Environmental groups accuse agency of ‘foot-dragging’
MONTEREY, Va. – The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has learned that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is just now compiling the thousands of emails and other comments citizens submitted during the comment period that ended more than a month ago.
This outrageous foot-dragging fits a pattern DEQ has set for months and heightens the likelihood of further damage to state waters by the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) before the State Water Control Board has the chance to rule on the sufficiency of waterbody crossing reviews. The Board saw a need for this information way back on April 12, based on concerns that a blanket permit from the Corps of Engineers may not be adequate to ensure Virginia’s water quality standards will be met.
On July 3, with no commitment from DEQ as to when the comments would be available to all, DPMC decided to acquire them and provide them online. We filed a records request on July 3, 2018, seeking copies of all comments sent to DEQ. The law requires the agency to provide records within five work-days or explain why it is not “practically possible” to do so in that time period.
That deadline fell on July 11 and that day DEQ told us it would not get us the emails within the required time or tell us when it would be able to do so. They said the emails had not yet been compiled so they could be provided electronically, due to technical difficulties. We then insisted we be allowed to review the emails in person on DEQ’s computers and were told this too was not possible. We reiterated that the law required better and that we would not accept DEQ’s failure to comply.
Suddenly, just two days later on July 13, DEQ gave us more than 7,000 emails. Apparently, the technical difficulties that DEQ claimed may require more than two additional weeks to solve were now solved – but only under pressure from DPMC. Why had those difficulties not been tackled and solved in the three months since the Board ordered the public notice?
We and Wild Virginia will make all of the comments available online and publish a summary within the next week. Where the Department has failed, we will pick up the slack.
We call on the Board to use this information and hold a meeting well before the currently-advertised date of August 21st and on Governor Northam to order DEQ to now move quickly to do its job. The repeated promises of transparency and sound science by administration officials have not been kept. It is now time for our officials to restore integrity to this process.
Getting to it is not an easy drive or hike, but it’s worth it
Note: This is the fourth installment from “The Hillbilly Highway, Volume 2: Seeds, Songs and Streams.” Learn more here.
By Michael M. Barrick
MORTIMER, N.C. – Wilson Creek is misnamed. Part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, it starts out small near the top of Grandfather Mountain, but after tumbling thousands of feet through an ever-widening gorge in the Pisgah National Forest, it has the power of a river.
It has been known to wipe out towns and isolate communities for days. Indeed, Wilson Creek has destroyed this and nearby communities twice – in 1916 and 1940. In fact, the second flood forever wiped out the logging industry which drove the region’s commerce so successfully, that despite its isolation in the rugged hills of the northwest section of Caldwell County, it could have become the center of government and commerce in the county.
The 1940 flood, though, took out homes, churches, sawmills, roads and sections of the narrow-gauge railroad that led in and out of this remote, heavily-forested sloped village on the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Now, its 27-mile drop to the Johns River is through remote – rather, inaccessible – areas of the thick and dark Appalachian forest. Only the experienced hiker should venture its steep, rock slopes. Swimmers should beware of deceptively deep, but teasingly appealing pools. Kayakers are common sites in any season. Like me, they seem to prefer weekdays in the spring and fall, though the water is generally higher in the spring.
Wilson Creek earned its designation as a National Wild and Scenic River in August 2000 after community leaders convinced elected officials at the local and federal level to work together – across party lines – to protect and preserve it. It can be viewed by driving along the narrow and dusty Brown Mountain Beach Road, which runs from Adako Road to Rt. 90 in Mortimer. Here, once on Rt. 90, the traveler will be on the only state road in North Carolina not completely paved. There are parking spots along Brown Mountain Beach Road, but the hike down to the creek is strenuous at time, but certainly worth it, especially where the gorge empties into a large pool where the creek abruptly levels out.
There is plenty to see and lots of kind folk to meet in nearby Edgemont and Collettsville. In Edgemont, at the old train depot, decades after the last trail rails were taken up, one can still see the circle of earth made bare where the Roundabout was. With that as a clue, one can venture into the nearby forest and see evidence of the railroad bed. The old station is large with many benches.
Early in the 20th Century, Edgemont was the last stop listed on train schedules in the local newspaper. Beginning in Newton in Catawba County, the train would stop in Hickory, Granite Falls, Lenoir, Mortimer, Edgemont and other small towns, perhaps with only the train station. It clung harrowingly to the steep cliffs into which the rail path had been carved, though it would have been worth it, just for the view of Wilson Creek.
There is a visitor center on Brown Mountain Beach Road and for the adventurous, one can hike along the headwaters. One can access it – and the Appalachian Trail – from a small parking area below the Linn Cove Viaduct of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I have spent hundreds of hours over the past 44 years sitting on my favorite relatively gently sloping cliff of Wilson Creek. In every season. I’ve hiked it at its headwaters and I’ve sloshed through it near its mouth where it empties into the Johns River. I have meditated and never ceased pondering what is around the next rock, over the next log, or just under my next step as I hike it.
For me, it represents what I love about Appalachia, about traveling along the Hillbilly Highway. It is adventure. It’s fun. It’s risky. It is a place to take visitors, whether to look out a car window or put on hiking boots. It is stunningly beautiful and essential for preserving for future generations.
In short, it is rightfully a National Wild and Scenic River. It is also a must stop along the Hillbilly Highway.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018
Fellow students respond favorably to comic strip about Mountaintop Removal
Editor’s note: On Dec. 1 we published an article about Olivia Bouzigard’s efforts to educate herself and others at Appalachian State University about the deadly impact of Mountaintop Removal (MTR). I asked her to write an essay explaining how she chose the topic and method for teaching it. She explains below. Personally, I extend thanks to her instructor, Heather Custer, who has the rare ability to challenge her students to demonstrate evidence of minds at work. Also, the illustration is published again, just in case you missed it the first time. – MB
By Olivia Bouzigard
BOONE, N.C. – I am a sophomore at Appalachian State University (ASU) with a major in Public Relations and minors in Recreational Management and Philosophy. I am currently enrolled in a writing class where I was to take on the task of writing about an issue that I thought was important. When I came to ASU as a first year student, I was enrolled in a recreational management class where I learned about Mountaintop Removal (MTR). This was the issue that I chose to write about.
The first part of the project dealt with composing a white paper of the research that I had done. I interviewed several people, read books, watched a documentary and read through health studies people had researched about MTR. Finally, the second part of the project was to come up with another way to present this information. I chose to make a comic strip that combined all my research together into three simple illustrations. Then as part of the project’s requirements we had to somehow present this information. I chose to set up a contact table in the student union on campus and ask people for their time as I passed out my comic and taught them about MTR.
Essentially, I wanted to illustrate a pattern that one cannot easily escape the effects of MTR and that everything that comes with MTR is devastating.
As students passed by the table I would stop them to ask if I could have a few minutes of their time. For those who said yes, I followed with the simple question: Do you know what Mountaintop Removal is? Those who said they did, I asked how they knew what it was and asked them to give me a description. Many said they had learned about it at ASU or in a class in high school, which I thought was interesting.
I then asked them to give a brief description of what they knew about MTR. One student responded, “It has to do with our energy and stuff, right?” Another student said, “I know that it is bad.” However, no one could give me an overall quick description of it. A key goal of my project was to help students to be able to quickly define it, so in the comic strip, I start off with a definition of MTR from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those who said they did not know what mountaintop removal was, that definition is the one I used.
I then explained the comic to the students that stopped by. I shared that the mountain is upset because it has no say in whether it is destroyed or not. Coal companies are known for coming in quickly, destroying the area, and then quickly leaving. Their focus is only on the coal and nothing else. Then the comic moves into air that is upset and lungs that are upset. The purpose of this drawing is because many people are breathing in the particles from the removal sites and do not realize it, so their lungs become damaged. The final picture shows a sad house, a sad human and an angry crane. This illustrates that MTR not only devastates the mountains but devastates the towns and ruins them. It also is illustrating that the people of these towns have no say in whether these coal companies come and they just wait for them to leave. The angry crane shows that the coal company is just there to get the job done and leave.
Essentially, I wanted to illustrate a pattern that one cannot easily escape the effects of MTR and that everything that comes with MTR is devastating.
After presenting the comic to students, I asked if it was helpful. Everyone said yes. Comments included that they now know what it is. There were many comments of gratitude for sharing the information and acknowledgements that MTR is a significant public health and environmental issue.
Still, I am not done. I know that people have spent lifetimes learning about opposing MTR, so I intend to continue to educate myself about MTR, keeping others informed and finding alternatives. The comic strip was a first, but very powerful step for me and those I taught.
© Olivia Bouzigard, 2017.
MTR photo courtesy of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. To learn more about their work, visit their website.
A mind at work inspired research and response
By Michael M. Barrick
BOONE, N.C. – In late October, a professor at Appalachian State University (ASU) reached out to me because she had a student that wanted to learn more about Mountaintop Removal (MTR). I immediately contacted the student, and within two weeks we were meeting at a coffee shop in Boone.
Olivia Bouzigard, a graduate of a high school in Raleigh, N.C., confided to me that until she enrolled at ASU, she had never heard of MTR. So, prior to and following our meeting, I sent her links and information about people and organizations in Appalachia – in particularly West Virginia – that were fighting to end MTR because of its deadly effects on people and the destruction it caused to vital ecosystems and watersheds.
I was impressed even before I met her, as our email exchanges revealed evidence of a mind at work. When I finally met Olivia, her interest and concern were clear. I don’t keep track of time well, so I don’t know how long we met, but it wasn’t long enough to tell her everything she needed to know. It didn’t matter. From that meeting, Olivia ran with it.
What is impressive about her interest is that MTR is not really relevant to her major. She just cared. So, the other – and perhaps most important thing that impressed me about Olivia – is that she defied the stereotype that I hear from far too many people – that the current college-aged generation is self-absorbed.
As I traveled down the mountain back home from our meeting, I wasn’t sure what Olivia would do with her new knowledge and interest, but I was confident she would do something. Oh my, did she ever. The comic above says more in five simple illustrations than the thousands of words I have written about MTR. Most noteworthy is that she is using the comic to educate her fellow students at ASU.
So to Olivia and her like-minded peers, I say, Bravo! Thank you for caring about the poor and vulnerable. Thank you for caring for the environment. Thank you for looking beyond your own concerns to the needs of others. Thank you for being creative. Finally, thank you for challenging people of all ages to educate themselves about MTR and other assaults upon Appalachia and all of the sacred earth which sustains us.
Finally, thank you for giving me hope about the future. When I was teaching, I always challenged my students with this guiding tenet: Every day, all that I ask is that I see evidence of minds at work. With Olivia, that is exactly what I experienced.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017. “Classic Mountaintop Removal” comic, © Olivia Bouzigard, 2017
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
Corporate Sway, Conflicts of Interest, and Revolving Doors
BUFFALO, N.Y. – The powerful forces pushing a controversial pipeline proposed for West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina include Dominion Energy and its influential CEO Tom Farrell, state politicians that are top recipients of Dominion donations, and an army of revolving door lobbyists, including a former EPA official, according to a new report.
The report, from the nonprofit watchdog group Public Accountability Initiative, examines corporate influence, political donations, revolving door lobbyists, regulatory conflicts, and the banks behind the controversial proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It is the third in a series that examines the power relations behind a range of controversial pipeline projects in the United States.
The most powerful backer of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is Dominion Energy, an energy utilities company that has vast influence within Virginia and is one of the state’s biggest political donors. Dominion CEO Tom Farrell sits on multiple influential boards, has powerful family connections, and is one of the state’s biggest individual political donors.
Some of the most vocal supporters of the pipeline within Virginia politics have been the biggest recipients of Dominion donations. Dominion also has an army of revolving door lobbyists that have pushed politicians and regulatory agencies to support the pipeline. One of these lobbyists includes a former Environmental Protect Agency official, now working for Dominion.
It’s important that the public is aware of the power behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which includes a company that gives millions to state politicians and hires lobbyists with ties to elected officials and regulatory bodies.” – Derek Seidman
“The Atlantic Coast Pipeline has been widely unpopular with residents in Virginia and elsewhere who stand to be impacted by it,” said Derek Seidman, a research analyst at PAI and author of the report. “It’s important that the public is aware of the power behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which includes a company that gives millions to state politicians and hires lobbyists with ties to elected officials and regulatory bodies.”
There are other troubling signs of conflicts of interest and revolving door politics surrounding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Key members of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, who must review the pipeline proposal and make recommendations regarding its approval, have accepted gifts from Dominion personally or through their organizations, and one director appears to have previously represented Dominion as an attorney. Regulatory agency staff sit on multiple boards with members of Dominion management. Dominion’s CEO and Senior Vice President of Sustainability also served nearly eight years as Director of the Air Division of the Virginia DEQ.
“It’s worrying that the entities that must approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have ties to Dominion,” said Seidman. “With such a controversial project that could put nature and so many people at risk, there really needs to be more transparency and accountability behind regulatory efforts.”
The report also highlights the nearly three dozen banks who are lending to Dominion and Duke Energy, and who may profit off of the pipeline. Eighteen banks are lending to both of the corporations, and all but two of these banks are also helping to fund the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Duke Energy, the powerful North Carolina-based energy corporation, is the pipeline’s second biggest stakeholder.
To read the full report, go to: http://public-accountability.org/2017/06/the-power-behind-the-pipelines-atlantic-coast-pipeline/
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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:
His shameless contempt for working people is business as usual in West Virginia
By Michael M. Barrick
I was with my uncle once when he was appealing a local property tax assessment. He was told that he had the right to appeal, but that the appeals board could, if it wanted, actually raise his taxes if they deemed it appropriate. They could also uphold it, or reduce it, but that initial caveat was enough to give pause.
It’s too bad that isn’t the scenario faced by Don Blankenship as he appeals his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court for conspiring to violate mine safety laws. He just recently completed his paltry one-year prison sentence for that conviction, which was based on charges after 29 coal miners were killed at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine, which at the time was owned by Massey Energy. Blankenship was its CEO and court testimony revealed that he was intimately involved in the conscious efforts to violate mine safety standards – violations that eventually led to the explosion that killed the UBB miners. These facts were supported by the “Report to the Governor” by the Governor’s Independent Investigative Panel. It characterized the April 5, 2010, explosion: as “ … a failure of basic coal mine safety practices.”
So, if there was justice in this country, Blankenship could appeal, but would face these options, as did my uncle:
- Conviction upheld
- Conviction overturned
- Conviction upheld, and the judges rule that the one-year sentence was a perversion of justice and that Blankenship is to immediately be returned to prison for the rest of his life.
Unfortunately only the first two options are available. So, the families of those killed at UBB are again subjected to another news cycle of Don Blankenship pretending he is not only innocent, but as he wrote in his little pamphlet after his conviction, “An American Political Prisoner.”
Meanwhile, surviving family members of the UBB tragedy are unwilling prisoners to the memories of their lost loved ones, for that and photographs is all that is left of them.
This, sadly, is too typical of the stories out of West Virginia. Don Blankenship got by with murder. His self-published book is infuriating; his continuing denials and appeals nauseating.
The state of West Virginia is the poster child for the horribly negative effects upon working class people by crony capitalists. This is not news. Sadly, to a large extent, the people of the Mountain State have brought this upon ourselves. We elect people to office who not only refuse to ensure proper laws and regulations are in place to protect miners and all of the state’s workers, but also instead roll them back.
The discovery of coal, gas and oil throughout the state in the 19th century led to an unholy alliance among industrialists and politicians; to this day, it continues to subjugate the people of West Virginia for its own personal profit. The judiciary is next to useless, as it is full of minions financed by – you guessed it – Blankenship. The new governor, Jim Justice, not only has a record of ignoring and delaying payment of fines for his own mining operations, he is the state’s richest man. He talks the game, but his record suggests that his preferential concern is for his cronies, not his constituents.
Meanwhile, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is known throughout the state as the “Department of Everything Permitted.” And, that was before Justice purged it of previous top officials who were constantly criticized by environmental and public health advocates. In comparative hindsight, they were true champions of the people. So, despite the evidence of extreme threats to public health and the environment, Mountaintop Removal permits are rubber-stamped by DEP, despite the best efforts of citizens and environmental groups such as Coal Mountain Watch, OVEC, and countless others.
Meanwhile, anyone attending the various meetings for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline has witnessed the collusion among industry, politicians and law enforcement, in scenes reminiscent of the West Virginia Mine Wars when private detectives and local cops worked for the coal companies. At one meeting in Jackson’s Mill in 2014, I saw several hundred residents – some who had driven more than two hours over the state’s winding roads – leave in total disgust. They saw that the cards had been stacked against them before they walked through the door. What had been billed by industry officials as a “town hall” was really an opportunity to spew forth propaganda. They aligned themselves as if at a trade show. There was absolutely no opportunity for citizens to ask questions in a public forum that would have allowed for give-and-take. The gas company knows how to silence citizens. But just in case they failed, standing outside were several county deputies dressed in full riot gear.
The message was delivered loud and clear: We’re in charge, this is a show, and there is nothing you can do about it.
It is this absolute control of West Virginia’s economy and political system by the fossil fuel industry that allows them to be disdainful of the people of West Virginia – and to cause Don Blankenship to delude himself into thinking he’s a political prisoner. The truth is, he is simply another fat cat conducting business as usual in West Virginia, and getting by with murder in the process.
West Virginia’s state motto is “Mountaineers Are Always Free.”
Well, we aren’t. In fact, it is we, not Don Blankenship, which are the political prisoners. If only we had the fight in us that Blankenship has. How long will we be prostrate at the feet of the likes of Blankenship?
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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