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FERC’s final Atlantic Coast Pipeline report a sham

Citizens turn to states to scrutinize environmental impacts

FEIS on Atlantic Coast Pipeline
Contact:
Cat McCue, Appalachian Voices communications director, cat@appvoices.org, 434-293-6373

More contacts listed below

The Trump administration’s final environmental report issued today for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked-gas through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, utterly fails to independently assess whether the project is even needed. This is the core issue upon which all other considerations of the controversial project are based, says a coalition of community groups and legal and technical experts.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relies solely on the project developer’s claims of need for the 600-mile, $5.2 billion pipeline, which would yield substantial profit for Dominion Energy and the other private companies behind the project, while the public would be saddled with the financial, environmental and health risks.

“FERC’s action is an affront to American democracy, ignoring the thousands of citizens who participated in the public comment process and handing over the private property rights of hundreds of families to corporate interests. As landowners and business leaders, as ratepayers and conservationists, as parents and grandparents, we insist that the state agencies serve the public trust and rigorously examine the impacts of this pipeline in full view of the public,” says Lew Freeman, a Highland County resident and executive director of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance. The coalition comprises 52 local community groups and other organizations in Virginia and West Virginia.

FERC has authority to grant the power of eminent domain for interstate projects, but by law must first determine that the projects serve the public interest. The agency’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline fails to do so, says the alliance, whose member groups represent thousands of citizens, including hundreds of families along the pipeline route who are facing the taking of their land against their will.

The alliance points to numerous studies in recent years showing that the gas and utility sector is overbuilding natural gas infrastructure and that electricity demand is projected to grow much less than the pipeline developer’s inflated projections. These analyses are ignored in the impact statement.

The coalition also condemns the agency for glossing over the profound and permanent harm to water resources and drinking water supplies, forest ecosystems, wildlife and endangered species habitat, historic sites, agricultural resources, public lands including the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway, and local economies. The pipeline would also significantly worsen climate change impacts in the region due to the greenhouse gas emissions of drilling, producing, transporting and burning natural gas.

“Regardless of FERC’s decision, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is not a done deal. Far from it,” says Freeman. “State leaders in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina will soon decide whether to grant water quality permits for the project. We call upon each state to give this project the environmental scrutiny it requires, and that they are obligated to do.”

A significant red flag for the coalition is FERC’s reliance on Dominion’s pledges to mitigate harm to water resources rather than requiring the company to provide upfront detailed plans to be shared with the public prior to granting federal certification and the power of eminent domain. The coalition has repeatedly expressed concerns that the standard control measures are insufficient to protect water resources given the scale of the pipeline proposal and the steep and highly erodible mountainsides that must be excavated during construction.

Coalition members are now concerned that state environmental agencies are similarly planning to approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline before there is a thorough and public vetting of detailed water pollution prevention plans.

In Virginia, in particular, the Department of Environmental Quality has stated it will review those plans (stormwater management and erosion and sediment control plans) separately from its review under the Clean Water Act Section 401. As a result, the State Water Control Board’s decision whether to certify that construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will not harm state waters will not be informed by the essential details that the erosion and runoff control plans should provide.

Key points from the Final Environmental Impact Statement:

  • Need: FERC fails to make an independent assessment of the need for the ACP, instead relying on the developer’s claims that the project should be built. In doing so, it short circuits any meaningful consideration of the alternatives that could avoid or minimize the harm caused by this project.
  • Public lands. The ACP would cross 21 miles of national forest, destroying 430 acres and threatening the survival of seven federally listed species and native brook trout. The project would be a disaster for the mountain and forest headwaters of the Potomac and James rivers.
  • Public process. The FEIS fails to correct or address the numerous, substantial defects in the draft EIS that government agencies and citizens alike pointed out during the public comment period. In addition, the final document fails to incorporate significant new information that has come to light since the end of the public comment period on April 6, including more than 400 pages submitted in May.
  • Climate: The FEIS continues to ignore the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of the project. It entirely fails to consider emissions from fracking that this massive pipeline would trigger and seriously discounts the emissions from burning the natural gas.
  • Environmental justice: The FEIS notes that the Buckingham Compressor Station #2 could have serious health and safety impacts on three census tracts within one mile with predominantly low-income, minority populations, yet claims the impacts would be temporary or mitigated without adequately detailing the mitigation plans or considering any impact to safety or property values in those communities.
  • Forests: Operation of the ACP (and the companion “Supply Header Project”) would have long-term or permanent effects on about 3,456 acres, including about 2,744 acres of upland forest (deciduous, coniferous and mixed). The recovery time for a closed canopy of mature forest and wildlife habitat could take up to a century or more.
  • Mountain slopes: The project would cross more than 100 miles of slopes greater than 20 percent. Constructing the pipeline and access roads in steep terrain or areas prone to landslide increases the potential for landslides to occur.
  • Ridgetop removal: The FEIS does not require Dominion to make any changes to minimize ridgetop removal, which would impact approximately 38 miles of ridgetop and result in 247,000 trips by large dump trucks to remove the overburden.
  • Alternatives: The FEIS completely fails to even consider renewable energy as an alternative to this project.

MORE CONTACTS:

General/Virginia
Lew Freeman, ABRA chair and executive director, lewfreeman@gmail.com, 540-468-2769

General/West Virginia
Angie Rosser, West Virginia Rivers Coalition executive director, arosser@wvrivers.org, 304-437-1274

Need; Economics; National Environmental Policy Act process
Claudine McElwain, Southern Environmental Law Center communications, cmcelwain@selcva.org, 434-977-4090

Public lands (national forest, Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail)
Ernie Reed, Wild Virginia board president, lec@wildvirginia.org, 434-971-1647

Environmental justice
Jeeva Abbate, Yogaville Environmental Solutions, jeeva@yogaville.org, 703-626-6385

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The Allegheny Blue-Ridge Alliance is a coalition of 52 organizations in Virginia and West Virginia, founded in September 2014, that opposes the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline because of the ecological and economic harm it would cause the affected region, communities and landowners. www.abralliance.org

Virginia inches closer to a carbon market

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Special to the Front Porch: Our guest today is Lena Lewis, a student in the Master of Public Policy program at the Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, who is interning with Appalachian Voices this summer to promote clean energy options in Virginia.

Lena Lewis

Do you want to see real reductions in Virginia’s carbon dioxide emissions? Do you want Virginia’s power plant owners to factor the negative impacts of pollution into their business strategy? Do you think free-market capitalism should be used to fight climate change instead of accelerate it?

If you said “yes,” to any of these questions, you’re in luck. Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is developing a rule that could significantly limit carbon emissions from the commonwealth’s power plants. Following Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Executive Directive 11, the DEQ is creating a proposal “to ensure that Virginia’s regulation is ‘trading-ready’ to allow for the use of market-based mechanisms and the trading of carbon allowances through a multi-state trading program.” The agency is taking public comments now, and we’ve made it easy for you to submit yours.

Wondering what this all means? Let’s break it down.

When creating a carbon market, the first thing to do is set a limit, or cap, on the total amount of carbon pollution that power plants in Virginia are allowed to emit in a year. The second step – and this is essential to actually reducing pollution levels – is to lower the cap steadily over time. Then you provide or sell allowances to power plants to emit a certain amount (like one ton per allowance) of carbon dioxide. Next – this is also key – you allow power plants to sell those allowances to each other or to anyone else. That’s the “trading ready,” “market-based mechanism” that Gov. McAuliffe mentions.

Through buying and selling carbon allowances, electricity producers will find the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions. If a power plant emits a lot of carbon dioxide, its owner will have to buy a lot of allowances, which will increase expenses. Power plants that have lower or zero carbon emissions will have a competitive advantage in the energy market, because they don’t incur that expense. A carbon market creates a financial incentive to pollute less. Lowering the cap over time will strengthen that financial incentive and create an energy market increasingly favorable to zero-carbon energy sources.

There are many possibilities for how Virginia’s carbon allowances would be allocated, but here’s a simplified example. Let’s say that Virginia has two power companies, King Coal and Queen Solar, which each produce 50% of the commonwealth’s electricity. Virginia sets the yearly cap on carbon emissions at 1,000 tons, and gives half of the allowances to King Coal and the other half to Queen Solar. King Coal emits 1,000 tons of carbon a year, while Queen Solar emits zero. King Coal then has to buy Queen Solar’s 500 allowances in order to keep emitting carbon at its current level. If King Coal can reduce its emissions for less than the cost of buying allowances from Queen Solar, it will save money. As the cap is lowered to 950 tons the next year, Queen Solar can sell its allowances at a higher price, and King Coal will have an even greater incentive to lower its emissions.

And this all points to lower carbon emissions and reduced harm from climate impacts for Virginians. An added benefit of a carbon market is that other pollutants produced by the fossil fuel industry will also decrease.

Major questions remain for the DEQ to figure out, such as how to set and lower the cap, how to distribute carbon allowances fairly, and how to ensure that electricity customers are not hit with higher energy bills.

Earlier this week, the Weldon Cooper Center for the Public Interest hosted a workshop addressing these questions and more. Some of the main points of the day were:

  • Virginia can reduce carbon emissions while also reducing energy costs for consumers.
  • Virginia would save ratepayers a lot of money by linking our carbon allowance program with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced “reggie”), the successful carbon market in which nine northeastern states have participated since 2009.
  • If Virginia links with RGGI, we need to coordinate with RGGI states to not only lower our own carbon emissions, but also to ensure that member RGGI states continue to lower their carbon emissions and maintain funding for their renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives.

At Appalachian Voices, we believe Virginia has the potential to lead the fight against climate change, but only if the DEQ wisely constructs this critical carbon regulation. We advocate for a rule that significantly reduces carbon pollution from Virginia’s power plants, ensures that Virginians – not utilities – benefit from any profits from carbon regulations, and incentivizes investment in zero-carbon renewable energy.

If you agree, please send your public comment through our action page.

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RECLAIM Act Passes House Natural Resources Committee

Looney Ridge

On June 27, the House Natural Resources Committee passed the RECLAIM Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) aimed at revitalizing coal mining communities. The legislation would direct $1 billion over five years to restoring abandoned mine lands.

Committee members also approved an amendment put forward by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) to require projects that receive funding under the bill to spur local economic development — an improvement to an earlier version that concerned Appalachian Voices and our allies.

The darker the red, the greater the extend of remaining abandoned mines. Image by The Daily Yonder

The darker the red, the greater the extend of remaining abandoned mines. Image by The Daily Yonder

While the earlier version still provided money to states to clean up abandoned mines, it would have failed to make the most of every dollar because it did not require projects to include economic development. With the Beyer amendment, the RECLAIM Act is whole again. It will provide money to states and encourage economic projects and community outreach.

The RECLAIM Act passed on a voice vote against the objections of the National Mining Association, which decided to oppose the bill at the last minute. It now goes to the full House for a vote, though we don’t yet have a date for that vote.

A couple points of clarification are needed to help understand the bill:

  • The bill is not bailing out coal companies. The abandoned mine lands that will be restored under RECLAIM are exclusively from before 1977 and have no existing owner or operator attached to them. Companies with outstanding reclamation obligations still have to clean up their mess.
  • The bill is not funded by taxpayers. The money comes from the Abandoned Mine Land fund, which has collected money over the past 40 years from coal mining companies by placing a fee on each ton of coal produced.
  • The bill will not misuse AML funds. The money from the AML fund must be spent on reclamation, and it still will be under RECLAIM. But by combining it with economic development projects with local buy-in, communities can create new economic opportunities on abandoned mine lands. Here’s a list of a handful of possibilities we’ve come up with in Virginia.

We’re extremely excited to get as far as we have. Passing a bipartisan bill through the committee is a huge step forward, but there’s still much to be done. Appalachian senators Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have each introduced versions of the RECLAIM Act in the Senate. We need to get the bill passed on the floor of the House of Representatives and get the Senate to take action. The good news is that, with this week’s victory, we can get all of that done!

Fight on.

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County commissioners pass resolutions to support energy efficiency

Buncombe County’s Board of Commissioners
Buncombe County’s Board of Commissioners

Buncombe County’s Board of Commissioners

The Buncombe County, N.C., Board of Commissioners has passed a resolution encouraging its local electric provider, French Broad Electric Membership Corp., to develop a tariffed on-bill financing program that would help the co-op’s members afford home energy efficiency improvements.

Our Energy Savings team has been advocating for the Pay As You Save (PAYS)Ⓡ model of tariffed on-bill financing in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee since 2014, with the goal of reducing energy waste and improving comfort for people living in the many older and inefficient homes in our region. The PAYSⓇ program and similar models have been implemented by 12 electric co-ops in the Southeast, with more programs anticipated in the near future.

Under the proposed program, French Broad EMC would pay the upfront costs of home energy efficiency upgrades, such as insulation, air sealing and more efficient heating and cooling systems. Participating co-op members would use a portion of the resulting savings to repay the co-op through an extra charge on their monthly bills. The program would allow all French Broad EMC customers, including renters and low-income residents, to finance home energy efficiency improvements without taking on personal debt.

Buncombe County follows Mitchell and Yancey counties in passing resolutions to support the co-op’s development of this innovative program. If implemented, the program stands to help thousands of French Broad EMC members pay their energy bills and afford improvements to their homes that may otherwise be difficult to finance. Nearly one in every six households in Buncombe County are living in poverty, and 45 percent of occupied housing is more than 35 years old, according to 2015 U.S. Census data.

In conversations with our staff, French Broad EMC management has stated that they are interested in the program, but must see widespread support from their members and local stakeholders before they will consider providing it as a service. The three North Carolina counties that have adopted supporting resolutions represent 63 percent of the properties receiving electric service from the co-op. Due in large part to our outreach team’s efforts, there are now 22 letters-of-support signed by local service agencies, businesses and faith organizations, and more than 200 member petition signatures. 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.

Although a resolution was proposed at the June meeting of the Madison County Board of Commissioners, the vote on the measure stalled due to a lack of support. Commissioners at this meeting expressed concerns about whether it is their role to tell French Broad EMC what kind of programs they would like to see developed in the community. They also stated concerns about the proposed program’s impacts on the county’s financial security; however, under the PAYSⓇ model, investments for tariffed on-bill financing do not need to be paid for through funds from other utility customers or county funds.

We hope to re-introduce the proposed resolution in Madison County for a future vote and will be working to convince the commissioners that, as local government officials and members of the electric co-op themselves, they have a direct role in supporting programs that stand to improve the lives of their neighbors and the communities they serve.

To learn more about Pay As You SaveⓇ and how you can ask your electric cooperative to provide energy efficiency finance programs, please email lauren@appvoices.org or call (828) 262-1500 and ask to speak to our Energy Savings team.

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House Committee approves the RECLAIM Act with bipartisan support

The view from the U.S. Forest Service’s Birch Knob Observation Tower shows reclaimed surface mine land. Photo by Bill Harris, billharrisphotography@comcast.net

On Tuesday morning, the House Natural Resources Committee passed the RECLAIM Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at revitalizing coal mining communities. The legislation would direct $1 billion over five years to restoring abandoned mine lands.

Committee members also approved an amendment put forward by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) to require projects that receive funding under the bill to spur local economic development — an improvement to an earlier version. The RECLAIM Act passed on a voice vote against the objections of the National Mining Association. It now goes to the full House for a vote.

A statement from Appalachian Voices Senior Legislative Representative Thom Kay:

When the RECLAIM Act was first introduced, getting a billion dollars to coal communities seemed like a bit of a pipe dream. But today, we took a major step toward making it a reality. It’s encouraging to see lawmakers move beyond rhetoric and work together to address pressing challenges.

As Congressman Hal Rogers has said, this legislation is proof that “neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on good ideas.” We’re prepared to press forward with the help of both parties to see the RECLAIM Act signed into law and new economic opportunities created in Appalachia.

Read more about our New Economy for Appalachia campaign.

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Groups blast FERC findings on Mountain Valley Pipeline for fracked gas

Contact information for those quoted provided below.

A coalition of landowners and advocacy organizations today condemned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for disregarding the profound and long-lasting human and environmental trauma the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) would cause.

In its final environmental review, released Friday morning, FERC ignores the most harmful impacts this 300-mile-long pipeline for fracked gas would have on lives, communities, drinking water supplies, private property, local economies, and publicly owned natural resources. The groups, including Appalachian Voices, called these risks unacceptable, especially for a pipeline that is not even needed. The coalition also calls the pipeline an assault on the climate and the future of children in West Virginia and Virginia, and notes that the pipeline can still be blocked on multiple federal, state, and legal levels.

The final environmental review (see footnote 1) issued today by FERC for the proposed $3.2 billion MVP — to be developed by EQT Midstream Partners; NextEra; Con Edison Transmission; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream — commits the same central failure of its draft review: failing to prove that the pipeline is needed. An independent study shows there is enough existing gas supply in Virginia and the Carolinas to meet consumer demand through 2030, while experts have warned that the gas industry is overbuilding pipeline infrastructure in West Virginia and Virginia. Key federal government agencies and officials have criticized FERC’s failure to properly determine a project’s need.

Former FERC Chairman and Director Norman Bay in his parting recommendations to the agency, urged the commission to rethink how it determines need when certifying natural gas pipelines. The Bureau of Land Management and Environmental Protection Agency have also criticized FERC specifically for failing to address whether the MVP is needed, and a bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to reform FERC’s approach to public engagement.

FERC has a history of greenlighting natural gas pipelines with insufficient reviews, resulting in dangerous leaks and spills. The Rover Pipeline recently spilled millions of gallons of drilling chemicals into Ohio’s wetlands, the Sabal Trail pipeline leaked drilling chemicals underground into the Withlacoochee River in Florida, and the highly contentious Dakota Access pipeline has already suffered three leaks.

West Virginia and Virginia citizens opposed to the MVP say FERC has proven unable to properly assess the environmental risks of these pipelines, and its incomplete reviews have dealt a huge blow to public confidence, not to mention safety and the environment. MVP developers submitted more than 16,000 pages of information after the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was issued. The public did not have the opportunity to submit comments to FERC on the additional submittals. FERC bypassed the National Environmental Policy Act review process for the MVP.

While legal and environmental experts are continuing to review today’s document, they have initially identified major gaps in FERC’s Final EIS, including:

  • An accurate assessment of whether the project is needed and in the public interest (see footnote 2);
  • Alternative analysis including development of energy efficiency, solar, and wind as alternatives to construction of pipelines;
  • A complete analysis of the cumulative, life-cycle climate pollution that would result from the pipeline (see footnote 3);
  • A thorough and accurate analysis of visual impacts from the pipeline, including impacts to the iconic Appalachian Trail and potential damage to its tourism economy;
  • Cumulative impacts analysis of all environmental and human health damage from increased gas fracking in West Virginia that would supply the pipeline;
  • An analysis of the compound effects of multiple regional geo-hazards, including a meaningful analysis of the karst topography; and
  • A thorough review of damage to water quality and natural resources along and downstream from the pipeline route.

The coalition is committed to blocking the pipeline through every available avenue on the federal, state, and legal levels to assure that the very best options for energy, jobs, and landowner rights are considered.

Statements from affected landowners, community members, and environmental and legal experts:

  • Ty Bouldin, landowner in Summers County, West Virginia: “The DEIS for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project was disheartening testimony to the inadequacies of FERC’s environmental assessment procedures. It failed to provide rational scientific standards for evaluating such impacts as were acknowledged. The DEIS simply argued that any impacts—however severe they might prove to be—would be judged acceptable. Such a conclusion was not valid given the inadequacies of the materials submitted by MVP, and it remains unacceptable as the basis for undertaking a responsible Final Environmental Impact Statement.”
  • Maury Johnson, affected landowner in Monroe County WV and The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Indian Creek Watershed Assoc. WV Rivers Coalition, and more: “The Mountain Valley Pipeline will devalue our land, limit its uses and reduce taxes which support our schools and public services. It will jeopardize the safety and security of residents and anyone who visits the area where it is located. It will impact the water that we so much depend upon for our families, our farms and our communities. It will impact the world class water that comes from Peters Mountain in WV and VA. The impacts to the Jefferson National Forest and the Appalachian Trail will be severe and irreversible. It should be criminal to attempt such a pipeline when the profound environmental damage has not been adequately assessed by FERC, by West Virginia’s DEP or by Virginia’s DEQ.”
  • Andrew Downs, Regional Director, Appalachian Trail Conservancy: “The public has never been allowed adequate access to this process which increasingly seems like it’s been driven by a distant bureaucracy. The devastation anticipated to the Jefferson National Forest and the iconic Appalachian Trail is a violation of the public trust that spans from nearly a century and into our uncertain future.”
  • Diana Christopulos, President, Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club: “The FEIS ignores the potential negative impacts of the project on public drinking water supplies on the Roanoke River, even though the pipeline’s own consultants reported a major increase in sedimentation in the North Fork of the Roanoke River that would travel all the way from Jefferson National Forest through the cities of Salem and Roanoke to either Niagara Dam or Smith Mountain Lake. The FERC never required to applicant to report fully on the sediment that would occur on the South Fork of the Roanoke River, which could have significant impacts on the same downstream communities.”
  • April Keating, Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance/West Virginia Sierra Club/Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights: “Not only are these new pipelines not needed, but they lock us into flammable, radioactive, climate warming methane use at a time when renewable energy is needed most. Renewable energy is more affordable than ever and has created more jobs than the fossil fuel market in recent years. FERC has refused to look at cumulative impacts of this and other projects in the same region, which is doing a real disservice to our public health and putting a chokehold on our economic opportunities.”
  • Anne Havemann, General Counsel, Chesapeake Climate Action Network: “Time and again, we’ve seen how FERC’s utter failure to honestly assess the impacts of massive, dangerous gas pipelines. We know this pipeline would result in massive climate pollution equivalent to 26 new coal-fired power plants. FERC’s own former chairman has urged the commission to reconsider how it evaluates environmental impacts, including climate change. If FERC was honest in its environmental accounting, it would have no choice but to reject the project.”
  • Dr. Richard Shingles, Coordinator, Preserve Giles County: “An obscure, independent regulatory agency, controlled by the very gas and oil industry it is supposed to regulate, has taken one more step in a fraudulent ‘public review’ process towards finalizing a predetermined decision. The FEIS ignores the scientific consensus (see footnote 4) as to the cumulative threats to communities, local economies and natural resources and the pipeline itself. The multiple geological hazards abound in this region should make it a ‘no build zone’ for large, interstate, high pressure gas pipelines. To date FERC has failed to require the applicant to show that these threats can be avoided or safely mitigated – an assurance that the scientific consensus demonstrates cannot be provided.”
  • Hugh Irwin, Landscape Conservation Planner, The Wilderness Society: “Damage to national forest lands and values including wilderness, roadless lands, the Appalachian Trail, clean water, and wildlife habitat have been inadequately addressed, putting these public resources in jeopardy.”
  • Jerolyn Deplazes, Secretary, Preserve Newport Historic Properties: “FERC has shown blatant disregard for the laws concerning the protection of historical properties in the process of reviewing the MVP. Four landowners in the Greater Newport Rural Historic District have been denied the right to consult with FERC, MVP and other cooperating agencies to develop alternatives to the proposed route of MVP. And many filings by the Greater Newport Rural Historic District Committee have been made pointing out the continually incorrect, misleading, and apparently deliberately incomplete information provided to FERC by MVP and the failure of FERC to require full corrective action by MVP. Without complete and correct data input to FERC, there is no way that FERC can make an informed decision on the MVP project.”
  • Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney, Appalachian Mountain Advocates: “FERC’s failure to look at whether this pipeline is actually needed to serve the public, and not just the bank accounts of MVP’s shareholders, is absolutely galling. All too often, like with the recently completed Sabal Trail project, these new pipelines just shift gas away from existing infrastructure instead of offering any new beneficial service. Without a real market analysis, FERC can’t tell whether the pipeline’s extreme impacts to landowners, communities, and the environment will bring about any public benefit. Our independent studies indicate that they will not.”

CONTACT INFORMATION:

  • Maury Johnson, landowner: maurywjohnson@yahoo.com; 304-832-6085
  • April Keating, Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance/West Virginia Sierra Club/Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights: apkeating@hotmail.com; 304-642-9436
  • Andrew Downs, Appalachian Trail Conservancy: adowns@appalachiantrail.org; 540-904-4354
  • Diana Christopulos, Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club: dianak16@earthlink.net; 540-204-3961
  • Anne Havemann, Chesapeake Climate Action Network: anne@chesapeakeclimate.org; 240-396-1984
  • Dr. Richard Shingles, Preserve Giles County: shingles@vt.edu; 540-921-7324
  • Hugh Irwin, The Wilderness Society: hugh_irwin@tws.org; 828-357-5187
  • Jerolyn Deplazes, Preserve Newport Historic Properties: jdeplazes@pemtel.net
  • Ben Luckett, Appalachian Mountain Advocates: bluckett@appalmad.org; 304-645-0125

NOTES:

1: The main document for the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Mountain Valley Pipeline can be viewed by clicking on the last link titled, “MVP_EEP_FEIS_Sections 1-5.PDF” at the bottom of FERC’s file list.

2: Opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline has grown in Virginia and West Virginia. In the Supreme Court in both states, judges have ruled in favor of landowners preventing MVP surveyors to enter their land. Also, financial institutions are increasingly backing away from investing in the MVP and other pipelines, suggesting that financial support is waning along with public support. Additionally, more than 17,000 people in the affected region — along with tens of thousands of others across the country — submitted comments criticizing FERC’s draft review, demanding the agency ultimately reject the project. And a poll conducted by the nonpartisan Cromer Group found that 55 percent of Virginia voters oppose McAuliffe’s efforts to build fracked-gas pipelines. Furthermore, Virginia legislators have introduced a bill that aims to improve FERC’s process for public input. Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA) stated that the bill is “a direct result of feedback from constituents about the need for reform in FERC’s natural gas pipeline approval process,” and aims to “ensure that local concerns are addressed, particularly when easements on and takings of private lands for private infrastructure are a possibility.” As Senator Tim Kaine stated: “FERC’s job is to adjudicate the public interest — especially when eminent domain is involved — and this requires taking public input more seriously.”

3: An analysis from Oil Change International has found that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would result in nearly 90 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year (measured as CO2 or the equivalent). That’s the greenhouse gas equivalent of 26 average coal plants or more than 19 million vehicles.

4: This consensus is based on four detailed, independent reports written by leading karst geologists (Dr. Ernst Kastning of Radford University, Paul Rubin, President of HydroQuest, an environmental consulting firm, Dr. Chris Groves of Western Kentucky University, and Dr. Pamela C. Dodds, senior geologist for the Virginia DEQ,1997-1999). Their overall conclusion and the science on which is based has been positively reviewed by the prominent karst geologist, Arthur Palmer (SUNY-Oneonta), and supplemented by scores of site specific findings submitted to FERC from other scientists at Virginia Tech, Radford University and the University of West Virginia. [Kastning: 2016713-5029, 20170310-5024, 20170524-5177; Rubin: 20161222-5458 and 20170602-5147; Groves: 20161223-5058; Dodds: 20170622-5028.]

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USFS to hold open houses on North Carolina Forest Plan revisions

usfs-ncforestplan

usfs-ncforestplan

The U.S. Forest Service recently announced a series of open houses in western North Carolina “to provide the public with opportunities to talk with Forest Service staff about local issues, district projects, and the Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan revision.”

Meetings will be held in each district of North Carolina’s two national forests. Each meeting will feature discussions specific to the districts. District rangers and members of the Forest Plan revision team will be in attendance to meet and talk with community members.

“Public attendance at meetings like these helps us to understand your needs, concerns, and values and helps you understand Forest Service programs and activities,” explains Allen Nicholas, Forest Supervisor for National Forests in North Carolina.

Meeting schedule

  • June 29, 6-8 p.m.: Grandfather Ranger District at Foothills Conference Center, 2128 S. Sterling St., Morganton
  • July 11, 6-8 p.m.: Nantahala Ranger District at Tartan Hall, 26 Church St., Franklin
  • July 13, 6-8 p.m.: Pisgah Ranger District Office, 1600 Pisgah Hwy, Brevard
  • July 25, 3-6 p.m.: Appalachian Ranger District at Appalachian District Office, 632 Manor Road, Mars Hill
  • July 25, 3-6 p.m.: Cheoah Ranger District at Cheoah District Office, 1070 Massey Branch Road, Robbinsville
  • August 8, 3-6 p.m., Tusquitee Ranger District, Brasstown Community Center, 255 Settawig Rd, Brasstown

The Pisgah and Nantahala national forests cover more than one million acres in western North Carolina, and include such pristine areas as Lost Cove and Harper Creek Wilderness Areas.

According to the USFS, the 15-year plans provide “a general framework to guide management of the forests.”

During the original part of the process, which started in 2014, citizens expressed concerns about preserving specially protected designations such as the Wilderness Study Area in Lost Cove/Harper Creek in Pisgah. If the designation were to be removed, it could potentially open these pristine spots to logging or other potentially damaging activities.

These open houses mark a new approach the agency is taking to promote transparency and increase opportunity for public input. A national forest’s long-term plan undergoes an update process every 20 years.

“This material is not a preferred alternative or even a draft plan. It represents our latest thinking which has been shaped by public input,” said Michelle Aldridge, the planning team lead. “In particular, we heard a lot from the public about how places matter to them, so we created a new chapter on Geographic Areas to reflect that.”

Additional information from the press release:

Over the past year, the Forest Service has been releasing pre-draft plan materials on the National Forests in North Carolina website – www.fs.usda.gov/goto/nfsnc/ncprevision. Additional materials are posted to the site’s Plan Revision Under Construction page as they become available.

By separating the Forests into 12 distinct landscapes, Geographic Areas highlight opportunities for restoration and sustainable recreation; connections to nearby communities; and partnerships with the public, other organizations, and governments in different parts of the Forests. Each geographic area also has goals identified that will serve as emphases for management during plan implementation.

Management Area plan components outline how the general forest areas of Interface, Matrix, and Backcountry will be managed. A set of pre-draft maps shows these places on the forest landscape, and adjacent lands not managed by the U.S. Forest Service are included for context. Results from the required Wild and Scenic River Evaluation and information on possible Special Interest Areas are also currently posted on the website.

By fall 2017, the public will have had an opportunity for early review and input on nearly all aspects of the developing plan. When the Forest Plan draft is finalized, the public will again have an opportunity to review the plan during the formal comment period after the complete draft plan and alternative analyses are released in spring 2018.

While there is no formal NEPA or legal comment period at this time, the Forest Service is accepting input at NCplanrevision@fs.fed.us with the subject line “Spring 2017 material Plan Building Blocks” or by mail at this address: Attn: Plan Revision, National Forests in North Carolina, 160A Zillicoa St, Asheville, NC 28801. Comments will be most useful when received by August 31.

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New renewable energy options for French Broad co-op members

solar panels

Special to the Front Porch: Our guest today is Alex Arnold, Project Coordinator with the Western North Carolina Energy Cost-share Assistance Program, giving us a snapshot of a new program offered by French Broad Electric Membership Corp. members. It was originally published May 5 on the program’s website.

Alex Arnold

French Broad Electric Membership Corporation (FBEMC) has a new policy regarding residential renewable energy generation. This post is an effort to clarify how it works, and to help members of FBEMC decide whether going solar is right for them.

(By the way, WNC energyCAP has energy grants for farmers and small businesses in the FBEMC territory which can improve the return on a solar system investment on FBEMC to be upwards of 17% [6 year payback], but systems which are connected in any way to residential energy use are disqualified from those grants. This article is simply an effort to clarify the utility’s new policy for its residential customers. If you are a farmer or small business interested in grant funding for solar or other energy-related farm improvements, please get in touch with us!)

But first…

A quick plug for energy efficiency, the Jan Brady of home energy investments:

Remember that having a more energy efficient home should be the first step to lower energy costs and lowering your carbon footprint. Insulation measures, air sealing, energy efficient appliances and behaviors make an immediate impact and pay themselves back much more quickly than a solar system. Plus, if you do decide to go solar, the system you’ll need will be much smaller and less expensive once your home is more energy efficient. Solar’s new and neat, but it shouldn’t always be Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.

FBEMC currently offers on-bill financing only for mini-split heat pumps, meaning FBEMC pays for the installation and the homeowner pays it back on their monthly bill (which is lower due to the energy savings). Other utilities in Appalachia have successfully added things like insulation and HVAC improvements to their on-bill financing programs. If you would like to see FBEMC offer similar programs, check out Appalachian Voices’ efforts to bring this energy savings solution to FBEMC.

What is On-Bill Financing?
Campaign for On-Bill Financing for French Broad EMC

Quick Basics of Solar PV

First, for some practice with throwing around watts and KWs (power units, kind of like water pressure) and kilowatt-hours (kWhs, energy units, like the gallons of water), let’s look at the numbers for a residential solar system that would produce the amount of energy consumed by the average U.S. household:

  • The average U.S. home uses ~11,000 kWh/year of electric energy (~$115/month on FBEMC)
  • In western North Carolina, it would take an 8 KW system to generate that number of kWhs over a year. (assuming an installation roughly south-facing and in full sun from 9AM-3PM.)
  • That system would consist of about 30 panels.

Keep in mind that your ideal grid-connected system (from an economic payback perspective) may not be one that generates 100% of your use. Just because you sized a system to match your full use doesn’t mean you’ll get all your energy for free from then on. You still have to think about how the utility pays and charges you for all the electrons flowing different ways. I will discuss that later, but for now, let’s think about that 8 KW system and how much it would cost to install.
solar panels

How much does a solar system cost these days?

Still a big investment. But much cheaper than even a few years ago, and still falling. As of May 2017, $2.50-$3.00 per installed Watt is a competitive installation cost to expect from an installer in our area. (A list of area installers can be found on our installers page.) So for that 8 KW system mentioned above, the cost would be around $20,000-$24,000 (8 KW x 1,000 Watts/KW x $2.50-$3.00/Watt). Many residential installations opt for smaller systems that do not offset the home’s entire electricity use.

Financing: Contact Carolina Farm Credit or Self-Help Credit Union in Asheville to ask about Solar loans. Or call us about grant funding for farm/business systems that are not tied to a residence.

Aren’t there tax credits for solar, or are those gone?

The NC State tax credit expired in 2015. The Federal tax credit (30% of system cost) is available through 2019 (and then drops some percentage points each year for a few years after). So if you installed that 8 KW system for $20,000, you would be eligible for a $6,000 credit (not a deduction) toward your federal taxes owed. If you do not owe $6,000 in a single year of taxes, you can carry over the credit to future years.

So…what’s the return on my investment?
Yes, I’m getting there in more detail below, but for now, basically: 25-30 years (3-4%) without the tax credit, and 12-25 years (4-8%) with the tax credit.

Do I need to build a system that generates all of my electricity?

If you are going off-grid, yes. And if you want electricity at night or on cloudy days, batteries will be necessary if you are off-grid.

This article, though, is about the payback of having a system connected to the FBEMC grid without batteries, where FBEMC still sells you electricity during the times when your solar system isn’t carrying your full load. For that type of system, your payback depends a lot on how FBEMC pays you for the extra electricity you generate and put on their grid. There are three different rate structures offered by French Broad for such systems. Each has pros and cons, and your best payoff might be a system that’s smaller than your needs.

Click here to learn more about the rate structures and returns on investment available to FBEMC members on Alex’s original blog.

First steps toward solar PV

To talk to French Broad EMC about their requirements to go solar, contact Sam Hutchins at 828-649-2051 (or email sam.hutchins [at] frenchbroademc.com ).

For a list of solar installers to connect with, visit WNC energyCAP’s installers page.

To connect with us about grant funding for farms and small businesses, email WNC energyCAP at info [at] energycap.org or call 828-649-5115.

I hope this was helpful. Good luck!

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New Growth on Former Coal Mines

junejuly2017_issuepage

By Elizabeth E. Payne
Throughout an entire summer, Brian Hubbard gathered rocks from the land in Pound, Va., where he planned to plant blueberries.

“What I did is I had a tiller and I plowed it,” he says. “And I had to go as slow as it would go, and I plowed up rocks and I gathered rocks. And then I plowed it in the opposite direction and I gathered more rocks.”

He estimates he pulled 50 tons of rock out of his land that summer.

Rocky soil that has been compacted with heavy machinery is just one of many challenges facing farmers who want to plant their crops in the reclaimed mine lands of Central Appalachia.

But Hubbard is one of a growing number of farmers who see potential in this land and are willing to put in the effort to rehabilitate the land for planting. Across the region, projects large and small are restoring the landscape and reimagining the future of Appalachia: rethinking how to care for the land, where to find work and how to put food on the table.

Reshaping the Market

A new agricultural project called AppHarvest is set to break ground in Summer 2017, and project planners hope the endeavor initiates a change in where Americans get their produce.

Jonathan Webb talks to group at site of former mine

Jonathan Webb of AppHarvest tours a former mine with members of Dalsem, the company designing a greenhouse for the site, and with officials from Pikeville, Ky. Photo c/o AppHarvest


The project would entail constructing a 2 million square-foot greenhouse on 60 acres of reclaimed mined land in Pikeville, Ky., where tomatoes, bell peppers and other produce will be grown using hydroponic techniques. This type of agriculture involves growing plants in nutrient-rich water solutions instead of soil.

AppHarvest Founder and CEO Jonathan Webb has generated funding for the endeavor through traditional bank financing, as well as from private funds and investors. He hopes his project will be the first of many large-scale greenhouses to be built in Central Appalachia.

“We’ve got 1.2 million acres of reclaimed mine land,” Webb says. “We have the acreage. We’ve got [tens of thousands of miners] that’ve been laid off in the coal industry in the past five years. All the dots are lining up on this.”

In addition to growing produce, AppHarvest anticipates creating 140 jobs, mostly in the greenhouse, which Webb describes as a “hub for innovation, sustainability and conservation.”

Webb promises to pay his workers at least $12 to $13 per hour, and thinks his produce will be able to compete with fruits and vegetables coming from Mexico despite the higher labor cost because of his proximity to the market: Pikeville is within a day’s drive of 65 percent of the United States population.

“They’re trucking it five days, we’re trucking it a day. Our cost to produce is higher, our cost to truck is lower, and we’re coming in at about the same price,” he says.

The current political environment may also help.

“The ‘America First’ strategy is forcing large entities in this country to rethink, do they want to buy domestically, or do they want to gamble and continue to buy questionable products from outside of our borders. So, for us, it has helped so much.”

Reshaping the Ecosystem

former miners plant seedlings

Lola Cline and Jeff Duncan, both former coal miners, work with site crew chief James Russell (left) to plant seedlings on reclaimed mine land in Mingo County, W.Va. Photo by Nathan Hall / Coalfield Development Corporation


Nathan Hall has a big vision too, but he envisions a rebirth of the ecosystems destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining.

Hall is president of Reclaim Appalachia, a branch of the West Virginia-based Coalfield Development Corporation, a not-for-profit organization focused on jobs training and community building. Together with their partner branch Refresh Appalachia, Hall is overseeing a pilot project in Mingo County, W.Va., that he also hopes can serve as a model for others to follow.

He is working with four former coal miners and a site crew chief who are actively managing eight acres of former mine land. This spring they are planting an orchard of fruits and medicinal herbs well-suited for the poor soils found on the site. Crops include blackberries, raspberries, pawpaws, lavender and echinacea.

Adapting practices he learned while working at the mine reforestation organization Green Forests Work, Hall has arranged for machinery to rip narrow swaths through the compacted, rocky soils, and then for each year-old bare-root seedling to be dipped in a beneficial microorganism mix and then planted with compost in the rocky earth.

Going forward, the group plans to integrate rotational grazing of small livestock that will further nurture the soils.

“The approaches we implement there,” Hall says, “we’ll learn how to do it correctly and work the kinks out, and then have a model we can expand to a larger scale across many different mountaintop removal sites.”

The funding for this pilot project has come from two rounds of federal POWER grants, and Hall says that he’d like to see the project expand to at least 30 acres, with up to 10 full-time employees working on the site. From there the methods they develop could be implemented on even larger sites, both older reclaimed sites and possibly even sites that coal companies have failed to reclaim, with even more jobs created.

“Our goal is to take those pretty undiverse, arrested succession areas, and by doing this ripping and replanting, as well as intensive rotational grazing management, we can convert the species mix to something that’s much more native, much more varied,” Hall says. “So we can create much more ecological niches, we’re generating more organic matter, therefore carbon sequestration. And at the same time, we’re creating profitable business enterprises. There’s a huge amount of land that this would be applicable on.”

Solutions Crop Up

On numerous farms across the region, individual farmers, as well as cooperatives, are working to grow specific crops on reclaimed mine lands.

Blueberries

One such undertaking is the Southfork Farm in Pound, Va., which grows blueberries on two acres of reclaimed mine land. Brian Hubbard, who farms the land with his family, is a former coal miner who initially planned to plant apple trees until he discovered that their soil’s pH levels were better suited to blueberries.

Fresh Blueberries

Southfork Farm grows blueberries on two acres of reclaimed mine land in Pound, Va. Photo courtesy of Southfork Farm.


His land was mined in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and Hubbard sees advantages to this. First, he has a relatively flat piece of land in the mountains. And second, he says, all those rocks he pulled out that first summer weren’t as large as those found in land reclaimed more recently.

Challenges he’s encountered on the mine land include the invasive and pervasive autumn olive trees, that were planted during reclamation and are now extremely difficult to eradicate, and the inconsistency of the soil.

“The biggest advice I would do is to do plenty of soil tests,” Hubbard says. “Because, especially on something that’s been reclaimed, you might have one type of soil here, and a certain spot a hundred yards away, or two hundred yards away, it might be completely different soil.”

Despite finding few resources available online, Hubbard has developed strategies to manage the three different soil types he has in his blueberry fields, and as his plants reach maturity he says he’s optimistic this will be his most successful season yet.

The farm also grows sorghum for molasses and maple trees for syrup.

Hemp

The 2014 federal farm bill and legislation in several states has restored a long-abandoned crop as an option for some farmers: industrialized hemp. Once prized for its fibers, the plant was later banned because of its relation to the marijuana plant.

Man planting hemp seeds

J. Morgan Leach, executive director of the West Virginia Farmers Cooperative, plants hemp seeds. Photo courtesy of WV Hemp


According to J. Morgan Leach, the executive director of the West Virginia Farmers Cooperative, many of his conversations begin by explaining that hemp does not share the intoxicating characteristics of its cousin and cannot be abused. Now, he says that local reaction to growing hemp is broadly positive.

Leach notes the potential value of the plant’s seeds, oils and fiber, each of which has its own market niche as nutritious food additives or as fiber for textiles, paper and other products.

“Our overarching goal is to help diversify the economy and provide some new opportunities to make money in this state, so we don’t have this mass exodus of young folks,” Leach says. “Maybe there’ll be new and exciting jobs within hemp processing, manufacturing, value-added production, retail sales. There’s a lot of auxiliary industry that goes along with it.”

The co-op is also exploring how the plant can grow on reclaimed mine land with a test season being grown this year on Zachary Drennen’s family land.

Drennen is president of Strong Mountain Communities, another branch of Coalfield Development Corporation that focuses on entrepreneurship. He has a background in organic farming and is eager to try planting hemp on three acres this season.

Drennen’s extended family owns about 3,000 acres in Kanawha County, W.Va., much of which has been mined repeatedly since the early 20th century.

His expectations for this year’s crop are modest, but he sees promise over the long term.

“The future of southern West Virginia, I think, is going to be a lot of these small scale industries,” he says. “And I think agriculture being one of them. And hemp, as a crop, is the one showing the most promise right now. Lavender is another one.”

He also sees potential for agricultural projects on family-owned mine land such as his family’s land, and he hopes that successful growing operations can inspire some of these families to lease their land to farmers.

“These families probably are interested in giving back to West Virginia or Appalachia in some way,” Dennen says.
“And they are interested in finding a role in the economic diversification. … I do think that the family-owned corporations and landholding companies, certainly in West Virginia, would be very open and kind of excited about the thought of hemp and lavender and crops like that, and that kind of activity happening on their property.”

An Organic Focus

Tammy Owens operates a 110-acre farm in Dickenson County, Va., which includes land stripmined in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

“[At] Foxfire Farm, our focus is actually reclaiming this stripmine land, to where it’s thriving, vital soil that can be used in a multi-layered or multi-faceted way, to bring … a truly diverse sustainable income.”

Foxfire Farmland

Foxfire Farm is a 110-acre farm in Dickenson County, Va., where Tammy Owens grows medicinal herbs. Photo by Adam Wells.


Owens is frustrated by the condition of her land but overflowing with optimism at its potential. While her land was reclaimed according to the law, it is far from healthy. But she believes that it can be healed using organic practices.

“We’re left with land that has multiple problems, and multiple problems that have never been fully addressed by the people that set the standard for reclamation,” she says. “It’s important to me to start finding those different standards and setting those standards and showing, okay, we’ve done this and this works, and spreading that around.”

Owens’ farm specializes in medicinal plants such as goldenseal and cohosh, and forest farming is a central part of her approach.

Since beginning her operation in 2011, Owens says she can already see improved vitality in her soils through her use of compost, incorporation of sheep and other practices.

“I want this land, this farm with the projects that we’re doing here, just like we did with the organic farm out in Kansas, to become like a model that it’s actually possible,” she says, referring to her experience converting a traditional farm, where chemicals were used and genetically modified crops were grown, into an organic farm. “So, we can do that same thing here, with the stripmined land and bring it back to what the land used to be before the stripmining happened.”

Appalachian Grown

Woman on tractor breaking up soil

Lola Cline used a tractor to break up compacted soil on a reclaimed mine land site in Mingo County, W.Va. Photo by Nathan Hall


Agriculture, whether on a large or small scale, offers many opportunities for the people of Central Appalachia and for the lands scarred by coal mining, including job opportunities, locally sourced produce and restored ecosystems.

“If we can tell our story about how we sourced locally, how we’re providing jobs for farmers and processors and manufacturing, I think that motivates companies to be more willing to take a look at using our raw materials opposed to what they currently use,” says Leach, referring to the hemp grown by farmers in his co-op.

Owens of Foxfire Farm wants to restore not only the soils but also the culture of Appalachia.

“When you think about what Appalachia is, when you think about what our culture is, or was before coal hit, we were all of those things. We were organic, we were multi-diversified, we were sustainable.”

“Let’s build that new model, let’s build that new reality, let’s build that vision and make it happen,” she says.

Editor’s Note: AppHarvest’s projected schedule for breaking ground has been revised in the online version of this story.

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