Tag Archives: WVDEP

Alpha Natural Resources Ordered to Justify Mountaintop Removal Mine Permit

Mining site on Coal River Mountain has pattern of violations

Courtesy submission

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) ordered Alpha Natural Resources subsidiary Republic Energy to show cause why a mountaintop removal coal mine permit on Coal River Mountain in Raleigh County should not be suspended or revoked. The order was issued on Aug. 1. Republic has 30 days to request a hearing or a consent order; otherwise, the permit will be suspended or revoked or its bond forfeited.

Republic has received seven notices of violation at its 802-acre Middle Ridge permit since July 25, 2016. Three or more of the same type of violation within a year demonstrate a pattern of violations and initiate the “show cause” procedure.

DCIM107MEDIADJI_0005.JPG

Alpha’s Middle Ridge site above the McDowell Branch neighborhood, Clear Creek, W.Va

Alpha subsidiaries operate over ten square miles of active, approved or pending mountaintop removal sites and coal waste slurry impoundments on Coal River Mountain. Local citizens group Coal River Mountain Watch has opposed the operations because of the documented public health impacts of mountaintop removal, including significantly elevated rates of cancer, heart disease, birth defects and other deadly illnesses. Mountaintop removal also causes long-term pollution of mountain streams and the loss of access to the mountain for traditional activities including hiking, hunting, and gathering ginseng, berries, mushrooms, ramps and other forest resources. Increased runoff from the deforested sites and altered topography can also contribute to flooding.

Middle Ridge drone 4-25-17 1 text.jpg

A blast above the McDowell Branch neighborhood, Clear Creek, W.Va. Photo credit: Coal River Mountain Watch

Four of the seven notices of violation on Republic’s Middle Ridge permit were for sediment control violations related to improperly constructed ditches and sediment ditch failure. Citizen complaints generated two of the sediment control citations.

“This isn’t rocket science. It’s a ditch. If Alpha can’t even properly maintain a ditch, why should we expect them to comply with any of the other regulations and permit conditions meant to protect water quality and nearby residents and property owners,” asked Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch.

Local residents with Coal River Mountain Watch plan to continue pushing for the permanent revocation of the Middle Ridge permit, protection for Coal River Mountain and surrounding communities, and a strong, sustainable economy for southern West Virginia.

wv-dep-logo“The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection needs to start living up to their name and their mission of promoting a healthy environment in West Virginia,” Haltom said. “Instead, they continue to grant mountaintop removal permits knowing full well that these operations will cause long-term water pollution, serious harm to the health of people in our communities, and damage to the long-term viability of our economy.”

Coal River Mountain Watch of Naoma, W.Va., has a mission to stop the destruction of our communities and environment by mountaintop removal mining, to improve the quality of life in our area, and to help rebuild sustainable communities. The website ishttp://crmw.net.

More information

Show cause order: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B87Y5QG4Eg0Xa211WUJEV2YxRWc

Middle Ridge violations: https://apps.dep.wv.gov/WebApp/_dep/search/Permits/ViolationsDetailsQuery.cfm?permit_id=S301712&dep_office_id=OMR

Republic Energy permits on Coal River Mountain: https://apps.dep.wv.gov/WebApp/_dep/search/Permits/RP_PermitQuery_new.cfm?office=OMR

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WVDEP Secretary Austin Caperton to Speak at Public Forum

West Virginia Sierra Club groups host forum Monday on WVU campus

austin-caperton

Austin Caperton

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Sierra Student Coalition and the Mon Group of the West Virginia Sierra Club will host a public forum featuring the newly appointed West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Secretary Austin Caperton.

Notably, the WVDEP’s new Environmental Advocate, Edward Maguire II, will also be in attendance. He was recently appointed to the position by Caperton after the recent firing of Maquire’s predecessor by Caperton, former WVDEP Advocate Wendy Radcliff. That decision was roundly criticized by environmental and public health advocates, as well as journalists, as Radcliff was widely viewed among open-government advocates as among one of the most transparent officials at the WVDEP, working in a hostile political environment.

The forum is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Shenandoah Room of the Mountainlair, on the downtown campus of WVU at 1550 University Ave. This event is free and open to the public.

wv-dep-logoAccording to a news release from the Mon Group of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club Chair, Autumn Long, “Caperton will comment on the WVDEP’s responsibilities as well as his priorities and vision for the agency’s future. Maguire will comment upon the role of the WVDEP Environmental Advocate Office in assisting citizens with environmental concerns and fostering communication with the public.”

Emily McDougal, WVU Sierra Student Coalition member and executive committee member of the Mon Group of the WV Sierra Club, said, “This event promotes community involvement on environmental issues and allows the public to directly communicate their environmental concerns to the WVDEP leadership.” She continued, “We hope this session will mutually inform and inspire Secretary Caperton and attendees to kick-start solutions to environmental problems in the state.”

Long added that audience members can submit written questions to pose to Secretary Caperton and Mr. Maguire via a moderator.

Sierra ClubAccording to Long, the Mon Group of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club operates in a five-county region of North Central West Virginia – Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor counties. It works to increase awareness of environmental issues and opportunities for active participation in this area. For more information and to find out about upcoming Mon Group activities, visit www.sierraclub.org/west-virginia. Questions? Contact Mon Group Chair Autumn Long at autumnlong11@gmail.com.

The WVU Sierra Student Coalition aims to protect the environment through political advocacy, education, and outings. Activities are planned during weekly meetings and vary from trips to the state Capitol and environmental conferences to recreational outings. Find out more at http://sierra.studentorgs.wvu.edu and on Facebook and Twitter @WVUSSC.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Citizens Encouraged to Request Public Hearings about MVP

West Virginia Department of Environment Protection needs to hear more voices

By John W. Cobb, Jr.

IRELAND, W.Va. – With 11 counties in West Virginia projected to be affected by the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) route should it receive approval, voices from one end of the state to the other must be heard. The West Virginia Department of Environment Protection (WVDEP) needs to hear from citizens while there is still time. The potential impacts to water supplies (aquifers), streams, wetlands and rivers is significant; therefore citizens need to write the WVDEP to request public hearings in the affected counties.

So far, such requests are working.

Mountain-Valley-Pipeline-Map

Proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline route (in green). Note that it runs from near the Pennsylvania and Ohio state lines in the north to the Virginia state line in the south. Courtesy: FracCheckWV

The WVDEP Division of Water and Waste Management (DWWM) will be extending the public comment period on the State 401 Water Quality Certification for the proposed MVP project until further notice. It takes only a few minutes to send them a letter or email requesting a public hearing in your county so you can learn and get answers to your concerns.

Originally, the public comment period, which is required under state regulation 47CSR5A, would have ended next week, but because of widespread public interest in the proposed project, DWWM will be scheduling public hearings to discuss certification of the proposed project. Information about the dates and locations of those hearings will be made public as soon as plans are finalized.

The WVDEP says they will likely prioritize holding public hearings based on the counties generating the most comments. For now, those are from Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers counties. We need more folks along the MVP Route to respond now. We need to help get the word out to folks further up along the proposed route, including Wetzel, Doddridge, Harrison, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, and Fayette counties. Every citizen along the route needs reasonable access to public hearings. By writing the WVDEP, it will increase the chance that no citizen will be left out.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a $3.5 billion project, developed by EQT Corp., and it involves a 42-inch-diameter pipeline that would run 301 miles south from the Equitrans L.P. transmission system near the MarkWest Energy Mobley Complex in Wetzel County to a Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co. compressor station in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. This project is one of multiple pipeline projects currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) one of the other projects is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will run somewhat parallel and north of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

When issuing certification, DWWM’s 401 Certification Program may consider the proposed activity’s impact on water resources, fish and wildlife, recreation, critical habitats, wetlands and other natural resources. In its 401 certification application, EQT anticipates that the MVP project will have temporary impacts to approximately 49,892 linear feet of streams and 18.9 acres of wetlands and permanent impacts to approximately 3,125 linear feet of streams and 10 acres of wetlands within the Mountain State.

Comments and information relating to the certification should be emailed to DEP.comments@wv.gov, with “MVP 401 Certification” in the subject line or mailed to:

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Water and Waste Management

401 Certification Program

601 57th Street SE

Charleston, WV  25304

Responding now with a request for a public hearing in your county will give you and your neighbors a chance to express your concerns to the West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection.

(C) John W. Cobb, Jr., 2016. Mr. Cobb writes from his home in Ireland, W.Va.

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Note: The original version of this article listed 12 counties. The correct number is 11. We regret the error.

Groups Work to Bring the Public Voice into Gas Pipeline Projects

Coalition seek answers from WV Department of Environmental Protection

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Members of a coalition of groups including West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition commissioned the consulting firm Downstream Strategies to investigate public input opportunities related to the onslaught of proposed natural gas pipeline construction projects across the state. Special focus is given to one of the proposed large-scale interstate transmission lines, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline – a 42” diameter pipe set to cross a total of 100 water bodies within West Virginia.

“The pace of new pipeline development in West Virginia is overwhelming,” said Cindy Rank, of West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “Residents are concerned about the damage they’re already seeing to their land and local streams, so we’re working to be able to better educate ourselves and others about the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (WVDEP) role in the permitting process.”

The groups’ initial research resulted in a report released recently, “Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia: Opportunities for Public Engagement regarding Erosion and Sedimentation,” and is available at www.wvrivers.org/archive/pipelinereportdownstreamstrategies.pdf. Erosion and sedimentation causes nearby waterways to be unnaturally muddy to the point of impacting stream life.

“The rush to build pipelines raises serious concerns for water quality,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “We’re seeing that efforts to control run-off and slides from these projects aren’t working and our streams are paying the price.”

The report lays out points for public participation in decision-making around the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; however it presents as many unanswered questions as answers. The coalition of groups is committed to seeking clarification from the WVDEP on the state’s storm water permitting process for natural gas pipeline construction.

“Although pipeline companies promise to comply with regulations and avoid impacts to landowners, the reality on the ground is quite different,” said Rick Webb, Coordinator of the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition. “The companies show very little respect for either people or the environment. The fines they sometimes pay are simply the cost of doing business. It seems that non-compliance is cost effective.”

An example of fines for non-compliance came last week when WVDEP agreed to a settlement in which MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources will pay $76,000 in fines for a long list of water pollution violations related to at least five of its pipeline projects.

Groups involved in these efforts include Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, Greenbrier River Watershed Association, WV Highlands Conservancy, WV Rivers Coalition and others.

Applying the Pope’s Ecological Encyclical in West Virginia

A good start would be the resignation of WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman

By Michael M. Barrick

ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – About a month ago, I was asked by a well-known environmental group to speak to the relevance of the ecological encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” by Pope Francis as it applies to West Virginia.

I prepared 25 discussion questions, knowing most would have to be considered later. As it turned out, I could have asked just one, as it was the one we spent the better part of the time discussing. And, it wasn’t even my question; it was the pope’s. In paragraph 57 of the encyclical, Pope Francis asks, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

We concluded that it was the most important question we had to answer for West Virginia if we are ever going to free ourselves of the fossil fuel mono-economy that keeps the state’s residents mired in poverty. Then I offered a specific example of a person in state leadership who I think should resign – West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Secretary Randy Huffman. For those not familiar with West Virginia government, Huffman is a cabinet level political appointee. As such, he is clearly a leader, one entrusted by our governor with the environmental (and by default, human) health of West Virginia. He is the subject matter expert on the environment in West Virginia.

Randy Huffman

Randy Huffman

I was highly critical of Huffman for remarks he made following a question I asked him in mid-July in Doddridge County (more about that in a moment). Some of those who have worked directly with Huffman over the years said I was being too hard on him. Others agreed with me. Some defended Huffman, arguing that he was doing his best. “If he resigned on principle, he would just be replaced by someone worse,” one person offered. “You can only do so much in Charleston,” added another.

While I appreciate the sentiment expressed by these folks and can understand them to a degree, I am unmoved. It is time for Mr. Huffman to resign.

Why? Well, let’s review the exchange I had with him in Doddridge County.

Huffman and several WVDEP staff members accompanied local residents throughout the day to visit those impacted by fracking in Doddridge and Ritchie counties. Later that evening, he and the staff met with members of the Doddridge County Watershed Association. After he answered questions for about an hour, I asked, “Are you willing to recommend to the governor and legislature that the state employ the Precautionary Principle and place a moratorium on fracking and related activities?”

The Precautionary Principle, according to the Science & Environmental Health Network, asserts, “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.” It is a philosophy embraced by public health and environmental advocates across West Virginia regarding many aspects of the energy extraction industry.

Huffman, not exactly engendering confidence in his leadership skills, took three shots at the question. His first answer was to repeat much of what he had said to previous questions. When challenged by an audience member, “You didn’t answer his question,” Huffman shot back, “He didn’t ask a question, he made a statement.” I then said, “Mr. Huffman. It was a question. Let me repeat it for you.” I did.

As an aside here, I will say that I’ve been reporting on politicians for a quarter of a century. I have heard that answer more times than I care to remember. It is a sure sign that the subject doesn’t want to or can’t answer the question.

In any event, after I restated my question, he still did not answer it. Instead, he alluded to progress made in the legislature to regulate fracking after his last visit to the area. The Horizontal Well Act, passed into law in late 2011, did impose higher fees and some minor regulations on the industry. However, West Virginia’s laws on fracking are still considered some of the weakest in the nation by environmental groups. So, it isn’t surprising that when Huffman alluded to that law, the well-informed audience responded with sighs and even laughter (though one audience member did defend Huffman).

So, after sitting there for a few moments, Huffman stood up and said he needed to take another shot at an answer. He then admitted, “If I start pounding my fist, it is going to be a fruitless effort. I would become ineffective. There are too many entities at play in Charleston. If I did that, they’d laugh me out of the capitol building. It would limit my effectiveness.”

He also said, “That is above my pay grade.”

So, we are still left with many questions for Mr. Huffman.

First, since so many states have banned fracking or placed a moratorium on it, why would he not consider the precautionary principle a sensible approach to protect the health and safety of the people of West Virginia?

Second, if recommending to the governor and/or legislature about environmental matters is above his pay grade, just exactly what does the Secretary of DEP do except to rubber stamp permit requests from the energy extraction industry?

And, as Pope Francis asked, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

As it stands now, history will not judge Mr. Huffman kindly. He is in the position to take action, but instead has decided to punt. If he is serious about the environment, he could resign on principle and warn the people of West Virginia what awaits them if they don’t stand up for themselves and elect some real leaders. Such an act would get far more attention than lamenting his lack of influence among the people who are supposed to listen to his expertise.

The people of West Virginia don’t have another 125-year reign of the energy extraction industry to await replies. As the pope says, action is “urgent and necessary.” So, the next action Mr. Huffman should take, since he has openly declared he will not fight for the environment in the current political climate, is resign.

© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.

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Related Articles:
WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman Acknowledges Political and Business Climate in Charleston Limits Agency’s Effectiveness

West Virginia Pipeline Project Cited for Numerous Violations

Stonewall Gas Gathering companies running roughshod over people, nature and the law

By Michael M. Barrick

ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) has issued at least 12 Notice of Violations to the contractors of the Stonewall Gas Gathering (SGG) pipeline since mid-June. The violations are for not following best practices and for causing conditions which pollute the state’s streams.

The West Fork River is fed by many tributaries being crossed by the SGG pipeline. Here it is sediment laden in mid-July from runoff due to poor sediment control

The West Fork River is fed by many tributaries being crossed by the SGG pipeline. Here it is sediment laden in mid-July from runoff due to poor sediment control

The SGG is being built by Stonewall Gas Gathering, LLC, which was incorporated in Delaware on June 4, 2014. SGG is a subsidiary of Momentum (officially M3Midstream), based in Texas and Colorado. The Stonewall Gathering line is part of Momentum’s Appalachian Gathering System (AGS). The SGG will connect to the AGS in Harrison County and terminate in Braxton County, where it will connect to the Columbia pipeline. It runs also through Doddridge and Lewis counties.

The company laying the pipeline is Wisconsin-based Precision Pipeline, LLC. According to the company’s website, “We have the experience and expertise to safely complete any project while maintaining total environmental compliance with minimal impact to landowners.”

That’s what the company’s website says. The state of West Virginia, residents being impacted by it, and at least one independent environmental scientist say otherwise.

Note the trees plowed under. This is an example of Precision Pipeline's concern for the environment

Note the trees plowed under. This is an example of Precision Pipeline’s concern for the environment

In mid-July, Jamie Tallman, an environmental inspector with WVDEP surveyed an approximately six mile stretch of the 55-mile pipeline and found that the construction had impacted at least eight stream crossings on Right Fork, Laurel Run, Indian Fork, Big Isaac Creek and Meathouse Fork in Doddridge and Harrison counties. As a result of those visits, he issued 10 Notice of Violations to SGG, though Precision Pipeline is doing the actual work.

He cited poor sediment controls at stream crossings, poor perimeter controls, and other problems such as “marginal” conditions for slope breakers. He noted also, “Multiple earthen slips were observed … two of which were documented to impact state waters but had not been reported.”

Just one of many wetland crossings for the SGG route

Just one of many wetland crossings for the SGG route

That brings to 12 the number of Notice of Violations for this project, the other two also issued by Tallman. One was issued in June for damage done near the community of Big Isaac in Doddridge County and another in early July near the same area. Read more: Standing Their Ground.

Meanwhile, Diana Gooding, a Gilmer County farmer who lives near the Lewis County line, has been taking residents from Virginia and southeastern West Virginia on tours of the pipeline route to witness first-hand the impact of the construction on the region’s delicate watershed. On Aug. 11th, after a heavy rain, Gooding noted, “Goosepen Road today was alive with devastation. Running over the sediment barriers was the mud to the stream as they worked away with heavy equipment despite the deluge of rain we had last night.” She observed, “The equipment and bulldozers were sliding backwards and sideways just trying to take pilings up the hillsides.”

She offered, “It is awful what they are being allowed to do. All of the little streams below are getting trashed big time.”

Independent Environmental Assessment
One such person who accompanied Gooding on one of her trips along the pipeline route is Autumn Bryson, a Greenbrier County-based environmental scientist and owner of Autumn Environmental. On July 18th, along with several others, they visited numerous sites in Lewis, Harrison and Doddridge counties. From that visit, Bryson conducted a Sediment and Erosion Control Assessment. The Assessment was accompanied by numerous photos supporting her assertions.

Failed Erosion Control Photo by Autumn Bryson

Failed Erosion Control
Photo by Autumn Bryson

She observed, “Silt fences, filter socks, and hay were the methods used to control sedimentation and erosion. Failing silt fences were observed at Goosepen Run Stream Crossing along the pipeline route, allowing sediment to enter the nearby stream. The sediment and erosion control measures used are inadequate for the amount of exposed soil and high precipitation events that are common to this region.”

She continued, “Along Sleepcamp Run road, soil was piled high on steep slopes above the road. Silt fences were the only method used to hold the soil in place. There were several occurrences where the silt fences were overloaded and torn due to the weight of the rock and soil. One fabric silt fence is an inadequate method to stabilize an entire hillside. Silt fences were not designed for this use. With a heavy rain event, a landslide could occur causing a safety hazard on public roadways.”

Failed Erosion Control Photo by Autumn Bryson

Failed Erosion Control
Photo by Autumn Bryson

On another crossing in Lewis County, Bryson observed, “Along Copley Road, the pipeline route crosses Sand Fork. At this location, sedimentation was observed in the stream. The silt fences were overflowing allowing the overflow to empty into the nearby stream. The high volume of soil is too much for the silt fence to bear.”

Additionally, she observed, “The Stonewall Gathering pipeline crosses Left Millstone Road and continues down the mountain to cross Millstone Run. Sedimentation was observed in Millstone Run. Filter socks and silt fences were attempting to control the erosion but the volume of soil was too much to hold the hillside in place. The runoff has breached the silt fence and evaded the filter sock. There was also a tear in the filter fabric on the temporary bridge. This hole in the filter fabric allows runoff to flow directly into the stream below further exacerbating the sedimentation issues.”

She asserted also, “An illegal stream crossing was observed where the Stonewall Gathering Line crosses Elk Lick. It appeared that heavy equipment was driven directly through the streambed. There was no stream crossing permit signage in place. No sediment and erosion control methods were used and as a result there was significant sedimentation and damage to the stream bank.”

Failed Erosion Control Photo by Autumn Bryson

Failed Erosion Control
Photo by Autumn Bryson

At yet another stream crossing, she noted, “The Stonewall Gathering line crosses the Right Fork of Kincheloe Creek. Another erosion control measure failed at this stream crossing. The silt fence was unable to contain the volume of soil eroding from the hillside. As a result, the soil breached the silt fence and spilled into the stream.”

She concluded, “Based on observations made during the site visit to the Stonewall Gathering pipeline, the Sediment and Erosion Control Plan is ineffective for a construction project of this magnitude. Silt fences, filter socks, and hay are not able to control erosion and reduce sedimentation into nearby streams. At each location there were instances where the erosion control methods failed impacting the surface waters in the vicinity. The silt fences are unable to bear the load of soil excavated during construction. Filter socks are inadequate at controlling runoff. Filter fabric has been compromised leaving it ineffective. In addition, there is an area where no best management practices are used and heavy equipment has been driven directly through a streambed. These sedimentation and erosion control issues need to be addressed. A more effective plan for controlling sedimentation and erosion needs to be implemented to reduce impacts on nearby streams.”

A resident’s experience

Meanwhile, a farmer near Jane Lew in Lewis County has had more than one confrontation with Precision employees, as well as state workers purportedly on site to monitor the work of the construction crews. Going home on his motorcycle after a trip to Pennsylvania, Tom Berlin was more than a mile up a road to his home only to find it blocked by construction activity. “They were breaking rock and digging a trench. They had a couple of those big iron plates across covered with about four eight-inch-high piles of loose dirt and rock fragments on the best of the two plates. They stopped one machine, but not the big jack hammer and told me I could cross. It was a sort of a tricky crossing, but doable. They made no effort to clear or smooth the path for me, all looking to see if I would make it or chicken out and turn back. I was especially upset that they kept the jack hammer working right alongside me the whole time.”

The license plate of a state employee responsible for oversight of the SGG

The license plate of a state employee responsible for oversight of the SGG

He continued, “I berated them for not posting a sign at the end of the road, rather than making people travel a mile-and-a-half up a dirt road to find the way blocked. I said I wanted to talk with a supervisor. A man in a white pickup met me at the top of the hill and I gave him a piece of my mind. I then walked back down and found that there was a state road employee in his truck sitting there watching and supposedly making sure they were doing things right. He kept insisting they had a permit and all was OK. He could not explain to me why they did not need to post a warning sign, except to say that they put a notice in some newspaper recently.”

Berlin revealed also, “Then I noticed a guy in a 4-wheeler apparently taking a nap. He bestirred himself and asked if all was OK. I asked if he was a supervisor on this crossing and he assured me he was. So, I lit into him a bit. He explained that he had 55 miles of 36-inch pipeline to lay and he did not have the time to accommodate the needs of every local who might want to use the public road.”

Berlin said the man refused to give him his name.

© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.

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A Plea to West Virginians: Throw Off Your Oppressors

Before surrendering or joining the exodus, get educated and fight – peacefully – against the powerful interests which control The Mountain State

By Michael M. Barrick

ALUM BRIDGE, W.Va. – The recent admission by Secretary Randy Huffman of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) that the agency he heads can’t do its job because powerful business and political interests control The Mountain State is a wake-up call to all West Virginians.State seal_old gold

It is time of us to throw off our oppressors so that Huffman and other public officials can do their jobs.

In the last two years, I have put thousands of miles on my little car covering the energy extraction industry. What I have discovered is that West Virginians are basically in four camps:
1. Some work for the industry and truly believe they are doing good work; these folks are in the minority.
2. Others are working against the industry through established environmental or social justice groups and alliances because they consider the industry an assault upon the people and ecology of West Virginia; they, too, are in the minority.
3. Still others have just given up and have joined the exodus of West Virginians going to what they hope are greener pastures; these folks are also a small minority, though it is causing a brain drain that will have an impact upon the state that is greater than their numbers.
4. Finally, there are the docile West Virginians. They just roll over and accept whatever their public officials, business leaders or church leaders tell them. They, sadly, constitute the majority of West Virginians.

You may disagree with those categories. This, however, is my experience. It is also consistent with our state’s history.

This is an appeal to folks in all four categories, as well as those few prophetic voices in our hills and hollows, to get educated and fight – peacefully – to rescue our home from the powerful people and interests that have made West Virginia their own personal playground to enrich themselves.

Example of WVDEP
According to a handout I received recently from a representative of the WVDEP, the agency’s mission is a simple one: “Promoting a healthy environment.” This, one presumes, applies not only to the ecology, but also public health, as the two are inseparable. Yes, there are other state and local agencies that are responsible for the health and well-being of people, but that does not preclude any agency from discerning that caring for the state’s people is within their scope of work. Yet, Huffman tells us, he can’t do that. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that he is a person who takes public service seriously, we, as citizens, are obligated to help him, just as he asked folks in Doddridge County to do. Before doing so, there are a number of matters to consider.

Mingo County’s example
Last week, I visited Mingo County for the first time since 1978. Frankly, nothing has changed. The cycle of poverty continues. There are numerous reasons for this, but the end result is that the poorest of our state four decades ago are still the poorest of our state. This cannot be blamed on the so-called “War on Coal.” In fact, the blame rests with the coal industry. Consider this description of Mingo County from “West Virginia County Maps.” Published by a private company, the authors nevertheless acknowledge on the title page, “The publisher wishes to gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the … West Virginia Department of Commerce, Marketing & Tourism Division.”

Here is what that Division submitted for publication: “Williamson lies in the center of what is called the ‘Billion Dollar Coal Field.’ In the middle of the 1940s there were 100 mines in a 20-mile radius of the city.” Not even Donald Trump could blame President Obama for what happened in West Virginia in the 1940s. And what did happen? Before and since, that billion dollars has left the state. If it had not, the cycle of poverty in Mingo County and other communities in southwestern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky would long ago have ended. In short, the coal barons – not President Obama or any other straw men – are responsible for the poverty afflicting our southern coal fields. It is they who are the oppressors.

Lessons from a topographical map
Looking at another map of the central part of the state tells the same story. It is a topographical map of the Vadis quadrangle. It includes parts of Lewis, Doddridge and Gilmer counties. Published in 1964 and revised in 1978, it is dotted with more gas and oil wells than one can count. There are certainly well over 100. Again, if the energy extraction industry was and is so good for the people of West Virginia, where is the wealth to show for it? It is certainly not in the pockets of West Virginians. Instead, as it has since the late 1800s, the money has flowed out of state to corporate barons, many who then stash the cash away in offshore accounts.

Fracking
Then there is fracking. The most startling fact about fracking is that any West Virginian would support it in light of the history just outlined. Again, though, the industry promises jobs. Those jobs, however, are temporary and very unreliable as we have seen as oil prices fluctuate. Additionally, it is becoming increasingly clear that the jobs come at a great cost, as those working in the fracking fields are working in a very unhealthy environment. The residents, though, suffer the most. The loss of land, sleepless nights, water supplies destroyed, children and adults experiencing everything from nosebleeds to cancer, public roadways ruined and communities divided (Divide & Conquer is a fundamental strategy of the energy extraction industry), make it clear that the only people benefitting from the process are corporate CEOs, most of whom are from out of state.

Pipeline construction
That the gas companies – in particular EQT and Dominion – are audacious enough to argue that they should be granted eminent domain by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), reveals just how allied political and business interests are in exploiting the mineral resources of The Mountain State. No matter how the companies spin it, the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines are not for public benefit (the standard FERC must apply before granting the companies the right of eminent domain); they are for the companies’ shareholders. Most significantly, the gas that would be shipped through the pipelines will end up in foreign countries, which should be the fact that causes FERC to deny the company’s applications. That, however, would take a miracle.

For those who think pipeline construction is benign and that the companies employ a bunch of good ole’ boys from West Virginia looking out for their neighbors, you need to visit Doddridge, Harrison, Lewis, Ritchie, Tyler and Wetzel counties. Or read this.

Bishop’s response to the pope
A detailed essay will follow relatively soon regarding the insubordination of Bishop Michael Bransfield’s response to the climate change encyclical by Pope Francis. For now, suffice to say that Bransfield, who is the shepherd of West Virginia’s Catholics as head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, undermined the pope’s message so as to not offend the deep pockets of coal, gas and oil executives. I was told in March by a diocesan official that the bishop wouldn’t support the encyclical because, “Coal, gas and oil are simply too powerful. It wouldn’t be prudent.” Indeed, as you can read here, the bishop is just flat-out distorting the pope’s words.

Lessons from the coal playbook
During the West Virginia Mine Wars of roughly a century ago, the coal companies employed a very effective strategy against coal miners seeking to unionize and achieve better working conditions – they controlled law enforcement. Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin ruled Logan County for the coal companies and exerted influence throughout the southern coalfields. When Sid Hatfield, the police chief of Matewan (but a supporter of the miners), was gunned down on the McDowell County courthouse steps in Welch, W.Va. in 1921, police officials turned a blind eye.

While such blatant corruption is not happening today – at least in the open – a recent donation of $5,000 to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department by Precision Pipeline, a subcontractor building the Stonewall Gas Gathering pipeline, has some local residents wondering what will happen should conflict erupt between local citizens and the corporations destroying the county’s land. The appearance of impropriety is certainly present.

Conclusion: Civil Disobedience is the answer
In short, our state motto – Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are Always Free) is a joke. The people of this state – whether they will admit it or not – continue to be abused and oppressed by political and business interests. Those appointed to protect the people – such as WVDEP Secretary Huffman – are unable or unwilling to honor their vocations. Additionally, those we should be able to count upon to advocate for and protect us – church leaders and law enforcement – have been compromised.

So, it is up to us. In an upcoming essay, solutions to address West Virginia’s many problems will be offered in detail. For now, an overview of possible solutions include local communities supporting one another economically and socially in new ways; reforming our political system to open ballot access, seting term limits and establish ethical training for potential political leaders; and, ensuring that local officials are prepared for the inevitable disasters that will occur from the fossil fuel mono-economy. We need greater regulation of the energy extraction industry. We need to truly empower people like Secretary Huffman so that he can’t say his hands are tied.

However, I have concluded these actions will not be enough. It is time for nonviolent civil disobedience. That will require training. It will require resolve. Those of us who recall the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras know that civil disobedience works. The achievements of those eras – including voting rights legislation and ending the Vietnam War – would not have happened had people not taken to the streets and subjected themselves to beatings and murder.

As I have put those many miles on my car, I’ve heard so many West Virginians say they want to change our state. The last 60 years of American history, in fact 100 years when the labor movement and women’s suffrage are included, suggest that change can come – but at a great cost. You can fight. You can leave. Either choice is legitimate. But indifference is nothing short of surrender. That is inconsistent with what most West Virginians say they would do. So why do the powerful still control our state?

© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. You can learn more here. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.

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WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman Acknowledges Political and Business Climate in Charleston Limits Agency’s Effectiveness

Remarks made at public forum after Huffman and DEP staff tour fracking fields of Doddridge and Ritchie counties

By Michael M. Barrick

WEST UNION, W.Va. – West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Secretary Randy Huffman acknowledged at a public meeting here July 16 that he and his agency’s effectiveness are limited by political and business interests in West Virginia. Huffman and several WVDEP staff members accompanied local residents throughout the day to visit those impacted by fracking in Doddridge and Ritchie counties.

Randy Huffman

Randy Huffman

Towards the end of a nearly two-hour public forum held by the Doddridge County Watershed Association, Huffman acknowledged “If I start pounding my fist, it is going to be a fruitless effort. I would become ineffective. There are too many entities at play in Charleston. If I did that, they’d laugh me out of the capitol building. It would limit my effectiveness.”

He also said, “That is above my pay grade.”

His remarks were made in response to the question, “Are you willing to recommend to the governor and legislature that the state employ the Precautionary Principle and place a moratorium on fracking and related activities?” The question was posed by this reporter after Huffman and his staff had listened to concerns and questions from numerous area residents.

The Precautionary Principle, according to the Science & Environmental Health Network, asserts, “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”

The Precautionary Principle is a philosophy embraced by public health and environmental advocates across West Virginia regarding many aspects of the energy extraction industry. Indeed, in March, organizers of an event in Charleston which pointed out the public health risks of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) attempted, unsuccessfully, to meet with Huffman then to ask him to employ the Precautionary Principle and quit issuing permits for MTR.

While acknowledging that his hands were tied to an extent, he nevertheless told the roughly 40 people in attendance that their voices were being heard and their persistence would make a difference. He said that the agency is staffed by caring public servants who are most effective in their jobs where citizens are most active. “It creates a structure through which we can work.”

If that is the case, his agency’s employees should be able to make a difference in the area, as numerous citizens demonstrated just how informed and engaged they are, based on the volume and type of questions asked and comments shared.

Wayne Woods, the chairman of the watershed association began by saying, “I think there is a little bit of a disconnect among the departments of DEP,” noting that different branches of the agency dealt with water quality and air quality. Woods suggested that the agency issue handouts to its employees that would allow citizens to understand who they would need to contact if the person they were working with was dealing with an issue outside their scope of work.

Tina DelPrete asked, “I’d like to know when enough is enough?” Pointing to the many aspects of fracking and its effects upon the people, environment and infrastructure of Doddridge County, she added, “Will this go on indefinitely until our county becomes an industrial wasteland?” She continued, “Who is going to protect us? Maybe you should change your name to the DIP – the Department of Industrial Protection, because you sure are not helping the environment.”

Sharron Jackson offered, “The science is becoming clear. It is clear there is contamination.” Pointing out that she loves West Virginia, she still said, “I can’t encourage anyone to move here anymore. Not until we protect the water and air.”

Lyndia Ervolina, barely holding back tears, said, “I’ve lived here for 32 years. I can’t go out and enjoy my yard anymore. We are getting sold out. We don’t have a life anymore. I’m afraid to drink my water. I can’t breathe the air. We can’t even sell our homes; they’re worthless now. I just wish someone would listen to us.”

Autumn Long, a resident in nearby Wallace in Harrison County, said she was concerned about air quality and for her parents, who live near a major gas production site. Directing a question to Huffman, she asked, “What can we do to help move (solutions) forward? We need you as advocates and protectors.”

At that point, Huffman stood up to respond to the comments. He acknowledged, “Some of these questions are not answerable at this point.” He admitted though, “You have had a huge invasion of industrial activity.” Pointing out the fracking industry entered the area with no planning and roads and infrastructure that are not suitable for the heavy equipment used in the process, he added, “You’re overwhelmed.”

He continued, “This is an issue with limited solutions. We’re looking at a large issue.” He pointed out that it is just not an environmental issue, but also about energy and economics.

He encouraged residents to vote. Those remarks were met with several comments from those in the audience. One person said, “We have representatives. We’re just not represented.” Another said, of the county commission, “It’s a joke. They don’t even acknowledge our communications.”

Others zeroed in on specific issues, such as the disposal of drill cuttings and injection wells. On the issue of drill cuttings, which can contain radioactive materials, Huffman said, “That is why we have it go to landfills, where we can monitor it.”

Near the end of his statements, Huffman promised, “We will make adjustments on what we learned in the field. You’ve made a difference.”

© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. You can learn more here. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships.

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