Category Archives: Public Health

Meanwhile, Outside the Beltway

Obsession with Russia is manipulative, voyeuristic, and distracting from vital issues

By Michael M. Barrick 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY, U.S.A. – Here, where it is not Red Square or either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the spectacle playing out on our TV screens, computer devices and in the newspapers regarding alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is simply nauseating.

For God’s sake, enough already! You’ve lost me.

I’ve quit reading, listening and watching – that includes you John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, et al. That means I’ve abandoned my primary source of news – late night comedians who are really journalists; and, my secondary sources – the mainstream media and alternative media, who are clowns posing as journalists.

It is a topsy-turvy world, indeed.

Am I surprised that Russia probably meddled in our election? No. However, I think we’ve got that covered. Between the special prosecutor and congressional committees, plenty of investigating is occurring. That’s good. What we don’t need, however, is speculation. And, 99 percent of what I’ve seen, heard or read is exactly that.

 … election-meddling is not exactly new to geo-politics; the United States is quite expert at regime change – we’re just not as subtle.

On the part of the media, it’s manipulative, voyeuristic, and ultimately rooted in a sick drive for profits. But it’s also distracting us from what is important. Let me pause here and say, yes, a foreign government interfering in our election is concerning. So, let the investigators investigate. And, yes, I would expect any editor or producer to assign a reporter or two to the story. However, we have far too many issues that are simply being ignored by The Fourth Estate. Additionally, election-meddling is not exactly new to geo-politics; the United States is quite expert at regime change – we’re just not as subtle.

Hence, the media needs to abandon the feigned outrage and get to work on covering what most of us living Outside the Beltway know are the vital topics of the day.

More about those in a moment; but first, a quick demand of Congress and the president – do your jobs! America and the world have multiple challenges – not the least of which is a scarcity of leadership.

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The public schools are essential, but must also be scrutinized. Photo credit: Megan Soule

Now, about those vital topics; following is just a quick, partial run down the list:

  • Health Care: Polling shows that the majority of Americans support universal, single-payer health care. In short, Medicare for all. Only one in six support the current GOP proposal. Why? Because those of us living Outside the Beltway understand that the Medicare for all approach is the most humane; it provides for our most vulnerable citizens.
  • North Korea, et al.: Even our own military strategists say that a war with North Korea would almost certainly kill millions, and perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands just on the first day. The Korean War, which is still technically exactly that since we have only a truce with North Korea, was caused by inept diplomacy – Harry Truman indicated to the Russians that the U.S. would not wage war over control of the Korean peninsula. Today, we have a president who is the opposite. All he does is issue threats. Every president in between has kicked this matter down the road. That simply won’t do anymore. What I believe we expect Outside the Beltway is that a peaceful solution be found. Yes, waging peace is harder than waging war. But hey, we sent men to the moon. We’ve sent enough of our youngest adults to die on foreign sands and distant hills. We can figure this out.
  • Campaign Finance: Because of Citizens United, we are experiencing an age of crony capitalism like that of the Robber Barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is evident in many places, but currently most obvious in the health care debates. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are among the biggest obstacles to meaningful – and simple – reform (we’ve been doing Medicare a good while now). Gerrymandering has also altered the political landscape in a manner not consistent with voting patterns, accomplished through the buying of legislatures by the millionaire class. As a result, our most fundamental right – the right to choose our elected representatives – has been degraded or denied.
  • Infrastructure – From aging school buildings to hospitals not equipped to handle modern telemetry, to collapsing bridges and pot hole-filled roads, we have simply been negligent. We have not maintained our infrastructure. We all know it. We all see it. We have allowed private companies to own and manage our water systems, diverting money that should be reinvested in those systems to far-away shareholders that care only about profit and nothing about the quality of the water you and I drink. Certainly, the country that intends to send people to Mars by 2040 can fix roads and sewer pipes.
  • Failed War on Drugs: Billions of dollars have been spent, and tens of thousands of people sent to prison, simply to restrict the use of a naturally growing plant – marijuana. Our treatment of it – legal here, illegal there – is more schizophrenic than any alleged side effect of it. Three years ago, when interviewing John Buckley, the Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia, this is what he had to say about the War on Drugs: “What makes drugs a threat to society is the drug gangs pushing them because there is a hefty profit in pushing it. We have not stopped the war on drugs. We have not accomplished the goal. We have spent money. We’ve jailed people, yet we still see an increase in crime. We haven’t made a dent. We have set horrible legal precedents in rigorous law enforcement. When you add them all up, and say we haven’t made a dent in drug abuse, it cries out, ‘Is there a new approach?’ If you eliminate the profit, you eliminate the gangs and the terrorists profiting from it. If we will take a new approach, then it allows us to address it as a medical issue, not a criminal issue.” He was right then, and has been proven to be right repeatedly since that interview.
  • Education: We’ve known for years that educators reaching retirement age hit the door the first minute they can; what is more disturbing is that our best and brightest young teachers are leaving also. Why? They have lost control of their classrooms to everything from bureaucratic interference to children not ready for school because of poor living conditions. Virtually our entire society makes its way through our public schools. If we do not address society’s problems, every day in the classroom becomes more difficult. And, there are systemic problems as well. This is an example where a political party – in this case, the Democrats – must challenge a sacred cow. Yes, public education is essential; that, however, does not mean we refuse to take a critical look at its failures and alternatives. Additionally, the cost of college (and textbooks) must be addressed. Having to go into debt for years to earn a degree is counter-intuitive. Once educated, one cannot contribute to society unless unencumbered with unnecessary debt.
  • Ecology: Last, but certainly not least, is how we approach the management of the ecology – that is, our interaction with the natural world. Presently, human health and the environment are in great distress for a number of reasons. Mountaintop removal, fracking, clear-cutting and other practices that support the fossil fuel industry are harming people and the land, air and water which give us life. Climate change is real. Responsible reporters, for example, should not be asking politicians if they believe in climate change; rather, they should be asking what they know about it and how they intend to address it.
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Clean water is essential for human survival and a healthy environment. Photo credit: Jeffrey Workman.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can certainly add to it. My prescriptions to the vital topics of the day may be different than yours. In fact, they likely are. That doesn’t matter nearly as much as this: that we agree that politicians of all stripes and the media need to be taking a critical look at these issues and working together to solve them rather than obsessing over Russia. In time, conclusions by the Authorities Having Jurisdiction regarding Russia will be reached. That will be news. For now, all the talk inside the beltway and TV studios is simply commentary that rivals the Tower of Babel.

We expect action, not talk. Sure, there are political purists (or opportunists) who will refuse to work with others, but they are in the minority. We know that because in our families and communities, we have to work together.

At least, that’s how it is Outside the Beltway.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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).

MTR 2_OVEC

Mountaintop Removal in W.Va.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background:

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

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

MTR rally participants 2

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

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

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

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

For additional information, contact:

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

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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Pipeline Proposal Raises Questions that Beg for Answers

Just three days remain to submit comments to FERC about the ACP

By April Pierson-Keating

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. – The comment period on the 42” Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes to a close this Thursday. Anyone who made comments during the pre-filing period MUST submit those comments again, since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has essentially tossed those into a pile of “old business.”

IM000674.JPG

Meathouse Fork in Doddridge County with heavy sediment resulting from the Stonewall Momentum pipeline construction in the summer of 2015. This would be the fate of thousands of miles of watershed should the ACP be built. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

If you are a landowner, you may have already commented. If you are not a landowner along the route, perhaps you are an abutter (one next to property on the pipeline). If you are neither of these things, perhaps you are still concerned about threats to water, safety, and public health, or future economic development. All of these are valid concerns. You should write to the FERC.

Abutters will face most of the same risks as affected landowners, without the offers of money for the use of their property – water contamination, stream degradation, soil contamination, danger of fire or explosion, lowered property value among them. You have a right to have your concerns heard.

Even those not directly abutting could be negatively affected. The incineration zone is 3600 feet from the pipeline center. Our high school sits within the incineration zone, as does our state police barracks.

IMAG0894

A convoy of fracking industry gas trucks rumble through downtown Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

The evacuation zone a pipeline this size is 2 miles.  If you are wondering if your property is in the evacuation zone, you can consult the GIS layered maps at http://www.pipelineupdate.org. Does your community have an evacuation plan? If not, you might consider asking your county commission, local emergency planning commission, or office of emergency management to develop one. Better yet, consider joining one of these organizations, or even creating a planning commission in your community to address issues that are receiving short shrift.

This project has many more costs than benefits, though you may have only heard about the benefits. Some of the drawbacks include millions in foregone economic development (who wants to start a small business in an incineration zone?), reduced property value (try selling your house when you tell prospective buyers they may be caught in a gas fire), and stream degradation (siltation during construction kills stream life). We have seen this happen with the Stonewall-Momentum gathering line.

The 75-foot permanent easement will be sprayed with herbicides that will runoff into streams, and you can’t put anything but a flower garden on it. The 42” monstrosity will cross the Buckhannon River, our water source, and tributaries nine times, and cross over miles of underground mines.

The pipeline is buried only feet below the surface, but how far below our streams will it be built? This question has been posed to Dominion by city officials and has yet to be answered. Will it be deep enough to protect the stream bed from going under, or will it be deep enough to connect with underground mines? Either way, our drinking water source is at risk.

What about jobs? Looking at the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for this project (bear in mind this is info given to the FERC by Dominion) there could be 384 temporary jobs and only 22 permanent jobs. What is temporary? The DEIS says the work tours will be 6-12 weeks long. Is it worth risking our water, safety, public health for a few temporary jobs?

How many employees will be locally hired? Not many, if you consider what happened with the Stonewall Momentum gathering line. Very few will be from West Virginia; most of them will be from the south and west. Skilled workers are moved from site to site, not hired locally.

Who will pay for the $5billion project? Why, the ratepayers, of course, in the form of higher energy rates. Will it provide gas to our area? Nope. All of it is being sent out of state and offshore, so the companies owning it can make money selling it on the world market (where the going rate is higher than domestic). When that happens, our energy prices will rise.

What about tax revenue? Whatever money might come from this project will go to the state coffers, and they will dole it out as they please. Will it go for roads, schools, and other community projects? That is anyone’s guess, but the company has no stated plans to pay for roads or loss of life or property. The fact that they are a limited liability corporation means they won’t be liable for damages.

Don’t take my word for it; have a look at the DEIS yourself: https://www.ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2016/12-30-16-DEIS.asp

IM000692.JPG

In this standard operating procedure for the natural gas industry, pipeline construction passed within 100 feet of this home in Big Issac, W.Va., creating a permanent safety risk and a long season of no sleep for residents during construction. The stream nearby was also compromised. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

This project would have about 1,000 miles of access roads, effectively tripling its length. It will cross almost 2,000 waterways and affect the delicate Karst cavern and water filtration system. Moreover, we know that fracking is going to increase as soon as these projects get their certificate from the FERC. And we know what this means for our region: more water consumed, toxified, and injected, causing earthquakes, water and air contamination, and an exacerbated health crisis.

New York and Maryland have banned fracking. Have they done this because they want to live in the dark ages again? No, it is because they have looked at the evidence and wish to protect their communities. Surely, they want to develop energy and create jobs, but in a healthy, ethical, and sustainable way.

The only way to protect our water, safety, and public health and provide safe jobs is to invest in other types of energy – clean, green energy. Solar power provided more jobs in 2015 than coal, oil and gas combined. Companies like Coalfield Development Corporation are using federal dollars from programs like the Power Plus Plan to train former coalfield workers to do the new jobs that are part of a sustainable future: installing solar panels, sustainable construction, reclamation and remediation are just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about providing jobs – there it is! And guess what – we don’t have to live in the dark.

The deadline for comments is April 6 at 4:59p.m. Comments can be submitted on paper or electronically, at www.ferc.gov. Search for 556-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, click on the link for the DEIS, and choose the docket # for the project you wish to comment upon. Most people use the pipeline itself (CP15-554), but the 37-mile Supply Header Project in Marshall, Wetzel, and Doddridge are also part of the picture.

© April Pierson-Keating, 2017. Pierson-Keating is with the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance. To view their gallery of photos from pipeline construction and fracking operations, visit here.

Why People Deny Global Warming Clues

Five reasons why people refuse to accept global warming

By S. Tom Bond

When 97 percent of the scientists (that is, the people that are trained to study the problem) agree that global warming is happening and will continue to happen, why do people deny it is going on? As the poet says, “Let me count (some of) the ways.”

Clues of climate change NASA

Clues of Climate Change – NASA

Reliance on the mainstream media

Many simply follow the news. With its “On the one hand, and then on the other hand” approach to coverage (to avoid driving off advertisers and readers), the mainstream media do not adequately report the facts that are substantiated by scientific research. Reporting on science takes a special type of reporter, as well as producers and editors with patience and understanding. Lacking those, as we do, the facts get lost in the “she-said, he-said” approach. The facts are indisputable however: melting glaciers, decline of arctic ice, average world temperatures rising year after year, range inhabited by many species moving north, changes in weather, melting permafrost, famine, and drought among the obvious symptoms of global warming.

Refusal to accept new ideas

Many folks don’t have a view that extends beyond their home, job and family. They have difficulty accepting a new paradigm, and new framework of understanding.”

Even when the news about global warming is reported fully and accurately, there is still the problem of humanity’s tendency to resist change. Many people are unwilling to accept new ideas. Many folks don’t have a view that extends beyond their home, job and family. They have difficulty accepting a new paradigm, and new framework of understanding.

One thinks of the change when the earth was thought flat, then was recognized to be a very large sphere, or when the sun was thought to cross the earth, then it was recognized the earth went around the sun. When new ideas are incorporated into the public discourse, it takes a while for most folks to adapt. Today there are a few people dedicated to older ideas, such as the earth is cooling, or that a warming earth produces higher carbon dioxide content in the earth’s atmosphere, rather than the other way around. If someone has ideas based on earlier science, it may be hard to accept global warming.

Religious dogma

Some think God wouldn’t allow global warming. It is his creation and it will end in fire when He is good and ready. Global warming – ironically – does not fit their apocalyptic vision. Don’t argue with them.

Greed

Perhaps the most basic cause of global warming is as old as mankind: cupidity. The petroleum industry is an elite sector because of its wealth, which purchases political power. What it covets, it gets – all while it spends billions on advertising to implicitly and explicitly discredit global warming and those studying it. There is extensive information on situations where the business elite have interests that gives them an advantage that is contrary to the long-term interest of the society. The business elite persists until the society no longer has some resource it needs to continue, so it crashes. One of the most famous of these is the deforestation of Easter Island, which caused a population crash and an abrupt change in culture.

… all of us need to recognize our limitations and trust experts.”

Of course, training in a science does little to help in business. So this peculiarity of omission of understanding of other areas is not one-sided. My point is that all of us need to recognize our limitations and trust experts. It must be a much greater temptation for a businessman with millions at his disposal to ignore or deny science that will hinder his success than for a scientist with almost no disposable wealth to ignore business ideas opposed to his success. But the future of the earth depends on future climate, not someone’s ego or financial success. That future should be determined by those with data and training who take time to think about it.

City Climate Change NASA

NASA Graphic

Modern society’s disconnect from the land

Finally, there is another reason that is a bit abstruse, but vital. This is the separation of modern man from the biological world of which he is a part. Primitive man was close to his environment. Getting food was a daily preoccupation. If times were good, this took two or three hours a day. If times were bad, 24 hours weren’t enough. He/she was subject to danger from animals, floods, droughts, disease, the next village over and much other uncertainty. Everything including trees, rocks, or storms had a spirit. Many of these had to be appeased. But this religion was his connection to survival.

… our industry is so linked together and powerful it is possible to destroy civilization. The supremacist attitude toward the biological world is that our environment is not viable. This is not sustainable.”

Domination of earth and nature became a way of life. Increasingly, urban man became separated from the biological world from which he came. Dominion over others became increasingly important. And man was dominant over things, apparently supreme. That included the biological world, reverence for which was eliminated from his culture and religion.

Now the whole earth is occupied, and our industry is so linked together and powerful it is possible to destroy civilization. The supremacist attitude toward the biological world is that our environment is not viable. This is not sustainable. To avoid planetary destruction because of global warming, atomic warfare, over population, or resource exhaustion seems like an insurmountable problem. Ignoring these threats to our survival, though, will only work to ensure that the unthinkable becomes reality.

Conclusion

These are but a few of the reasons that we refuse to acknowledge – let alone tackle – the existential threat from global warming. It has been said that we are entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

Well, the facts are in. We have a rational understanding of our natural world; we know how we are negatively impacting it; and, we have debated and adopted plans to reverse global warming. We simply choose to ignore them. That won’t make them go away. However, the same can’t be said for human life – or life in any form – if we continue to argue over facts as if they are opinions.

CO2 levels

© S. Tom Bond, 2017. Thomas Bond is an eighth generation West Virginian writing from his farm in Jane Lew, W.Va. He is a farmer and retired chemistry professor. Michael Barrick contributed to this article.  

Learn more

Climate Change info from NASA here.

A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change

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