Category Archives: Preservation

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Criticized for Failing to Properly Study Pipeline Impacts

Experts submit reports; more than 10,000 signatures from citizens delivered

Va DEQMONTEREY, 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.

nopipeline-e1419984524674Rick 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?”

Courtesy submissions

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Alpha Natural Resources Ordered to Justify Mountaintop Removal Mine Permit

Mining site on Coal River Mountain has pattern of violations

Courtesy submission

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.

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Alpha’s Middle Ridge site above the McDowell Branch neighborhood, Clear Creek, W.Va

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.

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A blast above the McDowell Branch neighborhood, Clear Creek, W.Va. Photo credit: Coal River Mountain Watch

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.

wv-dep-logo“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.

More information

Show cause order: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B87Y5QG4Eg0Xa211WUJEV2YxRWc

Middle Ridge violations: https://apps.dep.wv.gov/WebApp/_dep/search/Permits/ViolationsDetailsQuery.cfm?permit_id=S301712&dep_office_id=OMR

Republic Energy permits on Coal River Mountain: https://apps.dep.wv.gov/WebApp/_dep/search/Permits/RP_PermitQuery_new.cfm?office=OMR

Mural Project Highlights Endangered Species

Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel Featured in National Project

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

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

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

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Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel – Credit: USWFS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy Article

 

The Power behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Corporate Sway, Conflicts of Interest, and Revolving Doors

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

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

Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy Submission)

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Tom Perriello for Virginia Governor

Mr. Perriello demonstrates courage and leadership that are too rare

By Michael M. Barrick

Perriello_Official_Portrait_(cropped)

Tom Perriello

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

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

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

On Leadership

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

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

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

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

Shenandoah Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

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

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

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

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

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

© The Appalachian Chronicle, 2017.

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Mountaintop Removal’s Health Impacts Examined

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

Courtesy Submission

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

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Mountaintop Removal in W.Va.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background:

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

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

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

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

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

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

For additional information, contact:

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

Don Blankenship Got by with Murder

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.

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Don Blankenship (Credit: Wikipedia)

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:

  1. Conviction upheld
  2. Conviction overturned
  3. 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.

wv-dep-logoMeanwhile, 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.

State seal_old goldWest 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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To receive a PDF of the Governor’s Independent Investigative Panel on the UBB disaster, send an email to michaelbarrick56@gmail.com

Mountaintop Removal Semantics Debate Gives Ammunition to Energy Industry

Dispute is a distraction causing some environmentalists to miss the forest for the trees

By Michael M. Barrick

WESTON, W.Va. – On April 27, five environmental groups released a statement pointing out that the plans for the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) would include widespread destruction – what they termed “decapitation” – of nearly 40 miles of mountain ridge tops along the proposed route, including just a few miles from here.

In alerting the public to the devastating impact of these plans by Dominion Resources, the groups issued a news release with the headline, “Atlantic Coast Pipeline Would Trigger Extensive Mountaintop Removal.” In response, the groups were attacked by some other environmentalists who claim that what is planned by Dominion does not constitute Mountaintop Removal (MTR).

High-Mountain-Crossing_900 DPMC

This graphic from the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition shows where mountaintops would be removed for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Though here pipeliners would cross the ridges, there are 38 miles of mountain ridge tops – 19 each in West Virginia and Virginia – that they would reduce from 10 to 60 feet.

In fact, it has led to quite an online discussion – a discussion that has been relatively polite but undeniably silly. I fail to see the consternation over making a distinction. Dominion is planning on removing the tops of mountains. What else to call it? Calling it what it is does not diminish the horrors of MTR as we’ve come to see it. However, failing to call this type of pipeline construction MTR does diminish the horrors it will unleash upon our communities and the land that supports them.

So, when we received the news release, we headlined our article, “ACP Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal.” I’ve had a couple of readers object to the use of the MTR moniker. I have responded that at the Appalachian Chronicle we will continue to call it Mountaintop Removal because that is what it is. Whether the fossil fuel industry extracts gas, oil or coal, the outcome is the same: destroyed sacred mountaintops.

Mountaintop Removal is Mountaintop Removal. That is what I’m going to call it, because that’s what the hell it is.”

This type of discord within the environmental social justice community is exactly what Dominion Resources and their co-conspirators in the fossil fuel industry want. What is most disturbing is that it is a self-inflicted wound.

The odds are stacked against us. Let us not get bogged down in semantics; in doing so, we give ammunition to the energy industry. Let us agree, that when you remove the tops of mountains, create millions of tons of overburden, destroy streams and forests, and harm public health, what you are doing is MTR. The scale is irrelevant. Destruction is destruction.

And Mountaintop Removal is Mountaintop Removal. That is what I’m going to call it, because that’s what the hell it is.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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The Deceived ‘god’

A poem dedicated to Dominion Resources

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This poem is dedicated to Dominion Resources. Originally published in January 2015, I am re-publishing it today in light of recent news stories about Dominion, including this one we published yesterday and this one

Dominion they call themselves.
And they believe it.
They have deceived themselves,
intoxicated by false power.
They are a god – of greed.

Though their foundation is illusory,
disregarding all in life that is of true value,
it sustains them for they esteem only profit.

Their minions are experts in the law.
Like Sanhedrin, they use the letter
to crush the spirit.

What is theirs is not enough;
what is yours is in their sights.
What is yours is negotiable –
on their terms.

What is sacred to you
they curse.

The old home place;
the sunrise over the ridge;
the moon hanging in the
deep blues of night.
The stars which pre-date
their temporal, mortal
white-washed tombs,
they don’t even glimpse.

The only green they see
is on currency.

The ancient rocks,
which for generations
have served as sentinels,
as comforting reminders of
a shared heritage,
they plow away
with their machines.

A walk in the woods,
which for you is a moment
of holiness – an opportunity
to pass along wisdom
to your grandchildren –
is to them merely a survey.

The narrow, crooked paths
made through time by
your ancestors
will not be enjoyed by
your descendants.

They shall cross them
with a straight, 42-inch
cylinder of pipe,
indifferent to the heritage
they disrupt and destroy.

AJ and Grandpa 9

Above, the author enjoys a walk in the woods with his granddaughter in Lewis County, W.Va. Below is Shenandoah Mountain in Virginia. Photo by Brad Striebig. Though Dominion did not create these streams, woods, ridges and mountains, it will not hesitate to claim it all as its own and destroy it. Unless, we dare to speak out.

Shenandoah Mountain

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014 – 2017

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ACP Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal

Proposed route by Dominion would destroy nearly 40 miles of ridgetops, cause ‘irrevocable harm,’ say environmental groups

RICHMOND, Va. – A briefing paper released today details how Dominion Resources intends to blast away, excavate, and partially remove entire mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

There is no way around it. It’s a bad route, a bad plan, and should never have been seriously considered.” – Dan Shaffer, Spatial Analyst with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition

CCAN logoThe briefing paper was prepared by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in coordination with the Allegheny-Blue Ridge AllianceFriends of Nelson, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition. It cites data from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Council (FERC) as well as information supplied to FERC by Dominion. It also compiles information from Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software and independent reports prepared by engineers and soil scientists.

They found that Dominion would require mountaintops to be “reduced” by 10 to 60 feet along the proposed route of the pipeline. For perspective, the height equivalent of a five-story building would be erased in places from fully forested and ancient mountains.

ABRA-Logo-Square-100-1Furthermore, Dominion has yet to reveal how it intends to dispose of at least 247,000 dump-truck-loads of excess rock and soil – known as “overburden” – that would accumulate from the construction along just these 38 miles of ridgetops.

It is astounding that FERC has not required Dominion to produce a plan for dealing with the millions of cubic yards of excess spoil that will result from cutting down miles of ridgetop for the pipeline. We know from experience with mountaintop removal coal mining that the disposal of this material has devastating impacts on the headwater streams that are the lifeblood our rivers and lakes.” – Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates

“In light of the discovery that the ACP will cause 10 to 60 feet of mountaintops to be removed from 38 miles of Appalachian ridges, there is nothing left to debate,” said Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Dominion’s pipeline will cause irrevocable harm to the region’s environmental resources. With Clean Water Act certifications pending in both Virginia and West Virginia, we call on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice to reject this destructive pipeline.”

MTR 2_OVEC

Mountaintop Removal – Courtesy of OVEC

Dominion has submitted a proposal to FERC to build a 42-inch diameter pipeline that would transport natural gas from West Virginia into Virginia and North Carolina. The groups assert that Dominion has attempted to paint the ACP as an “environmentally-friendly” project. However, they argue that proposed construction methods and route selection across and along steep mountains is unprecedented for the region – if not the country – and are viewed as extreme and radical by landowners, conservationists, and engineers. Similar impacts – although not yet fully inventoried – could come from the construction of a second pipeline to the south: the Mountain Valley Pipeline led by the company EQT Midstream Partners, LP.

Friends of Nelson“The ACP could easily prove itself deadly,” said Joyce Burton, Board Member of Friends of Nelson. “Many of the slopes along the right of way are significantly steeper than a black diamond ski slope. Both FERC and Dominion concede that constructing pipelines on these steep slopes can increase the potential for landslides, yet they still have not demonstrated how they propose to protect us from this risk. With all of this, it is clear that this pipeline is a recipe for disaster.”

Key findings of the report include:

  • Approximately 38 miles of mountains in West Virginia and Virginia will see 10 feet or more of their ridgetops removed in order to build the ACP; this figure includes 19 miles each in West Virginia and Virginia.
  • The majority of these mountains would be flattened by 10 to 20 feet, with some places along the route requiring the removal of 60 feet or more of ridgetop.
  • Building the ACP on top of these mountains will result in a tremendous quantity of excess material, known to those familiar with mountaintop removal as “overburden.”
  • Dominion would likely need to dispose of 2.47 million cubic yards of overburden, from just these 38 miles alone.
  • Standard-size, fully loaded dump trucks would need to take at least 247,000 trips to haul this material away from the construction site.

APPALMAD-LOGO-223Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said, “It is astounding that FERC has not required Dominion to produce a plan for dealing with the millions of cubic yards of excess spoil that will result from cutting down miles of ridgetop for the pipeline. We know from experience with mountaintop removal coal mining that the disposal of this material has devastating impacts on the headwater streams that are the lifeblood our rivers and lakes.” He argued, “FERC and Dominion’s complete failure to address this issue creates a significant risk that the excess material will ultimately end up in our waterways, smothering aquatic life and otherwise degrading water quality. Without an in-depth analysis of exactly how much spoil will be created and how it can be safely disposed of, the states cannot possibly certify that this pipeline project will comply with the Clean Water Act.”

“Even with Dominion’s refusal to provide the public with adequate information, the situation is clear: The proposed construction plan will have massive impacts to scenic vistas, terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and potentially to worker and resident safety,” said Dan Shaffer, Spatial Analyst with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition. “There is no way around it. It’s a bad route, a bad plan, and should never have been seriously considered.”

The full briefing paper is available here.

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