Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee’

Weatherizing Tennessee homes gets results

Friday, October 2nd, 2015 - posted by Amy Kelly
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero (at podium) launches KEEM with homeowner Dorothy Ware (far right), who has already saved 25 percent on her electric bill, with more energy efficiency improvements to come.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero (at podium) launches KEEM with homeowner Dorothy Ware (far right), who has already saved 25 percent on her electric bill, with more energy efficiency improvements to come.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which supplies power to 155 utility companies in the Southeast, has released a second round of grants for energy efficiency makeovers. Cleveland Utilities in Tennessee will be another Appalachian energy-provide receiving millions of dollars to retrofit its customers’ homes. (The funding stems from TVA’s settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Act in 2011 for violations of the Clean Air Act.)

In September, the Knoxville Utility Board and the Knox County Community Action Committee launched the Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover (KEEM) program with $15 million from the first round of TVA grant funding. KEEM will be providing energy efficiency upgrades to 1,200 homes over the next two years in the area.

The program promises to bring a host of benefits to the community. Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently released a summary of findings on the effect of weatherization assistance programs nationwide. According to the summary, “Weatherization provides cost-effective energy savings to American families, provides additional health and safety benefits, supports jobs, and provides a stable platform for additional investment in energy efficiency.”

In 2010 alone, with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, weatherization supported 28,000 jobs nationwide and generated savings for residents amounting to a whopping $1.1 billion. Not only did the influx of capital significantly improve the economy, the nation’s carbon footprint shrunk by 7,382,000 metric tons.

As we reported previously, clean energy jobs in Tennessee are growing at three times the rate of overall job growth in the state. Appalachian Voices is working with utilities, businesses and other nonprofit partners in east Tennessee and western North Carolina to promote job creation and energy savings in Appalachia by establishing programs provide up-front, debt-free funding assistance so residents can enjoy energy-efficiency home improvements sooner, rather than later.

To find out how you can help get your utility on board, contact Amy Kelly today!

>> Get a free self-audit, $10 gift card to Home Depot and energy savings kit through TVA’s Energy Right Solutions program. (Not sure if you’re in TVA’s service territory? Check this map.)

Citizen stories counter coal industry deception

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015 - posted by willie
Citizens sign up to speak at a public hearing on the Stream Protection Rule in Big Stone Gap, Va.

Citizens sign up to speak at a public hearing on the Stream Protection Rule in Big Stone Gap, Va., where clean water advocates argued for stronger protections and coal industry representatives relied on deception to rally against the rule.

In July, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released a draft of its Stream Protection Rule, a long-awaited regulation aimed at reducing the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining.

Along with coalfield community members and allied organizations, Appalachian Voices is asking the agency to close loopholes in the rule that state agencies might exploit, allowing coal companies to continue polluting our streams. We are also pushing for clear language in the final rule that states citizens may enforce water quality standards under the Surface Mining Reclamation and Control Act.

TAKE ACTION: Urge the Office of Surface Mining to strengthen the draft Stream Protection Rule.

As part of its rule-making process, OSM held six public hearings across the nation in order to gather comments from stakeholders and impacted residents. Only two hearings were held in the central Appalachian coalfields; one in Big Stone Gap, Va., and another in Charleston, W.Va.

The hearing in Big Stone Gap provides a glimpse into how the whole series of hearings played out. About 250 people were present at the hearing, which took place on the evening of Sept. 15. At 6 p.m., U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia’s 9th district, the first speaker of the evening, approached the podium. Griffith did not address any details of the Stream Protection Rule in his comments, and he provided no tangible evidence of whether or not it would achieve its intended effect. Instead, Griffith seized the opportunity to spout “war on coal” rhetoric and to accuse the rule’s supporters of caring more about mayflies than human beings.

Concluding his comments after five minutes, Rep. Griffith was on his way out of the building when Wise County resident Jane Branham confronted him and asked him to stay and listen to what his constituents had to say. Griffith declined this invitation and left promptly at 6:11 p.m.

Had Rep. Griffith stayed, he would have heard Mary Darcy from Wise who said:

Despite rules and laws, tons of waste are dumped into these waterways regularly. How does this happen? Do the states not enforce clean water regulations? Do our elected representatives turn their backs on the needs of the people with something as critical as water?

Darcy was not the only speaker to call out state agencies for repeatedly failing to enforce regulations. Diana Withen, a local high school biology teacher, implored the OSM to include clear language allowing for citizen monitoring and enforcement, stating, “We know that government budgets are tight and that regulatory agencies are going to continue to face budget cuts in the future. So allowing concerned citizens to help monitor the water quality in our streams makes sense.”

A reconstructed "stream" below a surface mine in Central Appalachia. The Stream Protection Rule is intended to safeguard streams and people by reining in the ravages of mountaintop removal.

A reconstructed “stream” below a surface mine in Central Appalachia. The Stream Protection Rule is intended to safeguard streams and people by reining in the ravages of mountaintop removal.

Countering the many citizens who spoke up for clean water were the numerous coal industry representatives that railed against the rule. But instead of addressing the rule’s content, they expended a great deal of time and energy accusing the Office of Surface Mining and President Obama of deliberately attacking coal mining for political gain.

Scott Barton, a mine superintendent at Murray Energy’s Harrison County Mine in northern West Virginia, argued that the Obama administration “hides behind the myth of global warming to justify it’s job destroying agenda. Everyone in the coal industry knows this is a lie.”

Other pro-industry, anti-regulatory speakers described the rule as a “weapon of mass destruction,” the “nuclear option” and “the last nail in the crucifixion of the coal industry.” Sadly, preference on the part of the industry and politicians for rhetoric over substance was not unique to the Big Stone Gap hearing. Much more of the same could be heard at each of the five other hearings in Charleston, Denver, Lexington Ky., Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

The public comment period for the draft Stream Protection Rule has been extended in response to industry requests and will now remain open until Oct. 26. Click here to add your voice.

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A Tennessee homecoming for energy savings

Thursday, September 17th, 2015 - posted by Amy Kelly


My family has been in Tennessee since before it was a state, and long before the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining significantly altered our landscape, compromised our waters and jeopardized the self-reliance of our people.

Re-opening Appalachian Voices’ Tennessee office in Knoxville this fall has been a homecoming for me in several ways. I am back in Tennessee after a stint in western North Carolina and Peru. My journey revealed how ingenuity can take root in often overlooked places, where environmental injustice is the prevailing theme. I am coming home to help tap the existing ingenuity in the area to strengthen the communities of Appalachian Tennessee.

As the Tennessee Energy Savings Outreach Coordinator, I’ll be working with communities served by rural electric cooperatives to institute a program that can save residents up to 40 percent on their electric bills. By doing so, we will be saving money, making our homes more healthy and comfortable, and helping grow our local economies. Not only that, energy efficiency also reduces our reliance on burning coal for electricity—the single largest contributor in the U.S. to carbon pollution and climate change.

The Southeast has 29% of the nation’s energy savings potential. So there’s lots of room for improvement, but many folks don’t have the means for to make energy efficiency upgrades in their homes. That’s where electric co-ops, as member-owned utilities, can help.

Last week, I met a family in Jefferson City that is struggling to make ends meet. They want to insulate their home so they can reduce their heating bill in the winter, but they can’t afford the cost. Energy efficiency programs like on-bill financing would help them, and they have joined our campaign to support the local co-op in offering the program.

Programs like Help My House in South Carolina and How$mart Kentucky are already demonstrating how these energy efficiency programs can significantly improve quality of life and economic development. Now, it’s Tennessee’s turn.

I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at amy.kelly [at]

We can do this together!

Predictable politics giving way to popular support for POWER+

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015 - posted by brian
Photo of Wise County, Va., by Flickr user biotour 13 licensed under Creative Commons.

The politics surrounding the POWER+ Plan are less important to Appalachian communities than advancing initiatives that will create jobs and alleviate economic hardship. Photo of Wise County, Va., by biotour 13.

UPDATE: As of September 29, a total of 15 Appalachian government entities have passed resolutions to support POWER+. In addition to the seven mentioned below:

  • the towns of Appalachia, Cleveland and Wise, in Virginia
  • the cities of Vicco and Evarts, in Kentucky
  • the Pike County Fiscal Court, Harlan County Fiscal Court, and Benham Power Board, Kentucky.
  • * * * * *

    The recent growth in local support for a plan to boost Appalachia’s economy has been a bright spot in the region during some of the coal industry’s darkest days.

    In Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, cities and counties with long histories of coal mining are advocating for the POWER+ Plan, a federal budget initiative proposed by the White House to build more diverse economies in the communities hardest hit by the regional coal industry’s decline.

    Last week, the Board of Supervisors of Wise County, Va., unanimously approved a resolution supporting the plan, citing the “dramatic economic transition” and job losses the county has experienced. According to the resolution, the county “desires to invest resources to adapt to new economic circumstances” facing the region.

    On the same night, the City Council of Benham, in Harlan County, Ky., passed a supporting resolution. Before Benham came the City of Whitesburg, Ky., and Virginia’s Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission.

    The Campbell County Commission became the first locality in Tennessee to support POWER+, unanimously passing a resolution yesterday. Also on Monday, members of the Letcher County Fiscal Court voted unanimously in favor of the plan.

    The City Council of Whitesburg, Ky., is among the growing number of localities in central Appalachia that have passed resolutions supporting the POWER+ Plan. Photo by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

    The City Council of Whitesburg, Ky., is among the growing number of localities in central Appalachia that have passed resolutions supporting the POWER+ Plan. Photo by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

    It was only a few weeks ago that Norton, Va., became the first locality in the nation to pass a resolution in favor of the plan. More endorsements are expected in the days and weeks ahead.

    Appalachian Voices and our allies have been promoting the POWER+ Plan, too. We’re heartened, but not surprised, to hear local perspectives that don’t reflect the tone legislators from Appalachian states often take in D.C.

    After listening to residents speak at the Wise County Board of Supervisors meeting about how the plan could benefit their families and share their hopes for Southwest Virginia’s economy, board member Ron Shortt told the audience, “We’re behind you 100 percent on this. We realize how important it is to Southwest Virginia and Wise County.”

    The implication could be that, so far, Congress doesn’t realize how important it is for the region.

    Since it holds the federal purse strings, Congress must approve funding for elements of the POWER+ Plan. But after months of opportunity to consider the proposal, and some shirking by Appalachian politicians, lawmakers in the House and Senate weakened key provisions of the plan or left them out of the budget altogether.

    We recently covered Congress’s muted response in The Appalachian Voice and pointed to how lawmakers are sticking to their political sides:

    … rather than receiving the POWER+ Plan with enthusiasm, many Appalachian lawmakers’ comments echoed past criticisms of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and claims of a war on coal.

    “The administration has instituted sweeping regulations that have destroyed our economy’s very foundation without considering the real-world impacts, and funding alone won’t fix that,” a spokesperson for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Earlier this year, Capito introduced legislation to prevent the EPA from regulating carbon pollution.

    When asked about the plan, a spokesperson for first-term Rep. Alex Mooney responded to the Gazette-Mail with a simple “No, Representative Mooney does not support the [POWER+] Plan.”

    Mooney has introduced a bill to prevent the U.S. Department of the Interior from finalizing the Stream Protection Rule to reduce the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. He has called stopping the rule his “top priority.”

    Rather than investing in workforce training and reemployment programs or reforming the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund to focus more on economic development, as the POWER+ Plan would, congressional opponents of the president remain primarily concerned with undermining protections for Appalachian streams and fighting limits on carbon emissions — policy goals, sure, but nothing close to an economic development plan for the region.

    The counties that stand to benefit most from the plan are some of the poorest in the United States and continue to face layoffs, the impacts of ongoing mining, and pollution from decades-old and poorly reclaimed mine sites.

    Lawmakers representing those counties in Congress, including Rep. Hal Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are positioned to rally other influential legislators around the plan, but they aren’t.

    Some lawmakers have made statements expressing tacit support. But the resolutions make clear that these localities expect their representatives to do more; some call on members of Congress by name to support funding for economic development in the region.

    The politics surrounding the POWER+ Plan, and attempts to fit it into a “war on coal” framework, are understandably less important to Appalachian communities than advancing initiatives that will create jobs and alleviate the economic hardships they face.

    Many of the communities now urging members of Congress to back the plan have been underrepresented over the years in their demands for a more diverse economy. They deserved to be heard then like they deserve to be heard now.

    Stay informed by subscribing to The Front Porch Blog.

Communities Find Solutions to Stormwater

Thursday, August 6th, 2015 - posted by molly

This Renaissance Park Bioretention area in Chattanooga, Tenn., collects water from the parking lot and allows it to infiltrate into the ground. Photo courtesy of the city of Chattanooga

This Renaissance Park Bioretention area in Chattanooga, Tenn., collects water from the parking lot and allows it to infiltrate into the ground. Photo courtesy of the city of Chattanooga

By Laura Marion

On average, Chattanooga, Tenn., receives 53 inches of rainfall per year. Combined with the city’s steady growth and development in recent times, the rainfall began to overwhelm old drainage systems, causing flooding and erosion in the city. This stormwater washed into the Tennessee River, pollutants in tow. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Clean Water Network sued the city for violations of the Clean Water Act. Under the resulting settlement, the city agreed to pay an estimated $250 million to minimize or eliminate sewage overflows and improve their sewer system.

Stormwater runoff in Appalachia can be attributed to several factors. One major issue is the spread of development into natural areas that trap rainwater and allow it to slowly seep into the earth. The replacement of permeable soil with roads, buildings and parking lots causes issues with erosion and flooding. The U.S. Forest Service predicts that central Appalachian summer droughts will be accompanied by increased flooding in the spring and winter.

Since the EPA expanded the Clean Water Act in 1987 to include a program for stormwater runoff, many communities across the country have been required to implement plans to manage the problem. The use of green infrastructure — the replication of natural areas with plants and other organic materials as a means of trapping and filtering stormwater — has been encouraged by the agency since 2007.

Mounir Minkara, the water quality manager for Chattanooga, predicts that the plan will have many long-term benefits for the city.

“[We were] looking at a roadway project here that would have cost a lot of money to actually fix a drainage issue on the streets or on the neighborhood that floods a lot,” Minkara says. “Now we’re looking to address it through green infrastructure. We feel like the cost may be half of what it had been if we do it through [the storm drain system].”

According to Minkara, benefits of using natural stormwater retention also include aesthetic improvement, increased property value and environmental stewardship. As part of its plan, Chattanooga implemented several sustainable projects including green roofs and water-permeable pavement.

Converting to green infrastructure is a team effort, Minkara says, and takes work from city planners, engineers, property owners and volunteers alike.

Jay Squires, the streets and stormwater manager for the City of Spartanburg, S.C., is also looking at the long-term benefits of stormwater management. A 2013 project sponsored by the EPA, the Northside Project, will incorporate green infrastructure such as rain gardens, permeable pavers, open green spaces, and green rooftops. Squires also hopes to restore a stream as an amenity for the Northside neighborhood. In addition to helping with water quality, Squires believes that the green infrastructure will solve drainage issues in Northside, and help increase property values. He and his team are obtaining permits to begin implementation.

“It’s an important project, but it’s a long-range project that we need to always be on the tip of our tongue and not something that we stick in the background,” Squires says.

Community Partnerships

In mid-July, the EPA recognized the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina for their Native Plant Nursery Facility, which provides plants for projects to restore streams and habitat on tribal lands. The community uses two 6,000-gallon cisterns to collect and store rainfall to water their plants, which reduced their water withdrawls from an on-site stream by 36 percent during the first year.

At the University of Kentucky, a rain garden is aiding education. The rain garden, located near the headwaters of the Wolf Run Watershed in Fayette County, was funded through a stormwater incentive grant from Lexington, Ky., and the university’s student sustainability council.

“It’s functioning as a living-learning lab,” says Rebecca McCulley, interim director of Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment and associate professor of Plant and Soil Sciences. “We have students and faculty that are actually out there pretty regularly collecting data.”

The University of Kentucky’s rain garden is used as a living-learning lab for students. Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky

The University of Kentucky’s rain garden is used as a living-learning lab for students. Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky

To prevent the university’s stormwater runoff from polluting nearby water bodies such as streams and ponds, school officials are required to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and develop a stormwater management program that includes public education. Suzette Walling, administrative support for the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment at the University of Kentucky, says that student involvement in the rain garden contributes to that outreach.

“Being a community partner is certainly important,” Walling says.

There are many schools that have implemented creative stormwater management solutions in the Appalachian region, including Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., ranked number 22 in the nation among the Sierra Club’s green schools of 2014. Among the projects the school implemented are a rainwater retention cistern that captures runoff and releases it into the watershed by way of a low dam that regulates the waterflow to prevent flooding, and a broadcasting center that collects stormwater and uses it as non-potable water in the restrooms.

In Chattanooga, innovative stormwater management through green infrastructure has become more than just addressing the EPA’s original lawsuit.

“We feel like this has been the right approach,” Minkara says of Chattanooga’s sustainable stormwater management program. “We anticipate that property value will improve and it will have better benefits for the environment for sure.”

Train Fire Sparks Evacuations, Water Concerns

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

by Julia Lindsay

Late at night on July 1, more than 5,000 citizens of Maryville, Tenn., awoke to knocks on their doors after a CSX train caught fire. Officials evacuated citizens within two miles of the accident. The train was hauling acrylonitrile, a carcinogenic chemical used to produce plastics.

After the 17-hour burn, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tested the local air and water, deeming the area safe for repopulation on July 3. Two days later, biologists in Culton Creek found dead fish whose deaths, they believe, align with the time of the derailment, CNN reported.

Acrylonitrile has been detected in a well about 300 feet from the derailment site. According to a local TV station, all other wells tested negative for the chemical, but the EPA will drill new wells to monitor potential contamination.

Star Parks Shine in the Appalachian Region

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Julia Lindsay

On July 17, Staunton River State Park in Scottsburg, Va., joined 24 other parks across the world in receiving an International Dark Sky Park designation. The International Dark Sky Association, which grants the designations, seeks to preserve areas of dark sky, a dwindling natural resource.

Eastern Tennessee’s Pickett State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area are also recent additions, along with North Carolina’s Mayland Community College Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park.

“The Appalachian region is a little bit darker than the [regions] around it, but pretty much anywhere east of the Great Plains has a lot of light,” says Dark Sky Places program manager, Dr. John Barentine. Most of the country’s population lives along the coastal states, concentrating immense light pollution. The rural nature of Appalachia dilutes light pollution, making it a prime location for stargazers.

Parks wishing to get on the list must follow rigorous standards set by the association, such as brightness and color guidelines for park lights. A color temperature standard below 3000 kelvin, Barentine says, ensures that parks use a warmer white color lighting instead of bluer lights.

Parks also have to include programming to share with the park’s visitors about the value of dark skies and the need to protect them. “Without the inspiration from night sky objects,” IDA’s website states, “most of the world’s history, art, culture … would not have been created.” Park coordinators usually combine educational talks with night-time stargazing programs.

Dark Sky Parks are popular among tourists, from camping families to amateur astronomers. Roanoke Times reports that more than 140 visitors came to Staunton River State Park’s star party last fall. “A star party,” Barentine explains, “is an event where you get a bunch of people to come together, usually amateur astronomers … the visitors go from telescope to telescope and talk to the operators and ask questions.”

“People in areas that are relatively light polluted can learn and can help solve this problem,” Barentine says, through actions as simple as putting a shield atop porch lights.

Learn more at

Tennessee Rivers at Risk

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Cody Burchett

According to a report released this May by the nonprofit Tennessee Clean Water Network, surface water enforcement actions issued by Tennessee state regulators have dropped 75 percent since 2008.

Of the 53 enforcement orders issued last year by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, more than a quarter were related to paperwork rather than pollution events. The Clean Water Network concludes that this low number of enforcements is not due to a lack of violations, and that TDEC “needs to be more aggressive in taking swift, effective enforcement action.”

More than 30 percent of Tennessee’s surface waterways are impaired by pollution, according to a 2012 assessment by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Among these are portions of the Holston and Harpeth Rivers located in northeast and middle Tennessee, both of which were listed in this year’s annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report by the nonprofit American Rivers. The report highlights major waterways facing an upcoming decision this year that could significantly impact the river’s health.

Lawsuit Defends Blackside Dace

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

A federal lawsuit filed in Knoxville, Tenn., alleges regulators failed to meet legal obligations to protect a threatened fish endemic to Appalachian streams. Four citizens groups, including the Sierra Club and Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment, claim the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about adverse impacts to the federally protected blackside dace before issuing a permit for a 1,088-acre mountaintop removal mine in Claiborne County. Under the Endangered Species Act, agencies must ensure their actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species.

Appalachian communities are still at risk

Friday, May 29th, 2015 - posted by tom

Mapping the encroaching threat from mountaintop removal


One thing we at Appalachian Voices particularly pride ourselves on is our ability to work in the realm where technology, hard data and storytelling converge.

Over the years, we’ve applied these skills to develop tools on like What’s My Connection? and The Human Cost of Coal to show in compelling and unmistakable fashion how mountaintop removal coal mining is ransacking Appalachia’s communities and natural heritage.

Last month, we unveiled our latest project, Communities at Risk, an mapping tool revealing how mountaintop removal has been expanding closer to people’s homes in Central Appalachia — even as coal is in decline — and posing increasing threats to residents’ health and the environment.

EXPLORE: The Communities At Risk From Mountaintop Removal Mapping Tool

We used Google Earth Engine, U.S. Geological Survey data, publicly available satellite imagery, mining permit databases and mapping data from SkyTruth to develop the interactive map and identify the 50 communities that are most at risk from mountaintop removal. The resulting map offers the first-ever time-lapse view of the destruction’s encroachment on Appalachian communities.

Behind all the data and coordinates, of course, are real people and communities, and that is what drives our work. The communities most at risk from mountaintop removal suffer higher rates of poverty and are losing population more than twice as fast as nearby rural communities with no mining in the immediate vicinity. The health statistics are equally troubling; a 2011 study found double the cancer rates in counties with mountaintop removal compared to nearby counties without it.

Our goal with Communities at Risk is to ramp up the pressure on the White House to end this practice, which remains the single-most overwhelming environmental threat in the region. In the early days of President Obama’s administration, promises were made that regulating mountaintop removal would be based on science. The science on the dire impacts is definitive, yet the administration has failed to act accordingly.

WATCH: Communities At Risk — End Mountaintop Removal Now

Appalachians are working hard to reinvent their economy and outlast the fall of King Coal. Much of that future rests on protecting the air, the water, and the region’s unparalleled natural beauty.

It’s incumbent on the Obama administration to help revive this region that has powered the nation’s economic ascendancy for generations. As citizens have argued for years, cracking down on the continuing devastation of mountaintop removal is critical to moving Appalachia forward.

For Appalachia,

Tom Cormons