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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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Applying Scripture in Our Communities

It may not mean what you think

By Alan M. Eddington and Michael M. Barrick

Biblee

Biblical literalists wishing to impose their will upon the rest of Americans are faced with a conundrum – the words that are in the Bible.

So, before you start waving the Christian flag and demand that we become a “Christian nation,” consider this passage from Acts 2: 42-45:

They devoted themselves
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life,
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone,
and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need.

How many U.S. Christians do you know who are willing to live communally? How many are willing to sell their stuff and divide the proceeds to those most in need?

Exactly. Applying scripture in our communities may not mean what you think.

So, think critically. Think for yourself.

Discover your soul and embrace its majesty. Then, use your critical thinking to guide your heart to a better world, a better neighbor, and a better you.

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017. The Appalachian Chronicle is a sister publication of The Lenoir Voice.

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A Haiku for Earth

Happy Earth Day!  Do something good for our mother. – M.B.

By Carol Starr

Suspended in space

this beautiful blue marble

is our only toy.

Earth 2 NASA

© Carol Starr, 2017.  Carol Starr is a member of our recently formed community of writers in Lenoir, N.C. – MB

Helping Happy Valley, N.C. Return to its Roots

Incubator Farm Program set up at historic Patterson School

By Michael M. Barrick

HAPPY VALLEY, N.C. – With the grays and browns of winter having surrendered to the rainbow of colors that heralds the arrival of Spring, a new farming program is being launched at the historic Patterson School in this historic Upper Yadkin River Valley community.

The Patterson School Foundation has started a new Incubator Farmer Program, having taken the first, vital step – hiring a full time farm manager. In addition to helping oversee the incubator program, Ian Driscoll, a 2014 graduate of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C. will manage the 1,400 acre property.

Patterson Ian Driscoll

Ian Driscoll

The Incubator Farm Program will invite new and experienced organic farmers to lease up to half an acre to farm at Patterson, with the availability of farm equipment and mentorship, and with access to farm-related workshops through the farming season.

Driscoll, 24, is from Chicago and graduated with majors in history and political science. So, on paper, he might not seem like the person you’d expect to revel in plowing up an acre of land and working his hands until they have the unmistakable coarse feel of a working man. Yet, he lives and farms in Happy Valley,  just three miles from the Patterson School campus, and is experienced in many of the necessary aspects of farming – compost production, planting / tending / harvesting crops, greenhouse building, fencing, animal husbandry, swine and poultry production, grazing systems, mowing and operation of farm implements, haymaking, water drainage systems, lumber grading and general farm maintenance.

I’m more at peace here. I haven’t given it that much thought. It’s just seems natural for me.” – Ian Driscoll

Indeed, upon meeting Driscoll, one would think he grew up in this fertile valley that has been farmed since at least the 1700s, when the first European settlers planted themselves in this mystical and majestic river valley, an area once vital as a food source to the Cherokee.  He walks the grounds as if his feet have been rooted in the valley soil his whole life. Baseball cap slightly askew on his head, his blue eyes sparkling, even on a drizzly day, surveying the land he has plowed for the incubator farm and the first raised bed he was working on, he said, “I’m more at peace here. I haven’t given it that much thought. It’s just seems natural for me.” Pausing, gazing across the broad, greening valley, he added, “I don’t have reasons. I can’t explain why.”

He did share one reason he could explain. He met his very soon-to-be bride at college. Her home is Happy Valley. In talking with him, it sounds as if he fell in love with the valley almost as quickly as he did with the lady he is marrying on – appropriately – Earth Day.

Patterson walking path bounded by oak trees

A path at Patterson School shaded by Oak trees

Still, he is certainly not the first person in this valley to arrive from a distant home, feeling embraced by its ridges, woods and the meandering Yadkin River, still not able to explain the attraction beyond a sacred connection to the land. It was fertile ground for crops then, and is today. As Driscoll stood alongside his recently plowed field, he observed that the soil is so rich that it does not need fertilizer.

Comparing the valley he now calls home to Chicago, Driscoll offered, “I thought people were rude. There was too much commotion. There was no privacy, and nothing to do if you don’t have money.” In fact, he says he gets bored when he visits home. “There’s something missing,” he observed.

That something might be connection to the earth that he first experienced on a family farm in Wisconsin. He also mentioned that as a Catholic school student, he went on a trip to eastern Kentucky. He noted that while the region was impoverished, there was a sense of community – and perhaps, counter-intuitively – isolation that he found attractive.

And while eastern Kentucky is more isolated than Caldwell County, both are in Appalachia, so there are tribal similarities. Happy Valley has families that are descended from those original settlers. Some still have farms; even more have small family gardens.

Indeed the region has played a critical role in the history of the state’s rich agricultural tradition. Samuel Legerwood Patterson, the first elected Commissioner of Agriculture in North Carolina, was born in 1850 at Palmyra, the family home on the historic property. It, too, is being methodically restored.

We are alive and breathing.” – Liza Plaster

Despite that rich history though, farming is not as common as it once was. So Driscoll is determined to see that the incubator program helps folks in Happy Valley – and beyond – return to the region’s rich farming roots.

Explaining why he initially came to North Carolina from his home in Chicago, Driscoll said “I moved to North Carolina because I had received a flier from Warren Wilson College and was interested in the area. Although I grew up in Chicago, I did not like the city and was eager to leave. It didn’t take much for me to want to move here after visiting.”

He continued, “I had ties to farming growing up through friends and family members; my parents owned an 80 acre farm at one time that we lived on part time. I like to work and provide for myself; farming is hard work and you see your reward with what you grow and eat. Reviving the farm at Patterson School will be good for the community. Working there will be a good opportunity for new and old generations to get involved with the community and learn about farming.”

My mentality is that I’m to work hard. I’ve busted my butt since I’ve been here. Part of it is to prove to myself that I can do it.” – Ian Driscoll

He said that once the incubator program is running successfully, he hopes to hold workshops at Patterson that get the community, especially school children, involved in farming.

Indeed, collaborating with the Caldwell County Schools is an important part of the foundation’s activities now, said Liza Plaster, the foundation’s publicist.  In fact, on each of the visits to the farm, this reporter observed numerous school buses and children on the property.

In fact, said Plaster, the restoration of Palmyra, the strong relationship with the school system and the incubator program all send one message: “We are alive and breathing.”

Patterson school 1909 first day

The first day of class at Patterson School in September, 1909

Clearly, the most visible example of that is the incubator farm. “We want to create a way for people to have an occupation that was, at one time, a major occupation in this valley,” said Driscoll. He emphasized, though, that the program is open to anyone. “This is an opportunity for anybody to strike out on their own and save money too.”

As much as he loves the land, he is ultimately motivated by challenging himself to work as hard as he possibly can. “My mentality is that I’m to work hard. I’ve busted my butt since I’ve been here. Part of it is to prove to myself that I can do it.”

Contact Information

Driscoll can be contacted for more information about the Incubator Farm Program and about raised bed gardening opportunities for children on campus during the growing season at idriscoll41@yahoo.com

Related Articles

Crossing the River: The Catawba Valley and the Appalachians (1747 – 1849)

Horseford Bridge Connects the Piedmont to the Mountains

Note: All photos courtesy of the Patterson School Foundation.

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017.

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Where are the Courageous and Visionary Leaders?

These are times when those in power must act for the welfare of those they serve

By Michael M. Barrick

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

In paragraph 57 of his ecological encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis asked, “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?” Published nearly two years ago, that question is even more valid and pressing today.

Point in case: The failure of President Trump and the Republican-led Congress to hold even a vote on a health care bill is an abject failure of leadership. Actually, considering how bad the bill was, for that we can be thankful. However, at this stage in our history, at this stage in incalculable threats to world peace, we simply can’t afford a complete void of leadership.

For my 61years on this planet, I have witnessed presidential administrations and congressional leaders reach compromises on vital issues despite deep differences. Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill had severe policy disagreements. But they were civil with one another. Indeed, they were friends.

More importantly, they led. You need not agree with their politics to understand that had to have been strong leaders, otherwise, nothing would have been accomplished while they were in Washington together. Forging relationships is an essential leadership trait. Out of those relationships come a deeper respect for and understanding of one another. It causes people to look for common ground – especially when the general welfare is at stake.

C543-12

President Reagan and Speaker O’Neill

Now, though, the Republican Party has a problem. It is like a dog chasing a car. Now that they’ve caught it, they can’t do much with it except bite into the tire. This is what happens when one is mindlessly seeking power for power’s sake.

The Democratic Party, I might add, is not much better. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi responded, “Let’s just for a moment breathe a sigh of relief for the American people that the Affordable Care Act was not repealed.”

No, let’s not. This is not the time to pause; it is a time to act.

I am not breathing a sigh of relief. Obamacare is a total disaster. It is crony capitalism at its worst. Far too many people still can’t access affordable health care; insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and even hospital corporations now have more control over an individual’s health care than the patient and his or her family doctor.

But as others have said, there may be a silver lining in this dark cloud. The American people are finally realizing that a single-payer, universal health care law is the only viable option to provide adequate medical care for all Americans. Why do they know this? Because we’re already doing it. It’s called Medicare. So, it is time to do what the majority of American people want, including Trump-voting Appalachia – pass a single payer, universal health care bill. In short, provide Medicare for all.

This will require cooperation. The days of a political leader saying that his sole purpose is to obstruct the efforts of a political opponent must be put behind us now if we are to solve the problems facing our communities, state and nation. Sadly, “leaders” in both major parties now resort to obstructionism rather than doing the tough work of negotiating.

Pulse trace

That simply won’t do. Consider your own experiences or those of your friends and family. Do you know anybody that says going to the doctor has gotten easier? Have you seen your doctor beat her head against the wall when a flunky on the other end of the phone is deciding whether or not her diagnosis of you is accurate? Do you think getting prescriptions filled is easier? Do you think life-saving prescriptions should be priced so high that CEOs make $20 million a year while patients die?

For now, we continue to ignore these questions for a simple reason – in the USA, might trumps right. This is not the recipe for “making America great again.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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The Fake Compromise of N.C. House Bill 2

Cooper and the General Assembly make a mockery of the state motto

By Michael M. Barrick 

Roy Cooper

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper

RALEIGH, N.C. – The bill passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper on March 30 to repeal the state’s controversial “bathroom bill” is nothing less than shameful. It is a fake compromise; it is certainly not a repeal, which was what is needed. In this case, a return to the status quo before the Charlotte City Council passed its local ordinance that precipitated the HB2 madness is the only option that will allow cooler heads to prevail and allow us to have an honest debate in this state about this issue.

That means no more rushing bills through with little or no transparency, as the first one was done during special session and this replacement was done last week.

Sadly, the only thing it accomplished is to demonstrate that both political parties are woefully lacking in leadership. That is because this new law changes nothing for now; the GOP-controlled General Assembly ensured that the bill includes a provision that still prevents local municipalities from passing ordinances “regulating private employment practices or regulating public accommodations” until Dec. 1, 2020.

Understandably, those seeking repeal of HB2 are beyond disappointed by Governor Roy Cooper; they feel betrayed. And well they should. This so-called compromise is an attack up the LGBTQ community, workers’ rights, and local control. That is not a legacy consistent with Democratic Party values.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party claims to be the party that believes in local control. They even believe in nullification of federal laws with which they disagree. For them to handcuff local municipalities is a cynical betrayal of their fundamental principles – simply for political gain, regardless of the harm it does to the people and state they are elected to represent.

So, once again, both of our major political parties have failed us on this issue that is an absolute embarrassment and betrayal of the legacy of bi-partisanship for which North Carolina was once known.

State sealIn short, they’ve betrayed our state motto – Esse Quam Videri, which is Latin for “To be rather than to seem.”

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017. 

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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.