Posts Tagged ‘Kentucky’

Devastating Forest Fires Ignite Southeast

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Tristin Van Ord

The Party Rock Fire rages near Lake Lure, N.C., in November.  Photo by John Cayton

The Party Rock Fire rages near Lake Lure, N.C., in November. Photo by John Cayton

Numerous forest fires continue to burn across Southern and Central Appalachia due to dry weather conditions. According to USA Today, over 119,000 acres of forest have already burned throughout the region this fall.

Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia have all been affected.

At least 300 homes and business were damaged or destroyed after wildfires tore through the city of Gatlinburg and Sevier County, Tenn., on Nov. 28. Fourteen people lost their lives in the blaze and its aftermath.

The Southeast is currently experiencing a “once in a generation drought,” according to PBS News. While drought has increased the spread and intensity of the fires, arson is to blame for many of them. The Associated Press announced that multiple people were arrested for intentionally starting fires. A Kentucky resident was arrested after he started a wildfire to gain popularity on his Facebook page through a forest fire video.

Over 200 homes in the Nantahala National Forest in Western North Carolina were evacuated, and N.C. Governor Pat McCrory issued a state of emergency in 25 counties.

Smoke from the fires is also a public health hazard. According to the Weather Channel, at least two people in Kentucky died from respiratory complications due to the fires, while hundreds have been hospitalized.

Thousands of volunteers are working to stop the spread of the fires, including firefighters from across the country.

Citizens should check to see if their county is under an open burning ban. The North Carolina Forest Service advises keeping a shovel and water at hand if burning outside is necessary.

Editor’s note: The print version of this article stated that seven lives were lost in the Gatlinburg fire at press time. That figure has been updated in this version.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s pick for Commerce has troubled history in coal

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

(Creative Commons; copyright Palm Beach Daily News.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildlife Initiatives Expand in East Kentucky

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

In July, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources announced the creation of the Rockcastle River Wildlife Management Area, which comprises more than 2,900 acres in eastern Pulaski County. According to the Commonwealth Journal, the parcel — known by many as the Ikerd Coal property — was purchased for $6.3 million from the Ikerd family using funds levied from a tax on firearms and ammunition sales.

The property is expected to open to the public soon.

In August, the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation finalized the purchase of a former industrial park in Bell County, Ky. According to the Associated Press, the 500-acre property was purchased from the Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Development Authority for $700,000.

The property is surrounded by an additional 1,200 acres leased by the foundation, according to the Harlan Daily Enterprise. Together the properties will house the Appalachian Wildlife Center, which is expected to open in 2019 and will provide a wildlife refuge, a museum of natural and regional history and an astronomy pavilion.

— Elizabeth E. Payne

Protecting a unique Kentucky fish from mountaintop removal coal mining

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by Erin

By Erin Savage

This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Kentucky arrow darter, a fish found only in eastern Kentucky, as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The listing also includes protection for 248 miles of stream habitat throughout 10 eastern Kentucky counties. The darter has disappeared from approximately half of its historical range, primarily due to water pollution from surface coal mining and other extractive land uses.

Kentucky arrow darter photo by Dr. Matthew R. Thomas, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

Kentucky arrow darter photo by Dr. Matthew R. Thomas, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

The listing results from a 2011 settlement between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity, which requires the agency to decide the protected status of 757 imperiled species — 55 of which are found in Kentucky. To date, 177 decisions have been made under this settlement.

Despite some protection provided by the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, surface mining still causes significant damage to streams and rivers in Central Appalachia. Over the last several decades, extensive research has demonstrated the serious and long-lasting impacts of mountaintop removal mining. Some of the most recent studies indicate that impacts to streams can last for decades after reclamation is ostensibly complete.

The new protective status of the Kentucky arrow darter ensures that the Fish and Wildlife Service will provide oversight on the permitting process for surface mines that may impact the fish or its habitat. This oversight will go a long way not only in protecting this small, colorful fish, but other species that may rely on similar habitat. It also means protection more broadly for healthy ecosystems and communities. When coal mining companies are required to more fully account for the damage done through mining, fewer of those costs are pushed onto nearby communities.

A growing mine is a growing problem for the Russell Fork River

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 - posted by Erin

Editor’s Note: This post, by Appalachian Voices’ Erin Savage, originally appeared on American Rivers’ blog. Earlier this year, the nonprofit named Central Appalachia’s Russell Fork among America’s Most Endangered Rivers due the threats posed by mountaintop removal coal mining to water quality and surrounding communities.

The Russell Fork snakes through Breaks Interstate Park along the Virginia-Kentuky border.

The Russell Fork snakes through Breaks Interstate Park along the Virginia-Kentuky border.

The Russell Fork River is threatened by a new coal mine. A bankruptcy saga with the mine’s owner had stalled development in the past year, but things appear to be getting back on track.

The history of the Doe Branch Mine in Southwest Virginia is long and complicated, and its future remains unclear.

The mine is owned by Paramont Coal Company, once a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources. Until recently, Alpha was one of the largest mining companies in the country, but is now emerging from bankruptcy. The Doe Branch Mine started with plans for a 245-acre surface coal mine in 2005, but it now has the potential to grow to 1,100 acres. If the current plan moves forward, the mine would include five valley fills and 14 wastewater discharges that would drain into tributaries of the Russell Fork River — a renowned resource in the region for river recreation and the star attraction of the Breaks Interstate Park.

While there is a long history of coal mining in the Russell Fork watershed, water quality in the river has improved over the last several decades due to better regulations and the watchful eye of local residents. At a time when coal mining is declining in Appalachia, the Doe Branch mine is among the largest mines still being pursued in Southwest Virginia, and it would undoubtedly lead to significant water quality impacts.

The Doe Branch Mine and watershed connections to the Russell Fork River.

The Doe Branch Mine and watershed connections to the Russell Fork.

The mine is also part of a large, controversial highway construction project known as the Coalfields Expressway. Some believe the Expressway will bring much needed economic development opportunities to the region, but others believe it unnecessarily enables additional surface mining and does not adequately consider what is best for nearby communities. Though a portion of the Doe Branch Mine has been approved by state and federal agencies, the expansion does not have final approval. Little work has been started on any portion of the mine over the last decade, beyond some tree clearing.

In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an objection to the company’s application to increase the size of the mine. Specifically, the EPA objected to the application for additional wastewater permits under the Clean Water Act. The wastewater would be discharged into several tributaries of the Russell Fork that are already impaired by mining-related pollutants, according to Virginia’s list of impaired waterways. In order to secure discharge permits, the company must show that it will not increase the overall impairment of the watershed.

Trends for coal production in Central Appalachia. The decline has continued into 2015 and 2016.

Trends for coal production in Central Appalachia. The decline has continued into 2015 and 2016.

Since hitting its peak in 2008, coal production in Central Appalachia has declined precipitously. Alpha’s dominance in the Central Appalachian coal market has not shielded it from the economic downturn. The company declared bankruptcy in August 2015, creating a lull in the Doe Branch permit application process.

On July 26, 2016, Alpha announced its emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The plan to emerge from bankruptcy involves the formation of two new companies. One is a privately held, smaller Alpha, which will retain most of the Central Appalachian mines. The other is Contura Energy, formed by Alpha’s senior lenders, which purchased Alpha’s Wyoming, Pennsylvania and better-performing Central Appalachian mines. Doe Branch is included in the short list of Central Appalachian mines that Contura will own.

Before emerging from bankruptcy, Alpha stated that the Doe Branch Mine is not part of its 10 year plan. Now that Contura owns Doe Branch, the mine may be more likely to move forward. Just last month, a new Clean Water Act permit draft was issued by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. This new draft may be an attempt to address the objections raised by the EPA. Given the importance of the Russell Fork, the damage already done to its tributaries by mining, and the need for a serious economic shift in the region, the EPA should uphold its objection to this mine. Urge them to do so now.

Join Appalachian Voices and American Rivers in asking the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to deny Contura’s permit request for the Doe Branch Mine.

Proposed Federal Prison in Kentucky Raises Environmental Justice Concerns

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

Activists and residents are currently fighting a plan to build a new federal prison in Roxana, Ky., on land where mountaintop removal coal mining and gas drilling have taken place. County officials have said that the prison, which will likely receive $444 million in federal funding, will bring local jobs to an area that has seen economic decline as the coal industry falters.

But local activist group Letcher Governance Project argues that there are better investments than prisons, and that the previous three prisons built in the state did not deliver on the economic promises made prior to construction.

The prison is proposed to be built on an abandoned mine, potentially exposing incarcerated individuals, prison staff and those living nearby to leftover contamination from mining and gas drilling that resurfaces during construction, Panagioti Tsolkas of the national organization Prison Ecology Project says. The group has also commented that the quality of water delivered to the prison could be affected from past mine activities.

“New prisons have been portrayed as an economic opportunity for the struggling residents of rural Appalachia, but prisoners in the coal fields are also on the front lines of Appalachia’s environmental justice struggle,” says Tsolkas.

– Hannah Petersen

OSMRE announces review of mountaintop removal health research

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016 - posted by brian
A 2012 Appalachian Voices' report mapped the findings of peer-reviewed health studies and data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, United Health Foundation and the Gallup-Healthways Well-being index.

A 2012 Appalachian Voices’ report mapped the findings of peer-reviewed health studies and data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, United Health Foundation and the Gallup-Healthways Well-being index.

Contact:
Erin Savage, Central Appalachia Campaign Coordinator, 206-769-8286

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) announced today that it will fund a $1 million review by the National Academy of Sciences of current research on the links between surface coal mining and human health risks.

It comes more than a year after the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection formally requested such a review, and nearly a decade after the publication of the first in a series of two dozen peer-reviewed studies that have found correlations between mountaintop removal coal mining and increased rates of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, and other negative health outcomes.

In recent years, multiple studies have established more direct, causal links between mountaintop removal and negative health impacts. Studies led by researchers at West Virginia University have concluded that exposure to mountaintop mining dust promotes tumor growth in human lung cells and decreases cardiac functioning in lab animals.

Research from outside the region show cause for concern regarding common mining pollutants such as manganese. Several studies1 over two decades have demonstrated a link between nervous system damage in children and manganese exposure through well water.

OSMRE will share additional information as it becomes available, including the dates of four public meetings to be held by the National Academy of Sciences.

A statement from Appalachian Voices’ Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator Erin Savage:

“We’re pleased that OSMRE has listened to the concerns coal-impacted residents have been voicing for years. And, while we always welcome additional research into the toll mountaintop removal takes on human health and the environment, action must be taken on the preponderance of existing evidence showing the known impacts of surface mining. If we value the lives of Central Appalachian citizens over coal profits, mine permitting would be halted until it could be proven safe for nearby residents.

“We are still awaiting a long-overdue Stream Protection Rule and are hopeful that a strong rule will be issued soon by the Obama administration. There is more than enough scientific research documenting the impacts of mountaintop removal on Central Appalachia’s streams and rivers to justify a moratorium on mining through streams, which irreparably harms aquatic ecosystems and likely contributes to a range of human health issues.

“It is unfortunate that OSMRE did not undertake this review sooner so the findings could help to inform the Stream Protection Rule. But despite the coal industry’s decline, mining in Central Appalachia will continue into the near future. This review could be the push the next administration needs to finally make this destructive practice illegal.”

1 – Bouchard, M.F., Sauve, S., Barbeau, B., Legrand, M., Brodeur, M.E., Bouffard, T., Limoges, E. Bellinger, D.C., Margler, D. 2011. Intellectual Impairment in School-Age Children Exposed to Manganese from Drinking Water. Environmental Health Perspectives Jan;119(1):138-43.

Hafeman, D., Factor-Litvak, P., Cheng, Z., van Geen, A., Ahsan, H. 2007. Association Between Manganese Exposure Through Drinking Water and Infant Mortality in Bangladesh. Hafeman, D. et al. Environmental Health Perspectives Jul;115(7):1107-12.

Woolf, A., Wright, R., Amarasiriwardena, C., Bellinger, D. 2002. Child with Chronic Manganese Exposure from Drinking Water. 2002. Woolf, A. et al. Environmental Health Perspectives Jun;110(6):613-6.

Wasserman, G.A., Liu, X., Parvez, F. Ahsan, H., Levy, D., Factor-Litvak, P., Kline, J., van Geen, A., Slavkovich, V., Lolacono, N.J., Cheng, Z., Zheng, Y. Graziano, J.H. 2006. Water Manganese Exposure and Children’s Intellectual Function in Arailhazar, Bangladesh. Environmental Health Perspectives Jan;114(1):124-9.

Agreement Stops Trash Trains in Boyd County, Ky.

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Hannah Petersen

Due to an agreement spearheaded by a citizens group in Boyd County, Ky., Big Run Landfill will stop accepting waste brought in by rail and will transition to a regional landfill accepting trash only from within 75 miles of the site. According to Boyd County Judge-Executive Steve Towler, the residents of Boyd County saw the last “trash train” delivery on April 19, after raising complaints of disruptive odors for nearly two years.

Ending the trash trains was the result of an agreement between the Citizens of Boyd County Environmental Coalition, Boyd County Fiscal Court, Big Run Landfill and the state Department for Environmental Protection. The agreement not only eliminates all rail deliveries but also requires the closure of large areas of the landfill and installation of air monitoring systems around the property.

“It was something I knew had to be taken care of,” says Towler. “This agreement brought everyone together to reach a beneficial and reasonable conclusion.”

Big Run is Kentucky’s largest landfill and holds nearly 43 million tons of waste within a mile of a high school and nearby homes. For years, Big Run had accepted waste brought on trains from as far away as New Jersey, according to The Herald Dispatch.

Kentucky Tourism Experiences Strongest Growth in 10 Years

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

The Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism announced in May that it contributed $13.7 billion to the state’s economy in 2015, which is the most added in a single year since 2005. This growth created more than 6,000 jobs in the industry since 2014, for a total of 186,204 tourism jobs.

Tourism to the state’s eastern region added more than a billion dollars to the state’s economy. This part of the state contains many natural attractions, including the Appalachian mountains and Daniel Boone National Forest, which have made Kentucky such a desirable destination. This area hosts a number of horse trails, mountain and lake state parks, more than 500 miles of hiking trails, and the Red River Gorge. — Dylan Turner