Tag Archives: Appalachian Voices

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

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

Va DEQMONTEREY, Va. – A group of thirteen expert scientists and engineers submitted reports to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on August 22, finding that the DEQ has failed in its duty to properly analyze and protect against the water quality damages the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) would cause to Virginia’s waters.

If approved, the two 42-inch pipelines will traverse through hundreds of miles of Virginia. The ACP would originate in northern West Virginia before ending roughly 600 miles later in southeastern North Carolina. The MVP would also originate in northern West Virginia, traverse hundreds of miles through that state before crossing into Virginia, will it will terminate. The adverse impact upon public health and the environment by the construction and operation of the pipelines has led the tens of thousands of groups and individuals across the Commonwealth and beyond to oppose their construction.

In the reports, one issued for each of the pipelines, the authors wrote that they had reviewed the information DEQ claimed to rely upon in its draft Water Quality Certifications (WQCs) and made their own independent assessments. The experts’ conclusion in each case:

DEQ’s draft WQC, which asserts that there is a “reasonable assurance” that Water Quality Standards (WQS) will be met with the conditions contained in that draft, cannot be supported by the evidence in the record and pertinent scientific authorities and knowledge. Such a finding in the Department’s recommendation to the State Water Control Board (SWCB) would be professionally incompetent and would fail to meet minimum standards of scientific proof.

The authors of the expert report have a vast depth of experience and training (nearly 400 years in professional and academic posts overall) in the entire range of scientific and technical fields pertinent to DEQ’s decisions on the pipelines. They include the incoming president of the American Fisheries Society, a member of the Virginia Cave Board, and former senior engineers and scientists at the Virginia DEQ, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the Maryland Department of the Environment. The group includes licensed professional engineers and geologists, professors from Virginia Tech and Washington and Lee University, authors of hundreds of peer-reviewed academic papers, and those who’ve served as expert witnesses in court for DEQ and other state and federal agencies. A complete list of the authors is included below.

“The authors of this report used strong language in our criticism of the proposed findings DEQ has made in its draft Certifications for the pipelines, because we are frankly dismayed to see an agency that’s supposed to base regulatory decisions on science and law ignore the facts and betray the public,” said David Sligh, Conservation Director of Wild Virginia and a Regulatory Systems Investigator for the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC). The two groups included the expert reports as part of extensive submittals to DEQ during the comment periods that ended yesterday.

nopipeline-e1419984524674Rick Webb, DPMC’s Coordinator said, “We are not criticizing the dedicated technical employees at DEQ and the other state agencies who’ve studied the potential impacts from the hugely-disruptive projects. In fact, we cited the recommendations agency staff made in previous comments in which they explained why much more data and analyses were needed before protection of state waters could be assured, as the law requires; that permanent damages to our waterbodies could result and residents’ wells and springs ruined without additional information and protective measures.”

“What we are criticizing is the McAuliffe administration’s regulatory proposals, which ignore the concerns and devalue the expertise of their own technical staff,” stated Sligh. “DEQ must not proceed with flawed and scientifically-unsupported recommendations to the State Water Control Board to approve Certifications for either project. If Director Paylor, Secretary of Natural Resources Ward, and the Governor mandate such an approach, then the members of the Water Control Board must play their roles as protectors of the public and reject those recommendations.”

The reports’ authors include: Dr. Paul L. Angermeier, Ralph Bolgiano, Malcolm CameronHE, David Collins, P.E., Ari Daniels, Dr. Pam Dodds, P.G., Dr. David Harbor, Robert K. Johnson, Rick Lambert, William Limpert, Dr. Brian Murphy, David Sligh and Rick Webb. For more information, including access to the complete expert report on the ACP and additional DPMC reports on the draft 401 Water Quality Certification, visit the DPMC website.

 

10,000 Comments Delivered to DEQ by Environmental Groups

Also on Tuesday, experts, landowners, and environmental groups from across the Commonwealth gathered at DEQ headquarters in Richmond to deliver thousands of public comments related to DEQ’s 401 water certification process.

The comments, collected by the Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Appalachian Voices, Bold Alliance, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, and Oil Change International urged the DEQ to do more in order to meet the agency’s obligations to protect Virginia’s water sources from natural gas pipeline construction and operations.

“DEQ’s draft Certification is legally and scientifically indefensible,” David Sligh, former Senior Engineer at Virginia’s DEQ, said. “The processes DEQ has conducted have been unfair and inadequate to satisfy the Governor’s promises of thorough and transparent regulatory reviews. The State Water Control Board cannot certify these projects unless it can assure that all state water quality standards will be met. A rigorous scientific analysis would prove such a conclusion is impossible.”

The public comments urge Governor McAuliffe and DEQ Director David Paylor to direct the DEQ to extend the public comment period for these projects and to conduct site-specific reviews and permits for each waterway crossed by both of these pipelines. The DEQ has originally announced to the public that it would undergo site-specific reviews for these pipelines in April, but announced in June that they that the agency would instead opt to rely on the Army Corps of Engineers’ blanket permitting process.

“The Corps’ process is woefully inadequate to protect our water,” Bill Limpert, a property owner in Bath County whose property would be traversed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said. “We looked at the Corps’ map of our property and we have two streams that are not even present on that map. How are they supposed to protect our waterways if they don’t even know where they are?”

Courtesy submissions

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Industrial Hemp Offers Hope to Appalachia’s Farmers and Environment

Age-old crop could help expand economic diversity in Appalachia

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the April/May 2016 edition of Appalachian Voices 

By Michael M. Barrick

As the result of a new law that takes effect on July 1, Virginia farmers will soon be able to grow hemp for industrial purposes — albeit with restrictions.

Even though the law is new, the crop is not. Industrial hemp has been grown around the world for centuries, offering thousands of uses, none of which involve “getting high.”

Hemp crop in Kentucky

The first legal Kentucky hemp crop was grown at the University of Kentucky Spindletop Research Farm in Lexington in August 2014. Photo courtesy Chase Milner

In fact, according to Chase Milner, the Shenandoah Valley regional director for the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, “Industrial hemp has been grown by human civilization for at least 12,000 years for fiber, food, and now recently bio-fuels.”

He noted that a 1619 Virginia law required farmers to grow hemp, a critical component of sailcloth, textiles and rope, and three of the Founding Fathers grew hemp on their Virginia estates. Ben Franklin owned a mill that made paper from the plant, and the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper.

Still, Virginia’s new law has its limitations, Milner explained. “Currently, under the federal Agricultural Act of 2014, the only lawful purpose for which industrial hemp may be grown is for research conducted by an institute of higher education or a state department of agriculture.”

Before industrial hemp gains widespread acceptance, policy makers need to understand the difference between the crop and marijuana. The most significant difference is the level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the chemical that gives marijuana users their “buzz.” Industrial hemp contains very low levels of THC — about 0.3 percent — while marijuana can contain up to 20 percent.

Ecological Benefits

According to Mike Manypenny, a former three-term member of the West Virginia House of Delegates who championed industrial hemp while serving in the legislature, the environment would benefit from fully legalized industrial hemp. A farmer, he has been granted a provisional license to grow the crop this year for research.

“Here in West Virginia and across Appalachia, we are inundated with environmental damage caused by the extraction industries. Coal mining has left unimaginable environmental damage to our soils, water and air across our once pristine landscapes,” Manypenny wrote in an email. “We can use industrial hemp to help remediate those soils through bio-remediation, where the plant takes up the metals and toxins left behind from the mining and processing of coal or other industrial practices. This in turn can reduce the amounts of metals and toxins leaching into our streams, rivers and into our aquifers.” However, researchers acknowledge that since information regarding the effects of toxins on industrial hemp is incomplete, any such use of the plant would require that it be disposed of in a special manner, likely consistent with any disposal requirements of the toxin being absorbed by the plant.

Ryan Huish, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, agreed that the crop can be environmentally friendly. “Hemp requires little to no chemical input to grow well, thus avoiding the use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers,” he stated. “It also has the potential of reducing the need to harvest trees for pulp and building materials, thus preserving more of our forests.”

VA Hemp members at WVU

The Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition’s Leadership team at a conference on industrial and medical cannabis at the WVU College of Law

Milner described how hemp also sequesters carbon in a way that enhances soil quality while reducing levels of climate-disrupting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The crop is also a nutritious food source. “Hempseed provide a remarkable plant based protein diet for human, livestock, and wildlife consumption,” he added.

Economic Benefits

Huish observed, “the scientific name itself includes the Latin ‘sativa,’ meaning, ‘cultivated,’ emphasizing its eminence as a domestic crop.” As West Virginia adjusts to having less employment from the shrinking coal industry, Milner and Manypenny both suggest that industrial hemp could serve as an economic engine to help fill the gap. “Appalachia offers one of the most pristine environments for growing industrial hemp,” Manypenny said.

Milner stated, “The Hemp Industries Association has reviewed sales of clothing, auto parts, building materials and various other products derived by foreign-grown hemp, and estimates the total retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. in 2014 to be at least $620 million.”

Hemp’s Future

According to Milner, the full benefits of industrial hemp won’t be realized until federal law is changed. “Congress remains the industry’s greatest hurdle, as hemp still is defined as marijuana via the Controlled Substances Act,” he wrote.

Yet, he remains hopeful. “For many including me, hemp brings hope,” Milner shared. “Hope for a planet that needs healing, hope for a more sustainable agrarian future, hope for more locally sourced foods, renewable fuels and fibers. Hope for health care products that do not pollute the environment and will lessen our use and impact of synthetic pesticides, insecticides, and petroleum products.”

The Legal Status of Hemp in the U.S. & Appalachia

Producing and cultivating industrial hemp has been nearly impossible in the United States for roughly 80 years, when the U.S. Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937 placed an extremely high tax on industrial hemp, making it unprofitable. Though that law was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1969, Congress responded in 1970 with passage of the Controlled Substances Act. It listed marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance — meaning that it is considered among the most harmful of drugs. At the time, industrial hemp was not distinguished from marijuana.

That changed two years ago, when President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014, which allows universities and state agriculture departments to cultivate industrial hemp for limited purposes. Emboldened by this evolution, several states in Appalachia have loosened their own laws and are now looking to industrial hemp as a way to promote economic diversification and environmental preservation, especially in the rich earth that nurtures the farmlands of the region.

Hemp postcard

A postcard titled “A Kentucky Hemp Field” shows a crop at the turn of the 20th century. Image courtesy University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center

Virginia recently enacted legislation allowing farmers to grow the plant. West Virginia law allows the cultivation of industrial hemp with up to one percent THC, issues licenses to growers and even provides legal protection against prosecution under marijuana criminal codes. Maryland law permits a person to “plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, sell and buy industrial hemp.”

In Kentucky, a five-year research and licensing program is overseen by the University of Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station. Established in early 2014, there are five projects across the state, including one project to determine whether industrial hemp could be used to remediate tainted soil.

In North Carolina, a law took effect in October 2015 that recognizes the potential importance of industrial hemp and established a commission to create and regulate an industrial hemp program. It also established licensure and reporting procedures and distinguishes hemp from marijuana. Yet the commission has not been funded by the General Assembly.

In Tennessee, however, applications for the 2016 growing season have been accepted by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, though the application period has ended. The law there, passed in 2014, is similar to the one in North Carolina in that it distinguishes industrial hemp from marijuana and established oversight through the Department of Agriculture.

In summary, no state in Appalachia allows the production and cultivation of industrial hemp without some sort of governmental oversight and control, but acceptance of the crop is growing.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016

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Have We Learned Anything from Buffalo Creek?

Mountaintop removal, natural gas fracking and the rush to develop gas pipelines suggest it is ‘Business as usual’

By Michael M. Barrick

Look at the weather
Look at news
Look at all the people in denial
We’re burning time; bleeding grace
Still, we worship at the marketplace while common sense is going out of style
I thought that I’d be above it all, by now
In some country garden in the shade

But it’s business as usual
Day after day
Business as usual
Grinding away
You try to be righteous
You try to do good
But business as usual
Turn your heart into wood

From “Business as Usual” by the Eagles, © 2007

Forty-three years ago yesterday, 125 West Virginians died when the Buffalo Creek Mining Company waste containment pond dam burst at the head of Buffalo Creek, releasing 135 million gallons of water, sludge and mud to form a 30-foot high wall of debris that rushed through the valley below. In addition to the dead, several thousand people were displaced and approximately 1,000 homes destroyed. (For an outstanding, comprehensive story of that tragedy and its ramifications, see Brian Sewell’s account on the Appalachian Voices website).

Destruction at Buffalo Creek Photo courtesy of West Virginia State Archives

Destruction at Buffalo Creek
Photo courtesy of West Virginia State Archives

While I was only 15 at the time, I remember it well. That is because on the next day, a Sunday, the youngest priest in our parish – Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Clarksburg, W.Va. – did not mince words in his homily. He unapologetically launched into a stinging criticism of the coal industry and state officials, who he considered complicit in the tragedy. His homily drove a wedge not only in the parish, but in many families. As an idealistic teenager, I found myself at odds with my dad, who was not pleased that the priest had used Mass to speak to a current event – especially in Coal Country. He and my mom had quite a donnybrook that afternoon after Mass. That they did was not surprising; dad had a business perspective, mom a social justice point-of-view.

I remained quiet, but it was at that moment that I began to question the propaganda of the coal industry. I still do.

Six or seven years after the tragedy, my girlfriend (now wife) and I were visiting another priest and close family friend who was stationed in Logan, W.Va. at the time. He took us on a “tour” of the area. Evidence of the devastation remained, and old mining houses with families living in abject poverty lined the dirt roads. I recall thinking that once the TV cameras and reporters with their notepads left the scene, the area returned to business as usual.

That is still the case.

The death and destruction resulting from Mountaintop Removal is thoroughly documented here and elsewhere. I have written here about at least a dozen reasons that fracking is bad for all living things. Additionally the rush by energy companies such as Duke Power, Dominion Resources, Consol Energy and others to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Mountain Valley Pipeline and several others is trampling upon individual rights, threatening endangered species and unspoiled forest land. It also poses a clear and present danger to human life, as there have literally been hundreds of pipeline explosions since the turn of the century. You can read here about efforts of one group among hundreds across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina that are standing firm against the energy extraction industry.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in all three states are displaying an appalling lack of historical awareness, gutting laws that protect people and the environment from the deadly practices of the industry.

In short, it is business as usual. As we learned from Buffalo Creek, that is a disaster waiting to happen.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

The Appalachian Preservation Project is also handling planning for the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. The conference sponsor is St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Hickory, N.C. Our conference partner is the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club. Learn about it here.

Art Exhibit to Explore Impact of Mountain Top Removal and Fracking

‘Fractured Sanctuary’ considers destruction to the environment

By Michael M. Barrick

HICKORY, N.C. – Lindsay Barrick’s latest body of work – “Fractured Sanctuary” – is part of her ongoing series dealing with the destruction of the natural world and the people who are called to aid in its reconciliation. The exhibit will hang at the Bethlehem Branch Library in Alexander County, N.C. from August 7 until September 25 as part of the Exhibiting Artist Series. She will also show at the United Arts Council of Catawba County in January 2015.

"Your Hands Can Heal"

“Your Hands Can Heal”

Five years ago, the mixed media artist attended a social justice class at her grandparents’ parish in Bridgeport, W.Va. The topic was mountaintop removal. She revealed, “My life was rocked when I learned of the magnitude of the devastation.” Raised to be an outspoken advocate for environmental justice, she became especially passionate about issues relating to mountaintop removal and hydraulic fracturing.

“Fractured Sanctuary” explores themes of demolition and insatiability, attempting to convey the ugly, dirty side of ‘progress.’ All works are one-of-a-kind artist proofs. A West Virginia native, she lives and creates in western North Carolina. She draws strength and inspiration from the ancient Appalachian hills and continues to work on an ever-expanding series that explores themes of destruction and reconciliation of the natural world.

In “Fractured Sanctuary,” each piece was made using an etching press. Other than producing a block carving Christmas card in 1993, she had never worked in the indirect process. She took her first printmaking class with Thomas Thielemann in the spring of 2014. “Fractured Sanctuary” is the direct result of learning how to create monotypes, intaglio prints, and collagraphs at Caldwell Community College. Most of the work was made on the Hickory Museum of Art’s intaglio press.

Barrick said, “I am thrilled to partner with one of my favorite non-profits – Appalachian Voices – an organization which advocates for cleaner energy sources in Appalachia and the whole of America, particularly shining the light on the costs of mountaintop removal and hydraulic fracturing.” Ten percent of all sales will benefit the important work of Appalachian Voices.

The artist was awarded a Regional Artist Grant by the United Arts Council (2012) and a full scholarship from Windgate Charitable Foundation (2013) to study encaustic painting from renowned artists Celia Gray, Elizabeth Tomasetti, and Fawn Potash at Penland School of Craft. She is in the process of converting an old garage into an encaustic and printing studio.

Lindsay’s small-scale collages, made entirely from found objects and recycled material, were featured in the 2012 two-person show, “Up Close & Far Away.” Her work was selected as part of “Concertina, Interpreted,” an invitational exhibition at Caldwell Arts Council based upon North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti’s latest book of poetry.

Lindsay creates from her Jazz Age home in the Green Park neighborhood of Hickory. She has studied with Jacquelyn Mate, Thomas Thielemann, Lynda Lea Bonkemeyer, Damon Hood, Jean Cauthen, and Mary Dobbin. As facilitator of the Hickory Museum of Art’s Open Studio, she often paints alongside other artists, including Kate Worm, Stephen Brooks, Matthew Good, Clay James, and Joel Kincaid.

Barrick is a founding member of Harmony Arts Collaborative, the co-founder of The Boating Party, and a co-founder of Painting with Peers. She coordinates art projects for a local non-profit and is passionate about promoting and collaborating with other artists, writers, and musicians.

“Fractured Sanctuary” is dedicated to the memory of her paternal grandmother, Minetta Lane “Sparky” Barrick – a life-long advocate for the down-and-outs and underdogs – and to her parents for their constant encouragement and deep love of the mountains. Lindsay’s niece Atleigh, who is already an artist at five, is a huge inspiration. The impetus for the work comes from Lindsay’s deep desire to leave the world more beautiful for Atleigh and those who will follow.

© Michael Barrick/Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.

(Note: Lindsay Barrick is the daughter of Michael Barrick).