Mess with the Muppets, and you mess with my family
By Michael M. Barrick
Donald Trump’s determination to build the military-industrial complex and a stupid wall (that just ain’t gonna happen folks!) is so important that he must kill off Big Bird. Public Broadcasting, which is the home of “Sesame Street,” Big Bird, Kermit and their many ethnically and racially diverse family and friends, is targeted for elimination from the federal budget.
So, I’m seriously peeved. You mess with the Muppets and you mess with my family.
And you don’t mess with my family ‘cause I’m from Wild, Wonderful, Almost Heaven, West-by-God-Virginia, and we are obligated to stand up for our children – and their friends.
Well, when our children were growing up, the Muppets were their only friends on television. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, we were poor; rumors of us having dozens of Chock full o’ Nuts cans buried in the back yard full of cash were simply unfounded. Our children discovered that to their disappointment only after they and their friends had spent a day digging up our yard to no avail, other than to aerate it for me. And, secondly, if we could have afforded cable, we wouldn’t have let them watch the crap on it anyway.
You see, the theory was that the airwaves belonged to the public. So, we could get a PBS station in rural, central West Virginia – and later, more urban North Carolina. Wherever we took our children to live or visit, we knew that this sound programming, full of nothing more than lovely parables about living with one another in harmony – and of course many great lessons in the humanities and sciences – was available.
Anyway, our children – now 34 and 32 – managed to get through their early childhood by watching only – and learning from – the Muppets and the many lessons they learned on Sesame Street.
We did not miss a Muppet movie. It was from watching “The Muppets Take Manhattan” that we learned from the wise owner of a restaurant that “Peoples is peoples.” That simply profound statement of tolerance, understanding and ultimately acceptance is a critical life lesson, and that phrase – in the context of the plot – could be understood by a child.
Unfortunately, it isn’t understood by Donald Trump. I believe he suffers from arrested development and probably has the outlook of an eight-year-old that never benefited from watching “Sesame Street.”
So, as I said earlier, I’m seriously peeved. Unfortunately, short of writing letters and holding up signs in protest, the best chance we had to prevent this has passed. And for that, we can thank the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and in particular Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who as DNC chair last year, did all she could to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination. Since she was quite competent at her job, she and her compatriots among the Democratic Party’s shrinking (but wealthy) elite have ironically caused us to find ourselves at this point. For those thinking it’s unfair to pick on the DNC, I will simply note that it is that defensive, head-in-the-sand attitude that will ensure defeat in the next election cycle. By the way, I’m not a Democrat, so I’m not advocating; just stating the obvious.
So now, the Republicans are in control, doing exactly what they said they would do.
How, then, do we respond? We do our best. We let our voices be heard in Washington. We can support our local PBS and/or NPR stations.
As you consider that and other options, a brief story from about 30 years ago will illustrate the importance of the Muppets to our family – and, truly, to our nation.
We were at the mall. That itself was rare. There was a store there that had something I needed, but I don’t recall the details. But what happened with my wife, Sarah, and our children is quite memorable.
You see, Sarah has a rare ability to mimic perfectly the voices of the Muppets. They told bed-time stories at our home. They had “conversations” with the children through the stuffed versions we had at the house (I still have a small 6”-tall figurine of Kermit as a journalist – in trench coat, pen and pad).
In any event, while waiting on me, they were just inside the entrance to a department store where there was a large Muppet display. To occupy their time, Sarah started bringing the Muppets to life through her various voices. In time, an audience had gathered, enjoying the show as much as Lindsay and Allyn, who gazed at their “talking” Muppet friends, enraptured.
When the time to rendezvous came, Sarah told the children it was time to go. They protested. “We don’t want to go! We want to keep talking to Big Bird!” Sarah insisted. “No, we must go. It’s time to meet Daddy.”
Their response was classic. “We don’t want to meet Daddy. He’s a meanie!” I still wonder what the others watching this show thought. Nevertheless, I dispute that assertion and claim that they didn’t quite know how to express their objections appropriately. (Though they keep saying that).
I learned something very important that day. Do not get between Big Bird and my children. I had senselessly forgotten that the Muppets were part of our family. I learned my lesson that day though, and will always remember it.
So, Republicans, look out. Sesame Street might go through rough times for the next few years because of you. It might come to resemble Detroit even. In time, though, the family and friends of the Muppets will have the day. Why? Because we yearn for community far more than we desire war.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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Libertarian Party supports legislation that would benefit craft breweries and economic diversity in Appalachian region of North Carolina
By David Ulmer
RALEIGH – Most people believe if you start your own business, work hard and build it into something, you should have the right to reap the rewards. That is the American dream. However, in North Carolina some local brewers are being denied that right.
North Carolina has a prosperous and booming craft brewery industry. This economic boon was the direct result of a grassroots effort ten years ago called “Pop-the-Cap.” The reform lifted unnecessary rules and regulations on the craft brewers. It allowed the free-market to respond.
Dozens of hard working entrepreneurs started making local beer for consumers across the state. They brought in $1.2 million dollars and created more than 10,000 jobs, according to N.C. Craft Brewers Guild estimates. State community colleges even have programs to prepare young people to work in this fast growing industry.
For some politicians and special interests groups, success is a problem. Large, established distributors, with government-granted monopolies on transporting alcoholic products, lobbied for laws requiring any brewery producing more than 25,000 barrels per year to use their services. Distributors then gain total control over where craft beers may be sold.
Distributors want government to give them a cut of a business they didn’t help build.
Now, 25,000 barrels sounds like a lot of beer, but it isn’t. Local Breweries like Olde Mecklenburg, NoDa and Red Oak are now producing near this cap. These successful local businesses have to decide whether to keep growing – and hand over 30 percent of their revenue to someone else – or remain small.
Using government to force one business to give up the fruits of their labor to another strikes most people in North Carolina as just flat wrong. Distributors do serve a role in our beer industry, but craft breweries should only rely on them voluntarily. Amazon chooses to use FedEx or UPS, but the government doesn’t tell them who should deliver their orders. Some states, notably California and Colorado, don’t have a barrel limit. It should be no surprise that the brewers who have gone national like Sierra Nevada are based in these states.
Using government to force one business to give up the fruits of their labor to another strikes most people in North Carolina as just flat wrong.”
This isn’t a complicated or socially divisive issue. There’s simply no reason the law should lock craft breweries into relationships with distributors. We can’t allow special interests and big beer industry players based in places like Belgium to keep our local North Carolina beer industry from growing. Local businesses want to expand their sales forces and distribution networks to meet the demand they are seeing for their product across the state. Why shouldn’t they?
House Bill 67 would raise the barrel limit from 25,000 to 100,000 barrels. It’s supported by Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians. This is at least an improvement.
But the beer and wine lobby stands in the way. Distributors in North Carolina cling to a business model dependent on using government and politicians to keep their businesses profitable. The opponents of HB 67 won’t get out of the way until the people of North Carolina make it clear we still believe in the American dream.
How can you help? Go to CraftFreedom.org and sign their petition, and like their Facebook page. Let your representatives in the General Assembly know how you feel. And the next time you are in your favorite watering hole, tell the owner or manager that you support craft beer and ask them what they are doing to help.
The Libertarian Party of North Carolina supports passage of HB 67 and the efforts of CraftFreedom.org to maintain control over the businesses they built.
David Ulmer has worked in the Wake information technology sector since 2000, and is a craft beer aficionado. He was the 2016 Libertarian candidate for state House 49.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest editorial. We welcome diverse points-of-view on any manner of topics so long as they are expressed in a civil manner that is suitable for a family publication, is relevant to our audience, and does not require extensive editing. Publication does not imply endorsement. We reserve the right to refuse publication of submissions.
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NC Chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia says priests and bishops should “ … imitate more strongly the example of Jesus …”
CHEROKEE, N.C. – The North Carolina Chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) has issued a statement of concern regarding the adequacy of local church leadership. Titled “Statement of Concern on Clericalism from Appalachian Catholics in the Smoky Mountain Region,” the statement identifies clericalism – the overemphasis of the power of the priesthood and hierarchy – as a pervasive problem in the region and in the Roman Catholic Church as a whole.
The central office of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia is based in Spencer, W.Va.
The statement is based on negative experiences of lay Catholics in the region in their interactions with parish priests, including inadequate pastoral care of the dying and demeaning attitudes toward Catholics from diverse local cultures. The Chapter opted to share these concerns with the media after more than two years of attempts to address the issues with the bishop of the Charlotte Diocese, who the chapter says has been unwilling to meet with the people.
The Chapter statement calls on the region’s bishops to acknowledge these problems and engage in dialogue with the people to work toward creative solutions, and offers prayers for a “change of hearts, minds, and pastoral practice,” that the region’s priests and bishops “would imitate more strongly the example of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.” The statement can be read in its entirety below or at http://ccappal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/CCA-NCStatement-on-Clericalism.pdf.
Catholic Committee of Appalachia North Carolina State Chapter
Statement of Concern on Clericalism from Appalachian Catholics in the Smokey Mountain Region
To evoke the Holy Faithful People of God is to evoke the objective we are invited to look towards and reflect upon… A father cannot conceive of himself without his children… A pastor
cannot conceive of himself without a flock, whom he is called upon to serve. The pastor is the pastor of a people, and the people need him within…. (Pope Francis, “Letter to Pontifical Commission for Latin America” (March 19, 2016)
Pope Francis tells us that in order to meet the spiritual needs of the community, the people need their pastor “within” that community. While many priests are wonderful shepherds for their people, our experience reveals that this is not always the case, and our connection with other Catholics in the Appalachian region indicates that our experience points to a much larger problem.
Many Catholics in the central and southern Appalachian region feel they are talking to the wind. Their priests, especially the younger ones, do not listen to them. Their bishops do not listen to some of the priests or the people, and many of them seem not to be listening to Pope Francis. We realize the pressures on our clergy caused by the shortage of priests and the increasing spiritual needs of the people, but we feel there are pressing issues that need to be addressed in the short term.
There are flagrant examples of some of the clergy failing to care for their people and failing to see the suffering imposed on them, not only in the liturgy, but in the wider sacramental life of the church and in outreach to the community. A lack of responsibility is evident, even with regard to pastoral care of the dying. In one parish in our region, this happened at least four times in less than two years and two parishioners died without the sacraments. Likewise, funerals have not been scheduled in a timely manner, not allowing adequate input from the family of the deceased in the funeral arrangements. To date there has been no apology or acknowledgement, or even a response from the bishop in the diocese where this occurred.
Many of our younger priests insist upon imposing a uniform Roman culture while ignoring the rich diversity of Appalachian, Latino/a, and Cherokee cultures. We feel this is contrary to the examples of Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. One bishop with a sizable Native American population in his diocese has failed to respond to the concerns of parishioners about actions of the priest which have offended Native people and their friends.
Again, many of the younger priests, particularly those fresh out of seminary, have an arrogant, self-righteous and condescending attitude. These “restorationists” seem to be more intent on taking the church back to pre-Vatican II days rather than minister to the people. They seem to be steeped in doctrine and theology, but are unwilling to participate in ecumenical activities, and are lacking in compassion, love and mercy. They are doing the job of the theologian, but not the job of the pastor. This is directly opposed to what Pope Francis and Vatican II are teaching us. Many seem to have the attitude that the Second Vatican Council never happened, taking the church back in time while ignoring the teachings of Pope Francis that have brought a vibrant new energy to the church, reviving the Church’s relevancy for many Catholics.
Many longtime Catholics who recall the days before Vatican II, and who have been faithful to the church over the years, feel they are being treated like children by priests in their thirties. As a result, they are leaving their parishes in search of meaningful liturgies. In rural areas, this is hard to do, given the distances involved in traveling to other parishes. Some Catholics are going to Protestant churches, some seeking alternative intentional communities, and others not attending church at all. This has caused a great sadness on the part of many people who, for many years, were part of parish communities now fractured by clerical ambivalence.
We recognize that we are blessed with some very good priests who give a lot to the people and who minister in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. It is not our intention to vilify the clergy as a whole, but to raise a prophetic voice in the spirit of love for the church in order to address some of the problems we encounter. Better communication and acknowledgement of issues raised by the people would go a long way in addressing the feeling of alienation that many parishioners experience. Addressing structural issues like the priest shortage necessarily take a long time, but some long-standing problems are able to be addressed more immediately, and it is past time to deal with them. Some of these problems, especially those related to the pastoral care of the sick and the dying, could be addressed creatively, for example, by empowering the laity to anoint the sick. As Catholic writer Matthew Kelly has stated, “God never goes back; he always moves forward. Adam and Eve were banished from the garden. God could have redeemed them and sent them back to the garden, but he didn’t, for two reasons: God always wants our future to be bigger than our past, and God always moves forward” (Matthew Kelly, “Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose,” Beacon Publishing, 23).
We pray for our priests and bishops here in North Carolina, throughout Appalachia, and indeed throughout the world, as the issue of clericalism affects the church globally. We pray for a change of hearts, minds, and pastoral practice among our clergy, that they would imitate more strongly the example of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.
About the North Carolina chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia
As a network of Catholics committed to practicing the reforms of Vatican II in the region, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia has nurtured region-wide relationships of engaged laity working to create a church of the people. These relationships help us to see that the local concerns expressed by our North Carolina State Chapter are in fact shared by Catholics in many dioceses throughout the Appalachian region. The Catholic Committee of Appalachia Board of Directors endorses this statement and joins our N.C. State Chapter in asking bishops throughout the region to respond in a pastoral manner to address the concerns raised herein.
About the Catholic Committee of Appalachia
Since 1970, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia has existed to serve Appalachia, her poor and the entire web of creation. Mountaintop removal, labor, private prison development, sustainable lifestyles and communities, poverty, health, clean water, racism and climate change are among those issues which CCA has addressed. CCA has taken responsibility for the organization and ongoing promulgation of two groundbreaking pastoral letters of the Catholic Bishops of Appalachia, “This Land is Home to Me” (1975) and “At Home in the Web of Life” (1995). CCA released a third pastoral letter, “The Telling Takes Us Home,” in 2015. Learn more about the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. Complimentary copies of the pastoral letters are available from The Lenoir Voice.
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If legislators will not honor their oath to uphold the U.S. and N.C. constitutions, we need a deterrence to prevent the total erosion of our rights to an emerging police state
By Michael M. Barrick
RALEIGH, N.C. – As I write this, the Republican leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly have had citizens and reporters thrown out of the gallery and arrested, in clear violation of the First Amendment and North Carolina’s Open Meetings law.
And, as Chris Fitzsimon of North Carolina Policy Watch writes today, GOP leadership promises of transparency when they gathered here earlier this week for a special session are, “ … simply put, a lie.”
Welcome to Donald Trump’s America, where the Republican Party is emboldened enough to disregard the Constitution and the Rule of Law, and use law enforcement as their own personal army. This kind of nonsense understandably led to a revolution a couple of centuries ago.
So, here is something I am sure the Republican leadership will understand since they are such guardians of the U.S. Constitution: with you folks in office, the Second Amendment has never been more important. You have undeniably demonstrated you pose a clear and present danger to our fundamental rights and institutions. In fact, you have done so repeatedly to suppress votes as numerous courts have ruled.
You violate our most basic liberties in broad daylight, under the glare of television lights, in our hallowed buildings to undermine the will of the people as expressed on Election Day. If you are brazen enough to do that, you are certainly not beyond bullying your opposition in ways once considered unimaginable in this country.
The founders of this nation understood that and, in due course, determined that they had to throw off their oppressors. They had learned that life without liberty is no life at all (Ironic, in light of slavery). Still, in 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
We hope, of course, that we can transition through these rough waters peacefully. Isn’t that what Christ taught? (I only ask because the GOP claims exclusive ownership of the faith). Also, I can’t imagine Jesus throwing out his followers. He was a little more hospitable than that and was pretty big on making sure his message was heard loud and clear, not hidden. Clearly, the GOP’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. The watchful eye of the people and the press does not presently deter the GOP. Maybe they just don’t get the First Amendment. But we all know they have the Second Amendment memorized.
So, here’s a suggestion to the North Carolina Republican Party: show us you can be trusted with the First Amendment. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
If you can’t be trusted to do that – to honor your oath of office – you can be sure that your constituents will take the Second Amendment quite seriously should your coup-d’etat extend into our homes. And do us a favor. Do not feign outrage at our disgust with you. You – the leaders of the North Carolina Republican Party and your puppeteers – have gone beyond the pale in violating our rights. That’s how revolutions begin – with arrogant leaders disregarding the law and basic human rights. You have done so. It is up to you to admit your error and back us from the brink. Failure to do so will make for a very harrowing 2017 in Raleigh and elsewhere.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016
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In Monday night’s debate, Donald Trump said that his temperament is his “greatest asset.” Take a moment to see evidence of his temperament.
Then admit, if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States, “These are the Stakes.”
Then, decide now to vote. Whether you “like” Hillary or not, I’m fairly confident you’d like not to be on the endangered species list. Well, that will be the status of every human on earth with a President Trump.
Or, you could just sit this one out, put out your picnic blanket and bucket of beer and go out watching the big bright light.
© The Appalachian Chronicle, 2016 (not sure about 2017 just yet).
It is time to eliminate the outrageous subsidies and entitlements for the gas industry
By Tom and Becky Berlin
WESTON, W.Va. – Here is a little something for all you land owners, farmers, small business owners, and tax payers to think about.
If you own a bit of land for a hay meadow, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your hay meadow.
If you buy a tractor and some equipment so you can harvest your hay, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your tractor and equipment.
If you build a barn in which to keep your hay and your farm equipment out of the weather, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your barn.
If you buy a cow to eat your hay and maybe give you a calf to sell, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your cow.
Other small businesses are in much the same situation. You pay property taxes on your business property, buildings, equipment, and inventory.
If, on the other hand, you are a huge corporation and you build a multimillion dollar piece of profitable infrastructure, like Momentum and Stonewall Gas Gathering LLC and their newly constructed pipeline, you will not be assessed and will not pay a penny of local property taxes on your pipeline. Nothing.
Even worse, the land under which that multimillion dollar pipeline lies has been forever rendered unproductive. Nobody will ever be able to build a house on that land, build a barn, build a farm pond, drill a water well, grow an orchard, grow timber, cut an access road to the other side of your farm, or make any improvements that might interfere with the pipeline company. For every mile of pipeline right of way that Stonewall Gas Gathering has, they have permanently destroyed the utility and value of about 10 acres of land, which will ultimately show up as decreased property value and decreased tax revenue for the county. If you do not think the property value has declined on that land, survey off an acre of that right of way, put it up for sale and see what the market value is now.
Does that seem fair to you? Speak with your elected representatives and candidates and demand that this outrageous subsidy and entitlement be eliminated.
Tom and Becky Berlin are farmers in Weston, W.Va.
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Practical – and unsolicited – insight from a father and grandpa wanting to keep the revolution alive
By Michael M. Barrick
Update, July 11, 2016: Readers, please disregard my advise in Lesson 4. It is this simple: Hillary just won’t do. An inspiring campaign slogan is not, “The F.B.I. Director says I am incompetent and dangerous, but at least I’m not under indictment!” If this requires further explanation, do an internet search on Richard Nixon and Watergate. Or Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra. Or Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
Bernie Sanders has shown respect to young people and their concerns, and that is why they so enthusiastically support him. But that’s not the whole story. As is always the case, timing is everything in politics. Bernie’s rise has coincided with the coming of age of the No Child Left Behind generation.
Millennials, subjected to an ill-conceived reliance upon standardized testing that stifles the individuality of the human, will not – now that they’ve escaped from the system – allow themselves to be pawns again.
So, though Bernie’s campaign may soon be ending, the revolution his candidacy sparked will not.
First though, the revolution must overcome the disappointment felt by Bernie’s supporters. Otherwise, they will drop out of the movement to end the injustices caused by crony capitalism just as they did from school, whether literally or figuratively.
So, it being Father’s Day, I am exercising my personal privilege as a father and grandfather to offer a brief civics lesson, because my millennial children and friends know they didn’t learn it in school because they were too damn busy taking pointless tests (with apologies to the many extraordinary teachers we all know).
In any event…
Lesson 1: Politics is the art of compromise. If that bothers your idealistic sensibilities, remember…
Lesson 2: Politics is war without bullets (usually). So, if we are not willing to compromise – to seek to understand before seeking to be understood – then violence is the inevitable outcome.
Lesson 3: Hence, we who are part of that revolution to return control of our government to the people – who refuse to take our “Feel the Bern” bumper stickers off of our cars just yet – must accept that the revolution will advance only in baby steps for now. It will advance – but it is essential that it do so peacefully.
Lesson 4: We can’t abandon the ballot box. The fact is that Bernie’s not going to be on the ballot in November, barring something totally unexpected. So, the question is, of those on the ballot, who will advance the revolution, or at least not destroy it? Hillary. I know Gary Johnson is tempting; like Samantha Bee I agree with every other thing Libertarians believe. Ultimately, though, Libertarian philosophy is not good for the most vulnerable among us, and that is not in keeping with our national character. In addition, there are thousands of capable local candidates who are willing to advance the revolution. Elect them now, and in a few years, they will be advancing in rank and influence.
Lesson 5: Our republic allows free association. So, be civically engaged. Join a social/environmental justice group or use your art to make your statement. Volunteer for a campaign, learn about politics and put you name on the ballot the next time around.
In short, as the bumper sticker says, “Be the change you want to see.” You might want to start with the politicians that created and sustain that education system that screwed you over.
© The Lenoir Voice, 2016
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West Virginia Department of Environment Protection needs to hear more voices
By John W. Cobb, Jr.
IRELAND, W.Va. – With 11 counties in West Virginia projected to be affected by the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) route should it receive approval, voices from one end of the state to the other must be heard. The West Virginia Department of Environment Protection (WVDEP) needs to hear from citizens while there is still time. The potential impacts to water supplies (aquifers), streams, wetlands and rivers is significant; therefore citizens need to write the WVDEP to request public hearings in the affected counties.
So far, such requests are working.
The WVDEP Division of Water and Waste Management (DWWM) will be extending the public comment period on the State 401 Water Quality Certification for the proposed MVP project until further notice. It takes only a few minutes to send them a letter or email requesting a public hearing in your county so you can learn and get answers to your concerns.
Originally, the public comment period, which is required under state regulation 47CSR5A, would have ended next week, but because of widespread public interest in the proposed project, DWWM will be scheduling public hearings to discuss certification of the proposed project. Information about the dates and locations of those hearings will be made public as soon as plans are finalized.
The WVDEP says they will likely prioritize holding public hearings based on the counties generating the most comments. For now, those are from Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers counties. We need more folks along the MVP Route to respond now. We need to help get the word out to folks further up along the proposed route, including Wetzel, Doddridge, Harrison, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, and Fayette counties. Every citizen along the route needs reasonable access to public hearings. By writing the WVDEP, it will increase the chance that no citizen will be left out.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a $3.5 billion project, developed by EQT Corp., and it involves a 42-inch-diameter pipeline that would run 301 miles south from the Equitrans L.P. transmission system near the MarkWest Energy Mobley Complex in Wetzel County to a Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co. compressor station in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. This project is one of multiple pipeline projects currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) one of the other projects is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will run somewhat parallel and north of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
When issuing certification, DWWM’s 401 Certification Program may consider the proposed activity’s impact on water resources, fish and wildlife, recreation, critical habitats, wetlands and other natural resources. In its 401 certification application, EQT anticipates that the MVP project will have temporary impacts to approximately 49,892 linear feet of streams and 18.9 acres of wetlands and permanent impacts to approximately 3,125 linear feet of streams and 10 acres of wetlands within the Mountain State.
Comments and information relating to the certification should be emailed to DEP.firstname.lastname@example.org, with “MVP 401 Certification” in the subject line or mailed to:
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Water and Waste Management
401 Certification Program
601 57th Street SE
Charleston, WV 25304
Responding now with a request for a public hearing in your county will give you and your neighbors a chance to express your concerns to the West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection.
(C) John W. Cobb, Jr., 2016. Mr. Cobb writes from his home in Ireland, W.Va.
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Note: The original version of this article listed 12 counties. The correct number is 11. We regret the error.
West Virginia chapter of Catholic Committee of Appalachia calls coal mining CEO’s trial ‘emblematic of the larger systemic disregard for human life and dignity in Appalachia’
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – On April 5, 2010, just as miners were changing shifts in mid-afternoon at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) coal mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., an explosion roared through the mine. Instantly, the 29 miners working in the mine for Massey Energy were dead, families were devastated and communities of southern West Virginia were forever changed.
Six years and a day after that avoidable tragedy, the misery continued for families of the dead miners, as they watched former Massey CEO Don Blankenship receive only one year in prison and a $250,000 fine. However, it was the maximum penalty that United States District Judge Irene Berger could impose. In December 2015, after a two-month trial, a jury found Blankenship guilty on just one misdemeanor count brought against him – conspiring to willfully violate safety standards. The same jury found him not guilty of securities fraud and making false statements.
The Blankenship trial and sentencing accentuates this disregard for human beings. The loss of life and justice for miners and their families call us to greater responsibility for one another, and we call for this responsibility to be reflected concretely in law.” – WV CCA Statement
Consequently, the trial’s outcome – both verdict and sentencing – compelled the West Virginia chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachian (WVCCA) to release a statement saying they are “outraged.”
In the statement, the WVCCA said it, “ … commends the judgment that Blankenship willfully put his employees in danger, a danger that cost twenty-nine miners their lives at Upper Big Branch Mine on April 5, 2010. Still, like many other West Virginians, we are outraged that conspiracy to violate mine safety regulations is categorized merely as a misdemeanor.”
The WVCCA pointed out, “Had he been found guilty of the charges of which he was acquitted – lying to the federal security regulators and lying to his investors – Blankenship would have received a sentence of up to 25 years.” The WVCCA continued, “It is startling that, in our justice system, lying to those who have power in our society is a felony, while taking tragic risks with human life is a misdemeanor. The Blankenship case is another example of low sentences for those who take risks with public safety, a disturbing trend in our state seen also in the lenient sentencing of Freedom Industries executives responsible for the 2014 chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia.”
The WVCCA noted that West Virginia’s bishop, Michael J. Bransfield, stresses “the temptation toward ‘maximization of profit’ can lead to a disregard for human beings and their needs and lead to ‘a new kind of powerlessness” (Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, “On My Holy Mountain: Mine Safety in West Virginia,” p. 4).
Indeed, in May 2011, a report affirming that conclusion was released by the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel (GIIP) that was convened by former Governor (and now U.S. Senator) Joe Manchin. Among the panel’s findings were:
- 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.
At the time of the tragedy, the mine was owned and operated by Performance Coal Company, a subsidiary of Massey Energy. According to the GIIP report, “The explosion was the result of failures of basic safety procedures identified and codified to protect the lives of miners. The company’s ventilation system did not adequately ventilate the mines. As a result, explosive gases were allowed to build up. The company failed to meet federal and state safe principal standards for the application of rock dust. Therefore, coal dust provided the fuel that allowed the explosion to propagate through the mine. Third, water sprays on equipment were not properly maintained and failed to function as they should have. As a result, a small ignition could not be quickly extinguished” (p. 4). In short, Massey’s safety systems failed and both federal and state inspectors “…did not provide adequate and proper oversight” (p. 4).
Massey’s operating principles included political influence peddling without regard for campaign finance laws. “What is factual and well documented is that Massey Energy Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship had a long history of wielding or attempting to wield influence in the state’s seats of government” (p. 85). And, state inspectors knew that UBB was troublesome. Even though the West Virginia Office of Miner’s Safety and Training is notoriously understaffed, inspectors considered conditions at UBB so perilous that inspectors were on site at the mine for about 85 days in the year preceding the disaster, and had issued 330 violations totaling nearly $155,000 in penalties.
Inspectors can only do so much, though, asserted the panel. “The state’s failure at Upper Big Branch does not stop with safety issues inside the mine. The inability to protect the lives of miners is also a political failure – a failure by the state’s government to nurture and support strict safety standards for coal miners. If miners’ lives are to be safeguarded, the cozy relationship between high-ranking government officials and the coal industry must change, as must the relationship between the enforcement agency and the industry it regulates” (p. 89).
It added, “…Massey is equally well known for causing incalculable damage to mountains, streams, and air in the coalfields; creating health risks for coalfield residents by polluting streams, injecting slurry into the ground and failing to control coal waste dams and dust emissions from processing plants; using vast amounts of money to influence the political system; and, battling government regulation regarding safety in the coal mines and environmental safeguards for communities” (p. 92). Indeed, for the first decade of this century, Massey had the distinction of having the worst mine safety record in the United States. The 29 killed at UBB brought the company’s total deaths to 54 for the decade.
Even at the time of the disaster, Massey employees seemed to delay in their response. Though the explosion occurred just after 3 p.m., the first call for an ambulance was not made until nearly 4:30. Initially, the mine dispatcher called company officials, who in turn activated their own rescue teams and notified state and federal officials. It was not until the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 13 that all of the miners’ bodies had been recovered.
Blaming it on God
Nobody speaks to the corporate culture which allowed this preventable disaster better than Blankenship. Holding to the theory put forth by Massey that high levels of methane or natural gas just suddenly burst in through the mine’s floor (despite evidence to the contrary), he coldly said to the National Press Club on July 22, 2010 – less than three months following the accident – “The politicians will tell you we’re going to do something so this never happens again. You won’t hear me say that. Because I believe that the physics of natural law and God trump whatever man tries to do. Whether you get earthquakes underground, whether you get broken floors, whether you get gas inundations, whether you get roof falls, oftentimes they are unavoidable, just as other accidents in society” (p. 70). Yet, 94 years previously, Coal Age magazine asserted, “The next time you are about to say, ‘Accidents will happen,’ stop and think first; then you won’t say it. Only weaklings and incompetents evade responsibilities in this age of industrial safety and efficiency” (p. 74).
Or, as the WVCCA said, “ … as we noted in our recent pastoral letter, ‘Coal industry villains come and go, but the attitude which places profit above safety is deeply embedded in the coal economy.’”
The WVCCA concluded, “The Blankenship trial and sentencing accentuates this disregard for human beings. The loss of life and justice for miners and their families call us to greater responsibility for one another, and we call for this responsibility to be reflected concretely in law. We, again, join our bishop in saying ‘The Church has an obligation to continue to remain vigilant in these areas to ensure that justice is served and human dignity is protected. This is an essential part of proclaiming the Gospel of Life’” (Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, “On My Holy Mountain: Mine Safety in West Virginia,” p. 5).
The day after his sentencing, Blankenship filed a notice of appeal of his case to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Of course, the dead miners and their families have nowhere that they can file a notice of appeal to reverse the course their lives took six years ago. But that is justice in Appalachia.
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016
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