Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Edwards tells Appalachian coalfield audience he's for a carbon limit, lower each year

Deep in the Central Appalachian coalfield this morning, presidential candidate John Edwards said the U.S. should put a limit on its emissions of carbon and reduce the limit each year so that emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas that causes global warming, are reduced 80 percent by 2050. A carbon limit is anathema to the coal industry, the region's major employer, but the industry's safety and environmental records make it controversial, and Edwards' remarks won applause from the crowd at Appalshop, the media and arts center in Whitesburg, Ky., and its Appalachian Media Institute for young people.

Edwards' comments came in response to a question from Nathan Hall, a Berea College student from Floyd County, who said he plans to return to the area to start a bio-fuel company. Edwards said the government should require permits for carbon emissions and auction them to “the polluters pay. … That money should be used to fuel your biofuel work” and other alternative fuels. “I’m glad you’re doing work on biofuels,” he told Hall. “That is the answer, ultimately.” Biofuels are big in Iowa, the first presidential voting state.

Edwards said a biofuel industry “can create at least a million new jobs” and the government can “direct the jobs to the places where they’re most needed,” with grants to train at least 150,000 a year, he said. “This is a great economic opportunity, and an opportunity that I think could have a real impact on this area,” he said. That would appear to require the commercial scale-up of technology to create ethanol from cellulose; Appalachia is heavily forested and raises little biofuel feedstocks such as corn and soybeans.

Stephenie Steitzer of The Courier-Journal reports that there was room for only 150 of the 300 people who showed up, so Edwards stood on top of a picnic table to address those who had waited outside and listened. "We so badly need Americans to understand that level of dignity and respect that people are entitled to," he said. "I don't know about you, but I actually believe in a country where everybody is entitled to the same level of respect. My father didn't go to college and worked in cotton mills all his life and is worth every bit as much as any president of the United States. I believe that, I will always believe it." (Read more)

Edwards is a former senator from North Carolina who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2004. He is on three-day tour to highlight his goal of eliminating poverty, and his final day retraces the steps of a poverty tour conducted by New York Sen. Robert Kennedy before he declared his presidential candidacy in 1968. His final stop is in Prestonsburg, Ky. (See previous blog postings.)

Some in the region "have mixed feelings" about Edwards' visit, reported Danielle Morgan of WYMT-TV in Hazard, the region's only commercial television station. Those feelings were also reflected in a story by Samira Jafari of The Associated Press bureau in Pikeville. At his first stop today, in Wise, Va., Edwards appeared conscious of concerns about how his trip might reflect on the area: “These challenges do not define the people of this area; It’s their strength and resilience, and continuing to show courage, that defines them.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader says today that much has changed in the region since Kennedy's visit: “Gone are the tar-paper shacks that dotted hillsides -- barely enough to ward off the cold of winter, even with coal stoves blazing inside. Outhouses are no longer the norm. And one-room schoolhouses are unheard of,” writes Cassondra Kirby, the paper's new reporter in Hazard. “Today, four-lane highways cut through the mountains, connecting residents with regional hospitals, community colleges, chain restaurants and retailers such as Wal-Mart. But poverty has not been whipped. High school dropout rates are still higher than in the rest of the state; per-capita income is comparatively low; and many lack access to public water and sewer systems.” Kirby's story, with help from Somerset reporter Bill Estep, focuses on ideas people in the region have for improving it. To read it, click here. (Thanks to the Herald-Leader for the photo of Edwards in Whitesburg, by Charles Bertram; and to Appalshop's WMMT for streaming coverage on its Web site.)

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