Our youth have put the gun lobby on its heels
LENOIR, N.C. – Saturday’s March For Our Lives in Lenoir – and beyond – was inspiring to the point of tears. And I wasn’t even there.
I was bummed about that, but I had a good reason – I was with Art Sherwood in Morganton at the Burke County Democratic Party County Convention. Art is running for the North Carolina State Senate and I’m honored to guide his campaign.
So, while I would have been thrilled to join our county’s youth yesterday, I know the best thing I can do to help them achieve their objective of putting an end to mass murder in our public schools (and elsewhere) is work to elect the type of people who will pass legislation banning assault weapons, putting much greater restrictions on gun shows and other measures. Art is such a man.
Still, it is not lost on me who the true leaders in our nation are now. Most of them look to be under 19-years-old. They have done something that no politician has had the courage to do. They have declared war on the gun lobby and put it on the defensive.
We must heed their pleas.
Schools were not designed with urban combat in mind; they were designed for teaching and learning.
I know they are right. I have the experience to make that claim.
I am a retired classroom teacher who also holds a post-graduate certificate in Community Preparedness and Disaster Management from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. I have written, led and participated in more than one Active Shooter Exercise (for schools and hospitals). There is one thing I can tell you for certain: Our children are vulnerable as hell.
The open classroom design that some schools have make children sitting ducks. There is no place to shelter-in-place. Even schools with traditional classrooms, no matter how well secured, are easy targets for a determined individual.
Schools were not designed with urban combat in mind; they were designed for teaching and learning.
The students know this. Therefore, they are in the streets. They know that school systems cannot – and should not – be expected to provide them the level of safety required. Those in the public schools, after all, are trained to teach children. They are not trained in urban warfare.
In short, the shootings can’t really be mitigated on the school end. Yes, having a police officer on campus is common now, and as we’ve seen recently, a potentially effective way to reduce the number of deaths.
But it isn’t enough. We must eliminate them.
We must address the root cause before it enters the schoolhouse doorway. That’s what the students are demanding. They just want what all of us want – to live as long as possible, and certainly not to be cut down in their youth.
While they’ve got the gun lobby on its heels, let’s join them and help finish the job. It is time for a reckoning. The gun lobby has blood on its hands and it knows it. Unlike Pontius Pilate though, they cannot wash their hands clean.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Art Sherwood says sacrificing school children to protect weapons of war is outrageous; also slams gun lobby and idea of arming teachers
LENOIR, N.C. – Art Sherwood, the Democratic candidate for North Carolina State Senate District 46, today expressed outrage that school children are being murdered at astounding rates while the gun lobby and their Republican allies continue to insist on allowing civilians access to weapons of war.
Sherwood said, “While I commend school systems, law enforcement, mental health experts and social workers for working together to protect our children, the truth is – as evidenced by the relentless, ongoing school shootings – that these efforts are not enough.”
Sherwood continued, “Students across the nation have been demanding more action to protect them from mass murder. To turn a deaf ear to them, to continue to ignore the abhorrent and uncivilized killings made all too easy by lax gun laws is to abdicate our moral responsibility to ensure that, first and foremost, our schools are safe.”
Sherwood noted, “One of the primary reasons I decided to run for the state senate was to protect North Carolina’s public schools. First, however, we must sadly start with this most distressing matter of protecting the lives of our students and public school personnel from mass murder!”
In response to the epidemic of school and other domestic terrorist assaults such as those in Florida and Nevada, Sherwood said, “I support a ban on assault rifles and placing strict limits on gun shows. I also encourage schools and school systems to establish Human Relations Councils that include students that are empowered to address bullying, bigotry and other root causes of violence. Educational, mental health, law enforcement and other professionals can also work closely together to mitigate threats. Relying upon Active Shooter exercises – while appropriate preparedness – still signals that we are not tackling the essential questions. For instance, are we really trying to figure out what is making our young people so violent?”
… we must ask of ourselves why are so many people willing to accept the growing body count of children and adults. When are we going to ask the fundamental question that the gun lobby doesn’t want to hear – How many children must die before military weapons are taken out of the hands of civilians? – Art Sherwood
He continued, “Even more importantly, we must ask of ourselves why are so many people willing to accept the growing body count of children and adults. When are we going to ask the fundamental question that the gun lobby doesn’t want to hear – How many children must die before military weapons are taken out of the hands of civilians?
Sherwood also addressed the suggestion that teachers be armed, an idea advocated recently by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos said “There is a sense of urgency needed.” Sherwood countered, “Urgency is needed; it has been since at least Columbine! However, what is urgent is what the Republicans and gun lobby opposes – reasonable restrictions on guns. Arming teachers is reactionary. Teachers are not trained how to use firearms. They should be provided with safe schools so that they can do what they are trained to do – teach our children.”
He concluded, “Every time I see, hear or read of another school shooting, I have to ask, ‘How could anyone think owning an assault rifle is more important than a single child’s life?’”
Senate District 46 includes Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties.
To contact the campaign, call or email:
Michael Barrick, Campaign / Communications Director*
Citizens for Art
DISCLOSURE: Barrick is also owner of this publication.
Many West Virginians suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome
By Michael M. Barrick
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – It was 110 years ago today that the greatest coal-mining disaster in United States history occurred in the small mining town of Monongah in northern West Virginia.
On December 6, 1907, at about 10:30 a.m., two coal mines – connected underground – known as Monongah No. 6 and Monongah No. 8, were destroyed by a series of explosions that killed more than 500 miners. While the official count listed 358 miners and three rescuers dead, the use of subcontractors by miners to increase their production, as well as the number of funerals, have lead historians to conclude that the number of dead likely exceeds 500. Located just south of Fairmont, the mines – owned by the Fairmont Coal Company – rocked the earth, destroyed the mines’ infrastructure, and sent debris flying hundreds of yards above ground as it obliterated above-ground entrances and buildings.
The disaster affected every person in the town, which was built along the banks and hillsides surrounding the West Fork branch of the Monongahela River. Despite its small size and hard living, it was a diverse community, made up of nearby residents but also a vast number of immigrants from Central and Southern Europe. By 1905, Monongah had about 6,000 residents.
There is plenty of evidence that West Virginians suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome, ‘a psychological response wherein a captive begins to identify closely with his or her captors, as well as with their agenda and demands.’
Such human tragedy, unfortunately, has left many lessons unlearned. In fact, it suggests that a vast majority of West Virginians suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome.
That was made abundantly clear yesterday with the report by West Virginia Public Broadcasting that “Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has officially filed paperwork to run for U.S. Senate in West Virginia.” Yes, that’s the same Don Blankenship that got by with murder, as I wrote here about the 29 coal miners that died in the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mining disaster on April 5, 2010. He is out of prison from his paltry one-year sentence for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards.
The timing of his filing is beyond ironic; it is downright contemptible.
Just as miners were changing shifts that early spring afternoon in 2010 at the UBB coal mine, an explosion roared through the mine. Instantly, the 29 miners working for Massey Energy were dead, families were devastated and communities of southern West Virginia were forever changed.
Clearly, since technology has improved to the point that major mining disasters simply need not happen, the problem is not with the science of deep mining; it is with the culture that guides the crony capitalism which has dominated West Virginia since the beginning of the industrial age.
West Virginians and the Stockholm Syndrome
Unfortunately, it is just not industrialist and politicians who are to blame; so too are many West Virginians. They simply vote against their own interests. It would not surprise me if Blankenship wins the Republican primary and defeats the Democratic incumbent, Joe Manchin III. Regardless of how the campaign plays out, there is plenty of evidence that West Virginians suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome, “a psychological response wherein a captive begins to identify closely with his or her captors, as well as with their agenda and demands,” according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
This notion was recently shared with me by a very frustrated mayor in a small West Virginia town long-ago abandoned by the coal companies, leaving behind a dying community and destroyed landscape in a once-beautiful valley carved out by numerous rivers. One might take issue with the mayor’s claim, which is based on his disgust with the overwhelming support that West Virginia voters gave President Trump and Governor Jim Justice, who this past summer switched to the Republican Party after being elected as a Democrat last year. Justice is also the state’s only billionaire.
What is not debatable, however, is the deadly history of the coal industry in West Virginia. That Blankenship has the audacity to file for office, exactly 110 years after the Monongah tragedy, suggests that West Virginia is full of people essentially saying, “Abuse me. Please.”
What happened at Upper Big Branch
This was the blunt conclusion of the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel (GIIP) about UBB. Among the panel’s findings:
• The disaster was preventable because basic safety systems failed and/or were disregarded;
• These failure of safety systems was caused by a corporate culture by mine operator Massey Energy that put profits before safety;
• Massey Energy was able to operate with such a corporate culture because its dominant influence in the West Virginia coalfields allowed it to exert inordinate influence on West Virginia political officials responsible for ensuring mine safety; and,
• Those with regulatory oversight at both the state and federal levels failed in their roles as watchdogs.
In short, it is business as usual in the West Virginia coalfields. From the worst mining disaster in U.S. history, to the most recent disaster at Upper Big Branch, the words of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones are as appropriate today as when she first spoke them roughly a century ago – “There is never peace in West Virginia because there is never justice.”
At Monongah, both mines were less than 10 years old and were producing in excess of 12,000 tons of coal a day by the time of explosion. They were also considered state-of-the art. “Mines No. 6 and 8 both employed the most up-to-date, sophisticated ventilation systems.” (McAteer 64). John Nugent, the Immigration Commissioner for the State of West Virginia affirmed an advertisement made by The Consolidated Coal Co., Inc. seeking immigrant help. The mines, the company claimed, were, “Practically free from explosive gases.” (McAteer 74).
Obviously, the advertisements were mistaken or false. Thus, the all-too cozy relationship between operators and those charged with regulating them was formed. As the UBB GIIP reports, that has remained unchanged a century later. While the exact cause of the Monongah explosion was never determined – as much for political as scientific reasons – there was no mistaking that the influence the mining owners enjoyed with local and state politicians ensured that the operators’ interests – profits – always trumped the miners’ interests – a safe working environment.
When the explosion occurred, 19 coal cars (each loaded with two tons of coal), being pulled out of the bowels of the mine broke free and crashed 1,300 feet back into the mine portal. The runaway cars broke lose electrical wiring, destroyed structures and ultimately disrupted the ventilation system. “At that instant, from deep within the mine an explosion rumbled, a terrible explosive report rocketing out of both mines, rippling shocks through the earth in every direction. … A second explosion followed immediately, and at the No. 8 mine entrances explosive forces rocketed out of the mine mouth like blasts from a cannon, the forces shredding everything in their path” (McAteer 116).
Blaming the Victims
Even though an exact cause was not immediately known or even determined, it was not long before the miners themselves were made the scapegoats. Fairmont Coal Company President C. W. Watson immediately capitalized on the anti-immigrant feelings of the time, telling the New York Times almost immediately after the disaster that “… he could not account for the ignition of the dust unless it had been through careless use of an open lamp” (McAteer 158).
Conversely, Clarence Hall, a leading expert on mine explosions at the time, was in nearby Pennsylvania when the catastrophe occurred. He stated, “When I enter a mine these days it is with fear and trembling. We seem to know so little of these gas and dust explosions. Sometimes I feel the poor miner has not a ghost of a show for his life when he enters a mine.” (McAteer 159)
Tragedy upon Tragedy
There were no organized rescue teams in U.S. mines at the time. However, the dangers to the rescuers, along with the reality that the effort was a recovery effort for dead miners allowed for time to organize miners and volunteers. Of course, rescue efforts – such as repairing the ventilation systems in the hopes of removing the deadly gases from the mines – were heroic, if unsuccessful. “What has to be said is that the rescue efforts were not successful and the equipment provided to miners to ensure their escape was inadequate” (McAteer 264).
It soon became apparent to the rescuers and stunned families of the miners gathering on the Monongah hillsides that the force of the blast, the lack of oxygen, and the instability of the mine combined for a horrible reality – virtually all those in the mine had perished. Recovered bodies were a horrid site to behold. Mine explosions “…inflict multiple-system life threatening injuries on many persons simultaneously. When the explosion is of a high order of magnitude, it can produce a defining supersonic, overpressurization shock wave” (McAteer 131).
Injuries include damaged or destroyed lungs, blunt force trauma to the head and body, ruptures of the middle ear and eye, and damage to internal organs. Those that survive those injuries generally die from suffocation as lethal gases are released following the explosion. Rescuers, too, were at great risk. In addition to the instability of the mine and lack of oxygen, rescuers had no personal protective equipment or breathing devices. “Imagine a handful of reckless, bedraggled men going into the cavern with lanterns with sulfurous fumes in their faces dragging out the charred bodies of men, some with their faces burned off. That is what Monongah looked like. …In some instances the bodies were perfectly preserved and recognition was immediate; in other cases, the bodies were so badly disfigured or mutilated, identification was impossible.” (McAteer 143).
An Unholy Alliance
Motivated by the example of John D. Rockefeller, who in the late 19th Century controlled much of the world’s oil resources, financiers from outside of West Virginia collaborated with well-connected Mountain State elected officials, judges, municipal leaders and state and local law enforcement to extract coal from its mountains, leaving not even the dignity of the coal miners intact. “The fact that the Fairmont companies, led by the Monongah mines, paid lower wages across the board meant that the three mines could sell their coal at a lower rate and thereby capture an increasing share of the markets, threatening the wages and unionization in the other states” (McAteer 101). Indeed, by the turn of the century, three men – U.S. Senators Johnson N. Camden and Clarence Watson, as well as Judge A. B. Fleming, controlled all of the mines along the Monongahela River in West Virginia, as well as the railroad lines.
Meanwhile, the company fought efforts to compensate the surviving family members of the dead miners. This is not surprising, as “In the early 1900s, families of miners who died in a mine accident or disaster had nothing in the way of economic protection and little legal recourse following a mine disaster. This was especially true in West Virginia where the coal interest was entwined with every facet of the state’s political, economic, social and legal systems” (McAteer 212).
Companies also vigorously – and successfully – opposed unionization efforts for decades. “The powerful elite of West Virginia on both Democrat and Republican side of the aisle united in their opposition to union organization efforts, and after seeing the success of the Fairmont Consolidation Company, the southern West Virginia mine operations that wished to build on the success met in secret to decide on some general plan of resistance to union encroachments based on the successful strategy employed at Monongah” (McAteer 113).
So, politicians debated and dithered. Meanwhile, miners continued to die at alarming rates. In fact, “On November 20, 1968, the Farmington Mine, a mine not five miles from the Monongah mine in the same Pittsburgh seam owned by the same company, Consolidation Coal Company, exploded, trapping seventy-eight miners” ( McAteer 262). Though federal legislation followed that disaster – the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 – the unholy alliance between coal officials and West Virginia elected leaders continued – and does to this day. For proof, we need look no further than the UBB disaster.
We know we should learn from history. Yet, as we consider the human suffering inflicted upon the people of Monongah 110 years ago, and upon those of Upper Big Branch, Farmington, Buffalo Creek, Sago, Blair Mountain, and countless other communities since, we must conclude that we have not.
This should give us pause. The West Virginia state motto is Montani Semper Liberi – “Mountaineers are Always Free.” Though they may think they are, they are mistaken. In reality, my friend the mayor is right. The proud people of the Mountain State are not free; rather, as the Stockholm Syndrome illustrates, they “identify closely” with their crony capitalist captors and their demands.
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014 – 2017. Michael M. Barrick is a native of Clarksburg, W.Va. He has lived also in Weston and Alum Bridge. He presently writes from his home in Western North Carolina, but continues to visit and work in his home state.
David McAteer, Monongah: The Tragic Story of the 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster (Morgantown, W.Va: West Virginia University Press, 2007).
Upper Big Branch: The April 5, 2010 explosion: a failure of basic coal mine safety practices (Shepherdstown, W.Va: Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel, May 2011).
The Sago Mine Disaster: A preliminary report to Governor Joe Manchin III (Buckhannon, W.Va: Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel, July 2006).
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Criticized for Failing to Properly Study Pipeline Impacts
Experts submit reports; more than 10,000 signatures from citizens delivered
MONTEREY, Va. – A group of thirteen expert scientists and engineers submitted reports to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on August 22, finding that the DEQ has failed in its duty to properly analyze and protect against the water quality damages the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) would cause to Virginia’s waters.
If approved, the two 42-inch pipelines will traverse through hundreds of miles of Virginia. The ACP would originate in northern West Virginia before ending roughly 600 miles later in southeastern North Carolina. The MVP would also originate in northern West Virginia, traverse hundreds of miles through that state before crossing into Virginia, will it will terminate. The adverse impact upon public health and the environment by the construction and operation of the pipelines has led the tens of thousands of groups and individuals across the Commonwealth and beyond to oppose their construction.
In the reports, one issued for each of the pipelines, the authors wrote that they had reviewed the information DEQ claimed to rely upon in its draft Water Quality Certifications (WQCs) and made their own independent assessments. The experts’ conclusion in each case:
DEQ’s draft WQC, which asserts that there is a “reasonable assurance” that Water Quality Standards (WQS) will be met with the conditions contained in that draft, cannot be supported by the evidence in the record and pertinent scientific authorities and knowledge. Such a finding in the Department’s recommendation to the State Water Control Board (SWCB) would be professionally incompetent and would fail to meet minimum standards of scientific proof.
The authors of the expert report have a vast depth of experience and training (nearly 400 years in professional and academic posts overall) in the entire range of scientific and technical fields pertinent to DEQ’s decisions on the pipelines. They include the incoming president of the American Fisheries Society, a member of the Virginia Cave Board, and former senior engineers and scientists at the Virginia DEQ, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the Maryland Department of the Environment. The group includes licensed professional engineers and geologists, professors from Virginia Tech and Washington and Lee University, authors of hundreds of peer-reviewed academic papers, and those who’ve served as expert witnesses in court for DEQ and other state and federal agencies. A complete list of the authors is included below.
“The authors of this report used strong language in our criticism of the proposed findings DEQ has made in its draft Certifications for the pipelines, because we are frankly dismayed to see an agency that’s supposed to base regulatory decisions on science and law ignore the facts and betray the public,” said David Sligh, Conservation Director of Wild Virginia and a Regulatory Systems Investigator for the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC). The two groups included the expert reports as part of extensive submittals to DEQ during the comment periods that ended yesterday.
Rick Webb, DPMC’s Coordinator said, “We are not criticizing the dedicated technical employees at DEQ and the other state agencies who’ve studied the potential impacts from the hugely-disruptive projects. In fact, we cited the recommendations agency staff made in previous comments in which they explained why much more data and analyses were needed before protection of state waters could be assured, as the law requires; that permanent damages to our waterbodies could result and residents’ wells and springs ruined without additional information and protective measures.”
“What we are criticizing is the McAuliffe administration’s regulatory proposals, which ignore the concerns and devalue the expertise of their own technical staff,” stated Sligh. “DEQ must not proceed with flawed and scientifically-unsupported recommendations to the State Water Control Board to approve Certifications for either project. If Director Paylor, Secretary of Natural Resources Ward, and the Governor mandate such an approach, then the members of the Water Control Board must play their roles as protectors of the public and reject those recommendations.”
The reports’ authors include: Dr. Paul L. Angermeier, Ralph Bolgiano, Malcolm CameronHE, David Collins, P.E., Ari Daniels, Dr. Pam Dodds, P.G., Dr. David Harbor, Robert K. Johnson, Rick Lambert, William Limpert, Dr. Brian Murphy, David Sligh and Rick Webb. For more information, including access to the complete expert report on the ACP and additional DPMC reports on the draft 401 Water Quality Certification, visit the DPMC website.
10,000 Comments Delivered to DEQ by Environmental Groups
Also on Tuesday, experts, landowners, and environmental groups from across the Commonwealth gathered at DEQ headquarters in Richmond to deliver thousands of public comments related to DEQ’s 401 water certification process.
The comments, collected by the Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Appalachian Voices, Bold Alliance, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, and Oil Change International urged the DEQ to do more in order to meet the agency’s obligations to protect Virginia’s water sources from natural gas pipeline construction and operations.
“DEQ’s draft Certification is legally and scientifically indefensible,” David Sligh, former Senior Engineer at Virginia’s DEQ, said. “The processes DEQ has conducted have been unfair and inadequate to satisfy the Governor’s promises of thorough and transparent regulatory reviews. The State Water Control Board cannot certify these projects unless it can assure that all state water quality standards will be met. A rigorous scientific analysis would prove such a conclusion is impossible.”
The public comments urge Governor McAuliffe and DEQ Director David Paylor to direct the DEQ to extend the public comment period for these projects and to conduct site-specific reviews and permits for each waterway crossed by both of these pipelines. The DEQ has originally announced to the public that it would undergo site-specific reviews for these pipelines in April, but announced in June that they that the agency would instead opt to rely on the Army Corps of Engineers’ blanket permitting process.
“The Corps’ process is woefully inadequate to protect our water,” Bill Limpert, a property owner in Bath County whose property would be traversed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said. “We looked at the Corps’ map of our property and we have two streams that are not even present on that map. How are they supposed to protect our waterways if they don’t even know where they are?”
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Related Articles on the Fossil Fuel Extraction Industry
Mining site on Coal River Mountain has pattern of violations
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) ordered Alpha Natural Resources subsidiary Republic Energy to show cause why a mountaintop removal coal mine permit on Coal River Mountain in Raleigh County should not be suspended or revoked. The order was issued on Aug. 1. Republic has 30 days to request a hearing or a consent order; otherwise, the permit will be suspended or revoked or its bond forfeited.
Republic has received seven notices of violation at its 802-acre Middle Ridge permit since July 25, 2016. Three or more of the same type of violation within a year demonstrate a pattern of violations and initiate the “show cause” procedure.
Alpha subsidiaries operate over ten square miles of active, approved or pending mountaintop removal sites and coal waste slurry impoundments on Coal River Mountain. Local citizens group Coal River Mountain Watch has opposed the operations because of the documented public health impacts of mountaintop removal, including significantly elevated rates of cancer, heart disease, birth defects and other deadly illnesses. Mountaintop removal also causes long-term pollution of mountain streams and the loss of access to the mountain for traditional activities including hiking, hunting, and gathering ginseng, berries, mushrooms, ramps and other forest resources. Increased runoff from the deforested sites and altered topography can also contribute to flooding.
Four of the seven notices of violation on Republic’s Middle Ridge permit were for sediment control violations related to improperly constructed ditches and sediment ditch failure. Citizen complaints generated two of the sediment control citations.
“This isn’t rocket science. It’s a ditch. If Alpha can’t even properly maintain a ditch, why should we expect them to comply with any of the other regulations and permit conditions meant to protect water quality and nearby residents and property owners,” asked Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch.
Local residents with Coal River Mountain Watch plan to continue pushing for the permanent revocation of the Middle Ridge permit, protection for Coal River Mountain and surrounding communities, and a strong, sustainable economy for southern West Virginia.
“The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection needs to start living up to their name and their mission of promoting a healthy environment in West Virginia,” Haltom said. “Instead, they continue to grant mountaintop removal permits knowing full well that these operations will cause long-term water pollution, serious harm to the health of people in our communities, and damage to the long-term viability of our economy.”
Coal River Mountain Watch of Naoma, W.Va., has a mission to stop the destruction of our communities and environment by mountaintop removal mining, to improve the quality of life in our area, and to help rebuild sustainable communities. The website ishttp://crmw.net.
Show cause order: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B87Y5QG4Eg0Xa211WUJEV2YxRWc
Republic Energy permits on Coal River Mountain: https://apps.dep.wv.gov/WebApp/_dep/search/Permits/RP_PermitQuery_new.cfm?office=OMR
National Academy of Sciences to hold forum in Logan to examine impact of MTR on human health
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).
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.”
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 sand, research accumulated, corroborating what residents were (and still are) saying: MTR is really bad for human health.
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:
Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition calls for agency to ‘start over and do a proper’ environmental study on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
By Michael M. Barrick
MONTEREY, Va. – The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) is again challenging the work of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). In a news release, Rick Webb, program director for DPMC, said, “If built, the ACP could mar the beautiful, unfragmented viewshed of the southern end of the proposed 90,000-acre Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area that stretches from Rt. 250 north to Rt. 33 on the western side of the Shenandoah Valley.”
He explained, “The Natural Gas Act requires FERC to assess impacts to scenic areas and recreational trails. Yet, the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for the ACP does not consider impacts to this special area which was proposed for congressional designation by Friends of Shenandoah Mountain a decade ago, recommended by the 2014 George Washington National Forest plan, and endorsed by over 280 diverse organizations and businesses.”
Webb continued, “In addition, the DEIS ignores impacts to the Wild Oak National Recreation Trail and dismisses Forest Service requests to re-evaluate wild brook trout stream crossings on Hankey Mountain.”
According to Webb, a new utility corridor across the Braley Pond area and Hankey Mountain would:
- diminish scenic beauty
- degrade popular recreational resources
- fragment core forests
- damage wild brook trout streams
- industrialize a major gateway to the scenic area
Consequently, he noted, “A permanent corridor of this magnitude could degrade the natural and scenic characteristics of the proposed National Scenic area to the point where it could jeopardize its viability for congressional designation.”
Webb argued that FERC has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). He argued, “In order to comply with NEPA, FERC needs to start over and do a proper DEIS that fully considers significant impacts to one of the largest, mostly unfragmented tracts of national forest land east of the Mississippi River. The proposed scenic area and its water and recreation resources are revered by the public and deserve due consideration in the DEIS.”
Webb noted that the DPMC has created an online Story Map – “Proposed Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area and the Atlantic Coast pipeline.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber praises community spirit, asks for help and prayers for ‘Appalachian brothers and sisters’
By Bob Henry Baber
Note: This first-person report is adapted from a recent Facebook post by Bob Henry Baber, the newly elected mayor of Richwood, W.Va. He also served as mayor about a decade ago.
RICHWOOD, W.Va. – It’s been over two weeks since the “Thousand Year Flood.” Today, for the first time, I will have the opportunity to go door to door to the 200 families who have been devastated by the flood. I have been unable to do so due to the barrage of issues ranging from the destruction of our roads and sidewalks, our water intake above the falls, and managing the logistics of assessing the town’s needs, and documenting them so that we can receive 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA. We have to match the other 25 percent with volunteer hours since we do not have any money to do so.
Thank God hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers have shown up whose hours we can count. I believe the damage is over $10 million. We have no Rite Aid, no drug store, no grocery store, no ball parks, no playgrounds or equipment, and on and on. And two of our three schools have suffered substantial damage.
We have had to close our redistribution center for cleaning supplies, food, and toiletries at the Red Gym because its floor has to be removed and replaced. We are going to move to the old furniture factory as soon as we can get massive amounts of mud out of it, have the fire department hose it down, and sanitize it. We have never received emergency housing for the displaced because federal law prohibits placing such entities in the flood plain, and that’s all we’ve got.
Many people mucked out their home, bleached, and moved back in, only to be told that their walls and floors must be torn out and the structure dried lest they be inundated by black mold in future months. The lucky have campers; the others are on their own. Proud Appalachians as we are, only two people used the Red Cross Shelter that has now pulled out due to lack of utilization. Many have left to join families in adjoining states who left years ago to find jobs. Others have moved in with friends and neighbors. Others have left their homes as is and departed for parts unknown. Our very high senior population has been resilient, but some are disoriented and distraught.
Because of our loss of coal jobs, and the emergence of Summerville as a regional economic hub with Wal-Mart and surrounding spin off stores, hotels, and restaurants some 40 minutes away, our people are too poor to afford flood insurance. We have no jobs. Chris Mondross and his wife, for example, had to give up their insurance years ago. They are in their 90s. Their house had two feet of water in it. They have lost everything. There are dozens like them. Middle class people.
What we have here and in our sister cities of White Sulphur Springs and Rainelle is an Appalachian Katrina, albeit on a far smaller scale. Yet it doesn’t feel small to me. It feels all encompassing.
Having said all this, I can tell you that bolstered by volunteers, the town has pulled together in every way and I am blessed to be the Mayor of Richwood. Many of you are too far away to help, but donations of construction materials, computers for our kids, appliances large and small, food, cleaning supplies and money(!) can be sent to:
Richwood City Hall
6 White Ave
Richwood, WV 26261
Or you can contribute to the Nicholas County Foundation/Richwood flood relief online or call (304) 872-0202.
We are your Appalachian brothers and sisters. Pray for us. Our region – which was already economically, culturally, and politically devastated – has now been hit with an unprecedented natural disaster.
Thank you for your consideration, pass the collection plate and God bless you all.
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Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition petitioned state official to make public information about pipeline regulatory reviews
MONTEREY, Va. – On May 5, 2016, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) sent a Petition for Writ of Mandamus and Injunctive Relief to Angela Navarro, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, and David Paylor, Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to compel the state to provide information about regulatory reviews of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) proposals. The Petition, prepared for filing in the Virginia Circuit Court in Richmond, describes how state officials have violated duties under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The next day, Friday, May 6th, Deputy Secretary Navarro and Director Paylor responded through their counsel, Assistant Attorney General, David Grandis, indicating that they will provide the requested documents early this week.
Before the state indicated it would provide the documents, Rick Webb, DPMC Coordinator, said, “We are disappointed that Virginia’s environmental officials have failed to live up to a law designed to give Virginian’s open access to their own government. Nearly three weeks ago, we asked for public records that would help us and other citizens understand what the State intends to do to protect citizens and the environment from damages the pipelines could cause.” He continued, “Officials are supposed to respond to such information requests within five business days but we received no reply for nearly three weeks. Finally yesterday (May 4) they acknowledged they’d received our letter but did not offer to provide the information we’ve requested.”
The Virginia DEQ has a duty, under the federal Clean Water Act and Virginia Water Protection laws, to review the gas pipeline proposals and ensure that no project goes forward unless all water quality standards will be met, argued Webb. However, as DPMC’s April 14 letter recounts, Virginia DEQ seems to be willing to cover both ACP and MVP under “general permits,” essentially rubber stamping the projects under blanket approvals issued in 2012 and intended only for small projects that pose little risk to waters, Webb argued. DPMC sought public records through the April request to clarify the state’s positions and to question whether the DEQ is able to justify its approach.
The Petition can be accessed here. The FOIA request was included in an April 14th letter, which can be accessed here. The letter objected to the state’s apparent intention to certify the ACP and MVP under general permits issued in 2012. The FOIA request sought information related to the following questions concerning both the ACP and MVP:
1) Has DEQ deemed the Joint Application and/or other information submitted for the projects to be complete and accurate such that DEQ is able to make a formal finding as to the projects’ eligibility for coverage under Virginia’s blanket 401 water quality certification?
2) Has the Corps of Engineers indicated to DEQ that the projects meet the Corps’ requirements for coverage under the general Nationwide Permit 12?
3) Has DEQ made a tentative or final finding that the projects comply with the conditions of the blanket 401 certification for Nationwide Permit 12?
4) Has DEQ requested and/or received additional information from the applicants, in addition to that contained in the Joint Applications, to reveal proposed construction and detailed pollution control methods and analyze possible water quality impacts?
According to DPMC, this is the second time this year that Virginia officials have violated the Freedom of Information Act after DPMC requested records on the gas pipelines. In an earlier case, Carlos Hopkins, Counsel to Governor McAuliffe, failed to provide records within the required period. On March 4, 2016, David Sligh of DPMC wrote Hopkins: “I believe the Governor’s Office is now in violation of the time requirement for response to FOIA requests, under 37 § 2.2-3704. You informed me that the check sent on behalf of DPMC was received at your office on February 15 or 16. Therefore, the records or an appropriate response should have been sent no later than Feb. 23.” Less than two hours after receiving Sligh’s note, Mr. Hopkins provided the documents but failed to explain the failure to abide by the law.
“This legal action is about much more than an arbitrary deadline or a technicality,” Rick Webb stated: “It’s about the McAuliffe administration’s respect for the rights of citizens trying to play their proper roles and protect their communities and natural resources. The law says a failure to properly respond to a FOIA request is the same as refusing the request outright. We won’t accept a refusal of our rights.”
New Layers Added to DPMC ACP map, including blast radius and evacuation zones
According to DPMC, additional map layers have been added to the ACP-Environmental Mapping System. Features include:
1) Estimated blast radius and evacuation zone for the proposed ACP.
2) Updated ACP construction corridor and access roads for the 10/30/15 and 4/15/16 submissions to FERC.
3) Direct and core forest loss associated with the proposed ACP construction corridor and access roads.
4) Virginia property parcels.
5) Stream crossings. (Information on crossing methods and environmental factors will be added).
The current version of the ACP-Environmental Mapping system can be accessed via the DPMC website, www.pipelineupdate.org. The link is in the right-hand sidebar.
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016.
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Cost to people, communities and environment could run into billions along entire route, based on four-county study
MONTEREY, Va. – Five groups concerned about the short-term and permanent impacts upon their communities caused by the proposed construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) have released an independent study revealing that just four counties in Virginia would likely experience billions of dollars of loss and damage should the ACP be built. The report was commissioned by the ACP Highlanders for Responsible Development, Augusta County Alliance, Friends of Nelson, Friends of Buckingham, and Yogaville Environmental Solutions. The exhaustive in-depth study was conducted by Key-Log Economics, a research economics firm based in Charlottesville, Va.
A news release from Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance about the study stated, “Dominion says that it would cost approximately $5 billion to build its 594-mile high pressure natural gas transmission line through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. That number pales in comparison to the costs and economic impacts of the pipeline that will be incurred across just a four-county area of western and central Virginia. …”
The statement continued, “The eye-opening analysis found that up to $141 million in lost property value and services, such as water and air quality, would occur across the four-county study area just during construction. Further, the pipeline will depress area economies, contribute to job loss, reduce quality of life, and lower personal incomes in perpetuity to the tune of up to $109 million annually.”
Those estimates are conservative, notes Spencer Phillips, founder of Key-Log Economics. “Putting the stream of costs into present value terms and adding the one-time costs, the total estimated cost of the ACP in Highland, Augusta, Nelson, and Buckingham Counties is between $6.9 and $7.9 billion,” he said.
Lewis Freeman, Chair of the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance and President of Highlanders for Responsible Development, added, “In Highland County annual costs to the local economy are estimated to be $7 million or higher, much larger than the projected benefits that would come to the county, including tax revenues paid by the pipeline. Adverse impacts on property values, which have already been negatively affected by the prospect of the project, will be significant. Also negatively impacted will be travel and tourism, which account for one-fifth of the county’s employment.”
For Augusta County, through which Dominion proposes to run more than 50 miles of the pipeline route, the negative impacts to people’s lives and property is enormous, according to the report. Total property value lost would be approximately $44.5 million, resulting in an annual reduction to the county coffers in excess of $209,061. “Those figures, while conservative and not inclusive of the new route through the Deerfield Valley, are based on loss of subdivision and development potential, loss of property value and property marketability because of proximity to the pipeline, damage to water resources, and a reduction in agricultural production to name just some of the factors that went into the calculation,” noted Nancy Sorrells, Chair of the Augusta County Alliance.
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cost Nelson County up to $43 million dollars per year, with additional one-time costs of up to $41 million according to the report. Individuals and businesses would lose up to $25 million in property value outright, while annual losses would include $18 million in recreation tourism dollars and $1.2 million in personal income. The annual loss to the county government would be $526,000 in tax revenue and $144,000 in property tax revenue, far exceeding the local annual tax payment promised by ACP, LLC.
The communities in Buckingham County, the eastern-most county in the study, are faced with the double whammy of the massive pipeline and a gigantic compressor station that will be in operation 24/7. According to the study, the ACP would cost Buckingham as much as $20.8 million in one-time costs and annual losses of as much as $7.1 million.
“I would encourage every Buckingham resident to become familiar with Key-Log’s findings,” noted Chad Oba, Chair of Friends of Buckingham. “This report uncovers previously undisclosed costs of Dominion’s mega-industrial project for our county. No one wants to live near a toxin-belching compressor station nor a 42-inch pipeline, both of which bring many health hazards, and threaten Virginians’ property rights.” As to the purported tax revenue promised by Dominion to the county, she added, “No amount of tax revenue can buy off citizens who are sincere about protecting their community and their beautiful surroundings.”
The pipeline impact study was spearheaded by local citizens groups and property owners who were frustrated at the inaccurate information being distributed by Dominion in regard to the purported benefits of the ACP. Not only were those “benefits,” such as large numbers of jobs during and after pipeline construction and promised tax payments to the counties, generally understood to be greatly inflated, they were also not balanced with information on what the negative effects of the pipeline could be in these central and western Virginia communities.
“It has fallen on us to analyze the costs to our communities should this pipeline come to pass,” said Ernie Reed of Friends of Nelson, the lead group that commissioned the study. “This report demonstrates not only how economically dangerous the pipeline is but how our four counties would bear a huge share of the costs of this project at the hands of Dominion. Further, while the use of the pipeline is measured in years, the costs to the region are forever.”
The study and recent alternate route proposed by Dominion
The statement added, “The recently announced re-routing of the ACP through the southern portion of Highland County, into Bath County, and back through Augusta County was announced after the Key-Log study was completed. While the re-routing would reduce to some extent the economic impact on Highland, the negative economic impact resulting from the re-routing into northern Bath County would increase the total impact on the immediate region due to the higher property values of affected property and businesses in Bath. Further, the additional dozen or so miles added to the Augusta County route will only serve to increase the final economic impact to that community.” It noted, “The uniqueness of the counties in the study mean that the specific impacts within each area vary. However, the underlying result, as pointed out in the study, is that the four counties will be deeply impacted in a very negative way.”
Regarding the proposed alternative route, The Recorder, a weekly newspaper based in Highland and Bath counties, noted that Dominion had originally rejected the alternative route. In this weeks’ edition, published today, the newspaper reported that Dominion rejected the route it is now proposing because, “Crossing this terrain with a 42-inch-diameter pipeline while attempting to minimize or avoid traversing steep side slopes would result in multiple, steeply graded, up-and-down approaches to ridge tops that would in many instances require heavy equipment winching on both sides of the ridge from single or multiple staging areas on the ridge top … Because of the narrowness and remoteness of the ridge tops, most of these areas would require the construction of a graded winching platform on top of the ridge, and depending on the slope, could require construction of an access road along the ridge to access the winch platform for delivery of construction equipment and pipe sections. Access to the remote areas crossed by the three southern alternative routes would be difficult due to the lack of existing nearby roads … which could require the construction of new roads into these areas. Slope restoration and stabilization would also be difficult to achieve in many of the steep areas crossed.”
This is the first independent study done on the ACP. However, when one considers that this study covers only a small portion of the proposed route, it seems rather clear that Dominion is proposing a project that will accomplish only two things – provide additional dividends to its shareholders and destroy all that is dear to the people of Appalachia.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016
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