Archive for the ‘Front Porch Blog’ Category

Coal slurry spill in West Virginia linked to Alpha Natural Resources affiliate

Thursday, April 20th, 2017 - posted by Erin
Coal Slurry Spill

Black coal slurry on the banks of Drawdy Creek in Boone County, W.Va.

On March 23, the Admiral Processing Plant in Boone County, W.Va., leaked approximately 5,400 gallons of coal slurry into Crooked Run, a tributary of the Coal River. The plant has been operated by Black Castle Mining Company since November 2015 and is affiliated with Alpha Natural Resources. The spill resulted from a broken pipe at the facility, much like the Kanawha Eagle Processing Plant spill just north in Kanawha County in 2014.


Footage courtesy of Kanawha Forest Coalition

The spill occurred 17 miles upstream from Lincoln County’s municipal water intake and 35 miles upstream from the St. Albans intake, both located on the Coal River. A second spill of unknown quantity occurred during cleanup operations on March 24, when a pump being used to move contaminated water failed. In response to the spills, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued a Notice of Violation, for the company’s “failure to minimize the disturbance to the hydrologic balance.”

Appalachian Voices and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition staff responded to the spill by collecting water samples and documenting its impact. The facility has a Clean Water Act permit that sets limits on common coal mining pollutants that the plant can release into waterways, which is standard for mines and processing plants. The Admiral Processing Plant permit limits the discharge of iron, manganese, aluminum and total suspended solids.

Spill samples collected by citizen groups were analyzed by two independent, certified laboratories. According to the test results, the spill violated the plant’s daily maximum discharge limit for all four pollutants. The spill also resulted in the discharge of arsenic, beryllium and lead into the stream. While levels of these pollutants were fairly low, all are known to have negative impacts on human health.

The company was able to stop the main spill after about three hours, but not before, the coal slurry spread from the initial tributary, Crooked Run, into Drawdy Creek and all the way to Coal River, approximately 1.5 miles downstream. The coal company did not install any sediment control structures until about 24 hours after the spill occurred.

Slurry spill with hay bales

Before and after photos taken on March 24 showing the installation of hay bales to prevent solid particles from the coal slurry from moving further downstream in Drawdy Creek. These steps were not taken until almost 24 hours after the spill.

We do not yet know how much the Department of Environmental Protection will fine the company. In instances like this, fines should be large enough that companies invest the time and money necessary to prevent further spills rather than just paying for fines and cleanup costs after the fact. Slurry spills continue to be a common occurrence in southern West Virginia and other Central Appalachian states, demonstrating the need for stronger state and federal oversight to protect public water and the communities that depend on it.

Cutting carbon pollution in Virginia: Governor McAuliffe should finish what he started

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 - posted by Peter Anderson
In his final year in office, Governor McAuliffe can cement a powerful legacy on climate and on the economy by doing what the new White House won’t.

In his final year in office, Governor McAuliffe can cement a powerful legacy on climate and on the economy by doing what the new White House won’t.

30×30! Take action now to cut carbon pollution 30% x 2030!

A Brief History of Executive Order 57

A year ago, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation prohibiting the Department of Environmental Quality from spending money on state compliance with the Clean Power Plan while legal challenges to that federal regulation were pending. So in June 2016, Governor McAuliffe issued Executive Order 57, which convened a work group “to study and recommend methods to reduce carbon emissions from electric power generation facilities,” including state-level carbon regulation.

Then Donald Trump became president. Realizing that the new administration would take steps to reverse and, eventually, bury the Clean Power Plan, state-level climate action became more urgent than ever. The result of Governor McAuliffe’s EO57 process will be his climate legacy — the ball is squarely in his court.

The Best Ways to Reduce CO2? Efficiency and Renewables

The two best methods for reducing carbon emissions from power plants are straightforward: energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Energy efficiency measures are the low-hanging fruit of climate action. Utility-led energy efficiency programs are the cheapest energy resource — after all, it’s far cheaper to reduce demand than to build new power plants. These cost savings benefit utilities but, more importantly, they benefit customers, especially those who might struggle to afford their monthly bills.

Weatherization and other efficiency upgrades also increase comfort in the home and reduce costs for businesses, spurring job creation. In fact, the energy efficiency industry directly employs 2.2 million Americans and indirectly creates several times as many jobs.

When new power generation is necessary — preferably to replace fossil fuel-fired plants — zero-carbon resources like solar and wind should be deployed. The public health benefits are quite obvious: aside from mitigating climate impacts, zero-emission power also means we avoid breathing the sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and other harmful byproducts of fossil generation.

Renewable energy resources also have the potential to save customers money and create a lot of jobs. Even under conservative projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind will be the cheapest type of generation to build over the next five years, and utility-scale solar can be cheaper than a combined cycle gas plant under the right circumstances. The cost of solar installation has dropped 60 percent over the past 10 years, and the U.S. solar industry employs more than 260,000 people, with an additional 100,000 jobs expected to be added in the next four years.

Unfortunately, Virginia lags far behind in installed solar capacity and jobs. In 2016, our neighbor North Carolina employed 7,112 people in its solar industry, while Virginia only put 3,236 people to work in solar.

The Governor Can Regulate CO2 and Create a New Energy Economy

Virginia’s power sector is in dire need of an incentive to ramp up energy efficiency programs and commit to renewables for any new electricity generation. Nearly 30 states including North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania have mandatory “renewable portfolio standards,” which require a minimum amount of renewables in the electricity mix; Virginia does not. Virginia’s largest electric utility, Dominion, designed several options in its 2016 resource plan that would have added considerable new solar capacity, but those plans all assumed that a federal Clean Power Plan would be implemented.

With a regulation capping carbon emissions from power plants, the McAuliffe administration can provide that incentive. The Department of Environmental Quality can use its authority under Virginia law to cap carbon pollution from new and existing power plants to achieve similar results to the federal Clean Power Plan, and the power sector can comply rather painlessly.

In his final year in office, Governor McAuliffe can cement a powerful legacy on climate and on the economy by doing what the new White House won’t. States must now lead the way on environmental protection and climate action. Let’s hope the governor continues to show the leadership he displayed when he signed Executive Order 57 last year.

Tell the governor you want a rule to reduce carbon pollution 30 percent by 2030!

Atlantic Coast Pipeline proposal raises questions that beg for answers

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 - posted by guestbloggers

Special to the Front Porch: Our guest today is April Keating of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, a local group of citizen advocates working to protect West Virginia’s environment, culture and heritage for future generations.

construction of the Stonewall Gathering Line

The organization Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance documented construction of the Stonewall Gathering Line in West Virginia in 2015. The Stonewall line is 24 inches in diameter, much smaller than the proposed 42-inch diameter Atlantic Coast Pipeline. View more photos here: http://www.mountainlakespreservation.org/gallery.html
Photo courtesy Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance

The deadline to submit comments on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is April 6 at 4:59 p.m. For information on how to submit your comment directly to FERC, scroll to the end of this post.

The comment period on the 42-inch Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes to a close this Thursday. Anyone who made comments during the pre-filing period MUST submit those comments again, since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has essentially tossed those into a pile of “old business.”

If you are a landowner, you may have already commented. If you are not a landowner along the route, perhaps you are an abutter (one next to property along the pipeline route). If you are neither of these things, perhaps you are still concerned about threats to water, safety, public health or future economic development. All of these are valid concerns. You should write to the FERC. Abutters will face most of the same risks as affected landowners, without the offers of money for the use of their property — water contamination, stream degradation, soil contamination, danger of fire or explosion, lowered property value among them. You have a right to have your concerns heard.

Even those not directly abutting could be negatively affected. The incineration zone is 3,600 feet from the pipeline center. Our high school sits within the incineration zone, as does our state police barracks.

The evacuation zone for a pipeline this size is two miles. If you are wondering if your property is in the evacuation zone, you can consult the GIS-layered maps at www.pipelineupdate.org. Does your community have an evacuation plan? If not, you might consider asking your county commission, local emergency planning commission or office of emergency management to develop one. Better yet, consider joining one of these organizations or even creating a planning commission in your community to address issues that are receiving short shrift.

This project has many more costs than benefits, though you may have only heard about the benefits. Some of the drawbacks include millions of dollars in foregone economic development (who wants to start a small business in an incineration zone?), reduced property values (try selling your house when you tell prospective buyers they may be caught in a gas fire), and stream degradation (siltation during construction kills stream life). We have seen this happen with the Stonewall-Momentum gathering line.

The 75-foot permanent easement will be sprayed with herbicides that will run off into streams, and you can’t put anything but a flower garden on it. The 42-inch monstrosity will cross the Buckhannon River, our water source, and its tributaries nine times and it will cross over miles of underground mines.

The pipeline is buried only feet below the surface, but how far below our streams will it be built? This question has been posed to Dominion by city officials and has yet to be answered. Will it be deep enough to protect the streambed from going under, or will it be deep enough to connect with underground mines? Either way, our drinking water source is at risk.

What about jobs? Looking at the draft environmental impact statement for this project (bear in mind this is info given to FERC by Dominion) there could be 384 temporary jobs and only 22 permanent jobs. What is temporary? The draft impact statement says the work tours will be six to 12 weeks long. Is it worth risking our water, safety and public health for a few temporary jobs?

How many employees will be hired locally? Not many, if you consider what happened with the Stonewall-Momentum gathering line. Very few will be from West Virginia; most of them will be from the south and west. Skilled workers are moved from site to site, not hired locally.

Who will pay for the $5 billion project? Why, the ratepayers, of course, in the form of higher energy costs. Will it provide gas to our area? Nope. All of it is being sent out of state and offshore, so the companies owning it can make money selling it on the world market (where the going rate is higher than domestic). When that happens, our energy prices will rise.

What about tax revenue? Whatever money might come from this project will go to the state coffers, and they will dole it out as they please. Will it go for roads, schools and other community projects? That is anyone’s guess, but the company has no stated plans to pay for roads or loss of life or property. The fact that they are a limited liability corporation means they won’t be liable for damages.

Don’t take my word for it; have a look at the draft impact statement yourself: https://www.ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2016/12-30-16-DEIS.asp

This project would have about 1,000 miles of access roads, effectively tripling its length. It will cross almost 2,000 waterways and affect the delicate karst cavern and water filtration system. Moreover, we know that fracking is going to increase as soon as these projects get their certificate from the FERC. And we know what this means for our region: more water consumed, toxified and injected, causing earthquakes, water and air contamination, and an exacerbated health crisis.

New York and Maryland have banned fracking. Have they done this because they want to live in the dark ages again? No, it is because they have looked at the evidence and wish to protect their communities. Surely, they want to develop energy and create jobs, but in a healthy, ethical and sustainable way.

The only way to protect our water, safety and public health and provide safe jobs is to invest in other forms of energy — clean, green energy. Solar power provided more jobs in 2015 than coal, oil and gas combined. Groups like Coalfield Development Corporation are using federal dollars from programs like the POWER Initiative to train former coalfield workers to do the new jobs that are part of a sustainable future: installing solar panels, sustainable construction, reclamation and remediation are just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about providing jobs – there it is! And guess what – we don’t have to live in the dark.

The deadline for comments is April 6 at 4:59p.m. Comments can be submitted electronically at www.ferc.gov

Click on the link for the eComment portal at www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp, and fill out your information. You’ll then receive an email with a link to the FERC comment portal, which will ask you to enter the docket number for the project you wish to comment upon. Most people use the pipeline itself (CP15-554), but the 37-mile Supply Header Project in Marshall, Wetzel, and Doddridge is also part of the picture (CP15-555).

Students speak out against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Why collaborative resistance matters

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 - posted by guestbloggers

By Cassidy Quillen and Olivia Nelson

Photos by Greg Yost.

Photos by Greg Yost.

We arrived in the early evening, three days before the Walk to Protect our People and the Places we Live finished. The walkers were circled up, weary yet excited, going over highlights from the day’s route and the breakdown for the evening. That night we were sleeping in a church community center, sleeping bags already lined up on the floor and Seeds of Peace East preparing dinner for the 40 or so people staying that night. Not many people are even sure what day it is or how long they’ve been walking – we found out later most stayed six or more days – but they’re excited about vegan shepherd’s pie and attending the teaching event hosted by the Lumberton community that evening.

On a broad level, Divest Appalachian traveled to Robeson County, N.C., and walked because we know that we need everyone mobilizing in this political movement to halt the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. With President Trump’s push to expedite oil and gas pipelines, and the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline listed as a top priority infrastructure project, there is no room for neutrality or complacency. Everyone at the action reflected similar values. The walkers came from across North Carolina, and ranged from students to retirees, united to get the message across that this pipeline is not wanted by the people of North Carolina.

Zooming in a bit more, it’s not hard to recognize that the people who would be impacted most by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have faced a long history of exploitation by extractive industries: African-Americans, Native Americans and low-income citizens. Lumberton has historically been home to people of color and is considered tribal land to the Lumbee — a Native American tribe not federally recognized, overriding their sovereignty and ability to block the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. To walk for someone else’s rights is to listen to and represent their community’s values, as well as their history. One of the foundations of the walk was getting involved with local organizers such as Mac Legerton, executive director of the Center for Community Action.

Legerton led events that got both the walkers and local people involved in speaking out against the pipeline from a mutual point of understanding. One such event was a community teach-in. A series of speakers, including academics and representatives of the Lumbee American Indian Nation, spoke on how the natural gas will not be used in the counties the pipeline runs through, is not needed to meet demand, and how to stay involved once the walkers went home. We know, as students of sustainability, that the gas that would flow through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not needed and would not be coming from North Carolina, nor would it serve those along the route. This teach-in brought valuable information and examples of the dangerous effects of pipelines on the communities they divide. Once we peel back that layer, we are left with racist, profit-driven industry policies that are wholly unacceptable.

Focusing in on western North Carolina highlights Duke Energy’s monopolizing power across the state; the proposed pipeline would cause utility rate hikes statewide. Several of the students who traveled from Boone have families and homes in proximity to the route of the proposed pipeline. As Divest Appalachian and Boone Rising handed out information about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at Appalachian State University leading up to the walk, we discovered that many students on campus did not even know that the pipeline proposal exists, nor that it would impact their families in a variety of environmental and economic ways. How many people have connections to the land, history and loved ones that live along the proposed pipeline route, yet do not even know what’s coming their way?

Finally, we look at the place Divest Appalachian’s students call home: Appalachian State University. According to the UNCMC 2015 Annual Report, our school system has $236.8 million of assets invested in energy and natural resources — an “asset class comprised of investment managers that purchase oil, natural gas, power, and other commodity-related investments.” What this means is that Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina school system are actively promoting and profiting off of the struggle and oppression in Standing Rock. It means that our institutions are advancing the move to put communities in eastern North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia in danger from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In the face of a Trump presidency that threatens the stability of life on this planet, there is no room for neutrality in leadership at this university on the issue of climate change.

Divest Appalachian will continue building power on our campus this spring to show our school’s administration that it too can lead alongside universities, colleges and entire cities that have divested from fossil fuel industries and reinvested in solutions to the climate crisis. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be on our home soil, and we will not stand for an institution that touts an ideology of sustainability while profiting off industries driving climate change. We do this to protect our water, our air, our soil and our people right now. This pipeline is messy, it’s dangerous and it’s unnecessary. By laying these pipes, our state and our nation are telling us whose lives are more valuable, and who they can afford to lose. Watching extractive industries divide and conquer the communities we call home is not acceptable. From Standing Rock to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, people are standing up against injustice and destruction, but we need everyone to rise up from the trajectory we’re currently on.

There are many ways to get involved in blocking pipelines; call your elected officials, and learn more about pipelines and development projects in your state. It can even be as easy as finding local organizers to step into your community, such as Divest Appalachian, Boone Rising and Appalachian Voices.

Links to more resources:
Boone Rising on Facebook
Divest Appalachian
Divest Appalachian on Facebook
The Virginia Student Environmental Coalition on Facebook

Get out the sunscreen: Solar is coming to Southwest Virginia

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 - posted by Adam

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 11.56.11 AM

The Southwest Virginia Solar Fair on May 9 in Wise, Va., will be a celebration of the upcoming solar development in Southwest Virginia and brings an emerging and exciting effort full circle. In May 2016, the Southwest Virginia Economic Forum hosted by the University of Virginia’s College at Wise asked how we can diversify the region’s economy to meet the demands and challenges of the 21st century.

During plenary sessions and in the hallways there were a series of conversations among citizens and area leaders that raised questions around how solar energy could be developed locally in a strategic way to create jobs, spur and support other economic initiatives, and build and retain wealth in our region.

Those conversations were the seeds of what has become an action team called the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia. Co-convened by Appalachian Voices, UVA-Wise and People Incorporated, and professionally facilitated by Dialogue and Design Associates, the Solar Workgroup has laid out clear objectives and paths to meeting them. Chief among those goals is to directly support high visibility and high impact solar energy installations that will prove to the region that this technology is a viable option for meeting energy demand and spurring economic development, even in the heart of coal country, even in a state that’s not especially solar friendly — yet.

With international companies eyeing Wise County for solar projects, the growing number of stakeholders in the Solar Workgroup — which include many local economic development entities, educational institutions and other nonprofits — agree that the region has the potential to become a solar industry hub. With solar now employing nearly twice as many people in the U.S. as coal, oil and natural gas combined, many in the region think solar development could be the key to revitalizing the economy with high-paying local job opportunities.

Southwest Virginia has long been an energy producing region. For generations, coal was the backbone of our economy and continues to be an important part of our regional identity. As the world changes around us, many leaders are now working to honor our past while looking to a future that will be powered in large part by renewable sources. We can still be an energy-producing region, it’s the medium of that production that will inevitably need to shift toward sources like solar, which promise to be the backbone of the new economy of the 21st century.

That need to honor the past, look toward the future and build public support for a key pillar of our new economy is what the Solar Fair is all about. People will have the opportunity meet SPARC-E, Mountain Empire Community College’s off-the-grid, 5,000-watt, mobile solar system built by students. They will also have a chance to get an up-close and personal view of solar energy systems and see how they work.

The Empty Bottle String Band, a local favorite, will be performing live and amplified by solar power. And for the kids, we’ll also have an inflatable bouncy house powered by solar energy and other free, fun games.

And Appalachian Voices will announce the winners of our solar mini-grants contest for middle and high school students. Two $500 grants will be awarded to teams of students for developing a “Solar in your School” project plan to be implemented this fall.

The Solar Fair is also the launch date of the Solarize Wise residential solarization program, a collaborative effort of the Solar Workgroup, to make it cheaper and easier for homeowners, small businesses and farmers to install solar power in Wise County.

Contact Adam Wells (adam@appvoices.org) or Lydia Graves (lydia@appvoices.org) at 276-679-1691 for more information.

Two North Carolina counties make energy efficiency history

Saturday, March 25th, 2017 - posted by Lauren

Burnsville_City_Hall,_Former_Yancey_County_Courthouse

Two counties in western North Carolina — Yancey and Mitchell — are the first in the United States to pass resolutions supporting development of “on-bill financing” by their electric utility for residential energy efficiency improvements.

The counties are served by French Broad Electric Membership Corporation, which serves 34,000 people. The co-op has a successful on-bill financing program for mini-split heat pumps, but has not implemented a more comprehensive and inclusive energy efficiency financing program, despite support from community stakeholders. The resolutions, proposed by Appalachian Voices, call on French Broad to develop a program that offers upfront financing for all residents, including low-income households and renters, to make home energy improvements. According to the Pay-As-You-Save program model, the member would repay the cost on their bill over time, but the energy savings would ensure a reduction in the average monthly bill, not an increase.

The Yancey County Commission was the first to pass the resolution, on February 13.. There is both a great opportunity and a great need for energy efficiency investments in Yancey County. According to the 2010-2014 U.S. Census, 77% of the county’s occupied housing stock is more than 25 years old, accounting for more than 5,700 housing units, of which 1,280 are rental properties.

Additionally, nearly one in every six households in Yancey County live in poverty, and the area median income is nearly 20% lower than the state median income. A study conducted by Accounting Insights found that county residents living below 50% of the poverty line spent an average of 44%of their household income on energy costs in 2015.

The Mitchell County Commission passed its resolution on March 6. The county faces similar housing conditions, poverty rates and energy cost burden as Yancey County.

Together, Yancey and Mitchell counties make up almost half of French Broad’s membership. Madison County, home to another 34% of French Broad’s members, is scheduled to consider the same resolution in April.

On-bill financing for home energy efficiency upgrades has been implemented successfully by other North Carolina electric co-ops. For instance, Roanoke Electric Cooperative in northeastern North Carolina launched its Upgrade to $ave program in 2015. Based on the Pay-As-You-Save model, Upgrade to $ave is accessible to renters and to members with less-than-ideal credit scores who might not qualify for conventional financing.

The on-bill financing program supported by Yancey and Mitchell counties would help relieve the burden of energy costs and improve the quality of living for thousands of French Broad members, while also stimulating local economies. The resolutions show that local leaders in the French Broad region believe that addressing energy costs is an important part of strengthening local economies and improving the lives of local residents, and that French Broad could play a central role in achieving those goals.

If you want to get involved, contact Lauren Essick at (828) 262-1500, or via email.

Unnecessary and unwanted: Opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline grows

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 - posted by Lara Mack
There’s still time to add your voice to the choir of people across the country urging FERC to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

There’s still time to add your voice to the choir of people across the country urging FERC to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

There’s still time to add your voice to the choir of people across the country urging FERC to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Click here to submit a comment.

Despite a faulty format, the public has taken every opportunity to tell the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. At the start of 2017, Appalachian Voices and our partners criticized the many flaws in FERC’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Now, as the 90-day public comment period nears its conclusion, thousands of people have told FERC that the DEIS is insufficient and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline poses significant threats to the environment and public safety.

FERC is required to provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline DEIS, and communities have taken every opportunity to tell the commission to reject the pipeline. In February and March, FERC visited communities in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia to receive spoken and written comments.

Community members turned up at every Atlantic Coast Pipeline DEIS listening session along the pipeline route to share their concerns. Turnout at the events varied from roughly 40 to more than 150 people, with the Nelson County listening session in Lovingston, Va., topping out at 157. Commenters at every listening session sent a clear message to FERC — nearly all spoke in opposition to the pipeline.

Groups not only found fault with the DEIS itself, but also with the FERC listening session format. Unlike the public hearing procedure that most of us are familiar with, FERC sequestered commenters one at a time into a separate room or private space to record their comments. The Society of Environmental Journalists, a professional association of more than 1,200 journalists, objected to FERC’s public listening session process.

In a letter to FERC, SEJ President Bobby Magill wrote:

“The ‘listening’ format, which may be an effort to encourage commenters to speak freely, bars the public and the media from bearing witness to the event, much less hearing the information and arguments presented by other citizens.

“We understand that comments taken at such sessions are recorded, and that transcripts are posted in the online docket for the project in question, and that they are generally available for review there within a couple of weeks. But that effectively suppresses the news about the content of the meeting by divorcing it from the immediacy of the event itself. The public is left to wonder what transpired, when there is no reason to make them wait.”

The DEIS comment period has proved to be a rallying point for organizations to connect with new folks concerned about pipelines. A number of grassroots groups along the pipeline route are hosting comment-writing parties and encouraging pipeline opponents to submit their concerns using FERC’s online system or via good ol’ snail mail. Comment-writing parties have popped up in Charlottesville, Staunton and Buckingham, among other places.

But you don’t need to attend a party to learn more about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline or to send comments to FERC. A number of useful documents exist to help people navigate FERC’s website and comment submission process. And, if none of those are quite what you need, you can always call the FERC help desk to walk you through the online submission process or click here to sign on to Appalachian Voices’ grassroots comments.

As we dive into the final two weeks of FERC’s public comment period for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline DEIS, don’t forget to tell FERC why the pipeline is unnecessary and unwanted! Click here to send your comment to FERC.

White House budget leaves Appalachia in the dust

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 - posted by thom
The White House's budget won't become law, but it should alarm people across the country — and perhaps especially people in Appalachia.

The White House’s budget won’t become law, but it should alarm people across the country — and perhaps especially people in Appalachia.

The White House released its budget blueprint last week, and the proposal is nothing short of a disaster for Appalachia and rural communities across the country. The Trump administration will release a more complete budget request in May, but we have a lot of information to go on already.

Congress, not the president, holds America’s purse strings, so the majority of the White House budget proposal will never become a reality. But the “skinny budget” still reveals a great deal about where Appalachian communities fall on the administration’s list of priorities.

First, let’s look at a few agencies and programs the White House wants to completely eliminate:

Appalachian Regional Commission – For more than 50 years, the ARC has provided funding for projects throughout the region to create economic opportunities and improve critical infrastructure. ARC funding and assistance has created an entire highway system, and introduced broadband, all while supporting local and sustainable projects like all of these. Recently, ARC has improved efforts to build leadership and community participation. Republican leaders from Kentucky, most notably Rep. Hal Rogers (KY-5), have successfully increased annual funding for the ARC in the past four years from about $60 million to over $120 million.

Economic Development Administration: The only federal agency focused entirely on economic development, the EDA promotes innovation and competitiveness in regions in need. The EDA has a crucial role in the diversification of Appalachia’s economy, as well as communities throughout the country coming together and seeking ways to overcome the downturn in the coal industry.

Weatherization Assistance Program and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: While the programs are quite different, they work in tandem to help low-income families reduce their energy bills. Energy efficiency and weatherization can greatly improve Americans’ health and quality of life, save money, and improve the value of homes. But without assistance, many low-income families cannot afford to make the necessary home improvements to achieve these benefits. Housing in Appalachian is among the least efficient in the country, and these two programs are needed to change that fact.

Abandoned Mine Lands: In response to widespread support from Appalachian local governments for ideas outlined in the Obama administration’s POWER+ Plan, Rep. Rogers and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last year carved out money for a pilot program to repurpose Abandoned Mine Lands for economic development projects. The program sent $30 million each to Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania for projects on previously mined sites. While the pilot program was never intended to continue indefinitely, Congress plans to continue funding it for one more year, this time including funds for Virginia, Ohio and Alabama.

We haven’t even gotten to the big cuts yet. You might have noticed I been buried the lead, and that’s mostly because it’s been widely reported since rumors started to emerge about a month ago.

Environmental Protection Agency: The White House wants to slash the agency’s budget by 31 percent. The EPA is America’s best defense against air and water pollution. Appalachian Voices has long worked to hold the EPA accountable for its shortcomings, but we should not for a moment overlook the immeasurable benefits the thousands of EPA employees have had on all of our lives. Before the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and National Environmental Policy Act were passed to provide us with the protections we now enjoy, we were racing down a dangerous path of pollution. The challenges have only gotten greater in the past 40 years, but we live in a stronger, healthier, more sustainable world because of the EPA. Hampering the agency’s ability to carry out its job is unacceptable.

Climate change programs: The official position of the White House Office of Management and Budget is that climate programs are a “waste of your money.” If you believe that climate change is a hoax, then I suppose that makes sense. On the other hand, if you agree with the rest of the world and recognize that an urgent and effective response to this global crisis is long overdue, then this is more than just crazy talk — it’s catastrophic thinking.

Everything else: The White House budget also eliminates the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. These are not uniquely relevant to Appalachia, but the region is hardly unaffected by cutting these types of programs. Despite what the Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney seems to think, eliminating funding for things like PBS is not a favor to coal miners or anyone else in West Virginia. Mulvaney indicated that people in Appalachia have no use for PBS, NPR, or the arts, and maybe that just tells us what he thinks of those programs. Then again, maybe it tells us more about what he thinks of people in Appalachia.

It bears repeating that Congress has control of the budget and none of these proposals have become law. We are confident that most of the programs will continue to be funded at or near current levels for the near future. But the budget is the clearest, most comprehensive picture we have of the dangerous direction in which President Trump wants to take the country. And it’s a call to arms for everyone to protect successful programs that Americans support and benefit from every day.

Congress must act to protect coal miners’ benefits

Friday, March 10th, 2017 - posted by thom
The Miners Protection Act would solve the problem of expiring health benefits and a nearly insolvent pension fund that thousands of retired coal miners rely on. But Congress must act soon. Photo from Jobs With Justice.

The Miners Protection Act would solve the problem of expiring health benefits and a nearly insolvent pension fund that thousands of retired coal miners rely on. But Congress must act soon. Photo from Jobs With Justice.

Tell your senators to pass the Miners Protection Act — and give America’s coal miners the benefits they have earned.

In a matter of weeks, health care benefits for thousands of retired union coal miners will run out. In just a matter of years, the entire United Mine Workers pension plan, which covers nearly 90,000 former coal miners and their widows, may become insolvent.

Coal miners put this country on their backs for decades, and America owes them an immense debt. Allowing either the pensions they’ve been promised or the health benefits many of them and their families desperately need to expire would disgrace all of us.

The Miners Protection Act is a bipartisan bill that would help solve both problems. The bill would use U.S. Treasury funds associated with the Abandoned Mine Lands program to permanently extend health benefits and to cover shortfalls in the pensions. The bill would not redirect funds designated for cleanup of Abandoned Mine Lands. We see the Miners Protection Act as complementary to the RECLAIM Act and, aside from fulfilling a moral commitment to miners and their families, it would provide an economic boost to our region.

Unlike so many things in D.C. these days, the bill has broad support. Five key Republicans are among the 22 Senate cosponsors, and just last year a committee passed the bill by an 18-8 vote. Lead sponsor Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has successfully gained the support of enough senators to pass the bill — if it ever gets to the floor.

Let’s get something out of the way; it doesn’t matter who you blame for the current crisis. Maybe you blame Wall Street greed for ruining the pension plans? Or maybe you’d prefer to focus on the demise of the coal industry, which you’d like to put on the shoulders of President Obama and environmentalists. What about the fact that cheap and abundant natural gas is beating coal in the market? And didn’t Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) block these benefits on multiple occasions?

Look, all of that matters. It just doesn’t matter today. Because today, we must solve the problem.

The miners pension fund covers nearly 90,000 people. The fund provides an average of $530 each month, a sum that can make an enormous difference in quality of life for retired miners and miners’ widows. While most pensioners still live in coal-mining states, many do not. More than 1,000 live in North Carolina, for instance. If the pension fund were to become insolvent, it would be devastating for coal communities, especially those in Central Appalachia. But that impact would be felt throughout the country, too.

Time is running out, but this is a fight we can win. Sen. McConnell has already agreed to extend miners’ health benefits, which is a big political step. But it’s not good enough.

FERC’s pipeline review process is broken

Monday, February 20th, 2017 - posted by Peter Anderson

Former chairman adds his voice to public demands for greater scrutiny

As new research refutes industry's pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

As new research refutes industry’s pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

Sign the petition to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline today!

It’s no secret: oil and gas pipelines have captured the nation’s attention, not to mention the new administration’s. Standing Rock’s resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline continues to put water protection, indigenous rights and environmental justice at the fore of any pipeline discussion. And not so long ago, the Keystone XL pipeline came to symbolize the United States’ willingness to lead (or not) on climate action. Now the Trump administration hopes to revive both.

The Trump administration also hopes to push through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would transport fracked gas 600 miles from the Marcellus Shale in northern West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina. A list of the administration’s top 50 infrastructure priorities leaked in January includes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at number 20. The document reports the pipeline’s permitting process as “done,” despite the fact that comment periods for some federal and state permits are currently open and no permits have been issued. How’s that for alternative facts?

Pipelines not needed

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency with primary authority for permitting interstate gas pipelines, was generally viewed as pipeline-friendly even prior to the Trump era. The agency allows a 14 percent rate of return on investments in pipeline capital, and its environmental reviews typically fall short in analyzing both the need for additional pipelines and the projected climate impacts of new projects (in addition to many other deficiencies).

However, former FERC Chairman Norman Bay offered a surprising call for reform of the agency’s pipeline certificate process when he stepped away at the beginning of February (see the last six pages of this FERC order). Bay criticized the method FERC uses to determine whether or not there is a need for a pipeline. He pointed out that FERC usually looks to precedent agreements between pipeline owners and gas shippers as evidence of need. But this method is flawed.

According to Bay, “focusing on precedent agreements may not take into account a variety of other considerations, including … whether the precedent agreements are largely signed by affiliates.”

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In other words, a company applying to build a new pipeline says, “Look, we have subscribers lined up to buy gas from the pipeline, so there must be a need for it.” But a closer examination reveals that the buyer and the seller are both affiliates of the same parent corporation.

This echoes a concern highlighted in a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis published in April 2016. That report found that “in situations in which a pipeline developer contracts with an affiliate company to ship gas through a new pipeline, this is strong evidence that it is doing so because of the financial advantage to the parent company from building the pipeline, but not necessarily that there is a need for the pipeline.”

This report studied the risks of building both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile gas pipeline that would also cut through the Appalachian regions of West Virginia and Virginia. It pointed out that for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, five of the six companies contracted to buy gas are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline. Energy behemoths Dominion Resources and Duke Energy have a combined 85 percent ownership stake in the pipeline, and their subsidiary companies have subscribed to 86 percent of the gas shipped. For the Mountain Valley Pipeline, all six of the buyers are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline.

Another report, published in September 2016 by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., studied conservative estimates of future gas demand in Virginia and the Carolinas. It concluded that, even under scenarios where gas use for electricity production is high, existing pipelines have more than enough capacity to provide energy to the region. That is, we can keep the lights on and businesses thriving without ever building the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

Climate impacts of gas pipelines

In addition to the needs analysis, Bay also called on FERC to reform its evaluation of climate impacts. In its draft environmental review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, FERC refused to consider that the pipeline would spur more gas production, enabling more methane leakage along the entire supply chain. Without quantifying them, FERC compared downstream smokestack emissions to global greenhouse gas emissions and concluded that the pipeline’s emissions would merely be a drop in the bucket.

In its draft environmental review for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, FERC did attempt a rough calculation of downstream emissions but again refused to analyze upstream effects or methane leakage. FERC’s review stated that emissions from burning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s gas would be roughly 29 million metric tons (MMt) per year.

A new briefing published by Oil Change International puts a comparable number on emissions from gas combustion for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, estimating 31 MMt annually. But when you add increased gas production and methane leakage along the supply chain, total emissions more than double, reaching nearly 68 MMt per year. The organization also published a briefing for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, estimating total life-cycle emissions at nearly 90 MMt annually.

To put that in perspective, emissions from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be the rough equivalent of adding 20 coal-fired power plants to the grid or putting 14 million more cars on the road. Emissions from the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be like adding 26 coal-fired power plants or putting 19 million more cars on the road.

While Norman Bay defended FERC’s existing climate analysis methods from a legal perspective, he also argued for change. He stated that “in the interests of good government” the agency should analyze downstream impacts and perform lifecycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions — not just from pipelines — but from the entire Marcellus and Utica gas production region.

Other environmental impacts

Besides bludgeoning our atmosphere with huge amounts of new greenhouse gas pollution, the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines would, of course, threaten thousands of groundwater sources, surface streams and wetlands. Constructing the pipelines would force the permanent removal of trees along their routes, fragmenting habitats and spoiling views from the Appalachian Trail. The projects would threaten human health and safety, especially near powerful compressor stations used to pump gas along the line. They would disproportionately impact lower-income communities, communities of color and Native American communities, threatening important historic and cultural resources.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, Bay did not follow his own advice and revise the way FERC analyzes pipeline need or climate impacts while he led the agency. But here’s how you can do your part:

Mountain Valley Pipeline:

Atlantic Coast Pipeline: