Jeff Biggers

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds turns Hawkeye State into Trump's petri dish

On the same day that Iowa marked its highest number of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, after three weeks of rapid increase, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds defended her refusal to pass a statewide mask requirement and issued a proclamation mandating that all public schools provide in-person classes within weeks.

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The real lesson out of Iowa has nothing to do with an app — but it still spells trouble for Democrats

We arrived at 6:25 p.m. on Monday night at our caucus location in Iowa City, assuming there would be an overflow crowd. Sure, there was a line, and the crowd was packed. But within 20 minutes, I was sitting snugly in my seat in the high school auditorium.

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Donald Trump is Taking America Back to 1798 - When John Adams Colluded With an Enemy Power

While President Donald Trump's dalliance with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Monday in Helsinki may suggest a historic shift in U.S.-Russian relations, his actions actually recall another trying moment in history when an American president's collusion with a former enemy led to one of our nation's darkest times.

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Thomas Paine’s Truth-to-Power Message in 1776

At age 37, Thomas Paine carried more baggage than most travelers who had immigrated from England. Even before our nation came into being, he embodied the words of novelist Alfredo Véa: “America is best seen through the eyes of an immigrant.” A trail of debts and bankruptcy nagged him, the legacy of dismissals from government appointments as a tax collector, a failed career as a stay-maker and shopkeeper, and two childless marriages that had unraveled. His first wife died tragically in labor with her first child; his second marriage dissolved into a loveless business arrangement that collapsed, as well. The couple separated, Paine sold off his possessions to avoid debtor’s prison, and then he disappeared into London, haunting the taverns, attending lectures on science and philosophy, and plotting his departure to the New World. There was a genius about Paine, who had been esteemed by fellow excise men and welcomed into the political parlors, that could not find a door of opportunity in England.

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Donald Trump’s Disastrous Immigration Policy: An Insult to George Washington and Thomas Paine

When lawmakers meet with President Trump on Tuesday to discuss immigration policy, the trauma of thousands of incarcerated immigrant children separated at the border from their asylum-seeking parents should pinpoint the failure of the Trump administration's new "zero tolerance" policy.

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Illinois Keeps Discredited Coal Education in Schools

While coal mining families in West Virginia and across the country mourned the fourth anniversary of the tragic Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster last week, hailed by US Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II as "a conspiracy to violate mine safety and health laws," the Illinois state legislature rolled out the red carpet for Big Coal and voted to keep a notorious "coal education program" for schools that has been widely denounced by former coal miners and educators as inaccurate industry propaganda.

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Blocking Peabody's Dead End Road: "Judy's Rock" Film Chronicles Strip Mine Showdown in Southern Illinois

This blog piece is the latest in a series written by author and activist Jeff Biggers concerning Peabody Energy's intent to expand a coal strip mine in Rocky Branch, Illinois and the EPA's failure to protect the community from the impacts of the company's mining operations. Rocky Branch residents have presented ample evidence of what has already happened to nearby Cottage Grove township, which is adjacent to the strip mine Peabody is seeking to expand: blasting described to be like “small earthquakes”toxic coal dust that permeates homes, and polluted waterways. Some residents fear will that the area will soon be uninhabitable. Also, in violation of the law, Peabody recently began clearcutting the area intended for the mine expansion, but federal regulators have recently ordered the company to stop logging.

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If We Don't Put People Before Profits, Spills Like West Virginia Are Our Future

The dirty secret in President Obama's "all-of-the-above" energy policy was quietly overlooked in his State of the Union address.

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Game Over? Obama Gifts Big Coal $1 Billion

In the same days an entrepreneur went on federal trial for fraud over an unproven "clean coal" scheme, President Obama's Department of Energy gave a game-changing approval for a $1 billion gift to continue the unproven FutureGen "clean coal" boondoggle in Illinois.

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Pro-Coal Kids' Pages Pulled from Government Site as Public Pressure Increases

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has removed coal-related educational sections from its website, less than two weeks after the launch of a grassroots campaign demanding that the pages be taken down.

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Pro-Fracking Greens Called Out in Ecologist Sandra Steingraber's New Manifesto

A new salvo has been fired in the national battle against fracking.

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Climate Shame: Four Years After Promise, Capitol Power Plant Still Burns Dirty Coal?

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

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Why the Democratic Party Platform Should Call for End to Mountaintop Removal Mining

The Democrats have nothing to lose.  And everything to gain--especially the health and lives of residents in the coal mining areas of central Appalachia.  

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Should Arch Coal Be Allowed to Destroy Historic Blair Mountain Battlefield?

St. Louis-based Arch Coal reared its head as the king of hubris a year ago, refusing to pay an extra 55 cents a ton for coal in order to meet proper EPA and Clean Water Act standards for a controversial mountaintop removal operation in West Virginia.

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Is Sheriff Joe Arpaio Going Down?

The clock struck at 1,095 days and 11 hours today for Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Ariz. — or, at least according to the ticking icon on the Phoenix New Times home page that had asked readers for years: “How long has Sheriff Joe been under investigation by the feds?”

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Lethal Fallout from Mining Spurs a Mountaintop Removal Moratorium Campaign to End to the Humanitarian Crisis in Appalachia

“Living in a mountaintop mining area was a bigger risk for birth defects than smoking.”–Dr. Michael Hendryx, West Virginia University

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Legislators Are Going to Unbelievable Lengths to Gouge Clean Water Laws and Cozy Up to Big Coal

Big Coal's backlash over the EPA crackdown on future mountaintop removal operations went from denial and anger to the outright absurd last week, as state legislatures conjured their own versions of a sagebrush rebellion and the new Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a sheath of regulatory gutting amendments to its budget bill.

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We Need a Road Map to a Coal-Free Future

In the wake of the worst coal mining disaster in 40 years, compromise and political machinations this spring have resulted in a regulatory crisis of failure; workplace safety in the mines, including the black lung scandal, has emerged as a national tragedy; toxic coal ash remains uncategorized as hazardous waste; mountaintop removal operations and devastating strip mining in 24 states continue under regulatory plunder, not abolishment; billions of taxpayers’ dollars pour down the black hole of carbon capture and storage boondoggles, increasing coal production; climate legislation hangs in the balance of political games.

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Sit-ins-Funeral March Erupt at EPA/JP Morgan Chase Offices Across Nation

BREAKING NEWS: The Coalfield Uprising is spreading across the nation.

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How EPA Can Use the Clean Water Act to Help End Mountaintop Removal Mining

The Environmental Protection Agency made good on its promise today to assert greater scrutiny and "use the best science and follow the letter of the law" with regard to controversial mountaintop removal mining permits in the Appalachian coalfields. In a highly anticipated announcement, the agency declared that all seventy-nine pending permits in four states would "likely cause water quality impacts" and sent them on for additional review under the Clean Water Act.

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NY Times Nails Clean Water Act Crimes and Punishment

Many readers of the New York Times probably dropped their jaws in amazement at the lead story last Sunday: Seven-year-old Ryan Massey, of Prenter, West Virginia, smiled back with capped teeth, the enamel devoured by toxic tap water. His brother sported scabs and rashes, courtesy of the heavy metals--including lead, nickel--in their bath water.

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The Coalfields of Appalachia Are in a State of Emergency and Your Help Is Needed Now

Now is the time for all good greens, rednecks, social entrepreneurs, hellraisers, Repower America and Al Gore to come to the aid of their fellow citizens in the Appalachian coalfields.

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10 Environmental Disasters to Remember on Earth Day

Ten tragic lessons in our nation's environmental history that should never be forgotten. And one climate destabilization tragedy in the making that needs our urgent help.

1. Extinction: Three Species Per Hour

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EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Permits

It's been a long time coming, but the EPA made a breakthrough announcement today, calling for a halt to select mountaintop removal permits, in order to address their impact on water quality. Whether this is the beginning of a transition to abolish mountaintop removal is yet to be seen, but it is a huge step forward for our country.

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Massive Climate Change Action in DC Scores Early Victory

In addressing our nation this week, President Barack Obama called on us to "confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.” 

Thousands of American citizens are taking the President at his word.  Preparing to descend on Washington, DC., on Monday, March 2nd, to boldly confront our nation's dirty coal policy at a planned protest at the Capitol Power Plant, the broad alliance of citizens groups (capitolclimateaction.org) scored an extraordinary advanced victory yesterday:  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have just released a letter calling on the Acting Architect of the Capitol to end the use of coal at the Capitol Power Plant.

This unprecedented act by our Congressional leadership marks a symbolic step toward a new era of clean energy.

We still have a long way to go, of course.

While the Capitol buildings are heated by the Capitol Power Plant, a 100-year-old coal-fired dinosaur, the Capitol's electricity is actually generated from the Potomac River Plant, which operates on coal hauled from mountaintop removal strip mines that have left parts of Appalachia in ruin, and emits tons of carbon dioxide.

And President Obama himself, while mapping out a plan to  double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years, is still beholden to the chimera of "clean coal," its devastating extraction counterparts and dirty coal's underlining role in the silent tsunami of climate destabilization.

Beside the Capitol Power Plant switch over, here's the good news: The Obama administration is providing over $100 billion in loan guarantees and tax incentives for green energy initiatives in his stimulus package, and an annual investment of $15 billion in renewable energy technologies, and has called on Congress to send legislation for a "market-based cap on carbon pollution" to deal with climate change.

Here's the bad news: The Obama administration is shelling out billions of stimulus and budget dollars to the coal industry, at a time when extraction companies like Peabody Energy announced an eightfold increase in quarterly profits.  This is not only pointless, but a frightening reminder that any positive steps by the Obama administration to curb carbon emissions could be derailed by the "clean coal" scams of the coal lobby, and seriously delay any efforts to pass effective climate legislation before the world climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.

By ending coal at the Capitol Power Plant, our nation is coming to grips with the reality that coal is not clean, and that coal is not cheap, if we consider the social and environmental costs.  Here in Illinois, ever since a young Democratic Party activist by the name of Francis Peabody sunk his first coal mine in southern Illinois in 1895, we have witnessed the tragic journey of coal from its costly extraction, processing, transportation, burning and storage of ash with an element of truth and detail that somehow alludes those who live outside the coalfields. Our coal miners have paid the ultimate price of black lung and workplace accidents; our farms and forests have been strip-mined, wiping our family's heritage, and destroying our watersheds. Our relatives in the coalfields of Appalachia have borne the burden of coal for over 150 years; in the last couple of decades, over 470 mountains, 1,200 miles of streams and hundreds of historic mountain communities have literally been destroyed by the detonation of three million pounds of explosives a day, as part of the assault of mountaintop removal mining. 

Coal mining has not created prosperity in the coalfields; it has kept out any diversified economy and led to the nation's highest poverty rates.

All Americans saw the images of the TVA coal ash leakages last December, and now know more than half of our nation's population and their water sources rest within a half hour drive of an unregulated coal ash pond and potential catastrophe.  Over 24,000 Americans die annually from lung and heart diseases connected to coal-fired plants.

The worst consequence of coal is now its effect on climate change.

Setting aside mercury and other toxic emissions, over 40 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions spew from coal-fired plants today.  As NASA climatologist James Hansen wrote in the Guardian last week: "Coal-fired power plants are factories of death."

Our President knows that all scientific studies indicate that carbon capture and storage technologies for coal-fired plants are at least a generation away from any feasible or safe implementation on a nationwide scale -- and he knows we can't afford to wait that long.

"What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future," Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the UN's International Panel on Climate Change, has declared.

So, as we begin a new era of clean energy, we still need to push the President.   American citizens still need to converge on the Capitol Power Plant on March 2nd, and urge our President and Congress to realize that "clean coal" rings like profanity in our kids' ears, and is an insult to those who have carried the burden of dirty coal.

Coal-fired plants still produce 50% of our electricity, so we cannot simply turn off the switch.  But the quick change at the Capitol Power Plant is a fine start.  The Obama administration can halt new coal-fired plants, and formulate a plan to phase out the ancient relics like Capitol Power -- whether it's 5-10-25 years, whatever it takes.

And the President can end the ravages of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, which provides only 5-7 percent of our coal production, and commit to retraining and employing our coal mining workforce by launching the Green Recovery in the very regions that have shouldered the brunt of coal for 150 years.

 

Appalachian Residents Have Found the Antidote to Coal

If Senator Barack Obama ever needs a living symbol of change we can believe in, and a hopeful way to transcend the dirty politics of our failed energy policies, he should go and see the future of renewable energy in the Coal River Valley in West Virginia.

Yes, renewable energy in Appalachia.

Something historic is taking place in West Virginia this summer. Faced with an impending proposal to stripmine over 6,600 acres -- nearly 10 square miles -- in the Coal River Valley, including one of the last great mountains in that range, an extraordinary movement of local residents and coal mining families have come up with a counter proposal for an even more effective wind farm.

Mother Jones, the miners' angel, once declared: "Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living."

Having witnessed the destruction of over 470 mountains and their adjacent communities in Appalachia, the Coal River Valley citizens are doing just that. On the frontlines of one of the most tragic environmental and human rights scandals in modern American history, the community-wide Coal River wind advocates have devised a blueprint to get beyond the divisive regional politics and break the stranglehold of King Coal on the central Appalachian economies.

The Coal River Wind Project is the first bottom-up community-based full scale assessment to directly counter the nightmare of mountaintop removal with a renewable energy and economy alternative prior to the actual mining.

We have a choice. It is not simply coal or no coal. Jobs or no jobs. The issue is how do we create jobs and clean energy forever, and begin the transition in Appalachia and America away from dirty coal.

And Barack Obama, and all Americans, have a chance to be part of Coal River Valley's landmark decision for our nation's dependence on renewable or nonrenewable energy sources. Either we continue to hand out permits for mountaintop removal (two permits in this area have already been granted), unleashing millions of tons of explosives, blasting local communities to Kingdom Come, provide less than 200 jobs for 14 years of coal mining, contributing the dirty coal firepower for continued carbon dioxide emissions and global warming, or, we can stake out a third way in renewable energy and economic development.

Consider this: The Coal River Mountain Wind Project would:

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How Obama Can Win Appalachia and the Nomination

In the eyes of most pundits, the upcoming primaries in Appalachia -- including western Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia -- will most likely deal a blow to Sen. Barack Obama's ability to transcend the brewing racial quagmire in presidential politics. Didn't Sen. Hillary Clinton score a landslide victory among white voters in rural and Appalachian areas of Ohio? Conventional wisdom says Obama will never have a chance in "redneck" Appalachia, even among the Democrats.

Perhaps. But Appalachia could also provide Obama a historic opportunity to move beyond our racial politics with a truly new vision. Instead of offering worn out ideas for poverty relief, like Clinton, or succumbing to the anachronistic schemes of the dying coal lobby, Obama should shatter these artificial racial boundaries by proposing a New "Green" Deal to revamp the region and bridge a growing chasm between bitterly divided Democrats, and call for an end to mountaintop removal policies that have led to impoverishment and ruin in the coal fields.

Beyond race and rednecks, another dynamic is simmering as an undercurrent among blacks and whites in this struggling region: Obama's urban campaign and youthful environmental activists have failed to make any inroads with labor's last generation in the Rust and Energy Belts.

Truth is, Obama has a lot in more common with Appalachia than he knows, nor he is the only groundbreaking African American figure in the region's history. For starters, Black History Month founder Carter Woodson emerged out of the coal fields of West Virginia, as did Booker T. Washington, the most important African American spokesman of the 19th century. Pioneering black abolitionist Martin Delany walked out of West Virginia to alter Pittsburgh's destiny.

Woodson, Washington and Delany also understood one of the best kept secrets about Obama's adopted state of Illinois: Slavery was legal and incorporated into the state's constitution in 1818. Making an exception for the laborers in the salt wells in southern Illinois, which generated a considerable portion of the new state's tax revenues, the Illinois legislature -- and the American Congress -- willingly overlooked legal slavery in this so-called anti-slavery northern state. Slavery in the guise of indentured servitude and the kidnapping of free African Americans remained in the area until the 1850s.

Despite their glorious calls for emancipation, the Illinois legislature committed one of the most egregious acts in American political history: They declared the economic benefits of the salt (and future coal) industry outweighed the acts of inhumanity and destruction that supported this economy.

With all Democratic Party eyes now focused on the Big Coal state of Pennsylvania, Obama would be wise to ponder his state's darker history and its implications today for the Keystone state and its energy policies linked to the divisive coal industry in the wider Appalachian region.

Woodson and Washington also had first hand experience with the worst kept secret about Obama's state: A vast coal bed stretched across those salt reserves in the hilly and forested region of southern Illinois with its own cursed wealth.

While Obama likes to declare that he comes from a coal state, as if somehow identifying with rural Appalachia, he rarely mentions the fact that the shortsighted economic interests of the coal industry have subjected the bottom tier of Illinois to nearly two centuries of economic helter skelter, racial conflicts and environmental ruin.

"The rape of Appalachia," Harry Caudill wrote decades ago in his classic text on stripmining and poverty, Night Comes to the Cumberlands, "got its practice in Illinois."

Caudill was referring to the first commercial stripmine in eastern Illinois in the 1860s. By the 1920s, plundered for their coal and unable to compete with the non-union labor in Kentucky and West Virginia, the southern Illinois coal towns had turned into deforested and eroded wastelands, and were depicted by one government report as a "picture, almost unrelieved, of utter economic devastation." Southern Illinois lay claim to the highest infant mortality rates in the nation.

Today, stripmining in the central Appalachia coalfields is producing the same results. More than 470 mountains and their adjacent communities have been leveled, despoiled, and economically ruined since Barack Obama first moved to Illinois. The massive machinery and explosives involved in mountaintop removal and strip-mining have gutted the labor movement and dramatically reduced jobs in West Virginia, Kentucky, and western Pennsylvania.

Instead of falling back on his failed Ohio message for the illusory concept of "clean coal," which offers no real sense of job security or regional understanding of that industry's job-stripping mechanization, Obama needs to recognize that it's indeed time to release Appalachia from its stranglehold by King Coal and the region's default economy of low-paying service jobs. He needs to summon the courage of another Illinois presidential candidate: Abraham Lincoln.

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present," Lincoln told Congress in 1862. "The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Disenthralling himself from the rhetoric of change, Obama has a wonderful chance to rise to the occasion, transcend issues of race, and stop one of the most immoral crimes against nature and our society today: He needs to call for an end to the destructive policies of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, demand passage of the Clean Water Protection Act (HR 2169), which has 129 co-sponsors and bi-partisan support across the coal states, and launch a new "Green Deal" to rebuild the region.

Coal miners, more than the Obama activists on the urban campuses, understand one reality: There will be no bonafide movement against global warming until there is a genuine Green Deal to phase out King Coal over the next generation. Until that day, though, job-desperate coal mining communities will be forever at odds with the environmental wing of the Democratic Party.

Like a true uniter, Obama could bring together the ailing mining and mill communities, white and black, with urban environmentalists -- all needed players for a Democratic victory -- for a new vision of economic diversity based on renewable energy initiatives.

Al Gore, like John Kerry, failed to recognize this great cultural divide between labor and environmentalists in Appalachia -- or the rest of the country for that matter. Democrats, in fact, remain in denial over one little bitter detail about the general elections in 2000 and 2004: Despite the state's overwhelming Democratic majority and elected officials, West Virginia has sided with the Republicans in the last two presidential races.

Let's be clear: This does not mean Obama needs to call for an end to coal, as we know it. He simply needs to stop the scandalous and overwhelmingly unpopular war of mountaintop removal in Appalachia and start the process of replacing an old industry and its displaced workforce with a new one based on renewable sources.

In a Lincoln moment for change, Obama could open up a new chapter for the region, by focusing his technologically savvy movement on developing a constructive Green Deal of renewable energy jobs, education and retraining, sustainable communities and reforestation to make Appalachia a model for the rest of the country.

This would not only help Appalachia. It just might save his campaign.

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