Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag:

Obama Protects Waterways Before Trump Crashes The White House

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

On Monday, the U.S. Interior Department finalized a contentious rule to protect rivers, streams and forests from the negative impacts of surface coal mining. The Stream Protection Rule is the first update to the department’s regulations in 33 years, and is one of the Obama administration’s last major moves to protect the environment. Specifically, the rule was established to “avoid or minimize impacts on surface water, groundwater, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources,” according to the DOI.

“The responsible rule released [December 20] represents a modern and balanced approach to meeting the nation’s energy needs,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said on Monday. “Regulations need to keep pace with modern mining practices, so we worked closely with many stakeholders to craft a plan that protects water quality, supports economic opportunities, safeguards our environment and makes coalfield communities more resilient for a diversified economic future.”

The stronger guidelines force coal firms to steer clear of mining activities that endanger streams and drinking water sources. Additionally, companies are required to restore ecosystems to their original state once mining activities have ceased in the area. Over the next two decades, the rule will protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests, according to the Interior Department.

While it is a major victory for environmentalists, the rule, which has received strong opposition from the coal industry, will likely be one of the first to be targeted by President-elect Trump, who made many promises to sustain the nation’s declining coal sector.

Both senators representing West Virginia, the second highest coal-producing state after Wyoming, oppose the new rule. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, underscored a demand she made to President Obama to “not move forward with any more rules and regulations as you are going out the door.” Joe Manchin, the state’s senior senator and a Democrat, said, “I remain unconvinced that this jobs-killing regulation is necessary or substantiated, particularly when you consider state and federal regulations already in place.”

One industry-backed study claimed, with scant evidence, that the rule could result in the loss of 5,000 jobs nationwide, reported West Virginia’s Metro News. But in its press release announcing the rule, the DOI stated, “Economic impacts were thoroughly analyzed and the final rule is projected to have a negligible impact on the coal industry overall.”

“This rule takes into account the extensive and substantive comments we received from state regulators, mining companies and local communities across the country,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider. “We traveled the country, visited many mines, and met with many of the people who work and live in coal country to make sure we wrote the best rule possible—one that is both economically achievable and protective.”

“This updated, scientifically modern rule will make life better for a countless number of Americans who live near places where coal is being mined,” said Joseph Pizarchik, director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, a branch of the DOI that developed the rule. “We are closing loopholes and improving our rules to more completely implement the law passed by Congress.”

Though environmentalists largely cheered the new rule, some found fault with some of its provisions. Neil Gormley, staff attorney at Earthjustice, said that while Monday’s actions “includes several long-awaited improvements to current regulations,” he noted it was unfortunate that the rule also “eliminates the Reagan-era stream buffer zone, a strongly worded safeguard that prohibited harmful activity within 100 feet of streams. States have frequently refused to enforce the stream buffer zone, and the coal industry has long sought its repeal.”

Despite the steady decline of the coal industry, Donald Trump made the plight of out-of-work coal miners a central theme of his candidacy, though he was short on actual policy recommendations. “We’re going to get those miners back to work,” he said during his victory speech in May after securing the GOP presidential nomination. “Let me tell you, the miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania…they’re going to start to work again.”

Activists are prepared to fight Trump’s expected rollback of environmental protections, particularly those opposed by the coal industry. Jenifer Collins, associate legislative representative at Earthjustice, said her organization is committed to ensuring that “the commonsense protections for Appalachian communities are not rolled back by members of Congress, who would rather use the region as a partisan football than provide meaningful protections. We will also push the Department of Interior for stronger action and oppose any attacks by the coal industry. Clean water cannot be sacrificed for the sake of profits for big business.”

Reynard Loki is AlterNet’s environment and food editor. Follow him on Twitter @reynardloki. Email him at reynard@alternet.org.

IMAGE: Delegates from West Virginia hold signs supporting coal on the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

Sanders And Clinton Battle For Kentucky

As the Democratic nomination continues to drag on, Bernie Sanders is looking to extend his winning streak in today’s primaries in Kentucky and Oregon, following victories in West Virginia and Indiana. The continued strength of the Sanders campaign has made it increasingly difficult for Hillary Clinton to look towards the general election while her party’s nomination continues to elude her.

Kentucky has been the focus of concerted campaigning efforts by both candidates. For Sanders, it would prove that despite his delegate deficit, his policies have found a wide audience across the country. For Clinton, it would help put down the ongoing insurrection taking place inside the party and allow her to focus on taking on Donald Trump in the general election.

During a campaign stop in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Sanders kept his message focused on socioeconomic justice and called out the state’s governor, Matt Bevin, over his plans to cut $41 million from the state’s education budget. “Now, I do not quite understand how in the year 2016, when we are living in a competitive global economy and when we need the best educated workforce in the world, I don’t know why anyone is talking about education,” he said to thunderous applause from the crowd.

“I want to help bring back the kind of economy that worked for everybody in the 1990s,” said Clinton during a rally in Louisville, alluding to the substantially better job market that existed under Bill Clinton. “Let’s put America to work. These are jobs you cannot export. They have got to be done right here in Kentucky.”

According to a survey of voters by Public Policy Polling, Clinton will come out ahead in Kentucky, where she leads Sanders by five points, although nearly 1-in-4 voters said they are unsure of who they will vote for.

In the last Democratic primaries in 2008, Clinton defeated Barack Obama by a large margin in the state, taking 65 percent of the vote in nearly every county. Obama won only in Jefferson and Fayette counties, home to the state’s two biggest cities, Louisville and Lexington. This time around, Clinton has found herself fighting the opposite battle, trying to win votes outside of the urban and more racially diverse parts of the state that Obama won eight years earlier. Sanders commands more support in rural Kentucky.

Nevertheless, Clinton has spent plenty of time in the state rallying Democrat voters to go out and vote on primary day. She has made 11 campaign stops over three different trips during the past two weeks, sent out campaign surrogates, and spent money on radio and TV ads in the state. The state’s closed primary works to her advantage, given she has performed better in states in which only Democrats can vote, whereas Sanders has performed better in open primaries, where he often takes the majority of independent votes.

But it will still be an uphill battle for Clinton in eastern Kentucky, whose voters, predominantly working class whites, match those who have overwhelmingly supported Sanders during the primaries. While being one of the most outspoken critics of the effect of fossil fuel use on climate change, Sanders has avoided the hostility of coal miners that Clinton has had to grapple with since campaigning in West Virginia. Part of that good will could be attributed to his push for increased education and social programming meant to decrease what has become an increasingly urban-rural divide throughout the country, but especially in Appalachia.

Eastern Kentucky, in particular, is host to some of the worst socioeconomic indicators in the country. The New York Times devoted some coverage to the dire conditions facing the region’s inhabitants back in 2014:

Clay County, in dead last, might as well be in a different country. The median household income there is barely above the poverty line, at $22,296, and is just over half the nationwide median. Only 7.4 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The unemployment rate is 12.7 percent. The disability rate is nearly as high, at 11.7 percent. (Nationwide, that figure is 1.3 percent.) Life expectancy is six years shorter than average. Perhaps related, nearly half of Clay County is obese.

It’s coal country, but perhaps in name only. In the first quarter of this year, just 54 people were employed in coal mining in Clay County, a precipitous drop from its coal-production peak in 1980. That year, about 2.5 million tons of coal were taken out of the ground in Clay; this year, the county has produced a fraction of that — just over 38,000 tons. Former mines have been reclaimed, and that land has been repurposed in scattershot ways: a golf course, shopping centers, a medium-security federal prison. But nothing has truly come to replace the industry on which Clay County once depended.

One expert cited by the piece, speaking a year before Sanders began running on a platform of increasing social spending, said education initiatives would be the best use of any future funding coming to poverty stricken communities like the former coal mining towns of eastern Kentucky.

That part of the state is in desperate need of state and federal funds. The decline of coal mining has shrunk the state’s tax base from $298 million in 2011-2012 to $180 million in 2014. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, former mining communities suffer from “a host of social issues spanning generations,” as well as poverty and a prescription drug epidemic that makes Kentucky home to the second highest number of drug fatalities in the country.

Tonight, Kentucky voters will make the choice between Sanders or Clinton, but given the myriad problems facing the state, neither path guarantees an easy return to prosperity.

Sanders Poised To Win West Virginia, Despite Opposition To Coal-Powered Energy

In the 2008, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in the West Virginia primary, taking 67 percent of the vote and 20 of the 28 delegates up for grabs in the state. Eight years later, she looks set to lose the state’s primary to another challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But how is an avowed opponent of coal mining and fossil fuels set to win the vote in a state defined by its coal mining industry?

Part of the answer could be that Sanders has appealed to white, working-class voters who could be convinced to support a Democratic platform more in line with their values than that of the Republican Party. “We have millions of working-class people who are voting for Republican candidates whose views are diametrically opposite to what voters want,” said Sanders to The Washington Post last fall. “How many think it’s a great idea that we have trade policies that lead to plants in West Virginia being shut down? How many think there should be massive cuts in Pell grants or in Social Security? In my opinion, not too many people.”

During an interview with The Charleston Gazette-Mail, one of the state’s biggest papers, Sanders further outlined how he would bring economic vitality to regions facing deindustrialization and economic malaise. “We are going to create an economy that works for all people by providing affordable loans for small and medium-sized businesses, by investing in the most hard-pressed communities throughout this country,” he said.

And in an interview with NPR, Sanders made it clear that the Democratic Party needed to be an ally of working class Americans who were losing their jobs in a rapidly changing economy. “I think one of the challenges we face, what my campaign is about, is making it clear that the Democratic Party must be on the side of working people and low-income people,” he said. “And the stand we gotta make is the stand with the people in McDowell County, W.Va., and poor people and working people all over this country.”

The contrast between Sanders and Clinton grew starker after Clinton was forced to apologize for the sound bite “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” made in reference to her plans to bring renewable energy jobs to the state. Her full remarks, made in a CNN town hall in March, were:

So for example, I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?

And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.

Despite agreeing with Sanders on the need to pursue green energy, Clinton’s phrasing of that sentence has made her unpopular among the state’s Democrats, to the point that she wasn’t welcomed into the town of Logan, West Virginia. “Bill and Hillary Clinton are simply not welcome in our town,” wrote local officials in a letter to Senator Joe Manchin, who has endorsed Clinton and is a Democratic super delegate. Clinton has proposed a $30 billion stimulus package to aid Appalachian mining communities reeling from mine closures as part of her platform.

The state’s residents are already aware of the numerous challenges facing West Virginia’s coal mining industry. The decline has eaten away at the industry’s workforce, its production levels, and its financial contributions to the state. More power plants are switching over to natural gas, which has seen its prices drop as fracking has taken off around the country. Coal mining output has dropped by 15 percent in the state since 2008 and coal-fired power plants account for just 33 percent of the country’s total energy output today, compared with 50 percent half a century ago. Global demand has gone down too. China’s sudden economic slowdown created a surplus of raw materials, from iron ore to coal, leading to a collapse in commodities prices.

“Forget the clean power plan. You cannot build a coal plant that meets existing regulation today that can compete with $5 gas,” said Charles Patton, president of Appalachian Power, at a state energy conference recently. “It just cannot happen.”

“In the past we always knew that the demand for coal would rebound and the jobs would come back,” said Cecil E. Roberts Jr., the United Mine Workers of America president, in a speech reported by The New York Times in June 2015. “This time, there is no such certainty. Fundamental changes are underway in America and across the world that will have a lasting impact on the coal industry and our jobs.”

Along with his focus on taxing the wealthy and denouncing Wall Street’s reckless behavior, Sanders has dedicated part of his fiery speeches to the threat of global warming, one that must be countered by a green tech revolution. The same message isn’t as closely associated with Clinton’s candidacy, leading to confrontations like the one between her and coal miner Bo Copley last week.