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Covering the West Virginia Coal Disaster



Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short Term Energy Outlook, January 2014, published in the Washington Post, January 13, 2014. 


Over the last five days MCHM, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, an industrial chemical used to separate coal particles during processing, has seeped into America’s collective consciousness. 

The leak of the chemical into the Elk River effectively shut down Charleston, the capital city of West Virginia - closing schools, government buildings and local businesses. After declaring the situation a national emergency, the Obama Administration ordered a federal investigation into the circumstances contributing to this disaster, a disaster that forced the National Guard to distribute 1.4 million liters of H20 to 300,000 people who found themselves without fresh drinking water.

Reporting from Charleston, Trip Gabriel records the initial reactions of the people living in and around Charleston. A must read, Alexandra Berzon and Kris Maher explain how the storage facility owned by Freedom Industries Inc. was able to operate so recklessly outside of government oversight. Equally important, Joel Achenbach clarifies why the location of Freedom Industries’ infrastructure was primed for a ‘perfect’ water crisis. Both the mysterious composition of MCHM and the side effects triggered by physical exposure to it are explored here. For a discussion directly pertaining to how much influence the coal industry exerts over West Virginia’s regulatory process - specifically regarding the storage of industrial chemicals - read this.

For a sense of what it feels like to live in a state dominated by a single industry that both ‘gives and takes,’ follow the Charleston Gazette’s monitoring of the Elk River disaster. This article from the Gazette captures the community’s underlying frustration over the state’s refusal to clash with the interests of the coal industry - even when safeguarding the public’s health is at stake. For the Gazette’s take on West Virginia’s refusal to demand greater regulator oversight, read this.

The outrage over the Elk River’s contamination has pumped up the volume in the national debate already pending over the need for greater chemical regulation in the fossil fuel industry. Writing under the banner of the EDF, Richard Denison maintains the scenario playing out in West Virginia highlights the epic failure of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Walking a fine line, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is now pushing for legislation that would require more disclosure and testing for chemicals. However, House Speaker John Boehner contends that additional regulations are unnecessary. A possible explanation for why the Speaker feels this way is presented here

This week the Supreme Court heard arguments that could determine the scope of the President’s recess appointment power. In his preview of National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, Lyle Denniston believes, in an era of partisan politics, this decision will influence how future presidential appointments will be made and affect the ability of some federal agencies to function. A summary of the oral arguments appears here. Adam Liptak thinks the ruling will boil down to how the Justices can reconcile the text of the Constitution with more than a century of tradition.

Governor Jerry Brown released a $154.9 billion State Budget package for 2014-2015. The LAO praises the new Budget for containing a mixture of spending, debt repayment, and savings for a ‘rainy day.’ Mac Taylor’s reaction to California’s 2014-2015 Budget is here. The LAO analysis concludes the Governor’s prudence is wise - because most of the Budget’s surplus comes form stock market gains. Access to the LAO’s entire assessment is here. In his Budget, Jerry Brown allocates $850 million from California’s cap-and-trade auctions to fund ‘environment-related’ projects. Molly Peterson rounded up the green policy peeps - recording their reactions - including the reaction of Next Generation’s Kate Gordon, who is “excited to see the budget focus on sustainable communities and low-carbon transportation.”

The NRDC commended the green expenditures for exhibiting the kind of environmental leadership California exemplifies. EDC’s Erica Morehouse expressed appreciation for the Governor’s ‘virtuous’ investment in at-risk communities. The folks at the Greenlining Institute extolled the specific allocation of $200 million for low carbon transportation because it means cleaner air. The Budget’s clean job component pleased AEE’s Steve Chadima. Governor Brown’s parsimoniousness impressed California Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg; the governor’s promise to invest in infrastructure pleased Zaremberg even more.  Expressing an opinion that deviates ever so slightly from the members of this pack, Dan Walters is convinced a kerfuffle could be brewing over the Budget stemming from the $250 million the Governor sets aside to jumpstart high-speed rail.  

Chris Clarke’s discussion of the State’s carbon market’s 2013 success clarifies how Governor Brown is able to fund his long list of environmental projects. California Carbon Market Watch:  A Comprehensive Analysis of the Golden State’s Cap-and-Trade Program/Year One 2012-2013, an Environmental Defense Fund report, tracks California’s cap-and-trade program’s performance during its inaugural year. In a press release, EDF President Fred Krupp raves about the Golden State’s shining example of climate leadership and singles out CARB’s administration of the cap-and-trade program for praise.

Finally, on the same day the EIA divulged U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions from energy sources increased 2 percent in 2013 and the New York Times publicized new data on the threat rising sea levels pose to the East Coast of the U.S., the founding partners of the Risky Business Initiative, Michael Bloomberg, Hank Paulson, and Tom Steyer announced the members of the project’s Advisory Committee. ThinkProgress presents an overview of the initiative's goals here.


"It falls between the regulatory acts," James Salzman, an environmental law professor at Duke University and author of a recent book about drinking water, remarking on the special status of MCHM, the chemical that leaked into West Virginia’s elk river. 

We need to look at our entire system and give some serious thought to making some serious reform and valuing our natural resources over industry interests.” Angela Rosser, the executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition. 

“…the state has reached a point where its underlying expenditures and revenues are roughly in balance." Mac Taylor head of the LAO commending the 2014-15 State Budget released by Governor Jerry Brown for its fiscal restraint. 

"It's sweet music." Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg reacting to California’s improved financial footing after years of being financially in the red.

"Climate change is the overriding issue of our day. Increasingly powerful impacts are on track to profoundly affect us all. The question is when, not if.” Co-Chairman, Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin expressing his reason for participating in the Risky Business Initiative.



What is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol? Jacque Wilson and Emily Smith. CNN. January 13, 2014. 

West Virginians Face Fifth Day of Water Restrictions. Anna Edney and Mark Drajem. Bloomberg. January 12, 2014. 

President Obama Signs West Virginia Emergency Declaration. FEMA. January 10, 2014. 

U.S. Opens Probe of West Virginia Chemical Spill. Kris Maher, Rebecca Ballhaus and Eric Morath. Wall Street Journal.  January 11, 2014.

Obama sends disaster aid to West Virginia. David Jackson. USA Today. January 10, 2014. 

$Feds to probe W.Va. chemical spill; 200,000 without water. Jason Plautz. GreenWire. January 10, 2014. 

Thousands without Water After Spill in West Virginia. Trip Gabriel. New York Times. January 11, 2014.

West Virginia Chemical-Spill Site Avoided Broad Regulatory Scrutiny. Alexandra Berzon and Khris Maher. Wall Street Journal. January 13, 2014. 

West Virginia residents cope, with days of water woes still ahead after chemical spill. Joel Achenback. January 12, 2014. 2014. 

Situation Improving But Still No Water to Drink. Eric Morath and Jennifer Levitz. Wall Street Journal. January 13, 2014. 

Critics Say Chemical Spill Highlights Lax West Virginia Regulations. Coral Davenport and Ashley Southhall. New York Times. January 13, 2014. 

Scientists ID amount of chemical they consider safe. Ken Ward Jr. West Virginia Gazette. 

State ignored plan for tougher chemical oversight. Ken Ward, Jr. West Virginia Gazette. January 12, 2014. 

West Virginia chemical spill shines spotlight on loose regulation. Alexandra Field. Meridith Edwards and Catherine E. Shoiche. CNN. January 13, 2014. 

U.S. Opens Probe of West Virginia Chemical Spill. Kris Maher, Rebecca Ballhaus and Eric Morath. Wall Street Journal. January 11, 2014.

West Virginia Spill Prompts Drive for Tougher Regulations. Mark Niquette, Jim Snyder and Mark Drajem. Bloomberg. January 14, 2014.   

Congress Shrugs In Response To West Virginia Chemical Spill, But Joe Manchin Has A Plan. Jennifer Bendery. Huffington Post. January 14, 2014. 

John Boehner On West Virginia Chemical Spill: 'We Have Enough Regulations.’ Sabrina Siddiqui. Huffington Post. January 14, 2014. 

John Boehner Took Money from the Company Behind the West Virginia Spill. Nora Caplan-Bricker. New Republic. January 14, 2014. 


Supreme Court Reviews President’s Recess Power. Associated Press/PBS NewsHour. January 13, 2014. 

National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning. SCOTUS BLOG.

Argument preview: The nomination wars. Lyle Denniston.  SCOTUS Blog. January 11, 2104. 

Supreme Court questions Obama’s recess appointment power. Robert Barnes. Washington Post. January 13, 2014. 

Justices Cite History as They Voice Doubts on Obama’s Recess Appointments.  Adam Liptak. New York Times.  January 13, 2014. 


Fiscal analyst gives Jerry Brown’s budget high marks. David Siders. SacBee. January 21, 2014. 

Praise, concerns in legislative report on Brown's budget proposal. Chris Megerian. L.A. Times.  January 13, 2104. 

Analyst agrees Brown’s California Budget in Balance. Judy Lin. AP. January 14, 2014. 

•AUDIO.  LAO Gives High Marks to Brown's Budget. Katie Orr. Capitol Public Radio. January 13, 2014.

•REPORT. Overview of the Governor’s Budget. LAO. January 13, 2014. 

Cap-and-trade funds to boost high-speed rail. Melody Gutierrez. S.F. Gate. January 7, 2014. 

Green is good, as Governor Brown's budget proposal boosts money for environment issues Molly Peterson. 89.3 KPCC Southern California Public Radio. January 9, 2014. 

Carbon Pollution Funds Poised to Deliver on Advancing Clean Energy in California. Alex Jackson. NRDC Switchboard. January 7, 2014. 

A “Virtuous Cycle” of Low-Carbon Investments Especially for California's Most Disadvantaged Communities. Erica Morehouse. EDF. January 7, 2014. 

What You May have Missed from Today’s Budget Headlines; Governor’s Budget Charges Ahead! Roman Partida. The Greenlining Institute. January 9, 2014. 

Steve Chadima responds to Gov. Brown's budget proposal. AEE Blog. January 9, 2014. 

CalChamber Issues Statement on Governor Brown's 2014-15 Budget. January 9, 2014. 

Op Ed. Brown budget draws kudos, but still some friction. Dan Walters. San Jose Mercury News. January 14, 2104. 

California's Carbon Market a Success in its First Year, Report Finds. Chris Clarke. KCET. January 10, 2014. 

•REPORT. California Carbon Market Watch:  A Comprehensive Analysis of the Golden State’s Cap-and-Trade Program/Year One 2012-2013. Environmental Defense Fund. January 8, 2014.

•PRESS RELEASE.  First-Year Report: Market Strong for Cap and Trade in California. Environmental Defense Fund. January 8, 2014. 

California's Carbon Market a Success in its First Year, Report Finds. Chris Clarke. KCET. January 10, 2014. 


U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2013 expected to be 2% higher than in 2012. U.S. Energy Information Administration. January 13, 2014. 

The Flood Next Time. Justin Gillis. New York Times. January 13, 2104.

PRESS RELEASE: Risky Business Co-Chairs Announce Members of U.S. Climate Risk Committee. Matthew Lewis. Next Generation. January 13, 2014. 

Official Statements – Members of the Risky Business Advisory Committee.

RISKY BUSINESS: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States


RISING SEA, SINKING LAND. Source: The New York Times. January 13, 2014.

Tide gauges along the East Coast show a long-term increase in relative sea levels, in part because the ocean is rising and in part because areas of the coast are sinking.   

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