Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Reaching for Virginia’s clean power potential

Thursday, October 8th, 2015 - posted by hannah
Virginia has an tremendous opportunity to meet its Clean Power Plan goals by expanding clean energy. But it is critical for Virginians to engage as the state develops its compliance plan.

Virginia has a tremendous opportunity to meet its Clean Power Plan goals by expanding clean energy. But it is critical for Virginians to engage as the state develops its compliance plan.

In a commentary in Capitol Connections magazine out this week, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia characterizes the job of meeting new climate change pollution reduction goals this way: “In 1962, President Kennedy challenged our nation to go the moon by 1969. If America can get to the moon in 7 years, emitting one-third less air pollution in 15 years is surely within our grasp.”

A major goal of Appalachian Voices’ and our partners’ in recent years has been to set Virginia on the track toward a safe, reliable and affordable energy future, which has meant working hard to shake our state out of the status quo. Virginia has never had a binding state renewable energy standard, and advocates have long stressed the need for both utility-owned and non-utility projects to harness clean power on a large scale.

So where does the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan put Virginia? The rule represents the first requirement for fighting climate change by cutting pollution from power plants. If we use it well, the Clean Power Plan can incentivize energy efficiency programs and drive growth in solar — two ways to ensure a more secure grid and shrink bills for electric customers. But there are possible pitfalls too.

One way in which a national plan aiming for a 32 percent reduction of carbon pollution from power plants helps Virginia is by the signal it sends. It’s a further indication as to the direction the market is going. There’s a wrinkle, however, that has some renewable energy advocates worried, and it’s very relevant in Virginia: the role of new natural gas-fired power plants.

One reason for concern about possible increased gas use in Virginia is that our state’s emissions target is fairly easy to achieve. Though one wouldn’t know it from the histrionics of some politicians who oppose the standards. In a troubling development that threatens to derail Virginia’s compliance process, some state legislators are using dire-sounding warnings about electricity reliability and costs — the same red herring arguments that surfaced last year — to attempt to take away the McAuliffe administration’s authority to implement a state plan. Some insist on General Assembly approval of Virginia’s implementation plan.

The adverse effects if Virginia dramatically increases its use of natural gas are clear: higher demand for a fuel with a lifecycle that’s harmful to communities and dangerous to the environment, from the risks to water from fracking, to the impacts of dirty pipelines, to the methane released during production and transportation. More investments in a fossil fuel source are also bound to diminish the incentive for utilities to incorporate renewable energy projects into their plans. Think of how much solar power Virginia could build for the same price as 8,000 megawatts worth of new natural gas plants.

When it comes to the cost of electricity, a report by Public Citizen shows that the Clean Power Plan can cut Virginians’ electricity bills by between 7.7 and 8.4 percent by 2030, and that greater reductions are possible when well-designed energy efficiency programs are launched — programs that will also boost the economy by creating outsource-proof jobs.

Unfortunately, these affordability conclusions are in spite of and not because of Virginia’s enactment of a so-called “rate freeze” law, which is apparent in two major ways: the “freeze” goes into effect now and expires in 2020, and it turns out that the law creates a rate floor rather than a rate ceiling by blocking increases to base rates but not increases to cover infrastructure costs (which are the exact kind of costs that would ostensibly result from the need to comply with a pollution rule.)

That action is an example of why it will be so critical for Virginians to engage during this upcoming 2016 legislative session. We can press our elected officials to take steps that advance a vision of safe, affordable and reliable energy if we all take the time to participate.

Stay connected and watch for updates as we support the McAuliffe administration’s role in setting Virginia’s compliance plan, and if you have not yet provided a comment to officials about our state’s approach to the Clean Power Plan, do so here or via by the Oct. 13 deadline.

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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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Sen. Kaine notes concerns to FERC about Mountain Valley Pipeline

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Dr. Diana Christopulos co-founded the Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization with almost 300 affiliates representing over 25,000 citizens. Cool Cities promotes energy conservation, energy efficiency and the transition to clean, renewable energy. This piece originally appeared on the group’s website.

Dr. Diana Christopulos

Dr. Diana Christopulos

Senator Tim Kaine recently completed a series of listening sessions in communities where Mountain Valley Pipeline proposes to build a 42-inch natural gas transmission line, meeting with “affected property owners, local elected officials, local businesses, farmers, organizations dedicated to preserving our natural resources, and numerous other concerned citizens.”

Kaine then wrote directly to the commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) identifying concerns about (1) minimizing impacts of any project through examination of cumulative impacts of different projects and an honest look at community benefits compared to negative impacts; and (2) the need “to empower the public to verify these efforts by ensuring that all relevant information is made available and that there is ample opportunity for public input and comment. Citizens rightly expect that process to be followed to the letter.”

In terms of impact, Kaine specifically requested that FERC clarify:

  • The level of gas demand needed to justify building a distribution branch of the MVP.
  • The steps needed to make this possible — for instance, approximately how much it would cost to build a transfer station to bring supply via a new MVP distribution branch.
  • The extent to which the gas traveling through the pipeline is likely to be exported because “the people in this area of Virginia bear the potential risks of this infrastructure and deserve to know where the gas is going.”

On the environmental front, Kaine asked the FERC to determine:

  • Whether FERC requires or encourages reroutes of the pipeline to avoid land tracts under conservation easement, which property owners understood would be protected in perpetuity.
  • What measures are being taken to prevent impacts to water resources in areas with no water access other than groundwater.
  • How the pipeline will be built to safely miss rivers along this route.
  • Where and how technology to build safely on karst topography has been demonstrated.
  • The degree of information-sharing and consultation that has taken place among FERC, the interested companies, and the National Park Service, given that the route would have to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.

The Senator also noted several major process concerns and concluded by saying that he would “strongly encourage … that FERC painstakingly follow the system we have in place for evaluating infrastructure. Permitting a pipeline should involve an exhaustive process of eliminating all but the least disruptive construction options. The people whose livelihoods may be affected by a project should have ample opportunity to gather information, get their questions answered, and analyze alternatives —on a timeline conducive to participation by people for whom energy pipeline permitting is not a professional occupation. In short, simply having a public comment process is insufficient if that process is not easily accessible to the public.”

Click here for a full copy of Kaines letter.

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.

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U.S. coal giant Alpha Natural Resources files for bankruptcy

Friday, August 7th, 2015 - posted by jamie
Alpha Natural Resources Twilight surface mine complex in Boone County, West Virginia - Photo by Ami Vitale

Alpha Natural Resources’ Twilight surface mine complex in Boone County, W.Va. Photo by Ami Vitale,

Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal mining companies in the United States and a big player in the Appalachian coal market, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday of this week, coincidentally on the day President Obama announced his administration’s final Clean Power Plan.

In the announcement, Alpha blamed “an unprecedented period of distress with increased competition from natural gas, an oversupply in the global coal market, historically low prices due to weaker international and domestic economies, and increasing government regulation that has pushed electric utilities to transition away from coal-fired power plants.”

According to the release, the company does not anticipate closing the business down, but will “seek the necessary immediate relief from the Bankruptcy Court that will allow normal business operations to continue uninterrupted while in Chapter 11, with coal being mined, customer commitments honored, and wages and benefits for Alpha’s affiliated employees paid.”

A Bloomberg Business article notes that Alpha, which employs nearly 8,000 workers at more than 50 underground and surface mines and more than 20 coal preparation facilities in Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, has accumulated $3.3 billion in debt over the past several years.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Alpha has assets of $10.1 billion, liabilities of $7.1 billion, and is “seeking up to $692 million in bankruptcy financing from senior lenders and secured bondholders to fund its operations.”

United Mine Workers of America responded to the news:

“Today’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Alpha Natural Resources appears to follow the same script as others we’ve seen this year: pay off the big banks and other Wall Street investors at the expense of workers, retirees and their communities … Alpha needs to understand that while we are willing to discuss ways forward that will be of mutual benefit for the company and for our members, we are also prepared to do whatever we need to do to maintain decent jobs with the pension and health care benefits our retirees were promised and have earned.”

Alpha launched a new website to detail the Chapter 11 process, including contact information and FAQs for employees, customers, retirees and other stakeholders.

Is there an echo in here?

The move brings to mind the financial roller coaster of Patriot Coal, the West Virginia-based company that emerged from its first bankruptcy in 2012 only to file again a scant 3 years later in May of this year. Patriot’s initial 2012 “restructuring” plan was extremely controversial as it involved slashing the healthcare benefits of 1,800 union miners and retirees. Patriot initially won court approval for the cut, but, after significant public scrutiny and outrage, settled with the United Mine Workers of America in 2013 for $400 million to cover the benefits.

And now history seems to be repeating itself. According to an AP story that is quoted on Coal Tattoo (yet mysteriously disappeared from national news outlets, including the Washington Post), just a few weeks ago Patriot asked a judge’s permission to “reject the company’s collective bargaining agreement with union miners and change retirees’ health care benefits …” The United Mine Workers of America filed an objection to the proposed plan, which includes $6.4 million in bonuses paid to management employees.

Just this week, the beleaguered company announced the layoff of 1,081 coal miners, most in West Virginia’s Kanawha County.

Patriot Coal is also the first coal company in Appalachia to announce it would phase out the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.

“Big Coal’s war on itself”

When examining the financial tribulations of big coal mining companies, industry officials are quick to point the finger at what they have dubbed the “war on coal,” claiming that environmental regulations are the primary culprits causing their fiscal misfortunes. But according to a recent article co-authored by independent financial analyst Andrew Stevenson and NRDC’s Dave Hawkins, coal mining’s economic downturn has more to do with bad investment decisions than anything else.

“The biggest cause of Big Coal’s loss of value is that Big 3 management bet big on a global coal boom and lost big when it went bust,” Stevenson and Hawkins write. Their article goes on to detail the five specific reasons Alpha and other coal companies are on the brink of bankruptcy.

“In sum, bad bets at the top of the market, weak met coal prices, cheap natural gas, and lower power demand due to energy efficiency reduced cumulative forecasted coal revenues for the Big 3 by approximately $21 billion over the past four years. This is a big hit for companies as highly leveraged as Alpha Natural, Arch Coal, and Peabody Energy and the reason why these companies are struggling to stay afloat today.”

As industry officials and coal-friendly politicians — including an outspoken Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who notedly said, “I am not going to sit by while the White House takes aim at the lifeblood of our state’s economy” — themselves take aim at the Clean Power Plan, they have yet to acknowledge the most important question on the table: what will happen to residents in Appalachia’s coal country who, because of company bankruptcies, layoffs, revocation of pensions and lack of other job opportunities, remain among the poorest in the nation?

So far, the only offer of assistance to these folks has come from President Obama himself, in the form of the POWER+ Plan to revitalize the region.

“They’ll claim [the Clean Power Plan] is a “war on coal,” to scare up votes — even as they ignore my plan to actually invest in revitalizing coal country, and supporting health care and retirement for coal miners and their families, and retraining those workers for better-paying jobs and healthier jobs,” Obama said on Monday, taking aim at McConnell and his other critics. Communities across America have been losing coal jobs for decades. I want to work with Congress to help them, not to use them as a political football.

Cooling off in the Devil’s Bathtub

Thursday, August 6th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

A resident of Big Island, Va., wades into the swimming hole on the Devil’s Fork Trail, which hikers encounter before reaching the Devil’s Bathtub. Photo by Joe Tennis

A resident of Big Island, Va., wades into the swimming hole on the Devil’s Fork Trail, which hikers encounter before reaching the Devil’s Bathtub. Photo by Joe Tennis

By Joe Tennis

On a typical summer weekend, you can expect to find a crowd on the back roads of Scott County, Va., as dozens venture into the Jefferson National Forest near Fort Blackmore.

Destination: the fabled Devil’s Bathtub on the Devil’s Fork of Big Stony Creek — a natural wonder tucked away behind two tough trail miles.

What was once essentially a secret in southwest Virginia is now virtually a mainstream hangout, thanks to ever-spreading fame through YouTube videos and social media.

“It is a cool spot,” says Ishmael Richardson, Jr., the assistant park manager at nearby Natural Tunnel State Park.

Over time, the noisy waters of the Devil’s Fork have carved a hole about 20 feet long and eight feet wide in solid rock. Dubbed “The Devil’s Bathtub,” the name fits: the 12-foot-deep depression in the creek bed is shaped just like a bathtub, and a small waterfall drips into the basin like a faucet.

Problem: not everyone hiking here has prepared for the moderate — or even strenuous — hike that is required to reach this natural wonder.

“This is a hiker’s trail,” says Bill Cawood, a longtime interpreter for Natural Tunnel State Park. “It is not a groomed trail.”

The Devil’s Fork Trail makes a gradual uphill climb through a lush cove forest, says Cawood, a high school biology teacher in nearby Wise County, Va. “It’s high plant diversity and a unique micro-habitat. It’s rich soil, big trees.”

Want to hike? Come prepared with the proper footwear such as tennis shoes or hiking boots. Avoid flip-flops. But, you will get your feet wet. Over the roughly two miles it takes to reach the Devil’s Bathtub, you’ll step through running waters about a dozen times.

A gated road above the parking lot marks the start of the trail. From here, go about a quarter-mile and cross a stream.

“It’s easy to find the first stream crossing,” Cawood says. “And there’s where they seem to go wrong. Most people look at the right-hand fork of the trail, which seems to be a little more heavily used, and they go that way. That’s the wrong fork. The actual fork for the Devil’s Bathtub Trail is the left.”

Making that left, continue to follow the trail for about 20 yards. Then bear right and continue to follow the yellow-blazed trail as it goes up the creek.

Next, the trail makes its most dramatic crossing: it hops across a long row of rocks for about 60 yards in what appears to be a stream bed. Watch each step as you navigate this section and aim for a yellow blaze, marked on a tree, on the far bank.

Regaining level ground, look just beyond a small clearing to see an old, abandoned rail car. This rusty relic remains as evidence that this trail was once the path of a rail line hauling logs and coal.

From that rail car, the trail continues up the valley of the Devil’s Fork. It crosses the stream again and again for nearly another mile. Ultimately, the trail scales a small yet sometimes-slippery cliff on the creek’s left bank.

Just beyond the cliff lies the trail’s most popular point: the swimming hole.

“Lots of folks that I have brought up here thought we had achieved our goal when we got here,” Cawood says, pointing to the swimming hole. “They like the waterfall coming down into the swimming hole. This is what they expected.”

This is also where you’ll find a crowd when the temperature rises in the summertime. The creek runs cold year-round, and hikers like to take a dip in the cool waters.

The actual Devil’s Bathtub lies just about 100 yards beyond the swimming hole. At that point, though, most hikers turn back as the path grows more narrow and difficult to follow.

About once a month during the summer, Cawood leads guided hikes to the Devil’s Bathtub from Natural Tunnel State Park. “We have had nothing but positive comments and lots of thankful folks who told me that they would never have been able to come up here, find it or experience it without us helping them,” he says.

Joe Tennis is the author of “Virginia Rail Trails: Crossing the Commonwealth,” which features a chapter on the Devil’s Bathtub.

Devil’s Fork Trail

Difficulty: Moderate (includes stream crossings)

Length: About four miles (up and back)

Directions: From the intersection of State Routes 65 and 72 at Fort Blackmore, Va., follow SR 619 north for about 5 miles to the crossroads of SR 619 and SR 657. From here, turn left on SR 619 for about a quarter-mile. Then turn left on a gravel lane next to a white house. Follow this for about a half-mile to the parking area.

Guided hikes: Natural Tunnel State Park offers guided hikes to the Devil’s Bathtub once per month during the summer, weather permitting. View the schedule at Reservations are required by calling 276-940-2674.

Contact: Call the Clinch Ranger District of the Jefferson National Forest at 276-328-2931.

Trout Introduction Efforts Show Promise in Southwest Virginia

Thursday, August 6th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

Photo courtesy Trout Unlimited

Photo courtesy Trout Unlimited

By Kevin Ridder

Fishing is a favorite pastime throughout Appalachia, and as such the demand for fisheries is ever-rising. Among the many attempts to introduce trout into regional waterways are the efforts by Trout Unlimited, a group that has been stocking trout in streams across the nation.

Mark Leonard, the president of a Trout Unlimited chapter in Virginia that oversees Stony Creek and Mountain Fork River in the southwest portion of the state, has worked with the Virginia Department of Forest and Fisheries to help introduce tens of thousands of trout into the two streams.

“We get a group together and line their backpacks with contractor-grade trash bags,” says Leonard. “Then we fill each pack up with four to five gallons of water and a few hundred fingerling trout, hike a mile upstream and release them into the stream.”

In 2010, the first year Leonard’s chapter carried their cargo upstream, they released 30,000 brook trout in Mountain Fork River and 20,000 brown trout in Little Stony Creek. Each year they reduce the number of trout they introduce in an effort to encourage fish reproduction; their most recent delivery was half of what it was five years ago. While brown trout aren’t native to America and can even edge out the native brook trout, state fisheries biologist Jeff Williams says that the introduction of brown trout in Little Stony Creek isn’t a problem because trout weren’t native to these two streams in the first place.

“If this stream had already had a native brook trout population, we would only be stocking brook trout,” says Williams. “We only stock brown trout in the warmer Little Stony Creek, since they are more tolerable of higher temperatures, and we only stock brook trout in Mountain Fork.”

“The habitat to support a trout population was there, along with the desire to provide a fishable population for anglers in the area,” he says. “Eventually we hope the trout will ultimately start reproducing and establish self-sustaining populations.”

In addition to stocking streams, Trout Unlimited hosts a Trout in the Classroom program in local schools to teach biology and coldwater conservation. The schoolchildren raise the fish from hatchlings to fingerling size, releasing them at the end of the school year.

“We take them for a nature hike out to the stream at the end of the year and teach them about aquatic life, how to use a fly rod, and do a scavenger hunt,” says Leonard. “You’d be surprised how many kids in the area have never been out in the woods.”

Learn more at

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

Virginia Utilities Release Generation Plans

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

By Eliza Laubach

Appalachian Power Company and Dominion Power released their electric power generation plans this July. While APC released a comprehensive energy generation plan plotting the next 15 years, Dominion released a short-term plan with different options emphasizing solar, wind, nuclear or natural gas for the long-term. Dominion commented that, before committing to long-term goals, it awaits the August release of a final federal rule to cut carbon emissions from domestic power plants.

APC plans to substantially increase their clean energy capacity up to 22 percent from the current one percent of wind, solar and efficiency sources. Following a region-wide trend, APC will also increase its natural gas generation by building new plants or retrofitting coal-fired ones. Coal power generation will decrease about 20 percent. Dominion also pledged to decrease coal generation, but suggested that this will cause a capacity shortfall with expected increases in demand by 2020.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is calling for 21 percent of Virginia’s energy needs to be met with renewables and efficiency by 2030 and a 10 percent total energy consumption decrease by 2020.

Virginia city first to support POWER+

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015 - posted by Adam

Welcome to Norton6

The city of Norton, in southwest Virginia, just took an important, forward-looking leadership position in the effort to diversify the region’s economy and create a healthier, more sustainable future.

Tuesday evening, the city council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution supporting the POWER+ Plan, the federal budget proposal to steer billions of dollars for economic development and diversification to Appalachia’s coal-impacted communities, including those in Virginia. It’s the first such local resolution of support in the nation for the plan, proposed earlier this year by the White House.

The city’s resolution also urges U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and Congressman Morgan Griffith (9th District, Va.) to support “any plan that targets redevelopment funding opportunities for our region.”

Please contact your Senators now to make sure they support a budget that includes a path forward for Appalachia.

Appalachian Voices championed this resolution with Norton’s leaders, and commend them for leading the way on this vital issue. We and our partners have been working throughout Central Appalachia to promote this vital opportunity, which would fund job retraining and infrastructure investments, as well as direct new funding to clean up abandoned mines.

The POWER+ Plan creates new funding and bolsters existing federal programs designed to diversify the economy in areas that have relied heavily on coal and have seen job losses as a result of the contracting coal economy in recent years.

Here’s the text of the resolution:

WHEREAS: The POWER+ Plan is a component within the 2016 federal budget proposed by President Obama; and

WHEREAS: The POWER+ Plan, if approved by Congress, would authorize billions of dollars in federal programs targeted to improve the economy of the Appalachian Coalfields, including the economies of Southwest Virginia and the City of Norton; and

WHEREAS: The Plan specifically includes increased funding for the Abandoned Mined Land Fund, Appalachian Regional Commission, and the United Mine Workers of America Health and Pension Plan; and

WHEREAS: The City of Norton desires to invest resources to adapt to new economic circumstances facing our region and the increased federal funding targeting our region that would help to leverage local efforts;

NOW, THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED THAT the City of Norton supports any initiative, such as the proposed increased funding noted above as included in POWER+ Plan, and that the City encourages Senators Kaine and Warner and Congressman Griffith to support any plan that targets redevelopment funding opportunities for our region.

Ask your senators to support the POWER+ Plan.