72 24 Hours For Clean American Power

I wrote this on Tuesday but am bumping it for the last day of the call-in. Also check out this diary from Heather Taylor-Miesle on a related topic. -Nathan

From a networking standpoint, it’s pretty impressive. From a policy standpoint, it’s pretty important.

Starting today and running through Thursday, virtually every major environmental group is promoting a 72-hour push to have people call their Senators in support of clean energy legislation. Clean Energy Works, Repower America, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the NRDC, the League of Conservation Voters, the World Wildlife Federation, faith groups like Earth Ministry and Interfaith Power & Light, and many more are all working together to coordinate this important push.

No issue connects the dots like the need for clean energy. Coal-fired power plants kill over 24,000 Americans each year while the mining destroys drinking water and impoverished towns in Appalachia. Oil causes wars and imperils our national security. The construction of wind turbines and solar panels would bring hundreds of thousands of jobs to America. Jobs, health, national security, economic justice, environmentalism – it’s all here.

So please, help us put some pressure on the U.S. Senate. This is an issue where, thanks to folks like Lindsey Graham, there’s still room for bipartisanship and thus a more appealing path to 60 votes. Let’s bring this home this year. Make a simple call.

From Clean Energy Works:

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Help Robert Byrd Stop Mountaintop Removal Mining

Today is all about health care, as well it should be - but I want to take a minute to look not at how we can cure sick people, but at one way we can help prevent them from getting sick in the first place. According to the NRDC, "Coal-burning power plants are the largest U.S. source of carbon dioxide pollution -- they produce 2.5 billion tons every year. Automobiles, the second largest source, create nearly 1.5 billion tons of CO2 annually."

From the Clean Water Act violations caused by mountaintop removal mining to the hurricanes and droughts that global warming will cause to the thousands of lives shortened every year by coal-fired power plants and mines, there's no two ways around it: coal kills. And yet because of the thousands of jobs coal provides in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming, coal is also king. Legalized prostitution and drug markets would also create thousands of jobs, and yet they stay banned, as well they should. Job creation is not a valid excuse for destroying the lives of children and the future of the planet - something coal state politicians seem to have forgotten.

Until now. Politico had this jaw-dropping story yesterday:

In an early December op-ed piece released by his office -- also recorded on audio by the frail 92-year-old senator -- [Senator Robert] Byrd argued that resistance to constraints on mountaintop-removal coal mining and a failure to acknowledge that "the truth is that some form of climate legislation will likely become public policy" represent the real threat to the future of coal.

"Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry," Byrd said in the 1,161-word statement. "West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear: The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose."

In almost any other state, Byrd's remarks might not have caused such a stir. But in West Virginia, where the coal industry -- even in its currently diminished form -- accounts for 30,000 jobs and more than $3.5 billion in gross annual product and provides roughly half of all American coal exports, according to the state coal association, his statement reverberated across the political landscape.

Earlier this month, I suggested donating to the Senate campaign of Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway as a way to help stop mountaintop removal mining, given that his primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, is an unabashed supporter of the method that creates floods and destroys drinking water. I've made my (small) contribution; have you?

Here's another, easier way you can help stop mountaintop removal mining. A new Sierra Club action alert says that the Interior Department is poised to reverse some Bush-era coal regulations but is facing pressure from the coal industry and asks readers to send the Department a public comment urging them to proceed with strengthening the rules. Please take the ten seconds to forward the Sierra Club's comments to the Department, or to write your own.

The Department of Interior and its Office of Surface Mining have publicly stated that they intend to revise the "Stream Buffer Zone Rule," a decades-old prohibition on surface mining activities within 100 feet of flowing streams, which was gutted by the Bush Administration.

But Big Coal is already pressuring the Obama Administration to keep the destructive Bush policies in place. We need your help to flood the Department of Interior with messages supporting the restoration of these necessary safeguards.

Interior Secretary Salazar needs to hear from you before the December 30th deadline for public comments.

Communities throughout the Appalachian region suffer daily from contaminated drinking water, increased flooding, and a decimated landscape resulting from the damage and destruction wreaked on thousands of miles of streams by mountaintop-removal coal mining.  Reinstating and enforcing the 100 foot prohibition in the Stream Buffer Zone rule will rein in the reckless mining that has ravaged Appalachia.

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Climate Deal Reached at Copenhagen

No details yet, but President Obama says a "meaningful" climate deal has been reached between the US, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. The deal has no emissions cap but sets a goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius. On the one hand, this is great news given the deadlock that gripped these countries over the past few days. On the other hand, it sounds like the deal is pretty weak and may not do nearly enough to combat climate change. I take heart in the fact that this is merely "politically" binding. After US legislation passes, we'll see if the "legally" binding treaty that comes out of Mexico City next year is any tougher.

It was Obama's arrival, speech, and personal diplomacy that led to the deal, which while weak is better than no deal at all. You can argue that no Senate bill would be fine since the EPA would step into the void, but there is no global EPA to take COP15's place. I have to wonder, however, how much stronger the deal would have been if the president's deal-making presence had been there all along. Opportunity lost? Probably not, since Mexico City still looms. Anyway, from Politico:

"[A] meaningful agreement was reached," the official said. "It's not sufficient to combat the threat of climate change but it's an important first step... No country is entirely satisfied with each element, but this is a meaningful and historic step forward and a foundation from which to make further progress."

The official added: "We entered this negotiation at a time when there were significant differences between countries. Developed and developing countries have now agreed to listing their national actions and commitments, a finance mechanism, to set a mitigation target of 2 degrees Celsius and to provide information on the implementation of their actions through national communications, with provisions for international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines."

It's not clear how many nations -- particularly poorer nations who felt shut out of the process -- were included in the final deal or how they will react to the announcement.

Earlier Friday, a visibly angry Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet at China and other developing nations Friday, declaring that the time has come "not to talk but to act" on climate change.

Obama's public ultimatum kicked off a furious round of bilateral negotiations between the world's two largest pollution emitters as the conference entered its final hours, with Obama plunging into a pair of bargaining sessions involving Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who had earlier boycotted a larger, multi-nation meeting with Obama.

No reaction yet from the expert-written climate blogs I regularly check.

Update 5:50 EST by Nathan Empsall: Obama has already left Copenhagen due to the immense snowstorm heading DC's way. Sounds fun; wish I was there (in Copenhagen or the DC snow, either one.) More importantly, though, reactions to the climate deal are slowly beginning to trickle in. 350.org tweets, "A tweet cannot express the level of frustration & disappointment I feel w/Obama right now. So much for change." Still waiting to hear from Real Climate and Climate Progress, or from an environmental group on a platform of more heft than Twitter.

Update 6:09 EST by Nathan Empsall: The Sierra Club has a decidedly more positive take than 350. Their headline is "President Obama Leads World to Historic, If Incomplete Climate Deal." I am inclined to agree with Executive Director Carl Pope's statement:

"The world's nations have come together and concluded a historic--if incomplete--agreement to begin tackling global warming. Tonight's announcement is but a first step and much work remains to be done in the days and months ahead in order to seal a final international climate deal that is fair, binding, and ambitious. It is imperative that negotiations resume as soon as possible.

President Obama and the rest of the world paid a steep price here in Copenhagen because of obstructionism in the United States Senate. That a deal was reached at all is testament to President Obama's leadership--all the more remarkable because of the very weak hand he was dealt because of the Senate's failure to pass domestic clean energy and climate legislation. Now that the rest of the world--including countries like China and India--has made clear that it is willing to take action, the Senate must pass domestic legislation as soon as possible. America and the world can no longer be held hostage to petty politics and obstructionism...

"The agreement reached here has all the ingredients necessary to construct a final treaty--a mitigation target of 2 degrees Celsius, nationally appropriate action plans, a mechanism for international climate finance, and transparency with regard to national commitments. President Obama has made much progress in past 11 months and it now appears that the U.S.--and the world--is ready to do the hard work necessary to finish what was started here in Copenhagen.

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Good News In The Fight Against Mountaintop Removal Mining

Transplanted Texan here, abandoning the pseudonym in favor of my real name. If you're interested in making a similar switch, the editors are able to change the name on your account so you can keep your past diaries and comments. If anyone else wants to do it, put your name in the comment and they'll change it.

From the Sierra Club's Climate Crossroads blog:

Very big news out of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this morning - the agency has determined that all 79 mountaintop removal mining permits submitted to them for review by the Army Corps of Engineers would violate the Clean Water Act. After eight long years of rubber-stamp permits being issued during the Bush Administration, this is one of the most dramatic and encouraging actions yet by the Obama Administration, and marks a welcome return of the rule of law to the coalfields of Appalachia....

It is important to note that this is only the first step in this process. These mountains have not been saved. The Army Corps now has 60 days to revise the permits and address EPA's concerns. In our view, a sound reading of the science would determine that these permits cannot be issued... Ultimately, the Obama Administration needs to take the step of reversing Bush-era rule changes that remain in place. Until President Obama fixes both the fill rule, under the Clean Water Act, and the buffer zone rule, under the Surface Mining Act, Appalachia will continue to suffer destruction under Bush's regulatory regime. You can encourage the Obama Administration to take those actions.

The Sierra Club also provides a link at which you can thank the EPA for taking this action.

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Sierra Club Endorses Employee Free Choice Act

The Sierra Club, the oldest and largest environmentalist group in the United States, added its voice to the millions of working families and their allies who support passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

"Protecting workers' freedom of association is closely linked to the efforts to protect the environment and communities," wrote Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope in a letter endorsing the act.

"Workers serve as the front line against hazardous pollution ... union workers are better trained to know about the health and safety risks of hazardous chemicals and have greater protections if they blow the whistle on hazards and accidents in the workplace.

In the face of a union organizing campaign, many employers flout weak laws to fire, harass or otherwise intimidate workers from supporting a union. The Employee Free Choice Act would:

*    Establish stronger penalties for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first-contract negotiations.
*    Provide mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes.
*    Allow employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation.

Organized labor and environmentalists have been coming together recent years to confront both the environmental and economic crisis by pushing for investment in green jobs. The Sierra Club is one the initiators of the Blue-Green Alliance, a partnership of the Club and labor unions - including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers - to promote good, union jobs that will help fight global warming.

With support growing for the Employee Free Choice Act, labor's opponents are lining up to spend millions to defeat the most sweeping overhaul of labor law in generations. In response, the AFL-CIO has come out with a new Web site aimed at setting the record straight on the Employee Free Choice Act.

The Web site offers videos, worker testimonials and facts, including the entire text of the proposed legislation, to counter the distortions circulated by anti-union forces.

"Even as the country faces high unemployment and a sputtering economy, the enemies of organized labor are intent on blocking the one measure that would result in a better standard of living for thousands of American workers," said IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill. "Their only concern is keeping the legal deck stacked against working people, and they will do whatever they think is necessary to keep it that way."

The bill passed the House of Representatives in 2007, but was blocked in the Senate. This time, with a stronger majority in the Senate and the support of President Barack Obama, labor activists are cautiously optimistic about the bill's chances.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

The IBEW represents some 725,000 members in construction, utilities, manufacturing, telecommunications, broadcasting, railroads and government. We are the oldest, strongest and largest union devoted to electrical workers.

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