By: Cameron Baller
Young people are in danger. Our present and our future are threatened by everything from rampant gun violence to corrupt politicians and climate change. Those of us under 18 have no political rights to address the ways our lives are threatened. The rest of us are struggling under tens of thousands in student loan debt and an economy that requires five years’ experience for an entry-level job. In addition, we are continuously degraded by the narrative that we are lazy, apathetic, and entitled. Despite these obstacles, we in the environmental, climate, and racial justice movements have been loud about the threats we face and the solutions we need. We aren’t apathetic, you just aren’t listening.
The Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition (KSEC) has been fighting for our future since 2007. We have won six campaigns promoting campus sustainability, worked hard to champion a just transition to clean energy, launched a summer camp to train young organizers, marched, rallied, voted and much more. Still, we youth are dismissed. This dismissal is embodied by HB227, which caps solar credits and makes it much harder for homeowners with private solar installations to get a return on their investment. This blatant attack on the solar industry threatens the livelihoods of 1,200 solar workers and runs contra to the needs of young Kentuckians.
KSEC’s Just Transition Working Group focuses on the economic and environmental challenges unique to Appalachian Kentucky. Our overarching goal is making Appalachia a place where young people can stay. We conducted a survey of over 100 young Appalachians to find out which economic sectors most appeal to them as they look to the region’s future. 63% of respondents cited renewable energy as something they were particularly excited about. Political leaders in Frankfort ought to take notice.
Unfortunately, through HB227, special interests are working to weaken Kentucky’s burgeoning solar industry. Last week, Kentucky Coal Association President Tyler White wrote an Op-Ed supporting HB227 that was chock-full of misinformation. White cited Germany as an example of solar’s failings. While it is true that Germany both produces a significant amount of solar energy and has some of the highest electricity prices of any country, the correlation does not imply causation. Taxes and fees are responsible for driving up Germany’s electricity prices, not solar. They account for approximately 54% of electricity costs in Germany, according to a report by Ellen Thalman and Benjamin Wehrmann.
Next, White argued that net metering policies shift costs onto other consumers. However, a report from the Brookings Institute found that net metering “frequently benefits all ratepayers when all costs and benefits are accounted for.” The report even states, “far from a net cost, net metering is in most cases a net benefit—for the utility and for non-solar ratepayers…. [D]istributed solar offers net benefits to the entire electric grid through reduced capital investment costs, avoided energy costs, and reduced environmental compliance costs.”
Solar energy is exploding nationally and globally. It is essential that our legislators see through the misinformation behind HB227 so that Kentucky is not left in the dust. Furthermore, given the threats facing younger generations—a destabilized climate, debilitating debt, and food and water insecurity— older generations are morally obligated to amplify our voices and legislators are morally obligated to listen to us. To start, that moral obligation includes calling your legislators and asking them to reject HB227. You don’t even have you know who your legislator is, just call the legislative message line ask to leave a message for them. Fighting for our future demands taking meaningful action to support young Kentuckians.
By Sadie Lawrence
Where We Are From
By Sadie Lawrence
We are from the dirt
A small seed
That has grown
From the earth
To a magnificent, towering oak
We are from the ashes
A fiery phoenix
That has risen
From the remains
To emerge burning and powerful
We are from the clouds
A thundering storm
That has formed
From electrical charge
To rain down strength and beauty
We are from the ground
A pounding river
That has washed away doubts
From the bank of our past
To flow clean and clear on the path to the future
It is my belief that we are all made from the same stuff. We are formed from the stardust leftover from when the universe erupted into existence. And we are all humans. We all want the best for ourselves and our children, our future.
Since I joined KSEC last semester, I have felt increasingly empowered to make my small part of the universe heard. I organized an art gallery last semester revolving around the theme “Problems and Solutions in the Community.” I also helped plan a Determination Rally with the Young Earth Activists Club at my high school advocating against the pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. And now I am working with KSEC’s Political Working Group to plan the Rise Up Kentucky Rally on February 12th in Frankfort.
This rally is all about making youth’s voices heard. We may be from fewer years, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about the looming future. In fact, I’ve heard from many of my peers and from personal experience that the future gives many young people a lot of anxiety. We’re not sure what to do next. We ask which stepping stone will be the most stable and sturdy? What will happen if we choose the wrong one?
When I am unsure about the next step to take, it’s easy to shut down and try to take comfort in knowing someone else could always fill my place. There are always other people with more passion and more knowledge. “It won’t matter what I do anyway. I’m just one person in a world of 7 billion.”
But the thing is, every single person counts. Every single person’s stardust is needed to make up the universe. Without it, the world we live in would be very different. Right now, this generation and those to come are being threatened by a changing climate, air and water pollution, and an economy that extracts our wealth and our health.
For me, KSEC gave me a way to combat that anxiety and gave me actions I can take to address the problems at hand. I have ways to contribute and ways to show people that I am not apathetic about my future. This is one of the goals of the upcoming Rise Up Kentucky Rally: to learn new tactics to resist threats. We are showing that KSEC has enabled youth in the past. That we have empowered young people before, and we are continuing to now. That our fight for the future won’t stop. And that there are ways for our stardust to shine in a darkening world.
By Cara Cooper, KSEC Statewide Organizer
It feels like I’ve been holding my breath a little bit since the 2016 election results. What will happen next? Where will the next threat hit us? It seems like there is no shortage of things happening to make me feel enraged. To be honest it’s been hard to keep up. The problem is that I can’t just become numb- decision makers need to hear from us. Often they only hear from paid lobbyists on the issues that impact us and even just mobilizing a few calls or letters can make a huge difference. We saw this earlier this year when KSEC and other solar advocates mobilized enough calls to Senator Carpenter that he pulled his bad solar bill off the docket. It can and has been done.
And on top of that I know that is on our generation to step up and shape our vision for a just and sustainable Kentucky because we are inheriting the responsibility of protecting our communities and natural resources for our future and the future generations. We can’t let ourselves get overwhelmed or to give in to the feeling of powerlessness. The only way that we are going to win is if we stand together and show that we are powerful and united across the state.
My face when I'm scrolling through all the bad news
That is why we need a rapid response network.
What if we had an easy way to identify the issues that we can have the most impact on, educate our friends about these issues across the state and mobilize dozens (or many, many more) responses as soon as a new threat arises? Now we can.
Our new Rapid Response Network (RRN) is a peer-to-peer texting network that will allow us to connect with members across the state who have agreed to take action when we need it most. We’re partnering with watchdog organizations in Kentucky to quickly learn about new issues as they pop up and recruiting a team of texters and responders to get the word out and to take quick, strategic action. With the RRN we can mobilize quickly to show our unity and power like never before.
What does the RRN look like?
Basically, watchdog organizations will alert a Rapid Response Network INITIATOR who will craft the action alert, gather resources and notify TEXTERS. Then our TEXTERS will send action alert text messages to our RESPONDERS using a peer-to-peer texting app called Relay and RESPONDERS will jump into action (anything ranging from making a phone call to the governor to submitting a letter to the editor to your local paper, to planning or attending a local vigil or rally). Don’t worry, TEXTERS will be there to support our RESPONDERS with resources and tools to make it easy. Read more about the roles here.
When we work together and mobilize simultaneously across the state there is no doubt in my mind that we will blow the minds of our legislators and other decision makers with our coordination and power. We might not be able to stop every new threat to our environment but we sure as hell can make our voices heard. #ForOurFuture
In order for this plan to be successful we need committed people to sign up and for everyone to take action. You can sign up to be an INITIATOR, TEXTER or RESPONDER and someone will follow up with you to answer any questions you have before getting started. The actions we take (or don’t) really matter right now.
Help us show that our generation is not apathetic and be a part of a real, tangible way to get your voice heard. Sign up now!
By KSEC Staff
Just talking about our vision for the new economy is not enough, we’ve got to get to work building it. That’s what the Solutions Summit is about. Getting connected and learning how to be active in the just transition. Whether you’re interested in starting a small business, learn to be an advocate for initiatives in your community or just want to feel connected to other young people who can envision something better, the Solutions Summit has something for you (especially if you’re between the ages of 14-30!). Check out this line-up!
Friday night we’ll kick off the evening around 6pm at the Benham Schoolhouse Inn (out of towners-we’ve got you covered with rooms, just make sure you register) and we’ll get to know each other a little bit over dinner. We’ll wind down the evening making some collective art and have some late night options for our night owls.
Saturday will be jam packed with learning and meeting awesome people who are already doing the work to build a new local economy in East Kentucky. We’ll start the day exploring what it means for an economic transition to be just and what we want to see for the economy of our communities. In KSEC we define a just transition as a transition to an economy that is good for workers, keeps wealth in our communities, and protects our natural resources. From there we’ll have an awesome keynote speaker and a panel highlighting several community members working towards diversifying the economy through local food, finance, and small business. After lunch we’ll have some workshops to help you learn more about how to build grassroots power (Grassroots Power Building 101 and The RECLAIM Act) or how to build the new economy (Worker Owned Cooperatives and Small Business Support). We’ll come back together over dinner and then enjoy the music of The Woodsheep.
Sunday will be a little slower paced with a couple of options for the morning to check out some cool things happening locally in Harlan County or to watch some of great videos produced by young people through the Appalachian Media Institute. Then we’ll come back together for a chance to wrap up the weekend, exchange contact information with our new friends and talk about how we can support each other in staying involved in the growing just transition movement. We’ll close out the weekend with a final meal together and head home to get to work!
By Cameron Baller: UK Greenthumb, Just Transition Working Group Steering Committee, Pipelines and Natural Gas Working Group
The 2016 presidential election threw every federal agency for a spin, few more so than the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). A little known agency, the FERC is responsible for regulating nuclear energy and oil and gas pipeline infrastructure, among other things. After Donald Trump was elected, members of the FERC leadership quit abruptly, leaving the agency without enough administrators to make decisions. They had been stuck in limbo, stalling all new regulations and decisions about pipelines. This purgatory is where the Kinder Morgan Pipeline project has been for the past few months… but no longer. This dangerous pipeline project is lurking under our radar and it is critical that we prepare now so that we can stop it in its tracks. Read on for more information and to learn how to join us in stopping this pipeline.
Not Kentucky’s First Rodeo
There is a storied legacy of companies trying to snake dangerous pipeline infrastructure through Kentucky. In 2013, the Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners proposed the Bluegrass Pipeline. In an effort to intimidate landowners into selling their land for the construction of the pipeline, the company told landowners that it would use eminent domain to take their land for the project, which would be a bad financial deal for the landowners. A broad array of constituents came together, including landowners, advocacy groups, policymakers, and even a group of singing nuns to fight the project. Several landowners formed a blockade, refusing to sell their land to the pipeline company, while other allies pursued legal action. In 2015, the Kentucky court system determined that the Bluegrass Pipeline could not use eminent domain to seize land for the project, functionally stopping the pipeline.
The court ruling hinged on a key fact: the pipeline was carrying natural gas liquids (NGLs) and NOT natural gas. NGLs are not methane and are not used primarily for energy. They are co-products that are obtained, along with methane, from the natural gas extraction process. Rather than being used for heat and power, they are used as inputs for plastics and chemical manufacturing. This distinction was critical in the court’s eminent domain decision. Another important distinction between NGLs and natural gas is that NGLs vaporize and, because of their relative weight, displace the air. In simple terms, this means that when an NGL pipeline leaks, the vapors could suffocate anyone and everyone within the leak area.
A New Pipeline Waiting to Strike
Not long after the Bluegrass Pipeline was defeated, Kinder Morgan began exploring their own NGL pipeline project. This time, the dangers are even more severe. The Tennessee Gas Pipeline is owned by a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan and has carried actual natural gas from South to North for over 70 years. Now, Kinder Morgan hopes to “abandon” this pipeline (to do so, it must first get the approval from the FERC) and then sell the pipeline to another one of its subsidiaries, the Utica-Marcellus Texas Pipeline (UMTP). UMTP would re-purpose the pipeline, flip the flow so that it goes from North to South, and send NGLs along the pipeline instead of natural gas.
There are a few important reasons this project is even more dangerous than the Bluegrass Pipeline. The existing pipeline is more than 70 years old, therefore subject to the normal wear and tear that 70 years of use will bring, and no longer meets today’s pipeline construction safety standards. In an area with geology as dangerous as Kentucky’s infamous karst, where sinkholes gobble up several Corvettes at a time, it is terrifying to think that we are considering transporting dangerous NGLs by pipeline, let alone transporting them through a pipeline so old and out of standard. Furthermore, they are both flipping the flow of the pipeline and sending new materials down it, these are both stressors that the pipeline has not been subjected to and could present unpredictable problems and an increased risk of leaks. Finally, Kinder Morgan observed and learned from the Bluegrass Pipeline fight. In re-purposing an existing pipeline, they may be able to utilize the existing land easements, circumventing the need for eminent domain. These tactics go against the clear demands of Kentuckians and require new and creative strategies in response.
Re-organizing in the New Landscape
In August, the FERC regained quorum after Trump appointed new commissioners to the agency. Given the political leanings of these appointees, we should not be surprised when they approve Kinder Morgan’s request to “abandon-in-place,” functionally granting the company a blank check to do the re-purposing. As the official comment period is over, and the die seem to be cast in terms of the FERC, it seems like the most important action now would be to prepare for that announcement and get out ahead of it. The good news is we are not beginning from scratch. Organizations across Kentucky have been working on this issue since the beginning, including the Kentucky Resources Council (KRC), Kentucky Heartwood, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, among others. However, organizing efforts have stalled as the FERC lost its ability to make decisions. It is essential that we now re-energize resistance efforts before it is too late.
With that goal in mind, the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition (KSEC) has created a new Pipelines and Natural Gas Working Group (PNWG), which is focused on stopping the Kinder Morgan Pipeline project. We plan to work with other state and campus organizations, local communities and government officials to create a multi-layered resistance effort sufficient to block the project. We cannot hope to tackle this issue alone. Following the lead of the Bluegrass Pipeline resistance movement, we hope be a part of creating a diverse resistance movement across the state that can demonstrate a unified voice against the pipeline. We are more powerful than Kinder Morgan, but only together. In the coming weeks and months, we will be reaching out to a variety of stakeholders and developing tactics that allow everyone to be a part of this resistance. For now, informing yourself on this issue and preparing to become a part of the response effort are critical. We will fight for our future and we will no longer be ignored.
The Young Kentuckian is a blog of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition where youth share their work and ideas for Kentucky's bright future.
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