Archive for the ‘All Posts’ Category

America’s miners deserve better than this; time to do your part

Thursday, December 8th, 2016 - posted by thom
Time is quickly running out for Congress to pass the Miners Protection Act. Photo by Ann Smith, special to the UMW Journal

Time is quickly running out for Congress to pass the Miners Protection Act. Photo by Ann Smith, special to the UMW Journal

America owes a debt to the nation’s coal miners. Not just a debt of gratitude, but a financial debt as well.

The good news is that there is a bill in Congress that would allow this country to begin to pay that debt: the Miners Protection Act. The bad news is that the opportunity to pass the bill is quickly slipping away.

The Miners Protection Act would provide retired members of the United Mine Workers of America the pensions they’ve been promised and the health benefits many of them and their families desperately need. There is broad bipartisan support for the bill — the Senate Finance Committee passed the Miners Protection Act earlier this year by a whopping 18 to 8 margin.

But Congress is on the verge of passing a budget that would leave out pensions altogether, and only provide a band-aid solution for the health benefits. As UMWA president Cecil Roberts explains:

The inclusion of a mere four months of spending on health care benefits for retired miners and widows is a slap in the face to all 22,000 of them who desperately need their health care next month, next year and for the rest of their lives.

Further, the complete exclusion of any language to provide help for the pensions of 120,000 current and future retirees puts America’s coalfield communities on a glide path to deeper economic disaster.
The miners are calling on “any and all allies” to join them in fighting for the pensions and health benefits they have earned. We hope you will join us in becoming one of those allies.

Please call your senator today and tell them that you support the Miners Protection Act, and that they need to pass it before Congress goes on recess. Tell them it is the right thing to do, and going home without doing it is totally unacceptable.

North Carolina – Richard Burr (202) 224-3154
Note: Sen. Burr is a cosponsor of the bill. We need him to show his support by insisting the entire bill passes before he goes home.

Kentucky – Mitch McConnell (202) 224-2541 Note: He is failing the miners by not working to secure their pensions. He needs to support the entire bill and bring it up for a vote before he goes home.

West Virginia – Shelley Capito (202) 224-6472 Note: Sen. Capito is a cosponsor of the bill. She needs to keep fighting, and do everything she can to get this entire bill passed before she goes home.

Tennessee – Bob Corker (202) 224-3344 Note: Sen. Corker needs to show support for the miners. It’s the right thing to do, and he should help get the entire bill passed before he goes home.

Virginia – Tim Kaine (202) 224-4024 Note: Sen. Kaine is a cosponsor of the bill. He needs to do everything he can to make sure the miners get their pensions before he goes home.

Rest of the country – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (202) 224-2541 Note: He is failing the miners by not working to secure their pensions. He needs to support the entire bill and bring it up for a vote before he goes home.

Trump’s pick for Commerce has troubled history in coal

Monday, December 5th, 2016 - posted by Erin
(Creative Commons; copyright Palm Beach Daily News.)

(Creative Commons; copyright Palm Beach Daily News.)

President-elect Trump announced last week that he has chosen Wilbur Ross, Jr., as the Secretary of Commerce. Ross, a billionaire investor, has strong ties to Central Appalachian coal and a history of disregard for regulations that protect miners, communities and the environment.

Ross purchased the Kentucky coal mining company Horizon Resources in 2004, when the company went bankrupt, and renamed it International Coal Group (ICG). Ross owned the company until 2011. During that period, ICG was one of several companies Appalachian Voices caught falsifying federally required water pollution reports. The discovery sparked a years-long string of legal cases against several of the largest mountaintop removal coal mining companies in Kentucky.

In 2010, we identified more than 10,000 violations of the Clean Water Act committed by ICG between 2008 and 2009. Appalachian Voices and our partners — Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance — filed a notice of intent to sue the company for its violations. The case was preempted by a settlement between ICG and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet for just 1,245 violations. In the settlement, the violations were blamed on “transcription errors” rather than on intentional falsification.

We later discovered an additional 4,000 violations that occurred in the first three months of 2011. Ross sold ICG to Arch Coal in June 2011, shortly after its last string of falsified data was submitted. Appalachian Voices and our partners were eventually granted the right to intervene in the state enforcement action against ICG and a settlement was reached in 2012 with the cabinet and Arch Coal. The settlement includes $575,000 in fines and instituted a robust third-party monitoring requirement for Clean Water Act compliance at all of ICG’s Kentucky mines.

Actual pollution levels from coal mines in Kentucky told a different story.

Actual pollution levels from coal mines in Kentucky told a different story.

Despite an early defense of “transcription errors,” more accurate water monitoring data later showed a spike in permit limit violations for common coal mining pollutants such as manganese, iron, pH and total suspended solids, demonstrating that the falsified data was covering up real water pollution issues.

False reporting was not the only water pollution issue at ICG mines. In 2011, the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy sued ICG for excessive discharges of selenium, a pollutant toxic to aquatic life. The discharges occurred at an ICG mine in West Virginia and had been going on for years prior to 2011, including during Ross’s time as head of the company. That same year, the Sierra Club sued ICG for similar selenium discharges from a Kentucky mine.

And in 2006, still under Ross’s tenure, an ICG mine was the site of one of the worst mining accidents in recent history — the Sago Mine disaster, which killed 12 miners. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration determined that better safety practices could have prevented the disaster. Despite these findings, a judge reduced the number of violations cited and decreased the fine to just $71,800.

Charles Snavely, Gov. Bevin's appointment for Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet Secretary

Charles Snavely, Gov. Bevin’s appointment for Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet Secretary

This is also not the first time an ICG executive has been named to a government agency. Last year, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin appointed Charles Snavely as the Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary. Snavely held several different vice president titles at ICG during the Sago Mine accident and the string of water pollution cases. Now he runs the state agency that oversees enforcement at mines in Kentucky.

The mission of the U.S. Department of Commerce is to create conditions for economic growth and opportunity. If Trump truly believes that economic growth and opportunity can only be gained at the expense of worker safety, community health and clean water, he could make no better pick than Wilbur Ross.

Yes, we can be thankful this season

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016 - posted by Appalachian Voices
Photo by Matt Wasson

Photo by Matt Wasson

For many ordinary and extraordinary people in Appalachia working to protect the mountains, rivers, forests and farmlands that make our region so special, it may be difficult to be thankful this holiday season.

We feel you. Each of us at Appalachian Voices has been wrestling in her or his own way to come to terms with the implications of the recent national elections. As a team, we have found much support and love from each other. And we stand more committed than ever to our mission: to bring people together, from all walks of life, for the well-being of communities, to defend our natural heritage, and to create a healthy and just economic future.

We wanted to take this opportunity to express what we are thankful for, and to invite you to do the same. Post a comment below or on our Facebook page.

We wish you peace and joy.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

TG_Lara-dollysodsPeter: I’m thankful for our national forests, national parks, state parks, and wilderness areas. May they continue to inspire us, and may we continue to prioritize their protection.

TG_loumurreybearpawLou: I am thankful for the mountains and the backbone they have been for me and I am thankful for family, friends, and radical acts of resistance that remind me to remain tender and keep doing the work.
(Photo by Lou Murrey)

TG_mm_probablyatharperscreekAmy: I am thankful to be a small part of many diverse and inspiring communities across the state and witnessing everyday hardworking citizens engage and unite around issues that confront us. They are my inspiration, and I am thankful, grateful for these beautiful strong people I am blessed to know.

TG_susan-Spy-Rock-VirginiaSusan: This holiday I am thankful for the opportunity to take my children to beautiful places where they can reconnect with the natural world and be inspired to protect it. (Photo by Susan Kruse)

Cat: I give thanks for wild lands, the charity of my neighbors, public radio, my health and access to clean water and good food that too many among us lack, the coming winter, a ripping hot guitar lead, and the buddha alive in each of us.

TG_LydiaLydia: This year I am especially grateful for the seven years of love and friendship I received from my dog Benny. Benny passed away last week and his loss will be sorely felt with the absence of desperate puppy dog eyes watching for any spills or dropped morsels on Thanksgiving.

Leigh: I am thankful for having just completed my first full year working at Appalachian Voices with talented, intelligent, dedicated co-workers and supporters who know how to get good work done.

TG_mm_rhodo_graysonLauren: From the vast biodiversity to the breathtaking views and endless adventures, the Appalachian Mountains never cease to inspire me. I’m grateful to be able to work alongside my dedicated neighbors to protect and improve our home in this region. (Photo by Molly Moore)

Lara-dollysods3Lara: The Appalachian people are as vast and varied as the ecosystems and watersheds of the Appalachian mountains. I am thankful for the beautiful and diverse community of people that make up the Appalachian communities and organizations that I know and love and am beyond honored to work and collaborate with.

Jeff: I’m thankful I get to live in these MOUNTAINS!

TG_Jamie2Jamie: This holiday I feel appreciation for the little moments of life, like the sounds of the forest in the morning sun or cloud watching on a bright blue day, the wind stirring ripples across a lake and simple times spent with friends and family. I am beyond grateful I get to experience all this in these beloved Appalachian mountains. (Photo by Jamie Goodman)

TG_tom_BrookehandssalamanderTom: Heather and I feel so fortunate to be in the midst of our young kids’ love of the world.

Brian: I’m grateful for the innumerable Americans that share Appalachian Voices’ mission, and the trust our supporters place in our organization every day. Thank you.

TG_mm_leaf_wataugalakeMolly: I’m grateful for the people across Appalachia and the country who are motivated to learn from each other and build a better world, and for venues like The Appalachian Voice that allow us to share our stories and visions. (Photo by Molly Moore)

Jimmy: I’m thankful for occasionally not getting stuck behind a bus on the way home, for the severely pedestrian but hard-working AppVoices coffee-maker, for the way my daughter doesn’t realize her leftover Halloween candy is disappearing at a rate faster than she is actually consuming it, for M&M’s eventually running out of new-flavor ideas so I no longer have to excitedly purchase them only to be sorely disappointed, and for the hope that I may someday again be able to find a regular toothbrush that doesn’t look like a running shoe.

Erin: I’m thankful for firefighters, friends and foreign countries.

TG_kate_boone_standing_rock1Kate: This Thanksgiving I am particularly thankful for the continued resiliency that is demonstrated by the people of Appalachia. Our region faces new threats every day and rather than allowing ourselves to feel beaten down, our communities are rising up, stronger and more united than ever. And that resolve extends far beyond Appalachia, to connecting with communities fighting across the country for basic rights of clean air, clean water and healthy communities. I am thankful for each person’s dedication and sacrifice towards these universal beliefs.

TG_matt_alfieMatt: I am grateful for the network of support provided by my family, community and country that provide safety and the space to thrive doing what I love. I am also conscious of the many privileges I enjoy that are not afforded to everyone and am determined to work to extend that network of support to others. (Photo by Matt Wasson)

What we do now — a note from Executive Director Tom Cormons

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016 - posted by tom

Each month, Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons reflects on issues of importance to our supporters and to the region.

Tom's children on a recent hike to the family's favorite mountain stream near Charlottesville, Va.

Tom’s children on a recent hike to the family’s favorite mountain stream near Charlottesville, Va.

Last weekend, I was hiking with my three young kids. I witnessed their joy, watching them skitter up a rock above our favorite mountain creek, honing their balance. I admired their presence in the moment, seeing them examine trees, mushrooms and tiny creatures along the trail, chewing on birch twigs.

But it was difficult to share in that joy or presence. It’s been hard to look at my kids or Appalachia’s natural beauty without thinking about the presidential election and its implications for the future.

The most important question is how to respond on behalf of what we love.

I believe deeply in Appalachian Voices’ longstanding mission to bring people together for the well-being of Appalachian communities, for environmental justice and for our children’s futures. And we’re not alone: commitment to the common good unites engaged citizens across America, including our allies and partners from many walks of life who bring a variety of experiences and worldviews.

The first reason we stand together is practical: it works. It’s how we protect our mountains, air and water. It’s how we create clean energy jobs and new economies. It’s the way communities and societies have always accomplished great things. It’s what gives justice a fighting chance.

And there’s something deeper, too: we inspire each other when we work in common cause, transcending our inevitable differences and connecting with others. It affirms our brotherhood and sisterhood, we feel the boost to our energy and the depth of our power to make a difference.

In stark contrast, the presidential election has underscored and exaggerated our differences, overshadowing the many fundamental values we share. It’s left many with a feeling that our country is tragically divided. To make matters worse, so much of what we have in common — including our desire for healthy families, clean air and water, and economies that support healthy communities — is in extreme jeopardy, judging by nearly every signal the president-elect has sent.

But I look at my kids and know being discouraged is not an option.

Instead, we must join together like never before. We’ll need our collective strength to stand up for our communities’ health, our democratic values and the future of the planet. And we cannot be relegated to a strictly defensive posture: we need to work hard together for clean energy and sustainable economies. We need to build on what we all have in common, bridging differences with others, including how they may have voted.

We know that it works. And it’s never been more important to show what we can accomplish together. The world we leave our kids — and the example we set for them — both depend on what we do now.

Southwest Virginians speak out against Doe Branch Mine

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016 - posted by willie
A map of the Doe Branch Mine and watershed connections to the Russell Fork River. At a recent hearings Southwest Virginians shared their concerns about Doe Branch with state regulators.

A map of the Doe Branch Mine and watershed connections to the Russell Fork River. At a recent hearings Southwest Virginians shared their concerns about Doe Branch with state regulators.

“God gave us the water so we can stay clean, and so we can drink it. I don’t want poison in the water.”

Those are the words of 6-year-old Levi Marney, spoken on the evening of Nov. 7, to representatives of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) at a public meeting about the proposed Doe Branch mountaintop removal mine in Haysi. The mine, proposed by Contura Energy, would raze over 1,100 acres near young Levi’s home and discharge sediment and other mining-related pollutants into the Russell Prater Creek where children like Levi and his siblings play during the warm months.

Levi was the first of 10 individuals to speak that night. As he sat down, his grandmother Gail stood up, and with a hand on Levi’s shoulder said, “I’m here to speak against this mine for five reasons and this is one of them. He is one of my five grandchildren. He’s the seventh generation of our family on our property in Dickenson County. Many members of our family are in coal mining, but we know the future of Dickenson County is in tourism, and it’s in taking care of our environment better than we have in the past.”

The particular matter under question at this public meeting — called an “informal conference” by the state — was a renewal of the operation’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The NPDES permitting process is the method by which point sources of pollution are monitored and legally allowed to release various pollutants into public waterways like the Russell Prater Creek and the Russell Fork River. The DMME approved the initial NPDES permit for the Doe Branch mine back in 2012. But, as several individuals who spoke out at the informal conference pointed out, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has maintained an objection to the project from its outset, citing the likelihood that the mine would cause further harm to the Russell Prater Creek, which is already listed by the state of Virginia as being impaired by mining-related pollution.

In addition to concerns over water quality, many individuals spoke to the urgent need to develop new economic opportunities that utilize exactly the natural assets that large-scale surface mining destroys. Underscoring her opposition to the Doe Branch project, Sister Jackie Hanrahan, a nun representing the Appalachian Faith and Ecology Center in neighboring Wise County said, “A healthy economy can only happen when we have a healthy ecosystem. We’ve focused on only extractive industries for so long, but now we’re finally at a point where we have people working together over different philosophies to build a healthy economy.”

“I can show exactly what mining has done to this area,” said Tammy Owens, an organic farmer with nearly 30 acres of reclaimed strip mine on her farm. “This is my top soil,” Owens said dropping a plastic bag of what appeared to be little more than sand and rock on the table in front of the DMME representatives. “There is no topsoil. Nothing grows on the mined areas of my farm. Here in our area is where ginseng grows the best. It’s where bloodroot, and yellow root grow best. These are highly valuable medicinal herbs. What we can get for an acre of ginseng is astronomical compared to what other row crop farmers would get but can we grow those medicinal herbs any more on our farm land?”

The Doe Branch mine has already received the other permits it needs to move forward. The EPA objection is one of the only things currently preventing the mine from moving forward. Cooperation between state and federal agencies in making permitting decisions is an intentional system that creates checks and balances in weighing factors that impact industries, communities and the environment. That’s exactly what is happening with the Doe Branch permit. But it could change quickly under a Trump presidency.

While many personnel will remain at the EPA, changes in high-level staff, budget, or regulations could alter how the agency handles permitting decisions for mountaintop removal coal mining. Market forces are another largely independent factor. There is no magic wand that can suddenly put more coal in the ground, or make the coal that remains more economically feasible to mine and burn in the face of stiff market competition from natural gas and increasingly competitive renewable energy sources. In light of this reality, it is difficult to gauge how eager Contura Energy is to begin work on an operation of this size.

We stand together

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016 - posted by tom

A special message from Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons on the 2016 elections.

(Photo by Serge Skiba)

(Photo by Serge Skiba)

Dear friends,

Today, more than ever, we need to stand together and support each other to defend the health of Appalachia’s communities, our irreplaceable natural heritage, and the future of the planet.

With determination, clear thinking, and smart strategy — all driven by our passion for this place we love and commitment to justice for our sisters and brothers across the region and beyond — we can do this, and more.

We know you are with us.

Over the years, we have made remarkable progress together, often under adverse circumstances — fighting mountaintop removal coal mining and behemoth coal plants, or cleaning up leaking, toxic coal ash impoundments. And we’re now spurring the right investments to diversify local economies and bring on job-creating clean energy alternatives.

Appalachia is a special place, with majestic mountains, beautiful forests and farmlands, and citizens who care deeply about each other and their home. As we now move forward facing new challenges, we will dig deeper and fight harder than ever. There is still much work to be done, but our collective passion and ever-expanding community will sustain us in the days ahead. I have never been more confident in our ability to accomplish great things.

Our members are our voice. We need you by our side.

On behalf of all of us at Appalachian Voices, thank you.


National Weatherization Assistance Program Turns 40!

Friday, November 4th, 2016 - posted by Lou Murrey
Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy

Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy

Fall is upon us! Its colorful foliage, shorter days, pumpkin-spice everything and crisp air remind us all that winter is just around the corner.

With the falling temperatures come higher heating costs. This is a problem for many folks nationwide and has been for decades, which is why 40 years ago the federal government launched the National Weatherization Assistance Program. That’s why Appalachian Voices celebrated National Weatherization Day on Oct. 30 — the 40th anniversary of the National Weatherization Assistance Program.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) was created 1976 by the Energy Conservation and Policy Act following the 1973 Oil Crisis when unemployment and energy costs were high. The purpose of the program is twofold: lower energy costs and increase health and safety for low-income families and, by making their homes more energy efficient, reduce dependency on foreign oil and reduce carbon emissions. Since President Jimmy Carter’s administration established WAP, more than 7.4 million homes have been weatherized through funds distributed to state and local agencies.

A 2008 retrospective study from Oak Ridge National Laboratory showed that — depending on the type of home, geographical location, and fuel type — weatherization can save families an average of $283 on annual energy costs. Weatherization not only makes your home more energy efficient, it can also have a positive impact on your health. The Oak Ridge study found that after weatherization, residents with asthma reported fewer hospitalizations and emergency room trips.

It is hard to argue the benefits of WAP, but budget cuts to programs like WAP and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, combined with cost of living increases and stagnant wages, mean that the need for weatherization far exceeds the capacity and resources available through WAP. Many families, especially in the Southeast, are facing another winter of high energy costs and difficulty keeping their homes warm and comfortable. An analysis of home energy efficiency in the United Stated by WalletHub found that all but one of the 10 least energy-efficient states are in the Southeast. Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky all ranked in the bottom fifteen.

National Weatherization Day was Oct. 30, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate all year long. You can contact your local WAP provider or utility to see what programs they offer. But you don’t have to participate in the WAP program to weatherize your home. Here are a few other ideas.

First, take an afternoon to complete some DIY no- or low-cost weatherization improvements (use our handy checklist). Or, if you know a neighbor or community member who might not be able to complete the DIY weatherization improvements themselves, get a couple friends together and see if you can help them caulk their windows or add weatherstripping around their doors.

Here are just a few ways you can save money and make a home more comfortable this winter.

1. Caulk around your windows making sure there are no gaps for air to escape or come in through.
2. Put weatherstripping around the doors leading outside. As older homes settle it is common for gaps to appear between the doors and their frame. If you can see light it’s not airtight!
3. Turn the temperature on your water heater down to 120 degrees. Every 10 degree reduction is 3-5 percent off your water heating cost.
4. Can’t replace your window? Try putting plastic over them or hanging heavy curtains to block the cold air.
5. Only run electric heaters when you are in the room, turn them off when you leave.

For more no- and low-cost improvements, or to see video demonstrations, visit And show us how you are preparing your house for winter by using the hashtags #weatherizationworks and #saveenergyappalachia.

Saying no to a fracked-gas future

Monday, October 24th, 2016 - posted by tom
Photo by Dana Powell.

Photo by Dana Powell.

Each month, Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons reflects on issues of importance to our supporters and to the region.

The powerful stories of Native Americans standing together to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would carry crude oil and threaten the water rights of the Standing Rock Sioux, have riveted national attention to the risks inherent in our dependence on dirty energy. Appalachian Voices supports this tribe’s resistance, recognizing the common ground between their struggle in the Great Plains and the fight for environmental and energy justice in the Appalachian Mountains.

Across the country, we are at an energy crossroads. In the mid-Atlantic, the fossil fuel industry is pushing to build multiple interstate pipelines to carry fracked natural gas through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina — even though several reports show that they are not needed to meet expected demand.

The choices are clear. We can spend our hard-earned money to support more fracking and the construction of hundreds of miles of massive pipeline, degrading our treasured landscapes and waterways along the routes and posing health and safety risks to families. Or, we can invest in truly clean energy, creating jobs in our region and helping us break free from our dependence on fossil fuels. Energy experts say that supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy would cost ratepayers less than building the pipelines.

Deepening our reliance on fracked gas — a top source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas — would also hasten climate change, which is already affecting Appalachia. These shortsighted expenditures on fossil fuel infrastructure would pump up the bottom line of utilities and gas companies at the expense of ratepayers and landowners. To counter those special interests and advance the common interests of a stable climate, healthy communities and a clean environment, we need to stand together.

Fortunately, a vigorous, multi-state citizen movement to defeat these pipelines continues to grow. Environmental advocates concerned about the potential for leaks as the pipeline traverses rugged terrain are working side by side with local landowners who are opposed to their land being seized for private companies’ benefit.

The coming months are critical. Federal regulators are now accepting public comments regarding the environmental impacts of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, and a public comment period for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline is expected to begin in December. This gives citizens a clear opportunity to be heard. Let’s seize it together.

Submit your comment on the Mountain Valley Pipeline to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission today.

For a healthy and sustainable future,


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Boone community comes together to tackle energy waste

Thursday, October 20th, 2016 - posted by Katie Kienbaum
Appalachian Voices' Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil addresses attendees of the first-ever Boone Energy Stakeholder Meeting.

Appalachian Voices’ Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil addresses attendees of the first-ever Boone Energy Stakeholder Meeting.

Last week, the first-ever Boone Energy Stakeholder Meeting brought together stakeholders from across Boone, N.C., to discuss the problem of energy waste in the town and explore possible solutions.

Attendees included Boone Mayor Rennie Brantz, Karla Rusch from Appalachian State University, Phil Trew from the High Country Council of Governments, Jeremy Barnes from Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Tommy Brown from F.A.R.M. Cafe and Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina Energy Savings team.

One of the biggest challenges identified by the stakeholders was the quality of Boone’s existing housing stock. Properties that were built quickly to house Boone’s growing population and Appalachian State University’s students often prioritized expedience and profit over energy efficiency. The design of some properties even encourages energy waste.

Several stakeholders shared stories of students and ASU staff having to open their apartment or office windows during winter to control the room temperature because there was only one thermostat for the entire building. Boone resident Barbara Talman also pointed out that many homes in the area were originally built for summer use only and were therefore not properly insulated. Now, those homes are being lived in all year round, and the residents are stuck with high energy bills in the winter.

Weatherizing and retrofitting these inefficient buildings is a challenge. The high upfront costs of upgrades are a barrier to improving home energy efficiency, not only in Boone but across the nation. Boone also has a high proportion of renters. Owner-occupied housing accounts for just 20.2 percent of housing units, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Landlords for rental properties are less likely than homeowners to invest in energy efficiency because they don’t pay the electricity bills, or otherwise lack incentive to invest thousands of dollars to improve the energy efficiency of their properties. The programs that do exist to help finance home energy upgrades are often not available to renters. This includes Blue Ridge Electric’s new Energy SAVER Loan Program and the housing rehabilitation programs administered by the High Country Council of Governments.

Even if financing is available for retrofits, finding qualified workers to complete the upgrades can be a headache. Tommy Brown, the volunteer coordinator at F.A.R.M. Cafe and a participant in the Energy SAVER Loan Program, pointed out the lack of local contractors, especially in the heating and cooling sector. Brown received the loan in June, but he is still waiting for work on his home to begin because no contractors are available.

Meeting participants came up with several ways to expand the number of qualified contractors, including improving communication of workforce needs and increasing funding for workforce training. In addition, developing affordable housing in the town of Boone would ensure that the newly trained workforce stays in the region and can help make the town more energy efficient.

The issue of energy efficiency is just one piece of a larger affordable housing puzzle here in Boone. According to Mayor Rennie Brantz, only two town employees live within town limits because the high demand for housing makes finding an affordable place to live nearly impossible. For the same reason, many of the employees at ASU commute to work from outside of Boone. The creation of affordable, non-student housing in town would cut down on energy waste from long commutes and contribute to the development of a sustainable economy.

Another solution proposed at the stakeholder meeting would be for the town government to actively promote energy efficiency. Officials could create something similar to the town’s successful water conservation program that would target energy waste in Boone. Housing ordinances could also be used to mandate certain efficiency measures.

Several participants noted ASU’s longstanding commitment to sustainability and pointed out that there’s an opportunity for the university to collaborate with the Town of Boone to develop efficiency solutions. The students at ASU are also a useful resource. Many students care about environmental issues and could be leveraged to demand energy efficiency upgrades from rental companies. The student rental market is very competitive due to an excess in supply of at least 2,000, so the rental companies would likely respond to student pressure. ASU could even develop a system to rank student rental properties based on how efficient they are to encourage companies to invest in energy upgrades.

Overall, while some key local stakeholders were unable to attend the meeting, Appalachian Voices and the stakeholders who attended agreed that it was a good first step toward identifying comprehensive solutions that could help tackle the problem of energy waste for the Town of Boone. To continue the conversation, Appalachian Voices will be organizing a second meeting in early December to further discuss these solutions.

Do you know someone that should be at these meetings, or are you interested in attending yourself? Contact Rory McIlmoil at 828-262-1500 or to let us know.

Hurricane Matthew flooding elevates coal ash concerns

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016 - posted by amy

Environmental justice groups express solidarity with impacted communities

More than a million tons of coal ash at Duke Energy's H.F. Lee plant along the Neuse River were submerged by flood waters after Hurricane Matthew. Photo by Waterkeeper Alliance.

More than a million tons of coal ash at Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee plant along the Neuse River were submerged by flood waters after Hurricane Matthew. Photo on Flickr by Waterkeeper Alliance.

Earlier this month, North Carolina was devastated by the impacts of Hurricane Matthew. Flooding occurred across much of the state, with the hardest impacts felt in the east.

Many of the communities hit the hardest, including lower income communities and communities of color, are those that are the least able to bounce back from such a catastrophic event. And much like they bear the brunt of industrial pollution, these communities are disproportionately suffering from the environmental impacts caused by flooding.

While the flood waters are still receding, we are learning about the impacts left in their wake. Flooding at Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee Plant, near Goldsboro, caused a breach in one of the plant’s cooling ponds. In a separate incident, one of the inactive coal ash basins was overrun, releasing an unknown amount of coal waste into the Neuse River.

It is critical to point out that the ash flowed out of an inactive pond. It underscores the notion that simply capping these sites and leaving them in place is not enough to keep detrimental impacts from occurring in the future. The only way to ensure these sites cause no future harm is to remove the ash from compromised locations, including flood prone areas and place it in either appropriate landfills, or even more promising, recycled into products for the concrete industry which wants and needs Duke Energy’s ash for its production facilities.

Hurricane Matthew reminds us that we are living in a time of less predictable weather patterns and more extreme storms With an eye to the future, we must continue to insist that leaving coal ash in unlined, vulnerable pits is not a solution the problem of pollution.

The North Carolina citizen group Alliance of Carolinians (ACT) Against Coal Ash released the following statement to express solidarity with those impacted by the floods and took a hopeful and determined stance to continue to fight not only against the threat of coal ash, but for all those for whom environmental justice has not been served.

ACT Against Coal Ash Statement on Hurricane Matthew:

The Alliance of Carolinians Together (ACT) Against Coal Ash stands together in support and solidarity with individuals, families, and communities across Eastern North Carolina devastated by the floods of Hurricane Matthew. The damage caused by this hurricane is compounded by contamination from coal ash, hog farms and other environmental hazards in their impacted communities.

Our alliance was formed and acts to protect and promote our health, the water we drink, the air that we breathe, and the land that sustains us. Hearing each other’s cries about coal ash and its threats to our communities, we’ve become a loud, unified voice for the rights of everyone to live in a healthy community. We are a family and there are times we need to lean on each other. Not all of us are impacted by this particular disaster, but, as in this case, the risk is exacerbated for us who live next to coal ash, whether now or in the future.

North Carolina’s people and elected officials cannot control a hurricane or other natural disaster, but if we heed the proactive pleas and concerns of our citizens, we can control the extent of the damage done. Much more needs to be done to secure coal ash, industrial hog waste and other threats to the health of our communities. Responsible and urgent action must be taken because natural disasters, and even more destructive ones, are happening with more frequency and intensity and will be sure to happen again. We are committed more than ever for permanent and safe solutions that protect all communities from all forms of environmental harm.