womb, and are exposed again through their mother's milk. Umbilical cord blood is a filter for a number of hazardous pollutants that include mercury. The only safe level of mercury exposure is zero.
Polluters have been spreading mercury around the country. Taller smokestacks never help. Much airborne mercury often falls back to the ground and waterways within only 100 or so miles, but since it doesn't breakdown it is re-emitted into the air, floats down streams, or is carried around by animals who ingest it. In 2008 about half the area of all rivers and lakes were under water contamination advisories, 80% of which was due to mercury pollution.
Most coal-fired power plant owners have not yet opted to install easily available technology that could reduce up to 90% of their mercury emissions. The majority of mercury poisoning is linked to burning coal. Some of this is transboundary pollution from burning coal in other countries. Fortunately, the US administration is constructively engaged in international discussions to reduce transboundary airborne mercury pollution. A positive outcome at the next international meetings surely depends on a strong rule. This rule is supposed to be finalized by November, whereas the next round of international mercury talks is the first week of the same month.
This new EPA rule would reduce our exposure to many of the most toxic substances humans have ever encountered (and created). Everyone knows arsenic is poisonous. Notwithstanding Frank Capra's masterpiece adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace, we cannot blame widespread arsenic contamination on Cary Grant's well-meaning aunts. The main culprit is coal, always dirty and filthy.
The infamous Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Company, has announced he will retire at the end of December. Given the storms Blankenship had weathered in the past, it came as somewhat of a surprise that the climate change denying, union busting, federal judge bribing, safety law violating, mountain top destroyer is finally calling it quits.
His decision to leave was likely at the behest of the Massey board, which has announced its intention to sell the company. Blankenship had always been an obstacle to the sale, publicly decrying the idea by comparing Massey to a “broken down truck” in need of fixing before being put on the market.
As the face of Massey Energy, Blankenship also posed a serious public relations obstacle to any potential sale. Recently called the “Dark Lord of Coal Country” by the Rolling Stone Magazine, he was a ripe target for those wishing to draw attention to the death and destruction caused by an unapologetic coal industry.
The embattled CEO is also facing growing legal trouble of his own due to the Upper Big Branch mine explosion. A judge in West Virginia declined to throw out two separate lawsuits that hold Blankenship personally responsible for the disaster. Two women widowed by the UBB explosion filed the lawsuits, which Blankenship hoped would be dismissed. The judge’s decision was announced shortly before Blankenship made public his departure, adding to speculation that he had become a public relations hindrance to Massey’s sale.
Investors have agreed wholeheartedly with the change in leadership, sending Massey’s stock soaring after news of Blankenship’s retirement.
It is important to remember that as influential as Blankenship was, it is the Massey Energy Company that is ultimately responsible for it’s multiple mining disasters. Blankenship has been an obvious figurehead for what is wrong with Massey and the coal industry culture at large, but his departure should not distract attention from the fact that coal companies want coal, and they do not care about the environmental and human costs endemic to its extraction.
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.
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.
For information on the coal industry's backroom lobbying to prevent the classification of coal ash as "hazardous," check out the recent DeSmogBlog/PolluterWatch report, Coal Fired Utilities to American Public: Kiss My Ash [pdf]. Also refer to the new Greenpeace map of high-hazard coal ash locations.
The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to decide whether or not to federally regulate coal ash, wrapping up the public comment period that began in late June. Coal ash, a residual product from burning coal, contains known neurotoxins and carcinogens, such as arsenic, lead, and mercury. The substance is also notably radioactive.
While Little Blue Run pond may give the impression of a quaint place to go for a swim, it is anything but. Owned by FirstEnergy, Little Blue Run is a coal ash impoundment right near the converging border of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio (check this map). The waste stored in Little Blue Run is produced seven miles away at FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield Power Station.
If the dam holding the pond's material were to break, 50,000 people in Ohio would be in immediate danger of a toxic flood. As if this dramatic threat is not stressful enough, people in the area also live with the lingering concerns of water contamination and ailments from dry ash circulated by the wind.
Lisa Jackson and the EPA seem to have no doubt about the dangers of coal ash. The agency found there is at least a 1 in 50 chance of developing cancer when living close enough to ash ponds, and recognizes that ponds like Little Blue Run have arsenic levels 900 times that of what is considered "safe".
It is time for the EPA to see its job through, ending the needless poisoning of Americans unfortunate enough to live too close to the toxic messes Big Coal leaves behind.
Photo Credit: Duke University