Where Will You Be When The Lights Go Out In America?

Marita Noon 2013 greyThe passage of time is marked with milestones. We each know where we were when President Kennedy was shot, when the Berlin Wall came down, and on the morning of 9-11. If we continue on the current course, you’ll be telling your grandchildren where you were the night the lights went out in America.

America’s energy policy is being dominated by environmentalists’ priorities—regardless of the impact to the American economy, individual communities, or economically-challenged citizens. The plans to shut down or limit America’s abundant, available, and affordable energy are organized, coordinated, and effective. The results will be “lights out in America”—a dim future.

On May 30, the Wall Street Journal alerted us to the Sierra Club’s new campaign aimed at killing the natural gas industry: “Beyond Natural Gas.” WSJ reports: “This is no idle threat. The Sierra Club has deep pockets funded by liberal foundations and knows how to work the media and politicians. The lobby helped to block new nuclear plants for more than 30 years, it has kept much of the U.S. off-limits to oil drilling, and its ‘Beyond Coal’ campaign has all but shut down new coal plants. One of its priorities now will be to make shale gas drilling anathema within the Democratic Party.”

How do they think we will power America? With intermittent, ineffective, and uneconomical wind and solar energy.

Why are the Sierra Club, et al, able to wield so much power? The Obama administration is friendly to their cause. Many of the agencies regulating domestic energy development are staffed with personnel culled from within the ranks of the environmental movement. And, they are not shy about their biases—as was revealed in the now famous “crucify” comment. They also use their vast resources to sue, and sue often. As a new report from the Kentucky Coal Association (KCA) reveals, they don’t just sue the coal miners and the coal-fueled power plants, they sue the EPA to force new standards which are often unattainable—thereby effectively stopping all use of coal. (Remember, natural gas is the next target.)

The EPA, then, goes around standard operating procedures to do the bidding of their environmental buddies.

In Kentucky, hundreds of individual coal mining permits are typically approved each year. The application process has been in place for years. Companies applying for permits know the rules and applications are submitted accordingly. If a rule change is to be made, there is a process that includes a series of public hearings and industry input—providing participation for all parties. When a new rule is implemented, it often has a phase-in period and involved parties can prepare as they know about it far in advance.

However, Lisa Jackson’s EPA isn’t constrained by rulemaking policy.

On April 1, 2010, without reason or science, public notice or opportunity for public comment, the EPA issued “Interim Guidance on Clean Water Act (CWA) procedures for Appalachian surface mines”—which initially applied to only six states: Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Lisa Jackson acknowledged that few—if any—mines would be able to comply with the new benchmark set to limit wastewater discharges from surface coal mining to instream conductivity levels of 500 micro-siemens. Even if you do not understand the conductivity level of instream micro-siemens, you can grasp that the levels called for in the “guidance” are lower than levels found in nature.

In March 2010, 27 permits were issued under the known procedures. Since the “guidance” came out, without warning, on April 1, no new permits have been issued. One company was offered a permit with the 500 micro-siemens limit applicable to every phase of mining beginning on day one. The “virgin” stream was tested before any mining operations commenced and was found to naturally have 1200 micro-siemens. The company would have been in violation before they ever started. On July 21, 2011, the “interim guidance” was replaced with a “final guidance” which suggested that conductivity levels be 300 or less instead of the previous 500—which was already unattainable. Even expensive bottled water doesn’t meet the standards the EPA has set for discharges from coal mining.

For more than 2 years, the Appalachian economy has suffered the loss of hundreds of mines, equaling thousands of direct potential jobs, as a result of this “guidance”—which is not a “rule” but is being treated as one.

In October 2010, the KCA filed a lawsuit against the EPA contending that the issuance of the “interim guidance” violated the Administrative Procedures Act and the CWA by ignoring public notice and comment rulemaking requirements, and unlawfully usurping the state’s role in establishing water quality standards under CWA. That suit has been consolidated with a similar suit filed in West Virginia and with National Mining Association litigation and has been transferred to the federal court in the District of Columbia; the case is scheduled to be heard July 11.

Meanwhile, applications for individual coal mining permits have been denied. Shortly after the new “guidance” was issued on April 1, 2010, The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet (KEEC) proposed to issue 21 permits for new and surface mines in Eastern Kentucky that did not include qualification for the sudden “guidance,” but met all prior imposed limitations and were consistent with previous applications that were granted permits. The state has the authority to issue permits and the EPA has oversight authority. In September 2010, the EPA issued specific objections to all 21 permit applications—thereby preventing their issuance, blocking jobs and revenues.

On July 1, 2011, the KEEC proposed another 19 permits for new or expanded surface mining in Eastern Kentucky. These permits included a number of enhancements to assure protection of aquatic life. In late September 2011, the EPA objected to all 19 permits—but did not specify the deficiencies. There are currently 36 applications pending; the other four have been withdrawn with the potential investment presumably going elsewhere.

In accordance with the CWA, if the EPA has specific objections, the applicant can request a hearing to challenge the EPA’s decision. The KEEC requested a hearing in December of 2010. Finally, after an 18-month wait, EPA has scheduled hearings for June 5 and 7. The Kentucky Coal Association estimates that just the 19 permits the EPA blocked last September have cost $123,861,000 in state coal severance taxes, 3,800 Kentucky coal jobs, and the production of 125,476,000 tons of coal—all while America is in economic crisis.

Additionally, the micro-siemens benchmark was slated to apply to six states but was pulled back to just two: Kentucky and West Virginia. Why were these states singled out? If micro-siemens were important, if clean water was really the issue, shouldn’t the “guidance” apply nationwide? Interestingly, the two states targeted for the new rules may be victims of retribution. Neither Kentucky nor West Virginia went blue in the 2008 election and are not likely to in 2012. The Democratic primaries in both Kentucky and West Virginia were an embarrassment to the Obama re-election effort. In Kentucky, “uncommitted” got 42% of the vote and in West Virginia, prisoner Keith Judd got 41%. Obama nemesis Mitch McConnell hails from Kentucky and West Virginia’s Democratic Senator Joe Manchin made waves when he ran a campaign ad in which he picked up a rifle and shot a target labeled “cap and trade bill”—which was an Obama campaign promise. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were removed from the micro-siemens guidance. They are blue states that are important to President Obama’s re-election. Once again, it appears that the Obama administration is putting electoral posturing ahead of energy production. (If Obama gets re-elected, you can be sure the “guidance” will apply to more states and other industries.)

The micro-siemens guidance is applied under the CWA section 402. While other industries are governed by section 402, the micro-siemens guidance applies only to coal, and only in two states. The selective application indicates that it isn’t really about the water.

The Sierra Club doesn’t want America’s abundant coal resources used in America. Their efforts have already contributed the announced closure of 100 US coal-fueled power plants and reduced demand for coal. “Sales to Midwestern power plants have slumped, as has the market price of coal, dropping so suddenly that many local mines are cutting back hours or closing,” reports the New York Times. “The anger toward Washington is palpable.”  In the May 29 NYT article, Chris Lacy, an executive at Licking River Resources Inc., said “layoffs among his 350 miners—in Magoffin County, where unemployment is already 17.5 percent — are inevitable.” Addressing the increasing regulations against coal, Lacy says the “concerns are overblown.” He sees them as “a conspiracy by environmentalists and the Obama administration to destroy the way of life here in Kentucky.”

The Sierra Club wants to keep coal in the ground and out of international markets where coal-fueled power plants are being built faster than they are being abandoned in the US. They are filing lawsuits against mining companies to prevent extraction and claiming settlements which include their legal fees. Environmental attorneys are among the highest paid—getting double and triple what veterans’ or seniors’ advocates receive. This hurts not only the local economies, such as the one supported by Licking River Resources, but it also does harm to the US economy as selling US products overseas helps our trade deficit.

If you are tired of the undue influence the environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, hold over your energy use and cost—they proudly state that their attack on coal is “just the tip of the iceberg” (natural gas is next), stand with Kentucky against the singular attack. A pre-hearing rally is being held in Frankfort, KY, on June 5 from 5-7:00PM between the Capitol Plaza Hotel and the Frankfort Convention Center where elected officials, pro-coal advocates, and invited guests will speak about the dangers of the EPA’s actions to Kentucky jobs. If you can’t make the rally, you can still offer written comment (Docket ID:EPA-HQ-OW-2012-0315).

If we do not stand up to these senseless attacks on the American way of life, our energy freedom, and our economic security, we will be telling our grandchildren where we were the night the lights went out in America.


The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.