This note came from Dave Cooper, whose Mountaintop Removal Road Show made its way to Iowa along the way. There is no stauncher ally in advocating against mountaintop removal coal mining. Dave will be missed, but the work will go on.
Friends of the Appalachian Mountains,
After 9 years of traveling across America on the Mountaintop Removal Road Show, and after giving over 875 slide show presentations in 26 states to student, church and community groups about the destruction of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia caused by mountaintop removal coal mining, I have decided to stop.
I was able to speak to tens of thousands of people over the past nine years – mostly college students – and I distributed nearly 4,000 free copies of my mountaintop removal DVD to students, teachers, public libraries and elected officials. I tabled at countless fairs and festivals, and distributed thousands of pamphlets and brochures about mountaintop removal. I mailed a monthly newsletter to over 25,000 people to keep them informed about important news and upcoming events. On the Mountain Justice You Tube channel that I created, I have gotten over 600,000 views. And images from my website have been featured in dozens of books, including several textbooks for school children.
I was fortunate to have many wonderful traveling companions with me on the road, but I will always remember fondly the time that I spent traveling with the late Larry Gibson and Judy Bonds. To all of the other folks who ever traveled with me, or helped set up speaking engagements, or hosted me in your home or fed me over the past nine years, I offer my sincere gratitude. It’s been a blast.
Doing the road show for nine years as an unpaid volunteer has had many rewards and I have made so many good friends, but it has also been mentally, physically and financially taxing. I have slept in cars, tents, parking lots, spare bedrooms, and way too many cheap motels. There have also been a few bedbugs. But your kindness and generosity over the years has kept me going.
I believe that we have successfully made mountaintop removal coal mining a well-known national issue. There have been countless books, magazine articles and films – and a really cool poster – made about the topic, and the state of the campaign against mountaintop removal is healthy. National environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Rainforest Action Network have pumped major energy, resources, legal expertise and funding into the campaign. The use of direct action that was the hallmark of Mountain Justice in the early days has now spread to the anti-fracking and the tar sands campaigns. And students across America continue to organize and pressure their administrations to shut down their coal plants and switch to clean energy on their campuses.
We haven’t stopped MTR yet, but the tide has turned: The percentage of America’s electricity generated by burning coal has now dropped from 50 percent to well below 40 percent. We have gone from a time when Vice President Cheney proposed building “one new power plant per week, every week, for the next twenty years” to a time when coal fired power plants are shutting down all over America. I hope it isn’t too late.
Other folks are still traveling and speaking – most notably Eric Blevins and the good folks at Mountain Keepers. If you would like to have a speaker from Appalachia come and speak to your student group, on your campus or at your church or community group, contact the Keepers of the Mountains by going to their website. This is Larry Gibson’s organization and I encourage you to support it with a donation. Eric Blevins was my stalwart travel partner for many years and he can be reached at email@example.com
I am still staying involved with the mountaintop removal issue by hosting students on Alternative Spring Breaks in eastern Kentucky. We have put together a great program that teaches students about coal and mountaintop removal, respect for the music, history, people and culture of Appalachia, and appreciation for the beauty of the mountains. We also do community service projects – planting trees on an abandoned strip mine site and weatherizing the homes of low-income residents to help reduce their electricity consumption.
In March we hosted three weeks of student groups from Northeastern University, St’ John Fisher College, Nazareth College, Drew University, University of Connecticut, University of Baltimore, UNC-Greensboro, and Harvard. We were fortunate to have some really great students this year. In May we will host Xavier University, then later in the year we will host the Gap Semester program for incoming students at Elon University, and also a group from Brandeis University.
You can read more and see some pics from our alternative spring break program here. We provide safe, clean indoor lodging, with all meals and a full week of activities. Trips are available year-round.
Right now I am planning the third annual Whippoorwill Festival – Skills for Earth-Friendly Living. This is a four day outdoor festival (Thursday – Sunday July 11-14) near Berea KY, that offers over 75 earth-friendly workshops, plus music and dancing in the evenings. You are invited!
Registration is now live for the 2013 festival, so I hope to see you there!
The Mountaintop Removal Road Show
A friend from the fight against the coal-fired power plants in Waterloo and Marshalltown sent a note about mining companies wanting to move into Iowa to extract silica sand for hydraulic fracturing. There is a lot of silica sand laying in the Driftless Area of Iowa, and the growing presence of hydraulic fracturing in the country has created a significant demand for the product. Mining companies want into Iowa to extract what is being called “frac sand.”
The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors declared an 18 month moratorium on frac sand mining to study the matter. The exploration and mining is ongoing in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, although this week, a bill declaring a one-year moratorium on new frac sand mines passed the Minnesota state senate. It seems, at least for the moment, there will be no new coal plants in Iowa, and no new nuclear power plants, so is the fight against silica sand mining the next environmental challenge?
The Allamakee County Protectors is a group of concerned Iowans leading the fight against frac sand mining in the state of Iowa. Check out their web site www.allamakeecountyprotectors.com to learn more about the group and their concerns. They scheduled a lobby day at the Iowa State House on Thursday, March 14.
The Iowa discussion about hydraulic fracturing is inevitable. There are limited regulations in Iowa for exploration and development of natural gas using this method, and the early debate over frac sand is a part of it. Stay tuned.
Our family has been able to afford health insurance, and has had continuous coverage since my career in transportation began in 1984. It is a budget priority, regardless of our work situation. With the April 2013 16.3 percent increase from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, our health insurance policy payments will comprise one third of our household budget, by far the single highest expense we have. Nonetheless, we have been able to make the payments, even in the toughest of times.
Not so with about 400,000 Iowans who participate in Iowa Medicaid. This number is expected to grow should Iowa opt into the Medicaid expansion proposed under the Affordable Care Act. Here’s a quick look at how health care is provided outside private insurance in Iowa.
Iowa has a four-part plan to help with access to health care. There is Medicaid, hawk-i, IowaCare and Medicare. Eligibility requirements for Medicaid are located here, and the program includes low income, children, the disabled, elderly and other categories of people. Children make up 57 percent of Medicaid participants, and they make up 19 percent of the costs. The hawk-i program is for uninsured children of families whose income exceeds the eligibility requirements for Medicaid. According to the IowaCare web site, “IowaCare is a health care program that provides limited services for people who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. The purpose of IowaCare is to provide some health care coverage to people who would otherwise have no coverage.” These programs, and Medicare for people 65 and older, are part of Iowa’s social safety net.
Jennifer Vermeer, Iowa Medicaid director, recently provided an overview of Iowa’s Medicaid system to the Legislative Services Agency. The audio can be heard here. Here and here are recent presentations she gave to the legislature.
There are two points of interest in the current discussion over how lower income people will be treated under the Affordable Care Act. First, our family might become a lower income family, and will potentially need coverage through one of the programs, including Medicare. Second, there will be a cost associated with covering additional people who do not have the means to purchase health insurance. Costs should be studied, and thoroughly vetted, as it will impact us as taxpayers.
I favor further public discussion of the issue, but the discussion has to move beyond whether one is for or against Obamacare. In a letter sent to my state representative, I laid out what I think should happen in the public debate. I am looking forward to seeing how the conversation develops, and whether a conversation develops in lieu of the mutually assured political destruction of launching hyperbolic talking points back and forth across the legislative aisle.
The kerfuffle over the e-mail from the Iowa Board of Regents President Pro Tempore Bruce Rastetter to University of Iowa President Sally Mason regarding statements Professor Jerry Schnoor made about water used in production of ethanol immediately went to DEFCON 2. Like many media feeding frenzies, the energy may be misguided.
Rastetter wrote Mason, “the industry would appreciate being able to provide factual information so this professor isn’t uninformed; is there a way to accomplish that, thanks Bruce.”
The Daily Iowan quoted Senator Brian Quirmbach’s response, “the board of regents is supposed to be a buffer against political interference in academic freedom, not the vehicle for it. What is even more important, he seems to be using his position on the board of regents to work through the power structure. If I could imagine myself in the situation, and the president of the university and a member of the board of regents wants to put pressure on my research— that’s a lot of pressure and that’s inappropriate.”
I don’t know Professor Schnoor, but have heard him speak and know some of his work. He doesn’t just make stuff up. There was likely a better way for one of the regents to approach him, but in a world of peer-reviewed science, to which Schnoor is a party, whatever point the biofuels industry might want to make about the matter would be subject to the same process of peer review. One hopes that truth will out through a peer reviewed scientific approach, regardless of the abrasiveness of Mr. Rastetter.
There are more egregious examples of the Republican war on science than the Rastetter-Mason exchange, if it is serious enough to merit such appellation.
When I met Dr. Julie Gerberding, former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at a lecture in Ohio, she was asked about the redaction of her testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing Oct. 23, 2007. She explained the process by which White House Office of Management and Budget and Council on Environmental Quality redacted, or censored her prepared remarks. Click here for a comparison between the original and redacted versions. The Rastetter e-mail is an Iowa-lite version of infringement on academic freedom, and definitely not censorship as Dr. Gerberding experienced. Rastetter was not “Iowa nice.”
What is the lesson to be learned? Elections matter. It is no surprise governor Terry Branstad appointed Bruce Rastetter to the board of regents. While some have called for Rastetter’s resignation, don’t look for it to happen under Branstad. The remedy for Rastetter and his ilk is electing a governor who does not put industry insiders on the board of regents and other appointed positions. The rest of the kerfuffle? Save the noise for something that matters more.
The North Korean nuclear test explosion on Feb. 12 is a serious threat to international security and reemphasizes the need for the U.S. to lead in working with other nuclear-armed states to decrease the risk posed by the existence of nuclear weapons.
As long as the U.S. and other nuclear powers attempt to maintain their monopoly on these weapons, other countries will seek to build them too. We must work cooperatively with other nations to pursue meaningful reductions of nuclear arsenals, a ban on nuclear weapons testing, and other common-sense approaches to mitigating the risk posed by the existence of these deadly weapons.
National security and military leaders in both political parties support the case for the elimination of nuclear weapons. They know, as we all do, that one of the biggest risks to U.S. security is the continued proliferation of these weapons around the world. The humanitarian consequences of getting this issue wrong are daunting. We must act in our time to protect our common future.
We must also refrain from letting the actions of North Korea become a distraction from working toward a nuclear weapons free world.
The AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile was developed as an anti-tank weapon back in the days when the primary threat against the United States was thought to be the Soviet Union and their T-62 and T-72 tanks. When I entered the Army in 1976, it was already in development and its versatility provided staying power long after the Berlin Wall was torn down and the wars for oil in the Middle East had faded into the background. During the Global War on Terrorism, Hellfire missiles have been mounted on Predator and Reaper UCAVs, or combat drones, and used in targeted attacks on terrorists that have included U.S. citizens, as well as members of al-Qaeda. The Hellfire missile and the U.S. policy on use of drones in the Global War on Terrorism has resulted in the deaths of non-combatants, and that is a problem.
Some deny that non-combatants have been killed in Afghanistan. The United States Central Command issued a 2,100 page report, a five page summary of which can be found here. There is no question that non-combatants have been killed by drones. U.S. policy that resulted in deaths that included children have been properly called into question and deserve scrutiny.
On Feb. 4, a document describing the Department of Justice legal case for using drones was leaked to NBC news. A group of Democratic and Republican Senators has asked President Obama for transparency about the targeting of U.S. citizens. The senate request is related to the hearings on John Brennan’s appointment as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The irony for right wingers is that a Brennan appointment may ease drones out of CIA. In any case, it is about time people started asking questions about our government’s use of drones to target terrorists.
Mistakes happen during military operations—any soldier can tell you that. What needs to be addressed is what the hell are we doing with our Hellfire missiles, and how can we justify the deaths of non-combatants in pursuit of the war on terrorism? That Chuck Grassley and Al Franken can both agree to ask questions about the drone policy is a positive development, providing hope that the issues of drone warfare policy and targeting of terrorists will get some transparency.
DES MOINES, Iowa– On Jan. 22, the Sierra Club and Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Company announced a landmark settlement that requires the Iowa utility to phase out coal burning at seven coal-fired boilers, clean up another two coal-fired boilers and build a large solar installation at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The announcement also pushes the total amount of coal generation retired or announced to retire since 2010 to over 50,000 megawatts, almost one-sixth of the nation’s coal fleet.
In 2012, the Sierra Club notified MidAmerican that it was violating the federal Clean Air Act at its Walter Scott, Riverside and George Neal coal plants, by emitting more pollution than allowed by its permits. Today’s settlement filed in federal court in Iowa resolves those allegations. According to the Clean Air Task Force air pollution from these three plants contributes to 45 deaths and 760 asthma attacks annually.
“Clean air, clean water and a booming clean energy economy are part of an Iowa legacy that I am proud to leave for my children and grandchildren,” said Pam Mackey Taylor, Chapter Energy Chair of the Sierra Club in Iowa. “Coal’s days are numbered here in Iowa. Pollution from MidAmerican’s coal-fired power plants causes major health problems in communities across Iowa. Retiring units at these coal plants and installing vital pollution controls at the remaining units will help Iowans breathe easier.”
The gang of Republicans in the state house kicked off last week asking for a constitutional amendment to include their political position on Iowa’s status as a right to work state in the Iowa Constitution. Didn’t they hear about the divided government and the need to compromise? Whether the measure will be voted out of committee is uncertain. If it is, and the resolution is debated, passed and messaged to the senate, the result is foregone―it isn’t going anywhere during the 85th Iowa General Assembly.
House Joint Resolution 1 (HJR 1), calls for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to incorporate existing right to work law into the document. A new Article XIII would be added, titled “Labor Union Membership,” explained in the bill as follows:
“This joint resolution proposes an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa relating to labor union membership. The joint resolution proposes incorporating current Code sections 731.1 through 731.5 into the constitution. The resolution provides that a person shall not be deprived of the right to work for any employer because of membership in, or refusal to join, a labor union. The resolution also prohibits requiring the payment of union dues or the deduction of union dues from a person’s pay as a prerequisite for employment.”
HJR 1 is expected to be dead on arrival in the Iowa Senate. It represents the business as usual political posturing endemic to 21st Century Iowa politics. Iowa is, and has been, a “right to work” or “open shop” state for a long time. Whether we will continue to be so is not a question among most people I know—Iowa will be a right to work state for the foreseeable future. So what is the bill about?
Some believe strengthening Iowa’s right to work laws would attract businesses to Iowa. Of this there is no guarantee. While I have heard executives who were seeking a place to locate their business talk about right to work, it was a lesser consideration. It sounded more like executive chatter, preliminary pleasantries before discussion of more important issues: tax incentives, real estate deals, utility concessions and other financial considerations. As the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) pointed out, implementing right to work laws can go the other way, as they did in Oklahoma. EPI reported, “since the (right-to-work) law passed (in Oklahoma) in 2001, manufacturing employment and re-locations into the state reversed their climb and began to fall, precisely the opposite of what right-to-work advocates promised.” What happened in Oklahoma may not happen in Iowa, but there is a different reason some would like to see this bill gain traction.
HJR 1 continues the rigorous acrimony between Iowa Democrats and Republicans regarding union membership, public unions in particular. Republicans view labor unions as Democratic supporters, and Democrats find the financial and campaign support of labor unions useful in politics. HJR 1 is the Republican way of flipping the bird at Democratic politicians, especially since they must realize HJR 1 is going nowhere in the 85th Iowa General Assembly.
That’s a fine howdy-do to get the session started.
The comment period for Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy has been extended for two weeks until Jan. 18, according to the Des Moines Register. By extending the comment period, the best interests of Iowans will be served. One hopes the strategy will improve Iowa’s waterways and reduce our impact on hypoxia zones in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the seriousness of the problem, delaying action, particularly on non-point source runoff, is unacceptable. To date, more than 350 comments have been submitted on the plan.
Readers are encouraged to get involved by watching the video, reading the documents and publicly commenting on the matter. Click here to visit the home page for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and get involved.
I continue to encourage readers to make formal comments on Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy before Jan. 4.
The impact of Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zones that are created from agricultural runoff has been grievous enough to activate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to create the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force. The problem asks for a solution, and the federal government has jurisdiction.
The strategy currently open for comments is the Iowa part of a response to the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan. As indicated elsewhere, Iowa is the second of twelve states to develop a strategy, and the executive branch developed the current documents in isolation from public discourse, with significant input from the Iowa Farm Bureau.
The response period, sandwiched between the 2012 general election and the beginning of the 85th Iowa General Assembly, seems designed to minimize public and legislative comments. Activist groups, like Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement the Environmental Working Group, and the Iowa Policy Project have begun to weigh in, but unless a citizen has been following the issue for a number of years, comments on the plan are difficult to develop with a reasoned approach.
What has bothered me about Governor Branstad’s strategy is it’s similarity to the way the George W. Bush administration removed the climate crisis from its agenda. According to former Vice President Al Gore,
“we now know that during the first weeks of the administration, Vice President Cheney began meeting with his infamous Energy Task Force and secretly advised lobbyists for polluters that the White House would take no action on global warming. He then asked for their help in designing a totally meaningless ‘voluntary’ program.”
This voluntary program was meant to be cover for the president as he dismantled the Kyoto accord and other environmental regulations. Substitute “Gov. Branstad” for “Vice President Cheney,” the “Iowa Farm Bureau” for “infamous Energy Task Force,” “nutrient runoff” for “global warming” in the quoted text, and the parallels are compelling.
While a dash of cynicism is reflected in my views, it is important to develop a reasoned response to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Even the most strident opponents to regulating water quality understand that if the voluntary strategy is unsuccessful, the EPA will step in and they don’t want that.
I am nowhere near being finished reading all the documentation, but the framework of my response would include the following elements:
- Doing nothing about agricultural runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous is unacceptable. The creation of hypoxia zones in the Gulf of Mexico must be mitigated to protect marine life that is important both to our economy and to the well-being of the oceans. Iowa is a significant contributor to hypoxia zones.
- That the strategy seeks to get the “biggest bang for the buck” by including some of the largest wastewater treatment facilities is a red herring. As someone who helped manage a rural wastewater treatment plant, in our operation, we had no budget for voluntary measures. We made sure our output complied with regulations, but financially we were not in a position to do anything more than ask our customers to reduce input of phosphorous containing detergents and use backyard composting to dispose of kitchen waste. Any program to control nutrient runoff from wastewater treatment plants should include changes in existing regulations.
- While it is true, as Farm Bureau spokespeople have indicated, there is a diversity of geographic and topological considerations, the Pareto principle should be applied to agricultural runoff. Getting bogged down in diversity cannot be a substitute for timely action.
- We are kidding ourselves if we do not believe that the substantial amount of farm field drainage tile in Iowa is a primary contributor to chemical runoff. Even today, farm fields near my home are installing new drainage tile, increasing the potential for chemical runoff. Any nutrient reduction strategy has to deal with the twofold issue of drainage tile and potential regulation of its use, and planting cover crops that help keep nitrogen in the soil rather than leaching to a tile.
- The comment period should be extended to enable the input of the Iowa legislature.
Whether Iowa can get beyond the hyperbole and powerful interest group concerns in its nutrient reduction strategy is an open question. Solving the problem of hypoxia zones is too important to eschew a reasoned approach and there is room for a voluntary aspect to solutions. We must try everything we can think of the solve the problem, and there is a role for regulation.
To learn more and make comments on Iowa’s Nutrient reduction Strategy, follow this link.