Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee’

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.

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.

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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 darksky.org

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

communities-at-risk-widget

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 iLoveMountains.org 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

Video Shows Rare View of Mountaintop Removal Mining

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - posted by cat

CONTACT:
Cat McCue, Communications Director, (434) 293-6373; cat@appvoices.org

A short video released today by Appalachian Voices with stunningly detailed drone footage provides a rare view of mountaintop removal coal mining and the increasing proximity of this destructive form of mining to people living in Appalachia. The video also includes interviews with local citizens who want to end mountaintop removal mining and transition their communities in a more just and sustainable way.

View the video here (4:30).

Trip Jennings, an award-winning videographer who has worked with National Geographic, produced the video in partnership with Appalachian Voices and with support from Patagonia. Using camera drones and time-lapse photography, Jennings weaves images of the region’s natural wonders, the destruction from mountaintop removal, and the resiliency of the Appalachian people into an unforgettable tableau.

You’ll hear from Norman, a former coal miner who would like to see more rooftop solar and other forms of clean energy in the region …. Kathy, a coal-miner’s daughter-turned activist who is witnessing it moving ever-closer to communities … and Carmen, a young person determined to stay and create positive change in her hometown.

Appalachian Voices, a nonprofit regional organization, released the video as part of its “Communities At Risk” project, a data-based, online mapping tool showing the increasing encroachment of mountaintop removal mining on communities even as coal is in decline in Appalachia. The group’s aim is to educate Americans about what’s at stake in Appalachia and urge President Obama to end mountaintop removal mining.

“This is no way to leave a legacy,” says Kate Rooth, campaign director the organization. “It’s incumbent on the Obama administration to help revive this region that has powered the nation’s economic ascendancy for generations, starting with ending mountaintop removal mining.”

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State Legislative Updates

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

While lawmakers in Washington, D.C., might get most of the spotlight, the legislators in state capitols across the region are busy making — and blocking — laws that affect Appalachia’s land, air, water and people. Here are spring updates from state legislatures around the region.

Kentucky

Session convened Jan. 6, adjourned March 24

Perhaps the most publicized and contentious environmental law to pass during the Bluegrass State’s 30-day legislative session was an update to existing oil and gas drilling rules that addresses some of the challenges posed by fracking.

A new energy law creates an Environmental Regulation Task Force to review how electricity reliability in the state is affected by federal environmental regulations. The task force, which environmental groups say is skewed toward industry, will produce a report by December 2015.

Gov. Beshear also signed a bill that helps local governments finance water and energy efficiency projects. A committee hearing on the Clean Energy Opportunity Act, which would require Kentucky utilities to meet a certain portion of electricity demand through energy efficiency and renewables, was cancelled due to a March snowstorm, but a hearing during the legislative interim is expected.

It will be more difficult for timber companies designated as “bad actors” to operate in the state without paying civil penalties and remediating logging sites under another new law. And new rules regarding how local governments can handle stray horses and cattle provide guidelines for identifying owners and for gelding, or sterilizing, male animals if an owner is not found. — By Molly Moore

North Carolina

Session convened Jan. 14, adjourns early July

Since the legislative session began in January, the rules regulating oil and gas drilling in North Carolina went into effect and the state’s long-standing moratorium on fracking was lifted. A bipartisan bill introduced to “disapprove” the rules was left to expire in March.

The first law passed this session clarifies technical issues with the Coal Ash Management Act passed last September and removes a previous legal requirement that the state develop rules to limit air pollution from fracking operations. A three-judge panel ruled in favor of Governor McCrory, who claims that the Coal Ash Management Commission is unconstitutional because there are more legislative appointments than executive. The ruling means that progress cleaning up coal ash throughout the state will stall. It also affects the commission that wrote the fracking rules, which could impact the validity of the drilling regulations.

The bipartisan Energy Freedom Bill, which would open up the state to third-party sales for solar projects, was introduced in March. The bill is supported by environmental groups, large businesses and the military, but strongly opposed by Duke Energy, which currently has a monopoly on the state’s power production.

Though polls show that North Carolinians overwhelmingly support renewable energy options, Gov. McCrory continues to push for opening the coast to offshore oil drilling, which is a possibility now that President Obama is allowing states to pursue offshore drilling in the Atlantic. — By Sarah Kellogg

Tennessee

Session convened Jan. 13, adjourns late April

At the end of March, a bill to transfer oversight of surface mining in Tennessee from federal to state regulators had passed through a state Senate committee and state House subcommittee. The Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee would end the federal Office of Surface Mining’s 31-year term as the regulatory agency charged with ensuring that coal mining operations in the state abide by surface mining and mined-land reclamation laws. That responsibility would pass to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. In 1984, the federal agency assumed oversight of surface mining in Tennessee due to the state’s poor enforcement of environmental laws.

The Tennessee Mining Association says a return to state regulation will lead to faster approval of mining permits. Opponents of the bill argue that fees levied on coal companies to pay for the costs of administering the regulatory program would be insufficient, and leave the state bearing an added cost.

A bill to provide a general permit for noncommercial gold mining appears idle for the year; opponents were concerned the bill could damage water quality and trout populations in the Cherokee National Forest. And a bill to help finance renewable energy and energy efficiency was moving through legislative committees at press time. — By Molly Moore

Virginia

Session convened Jan. 14, adjourned Feb. 27

In the 2015 legislative session, Virginia electric utilities lobbied for what they described as a partial rate freeze, though consumer advocates said that average electric bills could still increase and the legislation would make it more difficult for regulators to catch utility over-earnings or require refunds. But amendments on the same bill declared solar energy development and energy efficiency programs as in the public interest, and the legislation passed.

Another bill would have joined Virginia into a regional network of states limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Through pollution allowance auctions, this initiative would raise funds for efforts such as coastal adaptation to sea level rise and renewable energy workforce training. The bill did not receive a vote, but this concept will likely be reintroduced next year.

Two new laws that passed will increase the size of nonresidential solar installations that can sell power back to the grid and encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency for multi-family and commercial buildings.

Meanwhile, Gov. McAuliffe reiterated his strong support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, one of three proposed pipelines that would, if built, carry fracked gas across ecologically sensitive areas. A bipartisan bill would have prevented interstate companies from entering and surveying private property without the written consent of the owner, but that legislation failed to pass, as did an attempt to make public service corporations using eminent domain subject to the Freedom of Information Act. — By Hannah Wiegard

West Virginia

Session convened Jan. 14, adjourned March 14

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin received criticism from mine-safety and environmental groups for signing the Coal Jobs Safety Act, a law that United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said “marks the first time in West Virginia history that our state has officially reduced safety standards for coal miners.” The legislation also prevents citizens from suing coal companies for violating Clean Water Act standards if those standards were not specified in the state mine permit, along with several other industry-supported changes to environmental rules.

The state also lowered the number of aboveground chemical storage tanks that need to comply with safety regulations by roughly 75 percent — the storage tank rules passed in the wake of the 2014 Elk River chemical spill. The legislature did agree to strengthen water quality standards for a 72-mile stretch of the Kanawha River so that it can be used as a backup drinking water source for the now-notorious Elk River intake.

A bill that would have allowed “forced pooling” for horizontal oil and gas wells narrowly failed. Forced pooling, which is currently allowed for vertical wells in the state, requires all mineral owners to lease their land for drilling if a certain percentage of other mineral owners in an drilling tract agree.

Two bills intended to expand the scope of agricultural cooperatives and make it easier for growers to sell at farmer’s markets also passed. — By Molly Moore

The Girls of Atomic City

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by molly

The Untold Story of Women Who Helped Win World War II

By Denise Kiernan
GirlsAtomicCity

Back when African Americans and Caucasian Americans couldn’t drink from the same water fountains and women were an anomaly in the workforce, a team of young women unknowingly helped enrich fuel for the world’s first atomic bomb in the hills of East Tennessee.

In this New York Times bestseller, author Denise Kiernan unravels the secrets of Oak Ridge, Tenn., the administrative headquarters of the Manhattan Project. The classified town, cloaked in secrecy, was practically built overnight to house 75,000 people by the end of World War II. Through dozens of conversations with surviving workers and residents, Kiernan reveals an astonishing history. — Review by Meredith Warfield

Read an interview with Denise Kiernan.