Posts Tagged ‘Health’

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!

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

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.

Protect natural resources for Southwest Virginia’s future

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 - posted by Appalachian Voices

Editors’ Note: Earlier this month, Congress voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule using a rarely invoked law called the Congressional Review Act. Appalachian Voices’ members and friends rushed to urge lawmakers to defend the rule, which would improve protections for water and public health from mountaintop removal coal mining. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. But the rule was not our only means of defending Central Appalachian streams. We will continue to hold coal companies, state agencies and the federal government accountable to the laws that protect our natural heritage. We’re thankful to have allies who are willing to share their stories and help us in the fight for clean water. Here is what one of them had to say leading up to the Stream Protection Rule vote.

Ron Short

Ron Short

I was born and raised in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia. My father was a coal miner, and without his efforts to send me to school, I would have been a coal miner also. For all my life, the coal economy has ruled this region and its people. Now we are facing the demise of the coal industry, and we must save the valuable natural resources that we have left if we are ever to develop cultural tourism and eco-tourism as important parts of a new economy that works for everyone.

When I was small, one company dumped coal waste into the Pound River and I saw the deadly effects that followed: thousands of dead fish, mink, muskrats, frogs, birds and water so polluted with metals and minerals that for the first time in my life I could not swim in the river. I was 10 years old and it took the river 50 years to heal itself. My father was 90 years old before we could go fishing in the Pound River together again. Sadly, pollution from mining operations is still contaminating our waterways today.

The Stream Protection Rule — the product of nearly a decade of community engagement and scientific and economic studies — is designed to preserve this life-giving resource. Unfortunately, Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have vowed to kill the Stream Protection Rule using an obscure procedure known as a Congressional Review Act as part of the mad rush to rip the last of the coal out of the ground at any cost.

Water truly is life! We have more pristine and biologically valuable waters than most places in the world, and we need to protect them for our health, our economic future and our grandchildren. Senators Kaine and Warner, you are our only allies in Washington. Please do not let your colleagues kill the Stream Protection Rule. Killing this rule would produce a short-term political gain for their ilk, but it could create a future that we in Southwest Virginia may never be able to recover from.

Ron Short

Fighting for clean water after the Stream Protection Rule

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 - posted by Erin
A valley fill beneath a mountaintop removal mine in eastern Kentucky. The Stream Protection Rule would have limited the practice.

A valley fill beneath a mountaintop removal mine in eastern Kentucky. The Stream Protection Rule would have limited the practice.

UPDATE: On Feb. 16, President Donald Trump signed a bill to reverse the Stream Protection Rule. Read our press release here.

Citizens across the nation are talking about mountaintop removal right now, following the House and Senate votes last week to repeal the Stream Protection Rule.

The Senate voted 54-45 on Friday to repeal the rule through a rarely-used law called the Congressional Review Act. Contrary to some claims that the Stream Protection Rule was a last-minute Obama dig at the coal industry, the rule had actually been under development by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for most of Obama’s presidency.

It would have updated a 34-year-old version of the regulations, known as the Stream Buffer Zone Rule. Both rules spell out implementation details of the 1977 Surface Mining Reclamation and Control Act, which remains in effect even without the Stream Protection Rule.

Headlines widely shared over social media alerted the nation to the end of a rule that would have “stopped” coal companies from dumping waste in streams. In the comments, people braced themselves for the coming impacts. But what many do not realize is that coal companies have been dumping their waste into streams in Central Appalachia for decades, and continue to do so now. They did it under President Bush. They did it under President Obama. The practice is called “valley filling” and is a byproduct of mountaintop removal coal mining in Central Appalachia. The new rule would have limited this practice, but it would not have ended it.

Threats to public water from corporate and political interests are nothing new in Central Appalachia, nor is the problem unique to this area. The chemical spill in Charleston, W.Va., coal ash contamination across North Carolina, lead contamination in Flint, Mich., and the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock Reservation have shown us that.

Despite intense polarization in the United States, polling shows that a majority of Americans are concerned about threats to clean drinking water. Communities that already have contaminated water are imploring their leaders to do something about it.

“We can’t live without clean water,” said Paula Swearigen of Sophia, W.Va. “This administration has totally dismissed the health and safety of people in places like Flint and Appalachia. What does it say about America if we don’t value the lives of innocent people? We have to hold our leaders accountable. Our children have to contend with the decisions they make.”

Meanwhile, politicians in Appalachia and elsewhere ignore this public demand and continue to act in favor of corporate interests.

Mountaintop removal production in Central Appalachia has declined by about 70 percent since its peak in 2008. Coal is being outcompeted by natural gas and renewables, and the easily accessible coal in Central Appalachia is running out. Appalachian people know this. They know that now is the time to diversify the economy and protect critical resources like clean water. Despite the decline, mountaintop removal is still happening. New permits are still being issued and citizens living downstream are still suffering the consequences. The Stream Protection Rule was not going to end mountaintop removal, but it would have improved clean water protections.

The communities of Flint, of Standing Rock and of the Central Appalachian coalfields are glad for the attention they are receiving right now because it strengthens their fight. But what they really need is continued support for a long fight. Indigenous people, communities of color, Appalachian Americans, and poor and working class people across the country have always had to fight for basic rights like clean water. This fight will continue. Not because it is easy, but because it is necessary.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Donate to help us fight for Appalachian streams and communities.
  • Learn how your representative and senators voted on the Stream Protection Rule
  • Call your elected officials regularly to share your concerns
  • Support the RECLAIM Act
  • Vote in the midterm elections in 2018
  • Read reliable news sources fully and critically
  • Show your support to water causes across the country by joining direct actions, writing letters to politicians and newspapers, or making donations

Gov. Cooper nominates new environmental secretary

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 - posted by brian
Michael Regan, who was appointed this week as secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, pledged to increase transparency at the agency.

Michael Regan, who was appointed this week as secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, pledged to increase transparency at the agency.

After a month-long battle over his election and a last-minute special legislative session to curb his powers, North Carolina’s new governor is getting to work.

On Tuesday, Roy Cooper announced multiple senior staff hires and cabinet appointments, including his choice to lead the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. In a statement, Cooper said his pick for the agency, Michael Regan, understands that “protecting state resources is vital to our state’s health and economic climate.”

Regan, an air quality expert and North Carolina native, brings decades of experience to the position, serving at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clinton and Bush administrations. From 2008 to 2016, he was the senior southeastern director for the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.

During a press conference, Regan identified the need to develop greater transparency at DEQ and work with all stakeholders so they are “operating with pretty much similar information,” and said his first priority is meeting with veteran agency staff to gather feedback.

That alone could signal a shift from the prior DEQ leadership’s approach to public engagement on environmental issues, especially as it relates to coal ash management and drinking water quality. Environmental advocacy groups welcomed Regan’s appointment after years of calling for a return to science-based decision-making at the department.

Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina Campaign Coordinator Amy Adams, a former DEQ regional supervisor, penned an op-ed for the News & Observer that was published a few days after the election’s outcome was finally clear.

“Under Gov. Pat McCrory, the agency scandalously cast doubt on science and made pariahs out of scientists and career public servants,” Adams wrote. “Leadership second-guessed its own professional staff’s reports, interfered with the recommendations of experts in other departments and knowingly spoke half-truths to the public about the safety of their well water results.

“We need men and women of science at the DEQ who are fact-minded, heart-guided and human-centered. We need people who are up to the task of rebuilding the department and regaining the public’s trust.”

A few days after her’s op-ed was published, Cooper spokesperson Ken Eudy said that restoring the credibility of DEQ was a top priority for the incoming administration. According to Brian Buzby, the executive director of the N.C. Conservation Network, Regan fits the bill.

“This choice is a clear signal from Gov. Cooper that his administration intends to restore a philosophy of transparency, integrity and sound science,” Buzby said in a statement.

Because of a new state law hastily passed by the legislature and signed by former Gov. Pat McCrory in the final days of his administration, Regan and other cabinet-level appointees are now subject to confirmation by the state Senate. A judge recently blocked a law passed during the special session that restructures county and state boards of elections, and Cooper has indicated more legal challenges to new laws could be coming.

The new governor brushed off questions about whether Regan’s background would be an obstacle to his confirmation by an oppositional and often anti-environmental legislature, saying it was important “to appoint the very best people to serve in each of these positions.”

Final Stream Protection Rule released

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 - posted by Erin
The final Stream Protection Rule offers only modest improvements to protections for public waterways, but it is well worth defending from congressional attack. Congress should focus on ways to move Central Appalachia forward.

The final Stream Protection Rule offers only modest improvements to protections for public waterways, but it is well worth defending from congressional attack. Congress should focus on ways to move Central Appalachia forward.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior on Monday released the final Stream Protection Rule, which aims to protect streams from the impacts of surface and longwall mining.

Based on updated science and technology, the rule offers modest improvements for the protection of public waterways. But despite the fact that the rule could have been much stronger, it still faces immense opposition from the coal industry’s supporters in Congress.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement began work on the rule in 2009. At that time, George W. Bush’s 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule was in effect after having replaced the original Stream Buffer Zone Rule, written in 1983. The Bush-era rule weakened stream protections and virtually eliminated prohibitions on mining through streams. When it was struck down by a federal court in 2014, the 1983 rule was reinstated.

The new Stream Protection Rule includes several improvements including increased requirements for water monitoring and forest reclamation. But it falls short of preventing mining through streams or stopping mountaintop removal. The rule also includes ample leeway for state interpretation of the requirements, which could easily lead to lax enforcement.

Donald Trump’s pick for Interior Secretary, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, is a proponent of coal and could effectively undo the rule through an administrative route. But that could take years. Instead, it is likely that the rule will be thrown out via the Congressional Review Act. The act allows Congress to overturn rules within 60 legislative days of their enactment. The president could veto such a move, but given the change in administration, this seems unlikely. This law not only allows Congress to toss out a rule, it prevents another “substantially similar” rule from being written in the future. The act has only been used successfully once, so it’s unclear what the courts would consider “substantially similar” in regard to a future mining rule from OSMRE or another agency.

Even as coal company executives call on Trump to temper his promises to coal mining communities so as not to falsely elevate expectations, other politicians are also returning to the old “war on coal” rhetoric. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) called the Stream Protection Rule “the Obama Administration’s last attempt to kill the coal industry,” and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) vowed to file a Congressional Review Act resolution himself.

While we wish the final rule were stronger, it is well worth defending from congressional attack. We will urge the White House and Congress to focus on ways to move Central Appalachia forward, rather than waste time on counterproductive political fights. A better use of time would be to pass the RECLAIM Act, which would ensure that mine sites are reclaimed and repurposed to provide economic benefit to the region.

Building a healthy economic future in Central Appalachia requires attracting new industries and encouraging community members to stay in the region. Protecting the remaining assets of the region, like clean water and healthy communities, is an integral part of building that new future.

Southwest Virginians speak out against Doe Branch Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boone community comes together to tackle energy waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Matthew flooding elevates coal ash concerns

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016 - posted by amy

Environmental justice groups express solidarity with impacted communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACT Against Coal Ash Statement on Hurricane Matthew:

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

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

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