Tag Archives: Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

OVEC Publishes Newspaper to Reach 29,000 West Virginians

Dangers of fracking, benefits of Clean Energy in West Virginia are covered in the 28-page newspaper, Renew West Virginia

By Michael M. Barrick

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – One of the most established and influential environmental and social justice organizations in West Virginia is printing and distributing 29,000 copies of its own newspaper – Renew West Virginia.

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) stated in a news release, “The publication … examines the health and pollution impacts of the fracking boom in other areas of West Virginia, and details fracking-related projects proposed for the greater Huntington area. It also explores the nationwide growth of renewable energy and related jobs, with a focus on the renewable energy efforts underway in Cabell and Wayne counties.

It will be distributed to residents of Cabell, Wayne, Putnam, Jackson and Roane counties.  It is being sent to those “ … who reside near some of the proposed pipelines and their associated compressors stations,” explained OVEC in the statement. It is also available online.

OVEC pipeline map

The proposed route for the Mountaineer XPress Pipeline as provided by Columbia Gas Transmission online.

The proposed route for the Mountaineer XPress Pipeline, as provided by Columbia Gas Transmission online.

The newspaper has been published, said OVEC in its release, to answer the question, “What is our energy future?” The question is timely, argued the organization. It noted, “A total of nine large diameter pipelines are proposed to come through the Huntington area. Unlike the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline, which are largely completed already, the fracked-gas pipelines proposed for the Huntington area are not yet in construction, and some are still in the planning phases.”

It continued, “Columbia’s Leach XPress pipeline is planned to bore under the Ohio River near Camden Amusement Park, and Columbia’s Mountaineer XPress pipeline is currently in the public comment phase. There is also industry discussion now about fracking the very deep Rogersville Shale which underlies the Huntington area.”

As pipeline companies seek eminent domain rights, we need to remember that informed and organized people can demand their rights, protect their property, and contribute to a better energy future for our state and nation.” – OVEC Executive Director Natalie Thompson

There is a better way, argues OVEC in Renew West Virginia. OVEC Executive Director Natalie Thompson said, “All across the United States, a new energy for citizen action is emerging. We need to tap into that energy and work with others concerned about the severe climate impacts of these planned developments in our neighborhoods.” She continued, “As pipeline companies seek eminent domain rights, we need to remember that informed and organized people can demand their rights, protect their property, and contribute to a better energy future for our state and nation.”

Robin Blakeman, OVEC’s project coordinator, added, “We see the problems our neighbors in north central West Virginia have faced with the rise of deep shale fracking-related activities. We’ve published Renew West Virginia because we want to make certain that people know deep shale fracking-related activities are not the same as our grandfathers’ oil and gas industry.” She added, “Renewable is doable! We can choose to move West Virginia’s economy into the 21st century by embracing cleaner renewable energy.”

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Graphic from Renew West Virginia. Courtesy of OVEC.

Indeed, the impact of fracking upon the state’s northern counties, as well as residents in Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere are revealed in the newspaper. On page 3, under the headline, “Not Your Grandfather’s Oil and Gas Industry,” a new fracking well pad dwarfs an older well. With that startling contrast catching your attention, readers are informed, “To learn what this oil and gas rush would mean for our communities, we look to our northern neighbors. Explore these pages to learn more about what our region faces, about fracking-related activities, and about cleaner, healthier alternatives.”

A number of topics are covered, including the growth of renewable energy. There is also a section on the Rogersville Shale field – 12 to 14 thousand feet under about 12 counties in West Virginia and several more in Kentucky – which is in the sights of the gas industry. The Marcellus Shale, in contrast, is about 5,000 feet below the surface. The publication asserts, “If the Rogersville Shale is extensively developed, the Huntington/Wayne County area would be harmed by unprecedented deep fracking, with much of the oil and gas apparently slated for export overseas.”

OVEC Well pad flaring

A modern well pad. Note the flaring. Dangers also include storage tanks for explosive, volatile natural gas condensate. Courtesy of OVEC.

Additionally, the publication points out that much of the gas being extracted from the West Virginia shale fields are earmarked for export, despite federal regulations designed to prevent that. It shows how a state court victory for citizens could thwart industry plans to export the gas they seek to extract. The ruling prevents gas companies from accessing private property. Hence, depending upon other factors, the ruling could severely limit construction, and hence production and, ultimately, export of the fracked gas. Consequently, the construction of pipelines and compressor stations, not to mention the many adverse impacts of fracking, could conceivably be severely restricted by West Virginians firmly standing for their rights.

In that decision from a case in Monroe County, the West Virginia Supreme Court upheld a ruling by Monroe County Judge Robert A. Irons ruling that landowners do have the right to prevent pipeline surveyors from coming on their property to survey for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). This was a clear win in checking gas companies’ abuse of eminent domain. He ruled what MVP’s attempts to get on private property without permission based on the premise of eminent domain is illegal because it was “private taking for private use.” In other words, the pipeline is not for public benefit, affirmed the court, but for the profit of the energy companies building them.

Other issues explored include public health and environmental complaints in Pennsylvania; the impact upon water supplies from depletion of lakes to pollution through leaching; earthquakes occurring where none had before the fracking boom; public health impacts, ecological risks, and overall nuisances of fracking well pads; and, a review of the impact of nine proposed pipelines, many of which would run under or near the Ohio River.

OVEC cluster of trucks

Fleets of various large trucks, oversized for the two-lane highways of West Virginia, many hauling hazardous and radioactive materials, clog the northern counties of West Virginia, as well as part of other central Appalachian states. Courtesy of OVEC.

Readers are also encouraged to know and defend their rights. “Folks in West Virginia living along the paths of these proposed pipelines are advised: If pipeline land men come looking for you, know your rights! OVEC can suggest knowledgeable and trustworthy lawyers.”

The dangers of compressor stations are illustrated vividly through the photo of a child who was part of a health study in New York. As noted in the caption, residents suffered from asthma, nosebleeds, headaches, and rashes. On the same page, readers learn. “The Pennsylvania Medical Society has called for a moratorium on new shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”

OVEC child with bloody nose

A child that was part of a health study in New York about the public health dangers of fracking. Photo: Minisink, N.Y. health study.

In-depth reporting is provided on the “typical steps” for a Marcellus Shale gas operation. Numerous photos tell their own stories. Radioactivity in fracking well waste is explored. The paper notes, “In December 2016, the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters reported on a study that found some well waste from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania contained radioactive material not previously reported, with the potential for leaching from landfills into the environment.” Over two pages, Renew West Virginia thoroughly reviews the science that proves fracking creates radioactive waste. Furthermore, they note that disposal of it is barely, if at all, regulated.

The newspaper also includes news of grassroots victories against pipelines; points out that the clean energy economy employs four million people in the United States; and, provides extensive analysis of solar energy.

Informational Meeting

OVEC will distribute copies of Renew West Virginia at an informational meeting at 6 p.m. on Wed., March 15 at the Main Cabell County Library, 455 9th Street (at the corner of 5th Ave. and 9th St. in downtown Huntington).

Learn more

To contact OVEC or to learn more about Renew West Virginia, click here.

What is fracking?
Fracking is a slang word for hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting a fluid consisting of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale. This fractures the rock, releasing natural gas, which is then extracted. In West Virginia, the Marcellus shale, a layer of rock 3,500 – 8,000 feet below the surface, is the object of fracking. The vertical depth of the formation is about 150 feet. Whether recovered or left behind, the frack fluid presents problems. The wastewater contains not only the chemicals added to the water, but also heaving minerals and radioactive materials recovered as part of the extraction process.

OVEC fracking process

Source of graphic: ProPublica; used with permission. Use does not imply ProPublica’s endorsement of any content of this newspaper.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Ken Hechler, an Inspirational Mountaineer

His life of service to West Virginia is an inspiration for all those seeking justice

By Janet Keating 

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Ken Hechler, front, at a rally to end mountaintop removal outside the headquarters of Massey Energy. Photo by Vivian Stockman.

SLANESVILLE, W.Va. – West Virginia and the nation has lost a true hero and people’s champion. Former Congressman Ken Hechler died at his home in Slanesville on Dec. 10. He was 102.

There are politicians, public servants and then there was Ken Hechler, a man in a class all of his own – military man, historian, educator, politician, activist and, my personal favorite, “hell raiser.” Those who knew him are familiar with his uncompromising commitment to justice and the betterment of all people in West Virginia, but especially for his advocacy of the health and safety of our nation’s coal miners. OVEC (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition) members may know him best for his passion for democracy and our iconic mountains. As a lifetime member of OVEC, Ken was often a speaker at rallies to end mountaintop removal where he sang  “Almost Level, West Virginia” his parody of the popular John Denver song, “Almost Heaven, West Virginia.”

I came to know Ken in the late 80s during my first-ever plunge into environmental issues as a member of the Huntington Tri-State Audubon Society – working to “save” the Green Bottom wetlands, the third largest wetlands in West Virginia near Huntington, where the pre-Civil War home of General Albert Gallatin Jenkins still stands.  Ken, as a Jenkin’s historian and then Secretary of State of West Virginia, was familiar with Jenkin’s history and so joined with our coalition urging the state and federal government to consider managing the former plantation home, its wetlands and its significant Native American archaeology for a higher use beyond simply a hunting ground.  Not surprisingly, the media portrayed the issue as hunting vs non-hunting (though some folks were very concerned about birds of prey which frequented the area like Bald Eagles as well as the historic Jenkin’s home).

After several years of butting heads with both state and federal agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to hold a public hearing where Ken and others faced off.  Despite a room full of several hundred angry, shouting hunters, Ken stood his ground and voiced his concerns. In the end, a reasonable compromise was reached where the wetlands were expanded, the Jenkin’s home underwent renovations (and was managed for a brief time by West Virginia Division of Culture and History), signs were posted to alert hunters to the presence of protected birds of prey and native species were planted to provide wildlife habitat. Undoubtedly, Ken’s involvement garnered greater media attention and raised public awareness to the issue, than we otherwise would have had, a valuable contribution.  Presently, Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area has become a well-known location for bird watching and hunting, although the Jenkin’s home, despite the millions spent on its overhaul, is boarded up and no longer open to the public. Nevertheless, every time I visit Green Bottom, I am thankful that Ken lent his time, energy and “notoriety” to this unique site.

When the issue of mountaintop removal reared its ugly head, Dr. Hechler eagerly joined with community members and environmental activists hoping to end the destructive mining technique.  He was a member of Congress during the catastrophic failure of the Buffalo Creek sludge-dam in 1972 that killed 125 West Virginians, a tragedy which eventually led to the passage of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act in 1977 (SMCRA).  This bill, however, continues to be a failed attempt by the state and federal government to regulate surface mining by the coal industry. Ken was greatly concerned when the final version of the bill legitimized mountaintop removal (MTR) which was supposed to be an exception rather than the rule when it came to strip-mining; MTR was only to be used when a flattened mountain provided land for authentic economic development. While coal companies by law are supposed to return the former mountains to “approximate original contour,” unfortunately, states regularly issue permits with variances to that provision. As it turns out, Ken foresaw the destruction that would follow the passage of SMCRA – hundreds of thousands of acres of denuded, flattened mountains along with more than 2,000 miles of annihilated streams and disappeared communities. A favorite phase of Ken’s, “Akin to putting lipstick on a corpse,” was how he referred to strip-mine reclamation.

A notable event in Ken’s effort to stop MTR was his participation in 1999, while WV Secretary of State, in a re-enactment of the historic Miners’ March on Blair Mountain that preceded the 1921 Mine Wars.  In 1997, the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection had issued what would have been the largest ever mountaintop removal permit in the state.  At risk were not only the mountains and the small community of Blair, but also one of the most historic labor/history sites in the nation, where about 7,000 miners determined to organize a union were met with great resistance and after five days, halted by 3,000 armed “militiamen” organized by Logan County Sheriff Don Chaffin. This was the largest battle on U.S. soil since the Civil War where eventually the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Corps were called in.

A courageous Dr. Hechler, 84 at the time, joined the reenactment with a number of others (OVEC’s Laura Forman, Carol Jackson, CRMW’s Judy Bonds, Larry Gibson, Jimmy Weekly, and Cindy Rank to name a few) supported by several organizations including OVEC.  For many people, the application and issuance of a mountaintop removal permit at historic Blair Mountain, which could literally erase the dark history of mining, underscored the sheer arrogance of coal companies as well as the complicity of government agencies. While the reenactors were not met with guns and soldiers, they were, however, harassed every day by miners and others who pelted them with eggs, and much to everyone’s horror, also shoved and kicked Ken.

From a story about the confrontation during the re-enactment by reporter Rick Steelhammer, Ken stated: “I tried to think about Gandhi and Martin Luther King and how they would react. It’s important to retain your cool, but it’s difficult when people begin to wade in and rip up all your signs, throw eggs at the back of your head, grab away your West Virginia flag, and trip and kick you.”

That incident led to warrants and arrests of those who committed violence and eventually landed some people in court, though not in jail.  One of the Logan County perpetrators of the harassment eventually ended up serving in Governor Bob Wise’s administration.  I still smile when I think about Ken holding a sign at a protest that said:  “Kick me and get a job with Bob Wise.” And recently, the D.C. District court upheld the U.S. EPA’s decision to rescind the permit for mountaintop removal on Blair Mountain, another people’s victory in which Ken participated in a major way.

Ken Hechler’s legacy though far-reaching (and incalculable) was also at times very personal.  In particular, his influence on Larry Gibson, another mountain hero, was very special. Ken often traveled with Larry to colleges and universities throughout the country to talk about the impacts of mountaintop removal on land and people of Central Appalachia. Because of Ken’s encouragement, Larry went back to school to improve his reading and writing skills. Having become quite a duo, both Ken and Larry were interviewed by “60 Minute’s” Mike Wallace, who came to West Virginia to produce a segment on mountaintop removal.

Through nearly two decades, Dr. Hechler, admired by so many, continued to answer the call, showing up at events, protests and rallies – the most notable one, a rally and protest at the Marsh Fork Elementary School, in Raleigh County, where he, along with actress Daryl Hannah and NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, were arrested in a non-violent, direct action to draw attention to the great need for a new elementary school.  A massive and dangerous coal waste impoundment loomed above Marsh Fork Elementary School adjacent to a coal silo, a coal processing facility and a mountaintop removal site. Coal River Mountain Watch’s Ed Wiley began urging state officials to build a new elementary school after he picked up his ill grand-daughter who told him, “Granddaddy, this school is making us kids sick.” After 6 years of tenacious organizing and advocacy, a new school was opened where Ken Hechler had,  once again, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those most impacted.

As someone who was deeply concerned about the state of our country’s democracy, Ken became active in campaign finance reform issues, especially when “Granny D”’s (Doris Haddock) began her epic 3,200 mile journey/walk from California to Washington, D.C. to elevate the need for supporting the federal McCain-Feingold bill. If passed, this legislation would help reduce spending on political campaigns. Ken walked more than 500 miles with Doris who turned 90 years old by the time she arrived in the nation’s Capital. When Doris arrived in Marietta, Ohio, Ken Hechler was on hand to greet and welcome her as she made her way across the Ohio River to Parkersburg, W.Va., to speak to supporters.

In 2006, Granny D and Ken spoke at a regional mountaintop removal summit dubbed “Healing Mountains,” that OVEC and Heartwood (a regional organization that works to protect public lands from abusive practices) organized. Doris and Ken reminded us that if we want to win our issues, we needed to be more inclusive and supportive of people of color.  You may recall that Ken was the only member of Congress that participated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights march in Selma. Union supporter, environmentalist, statesman, writer, historian, teacher, husband, father and add one more label – civil rights activist.

If you still need convincing about what an amazing man that Ken was, he had the most incredible memory of anyone I’ve ever met. My hunch is that Ken spent his remarkable life making really good memories.

Dear Ken, we know that you, of all people, have earned your eternal rest. Well done. You will be sorely missed.

This article originally was published on the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition website. It is reprinted with permission.

Janet Keating is the former Executive Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (www.ohvec.org) who retired September 2016 after 24 years with the organization. Her latest endeavor, Green Shepherd, LLC, offers consulting and other services to environmental and social justice non-profits.

Inaugural West Virginia Solar Congress Scheduled

Focus to be on identifying priorities for upcoming legislative session

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The inaugural West Virginia Solar Congress is scheduled for Dec. 10, according to Autumn Long, the WV Sun Co-op Coordinator. She said, “I am pleased to announce this special upcoming event and cordially invite folks to attend. It is free and open to the public.”

It will be held at the West Virginia University College of Law from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., said Long. Click here to register and find out more. 

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Long explained, “The Solar Congress is an open and collaborative event that will bring together West Virginia’s community of solar supporters to discuss the status of solar in our state. The Solar Congress will include breakout sessions on a variety of solar topics as well as a participatory forum discussion about the development of West Virginia’s solar landscape.”

She noted, “The focus of the event will be policy, particularly identifying priorities for the upcoming legislative session and building strategies to grow access to renewable energy in West Virginia. The West Virginia Solar Congress is sponsored by WV SUN, the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Breakout session topics and speakers:

  • Value of Solar (Dan Conant, Solar Holler)
  • Power Purchase Agreements (Colin Williams, Mountain View Solar)
  • Community solar (James van Nostrand, Center for Energy and Sustainable Development)
  • Local Energy Efficiency Partnerships (Emmett Pepper, Energy Efficient West Virginia)
  • Citizen lobbying (Karan Ireland, WV SUN)
  • Renewable Portfolio Standards (James Kotcon, West Virginia Sierra Club)

Event Agenda:

10 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.: Registration and networking
10:30 a.m. – 10:50 a.m.: Welcoming remarks
11 a.m. – 11:50 a.m.: Breakout sessions
12 p.m. – 12:50 p.m.: Lunch (informal networking hour)
1 p.m. – 1:50 p.m.: Breakout sessions
2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Solar forum (moderated by Anya Schoolman, Community Power Network Executive Director)
3:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.: Solar Happy Hour Reception

Long concluded, “More information is available on the WV Sun website. Be sure to check back often for updates. Please RSVP if you plan to attend and share widely with your social networks. To learn more, call 304-608-3539 or email autumn@wvsun.org.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016.

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Citizen Groups to Unite for Water Justice in West Virginia and Beyond

News conference at state capitol scheduled to demand clean and safe water, express solidarity with residents of Flint, Michigan

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A coalition of approxmiately 40 groups and individuals have scheduled a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at the state capitol here to focus attention on the importance of clean and safe water.

According to a news release from Angie Rosser of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Gary Zuckett of the West Virginia Citizens Action Group, and Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the purpose of the news conference is, “To call on our elected officials and regulators to live up to their responsibility to protect our basic right of access to safe water – government failings that led to the 2014 West Virginia Water Crisis, and following crises in Toledo, Ohio; Sebring Ohio; and, Flint, Mich.” The groups pointed in particular to the public health crises and millions of dollars in costs borne by taxpayers caused by the various disasters.

The news conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the lower rotunda of the state capitol.

The release noted, “The West Virginia Legislature continues to roll back protections for our water supplies. The Public Service Commission may abandon its duty to investigate what went wrong, and what needs fixed. Our congressional members seek to block proposed federal water protections at every turn.”

It added, “With our letter of solidarity to the residents of Flint, Michigan from 38 West Virginia groups, we come together in solidarity with communities across this state and nation to remind decision makers that water is everyone’s priority. We need commitments to protect water supplies and upgrade water infrastructure, everywhere, and especially in communities home to low-income families or people of color.”

The news conference comes less than a month after an independent report blasted West Virginia American Water Company for not being prepared for a chemical spill that polluted water of 300,000 people living in the Kanawha Valley in January 2014. Among other recommendations, the report urges municipal takeover of the Charleston water system and other systems in the state owned by West Virginia American Water Company (WVAW).

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The West Fork River in North Central West Virginia is sediment laden from runoff due to poor sediment control by gas pipeline contractors in the summer of 2015. Photo – MB

Boston Action Research (BAR), a project of the Civil Society Institute (CSI) argued that privately owned WVAW has still not taken the necessary steps to prepare for a future crisis, hold down rates, avoid major service disruptions, and invest in aging infrastructure.

The root cause of these problems, according to the BAR report, is that WVAW is guided by a profit motive. According to the report, “WVAW pays a higher percentage of its profits in dividend payments to its parent corporation, American Water Company, than its subsidiaries in other states on average, which sends precious financial resources out of West Virginia that could otherwise be invested in the water system.” It concludes, “Given the ongoing shortcomings of WVAW … [t]he best course of action for West Virginians is to assume public ownership and operation (municipalization) of the Charleston regional water system.”

Speakers

The Elk River Spill and other water-related issues will be addressed by the various speakers scheduled for the Feb. 9 news conference. Scheduled speakers and topics include:

  • Natalie Thompson, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition: Welcome and introduction of speakers.
  • Crystal Good, Affected citizen:  Reading of the solidarity letter from West Virginians to the citizens of Flint, Michigan.
  • Obi Henderson, Charleston resident: The call for water justice.
  • Karan Ireland, Advocates for a Safe Water System: The need for full investigation of lessons learned from water crisis.
  • Junior Walk, Coal River Mountain Watch: Growing up in West Virginia with poisoned water.
  • Angie Rosser, West Virginia Rivers Coalition:  Current legislation rolling back water protections.
  • Gary Zuckett, West Virginia Citizen Action Group: Closing and Q&A.

 Legislative meeting

The group is also are alerting citizens to a scheduled meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources on at 4:30 p.m. in the House Chamber to review the recommendations of the Public Water System Supply Study Commission.

Involved Groups and Individuals

Advocates for a Safe Water System / American Friends Service Committee / Appalachian Catholic Worker / Catholic Committee of Appalachia (WV Chapter) / Charleston WV Branch NAACP / Christians For The Mountains / Coal River Mountain Watch / Concerned Citizens of Roane County / Covenant House of West Virginia / Doddridge County Watershed Association / Friends of Water / Greenbrier River Watershed Association / Huntington-Cabell Branch of the NAACP / Kanawha Forest Coalition / Keeper of the Mountains / MelRose Ministries for Positive Transformative Change / Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance / Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition / People Concerned About Chemical Safety /Plateau Action Network / POWHR (Preserve Our Water, Heritage, Rights) / Preserve Greenbrier / Preserve Monroe / RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountains’ and People’s Survival) / Stories From South Central, WV /  Southern Appalachian Labor School / South Central Educational Development, Inc. / West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy / West Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club / West Virginia Citizen Action Group / West Virginia Clean Water Hub / West Virginia Direct Action Welfare Group / West Virginia Environmental Council / West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition / West Virginia Interfaith Power and Light / WV FREE (West Virginia Focus: Reproductive Education and Equality) / West Virginia Chapter, NAACP / West Virginia Rivers Coalition  and these individuals: Crystal Good @cgoodwoman / Ellen Allen and Sue Julian / Helen Gibbins / Karan Ireland / Maya Nye / Paula Swearengin / Shirley Rosenbaum.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016

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Related Articles

Health and Well-Being of Residents Being Subordinated to Fracking Industry

Environmental Groups Target WVDEP over Mountaintop Removal Permitting

A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking

Root Causes of Elk River Spill Still Remain, Say Researchers

 

Related Links

West Virginia Rivers Coalition

West Virginia Citizens Action Group

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

U.S. Forest Service Puts the Brakes on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Organizations and individuals fighting Dominion and its partners express satisfaction, but caution that the battle is far from decided

By Michael M. Barrick

CLARKSBURG, W.Va.  – Opponents to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) are expressing delight about a decision by the United States Forest Service (USFS) to reject the proposed ACP route because it would jeopardize what the USFS calls “sensitive resources.”

Despite the decision, opponents are also advising caution, saying that it could only delay, but not stop, the proposed 550-mile natural gas pipeline that is a project of Dominion Resources, based in Richmond, Va., and its partners, including Duke Energy of Charlotte, N.C. As currently proposed, the ACP would originate in Harrison County, W.Va. and terminate in southeastern North Carolina. Ultimate approval for the ACP will be up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

For now, though, the USFS decision has put the brakes on the proposed route.

In a letter and attachment to Leslie Hartz of Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC, USFS officials explained the decision and provided an “Assessment of Inconsistencies with Forest Plan Direction and Other Directives.” The letter was signed by Kathleen Atkinson of the USFS Eastern Region and Tony Tooke of the Southern Region.

Hartz and Tooke wrote, “We have determined that the proposed route does not meet minimum requirements of initial screening criteria … .” They explained, “The Land and Resource Management Plans for the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests contain standards and guidelines to protect highly sensitive resources, including Cheat Mountain salamanders, West Virginia northern flying squirrels, Cow Knob salamanders, and red spruce ecosystem restoration area.”

They continued, “Therefore, alternatives must be developed to facilitate further processing of the application.” They directed, “The status of the species in terms of risk for loss of viability on the National Forests, consistency with protections in the Forest Plans and other directives, and the uniqueness of ecosystems such as the spruce ecosystem restoration areas must be considered in the development of alternatives.”

Among the most vocal opponents to the ACP have been residents of Nelson County, Va. Marilyn Shifflett of Free Nelson said, “Those of us in opposition to the ACP have been extremely impressed at the work the USFS has done on this project for many months now. They have worked tirelessly to insure that regulations are followed and key sensitive areas are protected for future generations.” She cautioned, however, that citizens remain concerned about FERC’s review. “We remain hopeful that the FERC will take the USFS’s concerns seriously and that FERC Commissioners will review all of the USFS submissions by taking one step further, and consider the sensitive areas adjoining National Forest lands with a more critical eye. We have seen similar misrepresentations and incompleteness in the Resource Reports submitted for the ACP’s formal application and we will continue to ask that the FERC review these submissions very carefully.”

Friends of Nelson President Joanna Salidis offered, “We greatly appreciate the Forest Service’s tenacity in ensuring that federal laws and regulations pertaining to our national forests are enforced. We are grateful that they are working to protect the biodiversity, water, and recreational resources that so many people depend on. We are thrilled about the difficulty and delays the necessity of coming up with a new route will likely cause Dominion.” She, too, expressed concerns about the FERC review, saying, “We also note that the Forest Service’s advocacy for our public property highlights the absence of a similar watchdog agency for private property and impacted communities and individuals. The rest of us are left with FERC, bought and paid for by the industry.”

Jared M. Margolis, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species, said, “We are very pleased that the USFS has agreed that the project as proposed would have adverse impacts on vital habitat areas for imperiled species, including the Cow Knob salamander, which the Center has proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act, as well as habitat for the Cheat Mountain salamander, which is listed as threatened.”

He added. “While the Forest Service stated that alternative routes must be found to avoid these sensitive habitats, it found that the route variations that have been proposed do not resolve the concerns. It therefore remains unclear whether alternative routes are even possible through this region that would not have such unacceptable impacts.”

He was also blunt in his assessment of the ACP. “This pipeline would be an unmitigated disaster for rare wildlife like the Cow Knob salamander, and would intensify climate disruption by increasing fracking and continuing our reliance on fossil fuels. While it is heartening to see the Forest Service step up to ensure that vital habitats on the George Washington National Forest are protected, we do not need alternative routes for this project. What we need is to stop creating dirtier fossil fuel infrastructure and keep it in the ground.”

Elise Keaton with the Greenbrier River Watershed Association insisted, “This would not have happened but for the constant work of citizen groups and coalitions forcing the Forest Service to conduct more stringent reviews of these proposed routes.” She added, “My hope is that the other national forests that are projected to be impacted by the Mountain Valley Pipeline will follow suit in protecting critical habitat. Further, the cumulative impact of two export pipelines through these parts of the state need to be reviewed to determine if they are at all necessary.”

Keaton concluded, “This decision is positive in that it reflects the Forest Service’s willingness to protect the ecology within the National Forest which many residents of West Virginia and Virginia have worked hard to preserve. However, re-routing the proposed pipeline through another area does not necessarily mean that these same species won’t be impacted.”

Allen Johnson of West Virginia-based Christians for the Mountains shared, “I am surprised, but pleasantly so, by the decision of the U.S. Forest Service to protect the very sensitive areas of the northern flying squirrel, sensitive streams, and a tremendous 2,000 feet vertical climb over and down Cheat Mountain.” He admitted, “I tend to be jaded by politics and felt the USFS would roll over for the pipeline.”

He warned, however, “On the other hand, the likely alternative route would be very close to where I live, within three miles at some point, I think. It would still transgress some of the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests, and would also impact more private landholders. At this point, the alternative routes have had little public input, so I would push for another FERC scoping process.”

Executive Director Angie Rosser of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition shared, “This decision affirms that the USFS is taking their responsibility to protect sensitive resources and endangered species seriously. The ecological significance of the headwaters and forested land in this region cannot be overstated. We celebrate the Forest Service stepping in to defend it.”

Still, Rosser argued, “It’s not over. Dominion will undoubtedly look to alternative routes and there will be the same important questions to examine about forest fragmentation, headwater streams, rare species habitat, and more. And the big questions remain in the context of several proposed pipelines in this region – is there a need for them all, and what would be the cumulative impact to this special area of the country?”

April Keating, the chairperson of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, a grass roots movement in several central West Virginia counties, shared, “This is certainly a necessary first step in protecting our communities from gas infrastructure buildout, and shows that our forest service is on the ball and watching. Having a federal agency backing up what the citizens have been saying is also encouraging.”

Yet, she added, “I do not think environmental arguments are going to be enough to stop, slow, or re-route the pipelines. Though the threat to our environment is real from this industry, we have to make sure our public officials and agencies consider all the effects on our communities: public health and safety, economic drag, slowed progress in renewable energy development, protection of historical resources, and even things like cultural attachment. There is a strong connection between the water and public health, but somehow public officials don’t see the emergency such projects constitute.”

She argued, “Citizen action in West Virginia is the only way we are ever going to see progress in a ‘business as usual’ state whose economy has always been based on extraction. It is time to diversify the economy, do something new. The job opportunities are plentiful, if we could only get our leaders to see it. Some days I am discouraged, some hopeful, but in the end, I believe our efforts will push us forward, if only a tiny bit, and that in itself is progress.”

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) Executive Director Janet Keating remarked, “OVEC is pleased that the U. S. Forest Service has rejected the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through the Monongahela National Forest because of concerns over the impacts upon the Cow Knob salamander as well as the restoration efforts for the northern flying squirrel. Yet our concerns regarding this massive pipeline don’t end here.” She explained, “This issue is about much more than unique salamanders and flying squirrels. The larger issues that loom are not only the direct threats to our forests and attenuate wildlife – and private property impacted by the construction of this massive pipeline – but also how building this infrastructure promotes more drilling for deep shale gas and oil, which increases the risks associated with climate change. The overarching concerns that FERC, other government entities and all our politicians should have are the threats that continued use of fossil fuel extraction and burning has upon the very existence of humans, other life on earth and our home, planet earth.”

She asked, “Why should West Virginia’s politicians allow our state to bear all the environmental costs, especially threatening our precious and vital water resources, for the construction of the ACP and then ship natural gas to North Carolina or overseas? Beyond short-term economic gain, how do people here really benefit?” She concluded, “It’s time for our state and nation to get serious about clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency, approaches to energy production that create jobs, decreases risks to human health and water, and stems the tide on climate change.”

OVEC’s Project Coordinator Vivian Stockman added, “It’s great news that the Forest Service has denied ACP’s application for a Special Use Permit based on endangered species and ecological health. Now, ACP will have to propose a new route or system alternatives. Now, we need to consider human health. We say there’s no proposed route that will protect communities, air, water and land.

“We simply don’t need this pipeline. We don’t need to waste all the money on shoring up fossil fuel infrastructure. We say the alternative, for the sake of human and planetary health, is decentralized renewable energy.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2016.

Related Links

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Citizen Groups Organizing in Response to Fracking

From the Alleghenies of West Virginia to the Blue Ridge of Virginia, citizens joining forces to battle fossil fuel industry over public and ecological health

JACKSON’S MILL, W.Va. – West Virginians facing crucial quality of life issues with the onslaught of the deep shale oil and gas industry are banding together for the sake of their communities.

On December 15, more than 40 people representing 30 citizen groups from across West Virginia, as well as one Virginia group, gathered to meet one another and to discuss each group’s work surrounding deep shale oil and gas issues.

The various groups and coalitions work to address one or more of the detrimental impacts of oil and gas production on communities, human health and the environment that arise from activities associated with deep shale hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”

Their concerns include property rights; air, water and noise pollution; compressors stations; water withdrawal from our state’s streams and rivers; pipelines; wastewater treatment facilities; waste disposal and waste transportation; as well as public policy proposals looming when the West Virginia Legislature begins its regular legislative session this January 2016.

Attendees included representatives of community action groups, based in areas where the rural way of life and the environment are directly impacted by fracking/gas, as well as members of statewide organizations such as the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization, West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. Also in attendance were leaders from the faith community, scientists and public policy/economic professionals.

“Monroe County citizens are broadly mobilized to focus on blocking the development of frack gas infrastructures,” said Monroe County resident Laurie Ardison, who is with Preserve Monroe and POWHR, Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights. POWHR is an interstate coalition group working to protect the water, local ecology, heritage, land rights and human rights of individuals, communities and regions from harms caused by the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructures.

“We have an opportunity to develop clean jobs with renewables and cheaper energy efficiency programs. Locking us into fossil fuels for the future is going to pull us away from forward thinking economic development,” said April Keating with the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance.

“Clearly, we can increase our capacity and impact when we work together towards common goals,” said Janet Keating, the principal organizer of the meeting and executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, based in Huntington.

“Coming together from across the state working on various issues related to shale gas development, we learned common concerns connect us,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “We see a need to work together to set the best way forward for a healthy environment and economic future for our state.”

“There are negative health consequences for the people who live near fracking sites.  It is time for policy makers and the industry to recognize that people who live next to natural gas facilities are paying a high price,” said Conni Gratop Lewis of the West Virginia Environmental Council.

Another attendee stated, “The meeting was an energizing experience for me. I had been feeling a bit burned out lately, but now I feel like we may have a chance of beating this assault.”

“From pipelines cutting through the highland mountains to waste inundating the lowland fields and wetlands, the recent boom of oil and gas development is as harmful to many as it is economically beneficial to a few,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.  “As the region celebrates any short term economic gains, we must also fight to preserve the air we breathe, the water we rely on, the forests we enjoy, and the health of those who live near the drilling and production operations.”

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2015

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Ecological Groups Take on West Virginia AG over Clean Power Plan

Groups assert that state attorney general Patrick Morrisey seeks to invalidate regulations that protect the health and well-being of West Virginia’s residents

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, Kanawha State Forest Coalition, the Mon Valley Clean Air Coalition and Keepers of the Mountains Foundation have moved to intervene in an action previously filed by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and attorneys general from 23 other states. Their actions seek to delay and ultimately invalidate the Clean Power Plan adopted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Clean Power Plan is designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Under the plan, each state is required to develop a plan on how it is intends to achieve the emission reductions. Under West Virginia law, the governor, with the help of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP), will develop this “State Implementation Plan” and it will be reviewed by the West Virginia legislature before it is submitted to the EPA.

The groups assert that Morrisey seeks to invalidate the regulations that carry out the Clean Power Plan in hopes of preventing the regulations from going into effect while the case is pending in court. They also assert that while he claims to be speaking for all West Virginians, he is not.

“We feel compelled to intervene so that the court will have the benefit of viewpoints other than that of Mr. Morrisey, a viewpoint not shared by all West Virginians,” said Cynthia D. Ellis, president of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “This case is about whether we want to live in the present and prepare for the future or cling to the past. Coal has been our main source of electricity for a century. Mr. Morrisey wants to go back to that past, a past that has made West Virginians sick and contributed to climate change. We want to move forward to a future where there is more balance in meeting our energy needs.”

The Motion to Intervene points out that in “literally dozens of recent peer-reviewed studies, diligent medical researchers have documented the fact that particulate matter — whether emitted from electric utility plants directly, or indirectly from the mountaintop removal mining projects from which those utilities obtain their fuel supply — results in statistically significant increases of birth defects, decreased birth weights, diminished educational attainment, increased cancer, pulmonary and cardiac disease, and very substantially decreased life expectancy.”

“This is about who speaks for West Virginia and for West Virginians,” said Janet Keating, executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “Mr. Morrisey presumes to speak for the state and for all of us. His opinion may be that there is a war on coal and that all West Virginians should resist. This is not true. Climate change is a serious problem and we all have to do our part in addressing it.”

Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch , added, “The Clean Power Plan is far from perfect, and we may disagree with what West Virginia ultimately proposes as a plan to reduce emissions. But scrapping the Clean Power Plan entirely and betting West Virginia’s health and economic future on the miraculous resurgence of a polluting finite resource is not a solution.”

The case is filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  West Virginia groups are being represented by William DePaulo, an attorney based in Lewisburg, W.Va.

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Threatened Bat from Two West Virginia Coal Mines

Unchecked mountaintop removal coal mining continues to harm communities, endangered species in Appalachia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Center for Biological Diversity, Coal River Mountain Watch, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the Sierra Club filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for their failure to protect threatened northern long-eared bats at two proposed mountaintop removal coal mines in West Virginia. The mines will clear more than 1,000 acres of hardwood forest that are home to the rare bat, which was protected under the Endangered Species Act in April. The agencies have not put any specific measures in place to protect the bats from the mining activities, as required by law.

A mountaintop removal site Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

A mountaintop removal site
Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

“The failure to protect these bats is the latest example of coal companies getting a free pass in Appalachia when it comes to complying with the Endangered Species Act and other laws designed to protect the health of people and the environment,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “The wink-and-a-nod compliance with the law is having devastating effects on wildlife and human communities in Appalachia.”

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the northern long-eared bat in 2010. The species has declined by 96 percent in its core range due to a lethal disease called white-nose syndrome. Because of the drastic impact of this disease, the bat is extremely vulnerable to habitat destruction.

The bat is found at both Republic Energy’s proposed Long Ridge mine on Coal River Mountain in Raleigh County, which will clear 664 acres of forest, and Jim Justice’s Big Creek mine in McDowell County, which will destroy 468 acres of forest. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and Fish and Wildlife Service are required to ensure that mining does not jeopardize the survival of the bats.

“Federal agencies need to do a better job of protecting both the northern long-eared bat and the people who live around these mines,” said Vernon Haltom, director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Mountaintop removal is destroying wildlife and human communities in Appalachia and it is time for that to end.”

“The lack of effective protections for bats and other endangered species mirrors the lack of protection for Appalachian residents from surface mining impacts,” said Dianne Bady, founder and project coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

To try to address impacts to endangered species from surface mining, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement consulted with the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1996, resulting in a “biological opinion” that established very minimal requirements that must be met. According to today’s legal notice, the two mines in question have not established specific measures to protect northern long-eared bats as is required by that biological opinion. The groups also put the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement on notice that its continued reliance on the 1996 document to avoid impacts to imperiled species is illegal. The outdated biological opinion fails to ensure the survival of the northern long-eared bat and many other species that have required the Endangered Species Act’s protection since 1996 and, that like the bat, are being affected by surface coal mining.

“Today’s notice is another example of how critical it is to have increased protections in Appalachia from surface mining,” said Liz Wiles with the West Virginia Sierra Club. “Federal agencies need to revamp protections for endangered species when it comes to surface mining, which will benefit both wildlife and people.”

Much new scientific information has been published recently documenting the devastating effects of surface coal mining in Appalachia on wildlife and people. Mining has now been linked to declines in birds, fish, salamanders, crawdads, insects and freshwater mussels. Mining threatens nearby communities with air and water pollution and risk of flooding. More than 20 peer-reviewed scientific studies have now linked mining pollution in Appalachia to health problems, including increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects.

The proposed Big Creek mine is a case in point. In addition to destroying nearly 500 acres of native hardwood forest used by the bat, it is directly above a church and upstream of a Head Start center. It will also destroy more than five miles of streams, threatening another species that has been proposed for protection, the Big Sandy crayfish. More than one million acres of hardwood forest and more than 2,000 miles of streams have already been destroyed by surface coal mining in Appalachia.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Coal River Mountain Watch is a West Virginia nonprofit organization that works to stop the destruction of communities and environment by mountaintop removal mining, to improve the quality of life of residents, and to help rebuild sustainable communities. The group is working to pass the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE).

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition is national organization dedicated to the improvement of the environment and communities through education, grassroots organizing and coalition building, leadership development, strategic litigation and media outreach.

Sierra Club is one of the oldest grassroots environmental organizations in the country with more than 2.4 million members and supporters. Sierra Club’s mission is “to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environments.”

Citing Medical Studies, Activists Call for End to Mountaintop Removal Permits

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection accused of ‘permitting one disaster after another’

By Michael M. Barrick

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – On March 16, a day before seven environmental groups announced their intention to sue the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) for failing to intervene on West Virginia’s lax oversight of mountaintop removal and other destructive surface coal mining, approximately 200 people rallied in front of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) building to demand that it stop issuing permits for mountaintop removal.

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

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

Speakers moved beyond the customary concerns about environmental impacts and alluded to several studies that show that the strip-mining practice causes lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses from clouds of fine blasting dust.

According to one study published on the United States Institute of Health webpage, “Appalachian mountaintop mining particulate matter induces neoplastic transformation of human bronchial epithelial cells and promotes tumor formation.” Additionally, the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Campaign website offers a brief video about a child needing breathing treatments because of exposure to dust clouds from a nearby mountaintop removal site. Another page, on the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition website, provides information garnered from more than two dozen studies about the illnesses and deaths caused by mountaintop removal.

Among those present or speaking at “The People’s Foot” rally were several environmental leaders, Mountain State residents, at least two groups of college students visiting West Virginia on immersion trips, a singer from Kentucky, a Charleston singer and poet, and a 10-year-old girl.

Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch boomed, “DEP Secretary Randy Huffman has finally conceded that these health studies need to be considered, but he says his agency does not have the expertise to do so. If his agency does not understand the health impacts of the actions that they permit, then they have no business issuing more mountaintop removal permits. Randy Huffman has the authority, the mission and the moral obligation to protect people’s health, so he should issue no more mountaintop removal permits until he understands the consequences.”

Participants in The People's Foot Rally hold up signs for WV DEP staff to see Photo ©Chuck Wyrostok/AppaLight.com

Participants in The People’s Foot Rally hold up signs for WV DEP staff to see
Photo ©Chuck Wyrostok/AppaLight.com

Maria Gunnoe, an organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition added, “Mountaintop removal is killing the people I love, and my government is allowing it. The West Virginia DEP is permitting one disaster after another, and the people of West Virginia are paying for these disasters.”

Bo Webb, who organized the rally, called for the passage of federal legislation – HR 912, the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act. “Randy Huffman could refuse to issue another mountaintop removal permit based on the health impacts, but he would lose his job. Our state government will make sure that the permits continue to flow.”

Tom Breiding with Wheeling Jesuit University’s Appalachian Institute brought a group of students to the rally and was taking them to the West Virginia Coal Association office the next day. “We provide a comprehensive overview of what is happening in West Virginia,” said Breiding.

Also escorting a student group was Wess Harris. A sociologist by training, Harris is also a farmer, educator, and self-described progressive activist living in central West Virginia. He is also a retired underground miner who was a union organizer. He stressed that he seeks to provide the students he brings in with a balanced understanding of West Virginia. “I want them to learn what we are hearing today, but I also want them to respect coal miners. It is important that they understand that we’re not bad people.” He added, about the students, “I hope they come up with a solution.”

Tonya Adkins, a native West Virginian now living in Kentucky, sang a song she wrote based on Revelation 11:18. The lyrics include the line, “What will they say on the judgment day when God destroys those who destroyed the earth?” Commenting upon her song, she shared, “A thread that runs through this is the poisoning of our water.” Revelation 11:18 reads, “The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for the dead to be judged, and to recompense your servants, the prophets, and the holy ones and those who fear your name, the small and the great alike, and to destroy those who destroy the earth” (New American Bible, Revised Edition).

The 10-year-old, Ukiah Cordell of Charleston, said, “I used to love hiking up a mountain, letting the cool breeze blow away my negative thoughts. I still do. But now, it is not always so nice.” She concluded with a proclamation of hope, saying, “Mountaintop removal started here and we are going to end it here.”

Organizers and participants of The People's Foot Rally wait in the DEP lobby to be heard by DEP staff. Initially, 10 had planned to meet with DEP leaders, but others joined. When DEP staff said not all present could be in the meeting, all in the group left Photo ©Chuck Wyrostok/AppaLight.com

Organizers and participants of The People’s Foot Rally wait in the DEP lobby to be heard by DEP staff. Initially, 10 had planned to meet with DEP leaders, but others joined. When DEP staff said not all present could be in the meeting, all in the group left
Photo ©Chuck Wyrostok/AppaLight.com

© 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.

Also, the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference is scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. This is a wonderful opportunity to be part of a community of like-minded preservationists to address the topics covered extensively on this site. Learn about it and register for it here.

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Federal and State Agencies Targeted for Lax Oversight of Mountaintop Removal

Groups assert that West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection fails to protect people and the environment

Special to the Appalachian Chronicle

CHARLESTON. W.Va. – Seven local, regional and national groups filed a formal notice on March 17 of intent to sue the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) for failing to intervene on West Virginia’s lax oversight of mountaintop removal and other destructive surface coal mining – a state program that has, for decades, allowed the coal industry to ravage the environment, putting people at risk and destroy local communities, assert the groups.

A Mountaintop Removal Site Photo courtesy of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

A mountaintop removal site
Photo courtesy of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

The groups on the notice are the Coal River Mountain Watch, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Sierra Club.

According to the groups, the state’s chronically poor oversight has included a persistent failure to conduct inspections meant to protect people and the environment from coal companies that operate outside the law. They claim that out-of-control mountaintop removal coal mining is linked to epidemics of cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects in affected communities. West Virginia has also failed to undertake required assessments to ensure lakes, rivers and drinking-water wells aren’t harmed by mountaintop removal mining and other destructive surface coal mining practices.

“Citizens’ groups have been forced to demand federal enforcement because the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has failed to do its job,” said Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Our communities and health suffer because the state lets the mining industry get away with polluting at will.”

A mountaintop removal site Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

A mountaintop removal site
Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

In June 2013, 18 organizations joined a legal petition to the Office of Surface Mining detailing the extensive mining oversight failures of West Virginia’s DEP. The federal agency has acknowledged that five of the claims have merit, but has failed to take action toward promulgating a federal program. Under the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, it is required to step in when a state fails to implement, enforce or maintain its program for overseeing surface mining.

“The situation here could not be more urgent,” said Vivian Stockman, project coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “Under West Virginia’s program, we’ve seen once vibrant streams die, devastating floods, and loved ones exposed to toxic blasting dust take ill. Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed communities and threatens to destroy more. We need OSM to take action now.”

The notice of intent details the state’s failure to complete mandatory inspections evaluating whether a mining operation is complying with the law.

“West Virginia’s watchdog on mountaintop removal coal mining is utterly failing to do its job. During one three month stretch in 2014, the state failed to conduct 171 required inspections,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These chronic failures translate into serious harm on the ground, because without inspections, the people who live in the state have to rely on the mining industry to voluntarily report things like water-quality violations that threaten public health.”