A Year after Historic Flooding in West Virginia, Documentary Photo Project Launched

West Virginia Rivers Coalition invites volunteers to document lasting flood impacts to the Elk River in pictures

Charleston, W.Va. – Marking the one-year anniversary of the devastating flooding that impacted many parts of West Virginia, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, a nonprofit organization focused on river conservation and restoration, is launching a crowd-sourced photo documentary project on one of the impacted rivers – the Elk River – to document lasting effects of the flood.

WV Rivers logoPeople interested in contributing to the project can go to WVRivers.org to download a free app to their phones called Water Reporter. The app allows users to upload photos to an online map, creating an inventory of potential cleanup projects. Anyone who spends time on or by the river is invited to contribute.

Although much of the Elk River is once again open for recreation, there are still dangerous spots containing debris like household appliances, tires, and home furnishings.

Executive Director Angie Rosser of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, observed, “Several affected communities still have a long way to go to fully recover. Seeing the river restored to its health and beauty is part of that healing process. This project is a way for people to help identify areas of the river itself that still need attention.”

The photo documentary will be on display during West Virginia Rivers’ Elkspedition Picnic & Paddle. Scheduled for Labor Day, Sept. 4, at Coonskin Park, the free event invites paddlers of all ages and skill levels to participate in a 3-mile float on the Elk River ending at Coonskin Park. Paddlers will be welcomed with a free picnic and family-friendly Elk River festival once they are off the river.

The Elkspedition Picnic & Paddle is part of the Waterkeeper Alliance’s SPLASH event series and benefits the West Virginia Headwaters Waterkeeper, a program of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. For information on the Elkspedition Picnic & Paddle and the Elk River photo documentary project, visit WVRivers.org.

For more information on the SPLASH Event Series, presented nationally by Toyota, please visit www.splashseries.org.

Courtesy article

N.C. Rep. Mark Meadows Opposes FISA Amendments Reauthorization

Congressman says law is being used to spy on Americans

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, which includes most of Western North Carolina, has issued a statement on his congressional website saying that the House Freedom Caucus Board opposes reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because the law is being abused to violate the constitutional rights of Americans.

Meadows Official Photo color

Rep. Mark Meadows (R, NC-11)

The brief statement on Meadows’ website says, “Government surveillance activities under the FISA Amendments Act have violated Americans’ constitutionally protected rights. We oppose any reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act that does not include substantial reforms to the government’s collection and use of Americans’ data.”

Meadows, a Republican and one of the most conservative members of Congress, is not alone in his criticism of the FISA Amendments. Journalists, constitutional experts and open-government advocates have all been sharply critical of the FISA Amendments, especially after it was revealed by Edward Snowden that the program was being used to spy on Americans. Indeed, the FISA Amendments were passed in 2008 following an investigation by The New York Times that revealed that the administration of President George W. Bush was conducting warrantless monitoring of calls and emails of people inside the United States; the FISA Amendments were presumably designed to allow the collection of data that had been exposed by the investigative report. Yet, as ProPublica reports, dozens of lawsuits brought about by the FISA Amendments have been filed because of alleged abuses of the law and ongoing concerns about its constitutionality.

At question is Section 702 of the FISA Amendments, which are set to expire at the end of this year unless Congress reauthorizes them. Section 702 spells out the provisions by which federal law enforcement agencies can monitor and collect data of individuals not on American soil. The section established the widely-cast net of surveillance programs that Snowden revealed in 2013 were being used to spy on Americans. Consequently, the FISA Amendments have come under criticism by an unusual coalition of conservatives, liberals and libertarians for violating the Fourth Amendment’s protections against warrantless searches.

President Trump has said that he supports reauthorization of the FISA Amendments, putting Meadows at odds with the party’s standard-bearer again. Meadows and the House Freedom Caucus he chairs effectively stalled the first attempt by the GOP to overhaul the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Meadows and his allies argued that the GOP replacement did not go far enough in overturning the ACA.

The known and unknown investigations about interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by the Russian government may complicate the debate over the FISA Amendments. For example, investigators learned of the contact by General Michael Flynn with Russians through a FISA warrant. Some legal experts say that the information gathered about Flynn was within the law.

And that, apparently, is the rub. Opponents to reauthorizing the FISA Amendments say that collecting information about Americans through a wide net – even if only incidentally – is simply too much of a threat to the constitutional rights of Americans. As Ohio Republican Jim Jordan asked, “Is 702 consistent with the Constitution? That’s the fundamental question.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Mural Project Highlights Endangered Species

Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel Featured in National Project

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The Center for Biological Diversity and Dogwood Alliance will host an event on Sunday, June 11 to celebrate the latest installment in the Center’s national endangered species mural project and the final piece in the Gateway Mural series marking the entrance into downtown Asheville below Interstate 240.

The event is scheduled for 3 – 5 p.m. at the underpass where Lexington Avenue crosses under Interstate 240 in downtown Asheville. The underpass is just north of Rosetta’s Kitchen on the Merrimon Ave side of the underpass.

The Carolina northern flying squirrel mural at Merrimon and Lexington avenues will be 90 feet long and 20 feet tall and is being painted this week. The national endangered species mural project highlights imperiled species of special significance to their regions.

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Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel – Credit: USWFS

“The Carolina northern flying squirrel is a beautiful little animal and really represents the forests and mountains of this area,” said Roger Peet, endangered species mural project coordinator. “The fact that its habitat is shrinking due to climate change makes it even more iconic for this moment in time and important to save from extinction.”

The flying squirrel mural is being painted by Portland, Ore. artist Roger Peet and Asheville artist Tricia Tripp.

“It makes my heart happy to be painting flying squirrels – I love these little animals,” Tripp said. “It’s an honor to be able to paint the final piece in the Gateway Mural.”

The event will include music by honky-tonk band Hearts Gone South. Along with the artists, Center scientist Tierra Curry and folk with the local conservation organization Dogwood Alliance will attend the mural celebration.

Carolina northern flying squirrels are secretive, nocturnal gliders found on mountain peaks in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia.
Named for the folds that stretch from their wrists to their ankles allowing them to “fly,” the squirrels are endangered because of threats to their high hardwood forest homes. The squirrels are survivors from the last Ice Age and prefer moist and cool conditions. They are tiny and social, often sharing nest cavities, and have flattened tails that make up 80 percent of their length.

The Center’s endangered species mural project has installed 12 murals in public spaces around the country. Regional murals already in place include a watercress darter in Birmingham, Ala.; a pink mucket pearly mussel in Knoxville, Tenn.; and a white fringeless orchid in Berea, Ky.

“The endangered species mural project brings together art, science and conservation to foster connections between human communities and imperiled wildlife, so we hope this mural inspires people to learn more about saving local endangered species,” said Tierra Curry, a scientist at the Center.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Courtesy Article

 

Matt Coffay Shares Progressive Outlook in Western NC Campaign Stop

Democratic candidate looks to take on entrenched and powerful incumbent Mark Meadows

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – With Donald Trump’s approval ratings at a record low, Democrats around the nation are licking their chops at the prospects of turning Congress back to Democratic control in 2018. The best evidence of that is right here in Western North Carolina in the solidly Republican 11th Congressional District. GOP Representative Mark Meadows of Cashiers, who is among the most conservative members of Congress and is chairman of the so-called House Freedom Caucus, has already had a Democrat file to unseat him.

Clearly getting an early start on the campaign, Matt Coffay of Buncombe County visited Lenoir on June 1. Coffay, 30, formally announced his candidacy on April 23 outside of Meadow’s office in Waynesville at a Medicare-for-All Town Hall organized by Coffay’s campaign. Coffay is the first Democrat in the district to file a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and has risen right at $30,000, almost entirely in small donations, according to his campaign.

Coffay at CCdP HDQ 2

Congressional candidate Matt Coffay speaks at the Caldwell County, NC Democratic Headquarters on June 1, 2017

Meadows was first elected to Congress in 2012 after the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly gerrymandered the district by drawing liberal-leaning precincts in Asheville out of the district. In addition to part of Buncombe County, the 11th District includes 15 other counties: Burke, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, McDowell, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Swain, Transylvania, and Yancy.

In his visit to Lenoir, Coffay unapologetically invoked the names of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in deeply red Caldwell County as he made his case to local residents. He held a two-hour town hall style event at Highland Coffee House on Main Street attended by about 30 residents; later, at Caldwell County Democratic Headquarters in downtown, Coffay spoke and fielded questions for well over an hour from about three dozen people.

Though the audiences were relatively small, Coffay confidently stated that he can beat Meadows through such retail politics. “I am really excited about what we’re doing.” He insisted that he is fully committed to going door-to-door. In fact, he said, even in places such as Henderson County – a place that traditional Democratic consultants say is a waste of time for Democratic candidates to visit because of its strong support for the GOP – he has heard residents complain about Trump and Meadows, and has seen a level of discontent that makes even the most loyal Republican consider voting for him. Hence, he promised, “I will not ignore any of the district when campaigning.”

We need more regular people in Congress, more citizen legislators, not career politicians.” – Matt Coffay

Yet, his campaign is not relying exclusively on retail politics. In fact, he pointed to the importance of social media; and, of course, cash. Lots of it. He explained, “With one phone call to the Koch brothers, Meadows will get all the money he needs.” So, Coffay insisted his campaign must – and will – raise $2 million.

A native of southern Appalachia – he grew up just a few miles south of the North Carolina state line in Blue Ridge, Ga. – Coffay moved to Buncombe County about a decade ago to venture into farming. After working “seven days and 80 hours a week,” he said it became clear that he simply could not succeed at farming because of unfair competition from corporations and the benefits they enjoy from the GOP-led Congress.

This experience, and his overall worldview that is informed by a concern for social and environmental justice, led him to help form an Our Revolution chapter in Asheville, which he said was the largest such chapter in the nation. Our Revolution is the outgrowth of the failed presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Its purpose is to continue the fight for the agenda articulated by Sanders during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries.

The influence of Sanders and the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party is obvious for one reading Coffay’s campaign literature. He says, “The hardworking people of this region have been let down by both parties over the years. Politicians do favors for big businesses, but leave small-town America to fend for itself. We have to do better than that.”

At both events, Coffay explained how he planned to do better. At the first stop, he said, “We need more regular people in Congress, more citizen legislators, not career politicians.” Later, at Democratic headquarters, he offered a very specific example – Meadows’ leadership to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Coffay called Meadows’ replacement legislation “an abomination.” Under the Meadows bill, said Coffay, 23 million Americans would lose health insurance, including more than 100,000 people just in the 11th District.

The Democratic Party has lost its way. … The biggest issue here is that the party does not have a message that resonates with the middle class and working class. What we need to be talking about it what values we are going to embrace for the 99 percent.” – Matt Coffay

His progressive outlook was also very evident in his remarks about the vital issues of the day, as he spoke about income inequality, education, infrastructure, healthcare, the influence of big money in politics, the environment and more.

Coffay supports a single-payer universal health care structure for all citizens based on the model of Medicare – a position now favored by a majority of Americans, according to recent polls. That is why Coffay stated with confidence, “There are no more safe districts. This is not a safe district (for Meadows).”

Coffay did not limit his criticism to Meadows. He also said, “The Democratic Party has lost its way.” He added, “The biggest issue here is that the party does not have a message that resonates with the middle class and working class. What we need to be talking about it what values we are going to embrace for the 99 percent.” That, he said, is why he favors the more progressive agenda set by Sanders.

Responding to a question regarding his stance on a possible war with North Korea or other nations, Coffay first responded, in exasperation, “I can’t believe we’re talking about this.” Several folks sitting in the room responded, “Yes, but we have to.”

Coffay replied, “We can’t ignore domestic issues. We have 43 million people living in poverty.” He pointed out that a war with North Korea would be costly in human lives and to the U.S. Treasury, arguing that a war would divert desperately needed money at home. He was critical of proposed cuts to the Veterans Administration in wartime. Still, he acknowledged, “If America is attacked, then of course we would have to respond somehow.” That led to a nuanced conversation with many in the audience regarding NATO and treaties with other nations that the U.S. pledges to support should they be attacked. He said that the U.S. should honor its treaties and commitment to NATO, but in light of the fact that NATO is based on a Cold War treaty nearly 70-years-old, that it is worth revisiting.

Still, he argued, the military must be used intelligently. “We are destabilizing the world with our military activities.” He noted also, referring to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, “Saudi Arabia provided the terrorists, yet we went to war with other nations.” So, said Coffay, terrorist attacks could be used again as an excuse to wage war based on the whims of the president, not strategic U.S. interests.

Coffay at CCDP HDQ 1

Congressional candidate Matt Coffay shares his views in Lenoir, NC on June 1, 2017

Returning to domestic priorities, Coffay called for a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure; transitioning from fossil fuels to sustainable, alternative energy sources such as solar; maintaining clean air, water and land for ecological reasons and to help ensure the region retains its appeal to tourists that visit Western North Carolina because of its natural and pristine beauty; lauded the working class and was relentlessly critical of corporate executives, saying, “Those people don’t do actual work. It’s time we have the discussion about these people who nearly destroyed our economy.”

Public education, too, must be a priority he said. “We have plenty of money. It’s just a matter of will.” He criticized efforts by the GOP to kill the public service provision for students who take out federal loans for college and can “pay” them off over 10 years by working in the public or nonprofit sector. Taking that incentive away will lead many college graduates to avoid those low paying jobs so that they can pay off their student loans, Coffay argued.

After Coffay and his campaign manager packed up to head to their next meeting, the mood in the Democratic Headquarters was much more upbeat than the night of the presidential election last year. Yet, some shared they felt that the voters of the 11th District are simply too conservative and committed to the GOP for Coffay or anyone else to have a chance against the powerfully entrenched Meadows. Others were more optimistic.

The split in the Democratic Party last year because of the Clinton-Sanders race seems to have abated. Winning, not ideological purity, is the goal, said many. Indeed, many said that so long as Coffay remains true to his values and the goals of Our Revolution, he would have their support. The losing campaign of Hillary Clinton seems to have convinced Democrats – at least in Caldwell County – that the worldview of Bernie Sanders and Matt Coffay are more aligned with traditional Democratic principles. And, that sticking to them will lead to victory in 2018.

Time will tell. Last November, nearly 360,000 people voted in the 11th District, with Meadows getting 64 percent of the vote. So, as Coffay said, “We have a lot of people to talk to.”

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017. 

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Soul Speak

A poem at Pentecost

By Michael M. Barrick

Cross by Aaron Burden

Credit: Aaron Burden

For Christians that follow a liturgical calendar, Pentecost is a commemoration of the beginning of the church, as read about in Acts 2: 1-11.  This poem, while originating from a long, ongoing dialogue about the Incarnation with a dear friend who is a Catholic priest, is certainly not intended only for the “religious.” It is my experience, in having friends of every faith or no faith, that there is something intangible that happens among friends and family that mystically connects us. This is one such expression of that phenomenon.

Soul Speak.
It is the language of the Incarnation.
To the rationalist, it is unintelligible; to the mystic, the native tongue.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that made and keeps me as one
with Sarah.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that prompts my confessor
to call or visit at the most unpredictable – but perfect – times.

Soul Speak.
It is the source of the compassion that compelled me
to apologize to Nan as her son – my friend – was dying.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that overwhelms me with tears
during morning prayers or while walking in the woods.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that compels me to approach strangers
with a smile.

Soul Speak.
It is the language of family and friends,
for those despairing and despondent.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that ignites the spirit of peace
through the arts.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that calls us to love all of humanity
with mercy, grace, and hope.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that compelled John to leap
in Elizabeth’s womb upon the greeting from Mary.

Soul Speak.
It is the language
of the Master of my heart.

© Michael Barrick, 2015 -17.

The Power behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Corporate Sway, Conflicts of Interest, and Revolving Doors

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The powerful forces pushing a controversial pipeline proposed for West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina include Dominion Energy and its influential CEO Tom Farrell, state politicians that are top recipients of Dominion donations, and an army of revolving door lobbyists, including a former EPA official, according to a new report.

The report, from the nonprofit watchdog group Public Accountability Initiative, examines corporate influence, political donations, revolving door lobbyists, regulatory conflicts, and the banks behind the controversial proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It is the third in a series that examines the power relations behind a range of controversial pipeline projects in the United States.

Money

The most powerful backer of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is Dominion Energy, an energy utilities company that has vast influence within Virginia and is one of the state’s biggest political donors. Dominion CEO Tom Farrell sits on multiple influential boards, has powerful family connections, and is one of the state’s biggest individual political donors.

Some of the most vocal supporters of the pipeline within Virginia politics have been the biggest recipients of Dominion donations. Dominion also has an army of revolving door lobbyists that have pushed politicians and regulatory agencies to support the pipeline. One of these lobbyists includes a former Environmental Protect Agency official, now working for Dominion.

It’s important that the public is aware of the power behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which includes a company that gives millions to state politicians and hires lobbyists with ties to elected officials and regulatory bodies.” – Derek Seidman

“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been widely unpopular with residents in Virginia and elsewhere who stand to be impacted by it,” said Derek Seidman, a research analyst at PAI and author of the report. “It’s important that the public is aware of the power behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which includes a company that gives millions to state politicians and hires lobbyists with ties to elected officials and regulatory bodies.”

Va DEQThere are other troubling signs of conflicts of interest and revolving door politics surrounding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Key members of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, who must review the pipeline proposal and make recommendations regarding its approval, have accepted gifts from Dominion personally or through their organizations, and one director appears to have previously represented Dominion as an attorney. Regulatory agency staff sit on multiple boards with members of Dominion management. Dominion’s CEO and Senior Vice President of Sustainability also served nearly eight years as Director of the Air Division of the Virginia DEQ.

“It’s worrying that the entities that must approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have ties to Dominion,” said Seidman. “With such a controversial project that could put nature and so many people at risk, there really needs to be more transparency and accountability behind regulatory efforts.”

The report also highlights the nearly three dozen banks who are lending to Dominion and Duke Energy, and who may profit off of the pipeline. Eighteen banks are lending to both of the corporations, and all but two of these banks are also helping to fund the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Duke Energy, the powerful North Carolina-based energy corporation, is the pipeline’s second biggest stakeholder.

To read the full report, go to: http://public-accountability.org/2017/06/the-power-behind-the-pipelines-atlantic-coast-pipeline/

(Courtesy Submission)

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Memorial Day not about Celebrating War, but Ending it

We honor those who gave ‘the last full measure of devotion’ by working for peace

By Michael M. Barrick

George Barrick

George M. Barrick Jr.

It was May 1950, about five years since Morgantown, W.Va. native Lt. George M. Barrick Jr. had returned from World War II, recipient of two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart for meritorious action and wounds received during the Battle of the Bulge. During those five years of peacetime, Lt. Barrick – a direct descendant of Morgantown, W.Va. (then Virginia) founder Colonel Zackquill Morgan – had graduated from West Virginia University with a Bachelor of Arts, received his commission as an officer in the U.S. Army, had fallen in love and started a family.

On May 12 1950, a short paragraph in the social pages of The Morgantown Post noted a visit by Lt. Barrick. It read, “Lieut. and Mrs. George Barrick and their infant son George Barrick III, arrived last night from Ft. Benning, Ga., to visit in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Max Mathers and Mrs. Margaret Barrick on Park street. Lieut. Barrick has been assigned to Japan for 30 months duty and will leave for San Francisco, May 29. Mrs. Margaret Barrick and Mathers Barrick (his brother) motored to Fort Mead, Md. to meet the visitors.”

Though it spoke of a new deployment, it did so without alarm. As it turned out, this brief account of a family gathering is also an account of the last time the family was together, for in less than two months, Lt. Barrick was dead, killed in action in Korea.

George jr and sara and son

George Barrick Jr. with his son, George III and wife, Sara, in Morgantown, W.Va. in May 1950.

The social announcement hinted at no such danger. Nearly five years since Japan’s unconditional surrender to Allied forces in August, 1945, the United States military continued to serve as an occupying force. So, the assignment seemed routine. That changed, however, on June 25 when North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel in overwhelming force, quickly capturing the South Korean capital and driving the surprised and disorganized army further and further south. Soon afterward, the United Nations condemned the action and authorized the use of force to repel the invasion. Based on this resolution, President Harry Truman ordered U.S. troops into the war. The closest – those overseeing the transition in Japan – were among the first to be airlifted into areas still under South Korean control, soon to be positioned in defensive positions among unfamiliar hills and valleys, with rifles and bazookas to hold off tanks.

So, in just over two months, a much different story was being told in the local newspaper. The Morgantown Post of July 26, 1950 carried this headline: “Local Officer Reported Missing in Korea Action.” Beside his photo, the newspaper reported, “This area’s first casualty of the Korean War was reported here today with the receipt of word that 2nd Lieut. George M. Barrick Jr., 26, has been missing in action since July 12.” The article continued, “Lieut. Barrick, son of Mrs. Margaret Barrick, was serving with the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division, the first American unit to go into action against the North Koreans.”

George and Mike Barrick

George Barrick Jr. (left) with his brother, Mike, ca. 1934

It wasn’t until November, 1950 that his family learned for certain that he had been killed. It was even longer before he returned home. Indeed, it was more than a year since his last visit in May. Again, the local paper tells the story. In the June 20, 1951 edition of The Dominion-News, the headline read, “Body of Hero Brought Home: Barrick Rites Set for Saturday.” Again accompanied with a photo of Lt. Barrick in his uniform, the first full paragraph read simply, “The last full measure of devotion.”

The account continued, “Home yesterday from the faraway battlefield in Korea on which he died last July fighting under the country’s colors accompanied by a military escort, came the body of Lieutenant George Milton Barrick Jr., son of Mrs. Margaret Mathers Barrick and grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Max Mathers of this city.”

Max Mathers holds George Barrick Jr

Max Mathers with his great-grandson, George Barrick III in May, 1950.

After detailing funeral arrangements, the story continues, “Lieutenant Barrick was one of the most popular young men to reside in this city. He was a direct descendent of Colonels Zackquill Morgan and John Evans, Revolutionary War heroes and pioneer settlers of what later became Morgantown and Monongalia County.” The account revealed, “He was killed while commanding an ammunition and pioneer weapons platoon of the Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Division.”

He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on June 25, 1951, one year to the day that the Korean War began. Those present at his funeral Mass prayed, “O Jesus our Savior….Grant peace and eternal rest to the souls of all who were engaged in this whirlwind of war and were swept unto death.” Now, 67 years since these events unfolded, with peace still quite tenuous on the Korean Peninsula and around the world, there is no greater time to pray and work for peace – so that accounts of pleasant family gatherings such as those from May 1950 are not nullified by battlefield dispatches just two months later. Such prayers and efforts make the sacrifice of Lt. Barrick – and every person who has given “the last full measure of devotion” – worthy of honor.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2016-17. The author is the nephew of Lt. Barrick.

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Praying [Stefan Kunze]

Credit: Stefan Kunze

Tom Perriello for Virginia Governor

Mr. Perriello demonstrates courage and leadership that are too rare

By Michael M. Barrick

Perriello_Official_Portrait_(cropped)

Tom Perriello

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia voters will go to the polls on June 13 to select nominees for governor. For those that care about the human and environmental health of Virginia, and for those that have devoted their lives to stopping the ill-advised Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Appalachian Chronicle believes the evidence is clear – Democratic candidate Tom Perriello is the best choice for Virginians and their neighbors.

While the race will be watched closely with those obsessed about reading political tea leaves and what it means about upcoming national election cycles in 2018 and 2020, many folks in Virginia – as well as neighboring West Virginia and North Carolina – have far more immediate concerns. They wish to protect their families, homes and communities from the inevitable, permanent and negative impacts upon human and environmental health that will be caused by the pipelines.

Mr. Perriello is an ally of those fighting fracking and the pipelines. He has issued position papers on the environment and building a clean energy future which are based in sound science and reject profit over people. Indeed, in taking on Richmond-based Dominion Energy, he has clearly demonstrated courage.

On Leadership

What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” – Pope Francis

A couple of years ago, I was asked by a well-known environmental group to speak to the relevance of the ecological encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” by Pope Francis as it applies to Appalachia.

This group clearly understands the root cause of the problems we face. It didn’t take long for several people to assert that the most important statement in the encyclical was not about the environment, but leadership. In paragraph 57 of the encyclical, Pope Francis asks, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” In fact, as his is blunt nature, the pope said also, “We lack leadership” (no. 53).

That is the first reason Virginia and Appalachian residents need Mr. Perriello to be the next governor of Virginia. He has demonstrated the leadership required by the times.

Shenandoah Mountain

Shenandoah Mountain, Va. If approved, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would forever mar this land. Photo by Brad Striebig. 

The second reason is that the state agencies charged with protecting the environment are simply not doing it. Dozens of groups and thousands of residents of Virginia have been denied critical information. Mr. Perriello has promised to return transparency and proper enforcement to Virginia government. One example of why this is so critical just came in from Rick Webb, the program coordinator for the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, based in Monterey.

In an email, Webb wrote, “The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality announced on April 6th that it would conduct full, site-specific regulatory reviews for both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline under the Clean Water Act and state law.” He revealed, however, “DEQ officials now say (seven weeks later) that inaccurate information was provided to the public, and that the DEQ will instead rely on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to examine stream crossings, which will number in the hundreds for each project.”

Webb continued, “DEQ’s current backpedaling is but the latest manifestation of Dominion’s resistance to providing site-specific plans for agency and public review. Dominion doesn’t want the public to understand the real impact of the project until after it has its approvals in hand. The same is no doubt true for the MVP developers.”

Mr. Perriello has pledged to require state agencies to do their jobs. That begins with holding Dominion and its partners accountable. To that end, we are hopeful that Mr. Perriello would embrace the Precautionary Principle to justify placing a moratorium on pipeline development, fracking and related activities.

The Precautionary Principle, according to the Science & Environmental Health Network, asserts, “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.” It is a philosophy embraced by public and environmental health experts the world over.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

As Pope Francis wrote, “This precautionary principle makes it possible to protect those who are most vulnerable and whose ability to defend their interests and to assemble incontrovertible evidence is limited. If objective information suggests that serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified, even in the absence of indisputable proof. Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective and conclusive demonstrations will have to be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it” (no. 186).

This is the third reason that we support Mr. Perriello. His many position papers demonstrate an overarching, preferential concern for the poor and vulnerable.

Mr. Perriello has demonstrated leadership. He is standing with the people. We hope the people of Virginia will stand with him on Election Day – in June and November.”

Mr. Perriello has risked his political career by aligning himself with the people, with human health, and with the environment in direct defiance of the wishes of Dominion Energy. This election is an opportunity for the people of Virginia to honor not Dominion, but the best characteristics of the Old Dominion – concern for one’s neighbor, an understanding of the value and beauty of the land, and a fierce determination to maintain individual liberty.

A vote for Mr. Perriello will accomplish that. His courage is rare and a good reason alone to endorse him. He is clearly the best candidate to protect human and environmental health. Finally, he understands that our problems are symptomatic of a much more dangerous problem our nation faces – the lack of solid, authentic, courageous leaders. Well, Mr. Perriello has demonstrated leadership. He is standing with the people. We hope the people of Virginia will stand with him on Election Day – in June and November.

© The Appalachian Chronicle, 2017.

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Mountaintop Removal’s Health Impacts Examined

National Academy of Sciences to hold forum in Logan to examine impact of MTR on human health

Courtesy Submission

LOGAN, W.Va. – Three citizens’ groups that for decades have called for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining are urging their members and concerned citizens to speak up on the human health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining during a May 23 town hall meeting hosted by a study committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

MTR 2_OVEC

Mountaintop Removal in W.Va.

As reported in the Charleston Gazette in August, 2016, the committee is charged with examining “a ‘growing amount of academic research’ that suggests ‘possible correlations’ between increased public health risks for Appalachian residents and living near mountaintop removal coal mining.”

The May 23 meeting is the second meeting of the committee as it seeks public input. It takes place at the Chief Logan Lodge, Hotel and Conference Center, 1000 Conference Center Drive here. The committee is to examine the potential human effects of surface coal mining operations in Central Appalachia. Citizens commonly refer to all large surface coal mines as mountaintop removal operations.

The meeting consists of two parts, beginning at 12:35 p.m. with an “open session” where panelists will make presentations to the committee. If registered in advance, the public will be able to attend, but not ask questions during the open session, which ends at 4 p.m. The deadline to register in advance was Friday, May 19.

The Town Hall forum at 6:30 requires no RSVP; opportunities to speak to the committee (3 minutes each) will be reserved at a first-come, first-serve basis. Please show up early to get your place in line!

Panels include one with representatives of state agencies and one with coal industry representatives. Also on a panel are representatives of the three groups urging their members to speak up—Coal River Mountain Watch, OVEC (the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition), and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

The second part of the meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. with a “town hall forum,” held, according to NAS, to “gain insights and information from people living in the surrounding communities. The National Academies study committee invites community members to attend and share their perspectives on this topic. The focus of the study is people living near coal-mining areas rather than on occupational health of coal mine workers.”

Later in the summer, meetings will be held in other states. People may also comment online.

“Mountaintop removal has ravaged the health of our communities for far too long,” says Coal River Mountain Watch executive director Vernon Haltom. “Enough solid science now tells us what common sense has told us for years: that breathing the fine, glassy silica dust from mountaintop removal sites is hazardous to our health. This ongoing practice needs to end now, and we hope the NAS committee comes to that conclusion for the sake of public health.”

“A serious review of the dozens of health studies that have been conducted this past decade is long overdue and much appreciated,” says Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “We encourage the National Academies team to listen carefully to the community voices whose stories and fears will impress upon you the importance and urgency of your review and recommendations.”

Haltom and Rank are two of the environmental group panelists. They will be joined by Natalie Thompson, OVEC’s executive director.

“The blasting, the worry about the next flood, the loss of your homeplace and community, these and more take a heavy toll on health,” says Vivian Stockman, OVEC’s vice director. “The NAS committee is asking to hear from the public – unlike so many politicians – so please come tell them what you know about what mountaintop removal does to your health and wellbeing.”

Background:

People living near mountaintop removal operations have long claimed that this extreme method of coal mining is making them sick. In 2004, for the draft environmental impact statement on mountaintop removal /valley fill coal mining (MTR), citizen groups compiled people’s statements about their health and wellbeing and MTR.

As the movement to end mountaintop removal grew, people’s demands that the health concerns be addressed grew, too. While politicians kept their heads in the sandresearch accumulated, corroborating what residents were (and still are) saying: MTR is really bad for human health.

MTR rally participants 2

Participants in The People’s Foot Rally Photo ©Chuck Wyrostok/AppaLight.com

People have pushed copies of all the studies into politician’s hands, in Charleston and in D.C. Folks have educated one another. Legislation, the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) Act, has been introduced in the U.S. Congress. Rallies have been held. One of them, The People’s Foot, finally struck a chord. According to the Charleston Gazette, “The federal scientific effort also comes after West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Secretary Randy Huffman surprised citizen groups in March 2015—on the eve of a protest planned at his agency’s headquarters—by publicly saying that the health studies needed to be more closely examined by regulators, and the commitment less than a week later by Huffman and state Public Health Commissioner Dr. Rahul Gupta for a review of the issue.”

The NAS study wasn’t formally announced until 2016. News articles noted that the study came at the request of the WV DEP.  It was citizen pressure that brought DEP to finally make that request.

We urge citizens to keep up the citizen pressure. Come out May 23 in Logan, or come to one of the other upcoming meetings in other states, or send in comments.

For additional information, contact:

Vernon Haltom, CRMW, 304-952-4610 or vernon@crmw.net
Cindy Rank, WVHC, 304-924-5802 or clrank2@gmail.com
Vivian Stockman, OVEC, 304-522-0246 or vivian@ohvec.org