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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?”

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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.”

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.”

Sierra Club Championing Energy Efficiency in West Virginia

Campaign focuses on increasing efficiency, creating jobs and reducing pollution

By Michael M. Barrick

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In 2012, the Sierra Club commissioned a study by Optimal Energy, Inc. to show how energy efficiency can save money and create jobs in West Virginia. According to Kenzie Allen, the Media Leader for the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter, “The report included information on efficiency programs … along with future plans for efficiency and utility studies.”Sierra Club

The following year, the Sierra Club launched an energy efficiency campaign in West Virginia. Allen explained that the report “…demonstrated that strong energy efficiency programs could create thousands of jobs and cut bills statewide by hundreds of millions (of dollars).” She noted that the campaign began with an effort to stop the transfer of the Harrison (County) Power Station from FirstEnergy to its subsidiary, Mon Power. She shared, “Although the campaign didn’t stop the transfer…it was able to win the doubling of FirstEnergy’s efficiency goals and won funding for low-income efficiency programs.”

Building upon those efforts, “In 2014 the campaign trained local leaders, and transitioned into a collection of chapter and efficiency leaders. In September the campaign set goals and strategies and started a petition urging Governor Tomblin to support efficiency programs.”

Indeed, it was that year that Allen joined the effort. “When I first began to volunteer with the campaign it began with a strategy meeting in Morgantown. Several people from the campaign got together and we established goals for the upcoming several months, and strategies to achieve those goals. From petitions to public hearings, the campaign has been very active, and I have been able to engage with a lot of like-minded people with the campaign and outside of it.”

She continued, “The mission of the campaign is to win stronger utility energy efficiency programs, government policies, and the implementation of energy savings in our communities. These goals are critical to creating jobs, lowering bills, and decreasing the amount of pollution across West Virginia.”

Presently, there are about a dozen volunteers involved in the campaign. “These dedicated volunteers are supported by dozens of grassroots volunteers working for efficiency in their communities, and hundreds of supporters,” said Allen. The campaign is also advocating for an Integrated Resource Plan, which says Allen, “…is simply the long term plans of our electric utilities.” She explained, “That focus (is) on the most affordable, clean and reliable power – which is, of course, energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

The Sierra Club campaign is also looking to the benefits of the POWER+Plan, which, said Allen, “…would benefit economically transitioning communities.” She shared, “The POWER+Plan has some really awesome objectives, such as cleaning up abandoned mine lands, shoring up the pension plans of retired miners, creating job training programs, and more.” The group will be meeting this month to develop a strategy for this and other initiatives over the next several months.

Another effort the campaign is involved with is E3 audits. Allen explained, “The E3 audits are a program conducted by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in collaboration with the WVU Industries of the Future Program.” E3 stands for Economy, Energy, and the Environment. It is a collaborative effort among manufacturers, utilities and government. She continued, “The audits assess energy use and determine opportunities to reduce energy costs, along with an analysis of carbon footprint, and post-assessment recommendations to move each facility towards greater efficiency and reduced costs. The E3 assessments were organized by members of the campaign, and the audits will show how easy it is to have a more efficient operation.”

Allen acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges facing the campaign is “making people care.” She offered, “Energy efficiency seems to be far in the back of the ‘everyday person’s’ mind, whereas we already recognize the importance of efficiency. It is so huge, and I do wish people would begin to look at it as a solution! Job creation, lower bills, lower pollution; what’s not to love?”

Allen encouraged citizens to visit the campaign’s website to learn more, and to write letters to local newspapers as one way to be involved. “The lack of efficiency programs in the state is disheartening, and letters to the editor are a great way to bring that concern to light.”

© 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.

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