Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

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

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 - posted by Erin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community and conservation groups condemn FERC’s review of proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline

Friday, September 16th, 2016 - posted by cat

Contact:
Joe Lovett, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, 304-520-2324, jlovett@appalmad.org
Laurie Ardison, Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights, 304-646-8339, ikeandash@yahoo.com
Kirk Bowers, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, 434-296-8673, kirk.bowers@sierraclub.org
Kelly Trout, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 240-396-2022, kelly@chesapeakeclimate.org
Lara Mack, Appalachian Voices, 434-293-6373, lara@appvoices.org

The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline has drawn sustained criticism from landowners, localities, lawmakers and conservation groups since first being announced in 2014. Photo courtesy CCAN

The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline has drawn sustained criticism from landowners, localities, lawmakers and conservation groups since first being announced in 2014. Photo courtesy CCAN

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federal regulators today released a draft environmental review for the proposed fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline that public interest advocates say fails to adequately assess the public need for the project and the widespread threats to private property, public lands, local communities, water quality and the climate.

The controversial $3.2 billion pipeline, proposed by EQT and NextEra, would cut 301 miles through West Virginia and Virginia — crossing public lands and more than 1,000 waterways and wetlands — and require the construction of three large compressor stations. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is one of six major pipelines proposed for the same region of Virginia and West Virginia where experts warn the gas industry is overbuilding pipeline infrastructure.

>> See below for a bulleted list of major impacts as defined by FERC.

In preparing its draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relied heavily on gas company data to assess the public need for the project, the groups say. A report released earlier this month concludes there is enough existing gas supply in Virginia and the Carolinas to meet demand through 2030. The groups also fault the agency for dismissing clean energy alternatives.

In response to requests from numerous elected officials and organizations, FERC has extended the usual 45-day period for public comment to 90 days. Comments are due December 22.

While legal and environmental experts are continuing to review the nearly 2,600-page document, they have identified major gaps in FERC’s analysis, including:

  • The core issue of whether the massive project is needed to meet electricity demand, and whether other alternatives including energy efficiency, solar and wind would be more environmentally responsible sources;
  • A complete analysis of the cumulative, life-cycle climate pollution that would result from the pipeline;
  • Any accounting of other environmental and human health damage from the increased gas fracking in West Virginia that would supply the pipeline; and
  • Thorough analysis of damage to water quality and natural resources throughout the pipeline route.

“It’s shameful that FERC did not prepare a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement,” said Joe Lovett, Executive Director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “It would allow a private pipeline company to take private property for private profit. Apparently FERC decided it didn’t have to do the hard work necessary to determine whether the MVP is necessary. Such a lack of diligence is remarkable because FERC has the extraordinary power to grant MVP the right to take property that has, in many cases, been in the same families for generations.”

“The resource reports MVP has already submitted to FERC are the alleged backbone upon which the DEIS is created. These reports are, however, uncatalogued collections of partial surveys, studies and desktop engineering notions which are rife with omissions, and inadequate and incorrect data”, said Laurie Ardison, Co-Chair of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR). “The DEIS is fatally flawed for a variety of process and substance matters, not the least of which is MVP’s insufficient, unsubstantiated foundational material.”

“FERC once again has its blinders on to the full climate consequences of fracked gas,” said Anne Havemann, General Counsel at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “FERC’s limited review ignores the full lifecycle of pollution the pipeline will trigger by acting as if gas comes from nowhere. FERC also provides no clear explanation of exactly how it arrived at its limited estimate of emissions. If FERC did a full accounting of the climate harm of this fracked-gas project and clean energy alternatives, it would have no choice but to reject it.”

“Recent studies have shown that our region has the necessary energy to meet demand through 2030 already. We know that clean, renewable energy is available and affordable, and by this time, it will be the only choice to preserve our environment and climate. Additional fossil fuel projects like the Mountain Valley project, are not needed to keep the lights on, homes and businesses heated, and industrial facilities in production — despite the claims by MVP developers,” said Kirk Bowers, Pipelines Campaign Manager with the Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club.

“This would be the first fracked-gas pipeline of this size to cross the Alleghany and Blue Ridge mountains. Running a massive gas project through the steep, rugged terrain laced with dozens of rivers and headwater streams is a perfect storm for major damage to our water resources,” said Lara Mack, Virginia Campaign Field Organizer with Appalachian Voices. ”FERC also fails to meaningfully address the safety issues and other concerns so earnestly voiced by hundreds of homeowners and landowners along the route.”

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline could result in taking people’s property in West Virginia solely to benefit out-of-state companies,” said Jim Kotcon, West Virginia Sierra Club Chapter Chair. “To make matters worse, it will affect all West Virginians because it will result in higher gas prices for local consumers. Low cost energy is one of the few advantages that West Virginia has in attracting new businesses, and this pipeline will make our energy costs higher while lowering costs for competitors in other states. That pipeline is bad business for West Virginia businesses.”

###

Highlights of major impacts of the MVP route as identified by FERC in the DEIS:

  • About 67% of the MVP route would cross areas susceptible to landslides.
  • The pipeline would cross about 51 miles of karst terrain.
  • Construction would disturb about 4,189 acres of soils that are classified as potential for severe water erosion.
  • Construction would disturb about 2,353 acres of prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance.
  • The pipeline would result in 986 waterbody crossings; 33 are classified as fisheries of special concern.
  • The MVP would cross about 245 miles of forest; in Virginia, it would impact about 938 acres of contiguous interior forest during construction classified as “high” to “outstanding” quality.
  • In West Virginia, the pipeline would result in permanent impacts on about 865 acres of core forest areas which are significant wildlife habitat.
  • The 50-foot wide operational easement would represent a permanent impact on forests.
  • FERC identified 22 federally listed threatened, endangered, candidate, or special concern species potentially in vicinity of the MVP and the Equitrans projects, and 20 state-listed or special concern species.
  • MVP identified 117 residences within 50 feet of its proposed construction right-of-way.
  • Construction would require use of 365 roadways.
  • A still incomplete survey of the route shows the pipeline could potentially affect 166 new archaeological sites and 94 new architectural sites, in addition to crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway Historic District, North Fork Valley Rural Historic District, and Greater Newport Rural Historic District, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline could face further delays

Friday, September 9th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

U.S. Forest Service comments could push back pipeline construction

Laurel Run, a wild trout stream in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Laurel Run, a wild trout stream in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

In a letter sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Sept. 1, the U.S. Forest Service voiced concerns that the proposed route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could threaten several streams in the George Washington National Forest.

In particular, the USFS said it was “highly concerned” about the potential impacts on the Laurel Run Stream in Bath County, Va.

In the most recent route for the proposed pipeline, this stream — home to wild brook trout — would not only be crossed by the pipeline itself, but it would be paralleled for nearly its entire length by an access road that would also cross it several times. The USFS called this “unacceptable.”

In its letter, the Forest Service also raised concerns about several streams in Augusta County that would also be crossed by the proposed routes for both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and its access roads.

These roads and the pipeline pose many risks, including to our forests’ streams and rivers. They would fragment habitats and threaten the species that live there, cause soil erosion and reduce water quality. For the trout populations, siltation is of particular concern.

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, brook trout are the only trout species native to Virginia, but this cold water fish has a “very low ability to reproduce.” In order to protect the silt-free gravel stream beds where trout spawns, the forest plan for the George Washington National Forest restricts activities that could disrupt the streams between Oct. 1 and April 1.

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, however, reports that “Dominion has indicated an intent to proceed with accelerated winter-time construction and to request waivers for time-of-year restrictions and other important environmental requirements.”

But there’s reason to believe that the Forest Service would deny Dominion’s request for a waiver and protect the reproduction cycle of the trout. In its September letter, the Forest Service “request[ed] that [Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC] re-evaluate its proposed stream crossings and proposed locations of access roads, while considering Forest Plan standards and [best management practices] relating to soil and water.”

This is good news for the environmental groups and impacted community members who are fighting to stop the construction of this pipeline.

“At the very least, this will push back Dominion’s timeline for release of its Draft Environmental Impact Statement which was previously set for December, 2016 release,” said Ernie Reed, Wild Virginia President, in a statement. “Or it could be another nail in the coffin for this misguided and unnecessary project.”

For more about the potential risk caused by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline access roads, visit the Ground Truth About ACP Access Roads.

Teri Crawford Brown- Conservation Starts at Home

Friday, August 12th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Otto Solberg

Photo by Paul David Crawford

Photo by Paul David Crawford

Teri Crawford Brown was born and raised in Jewel Ridge, Va., and as a child never went off the mountain unless it was for a special family trip to Dairy Queen. Teri now lives in Richlands, Va., in a century-old church that she has been sustainably renovating with her husband. To her, the mountains of Virginia have always been home, and a home she wants to protect.

Three years ago, while visiting Knoxville,Tenn., Teri picked up a copy of The Appalachian Voice and couldn’t put it down.

“I loved everything about it,” she says, “Like trying to grow a new economy and not be dependent on coal, and making our representatives accountable for their decisions.”

After noticing that the papers were distributed by volunteers, Teri began distributing copies across the town of Richlands, Va., including at the hospital where she has been a nurse for 23 years.

“I went through this period of time just trying to find what my purpose was,” Teri says. “I came to the realization —­ your purpose is always serving other people.”

During her evening walks, Teri carries a stick and bag to pick up trash.

“We would go walking or hiking and there would be trash out in the woods, and that always just bothered me that it felt like a bigger problem than I could fix.”

Aware that trash doesn’t just go away, Teri and her husband Richard are repurposing as much as they can while renovating a secluded 126-year-old church into their home.

The church before Teri and her husband began renovations. Photos by Teri Crawford Brown

The church before Teri and her husband began renovations. Photos by Teri Crawford Brown

They bought Davis Chapel in Richlands, Va., from their good friends Mike Smith and Barbette Patton, who had saved the church from development.

Teri and Richard raised their three sons in a 3,000-square-foot home in a subdivision, and Teri felt like she was working all the time to clean, heat and pay for it, so she wanted to go smaller. Moving into the one-room church downsized them to 1,100 square feet of living space.

In their renovations, they used trusses from the old roof, balusters from the altar and light fixtures from the church. They refinished the original walls and floors and divided the church into rooms. In the bell tower, they built a home library, and Teri hand-sanded bookshelves from a nearby library for the floorboards.

The bell tower library, which Teri, a book-lover, worked on tirelessly. Photos by Teri Crawford Brown

The bell tower library, which Teri, a book-lover, worked on tirelessly. Photos by Teri Crawford Brown

“That’s the thing I love the most about the church, and was so excited about, was the bell tower, and having a bookshelf and a big comfortable chair,” she says. “So all of that has come true now.”

Teri also hopes that her kids and grandkids can appreciate the Appalachian mountains the same way she has and wants to protect them from dangers like mountaintop removal coal mining. She can already see three strip mines from Bearwallow Mountain where she was raised.

Teri believes Appalachia is as beautiful as the Grand Canyon, yet, she says,“we don’t appreciate it, and our children, our people, have been raised to dismiss it and allow it to be destroyed, and we can’t get it back.”

To inspire a cycle of positive change, Teri encourages others to work on small environmental issues that are important to them.

“We have to start these things small and let them grow in these very rural small areas,” Teri says.

Teri blogs about her thoughts and minimalist church renovation at gratefullty.com

Norton’s Walk Along the River

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

Virginians March for Climate Justice

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns
Virginians marched in Richmond to urge Gov. McAuliffe to stand against the fossil fuel industry. Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Virginians marched in Richmond to urge Gov. McAuliffe to stand against the fossil fuel industry. Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Despite record-breaking heat — or maybe, in part, because of it — more than 600 people turned out for a “March on the Mansion” in Richmond on July 23. Their aim was to tell Gov. Terry McAuliffe to stand against fossil-fuel polluters and stand with people who are fighting fracked-gas pipelines, toxic coal ash and climate change.

A participant in the July March on the Mansion. Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Climate Action Network

A participant in the July March on the Mansion. Photo courtesy of Chesapeake Climate Action Network

The first-of-its-kind climate justice rally in Virginia brought together people from Norfolk to Northern Virginia to the New River Valley who are directly impacted by dirty energy policies that Gov. McAuliffe supports. Farmers whose land is threatened by the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines marched shoulder-to-shoulder with Virginians whose drinking water is polluted by coal ash or whose homes are being flooded by rising seas.

Appalachian Voices was a lead organizer, along with Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Virginia Organizing and Virginia Student Environmental Coalition.

The march follows an open letter to the governor from 60 landowner, faith-based, student, social justice and conservation groups last month that laid out a vision for affordable clean-energy development that matches the scale of the climate crisis, gives local communities a voice and advances social, racial and environmental justice.

Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing and other shorts

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing

A June ruling from the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission affirmed the right of rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities to buy cost-competitive power from independent generators instead of conventional utilities. This bolsters the prospects of decentralized energy production — often solar power— in rural areas, says Utility Dive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made available a new low-cost energy efficiency financing program. The Rural Energy Savings Program provides funding to rural electric cooperatives to back loans to electric co-op members for weatherization upgrades.

— Eliza Laubach

Mine Drainage Emits Higher Level of Carbon Dioxide

More carbon dioxide is being released from coal mine drainage than expected.

In June, a West Virginia University study found that 140 coal mines across Pennsylvania are collectively releasing carbon dioxide equal to that of a small power plant. The greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere when mine waters reach the land’s surface, a WVU press release explains.

Using a meter designed for measuring carbon dioxide in beverages, the research team discovered there is more carbon dioxide in the water than was measured using previous testing methods.

Coal mine drainage contaminates drinking water, disrupts ecosystems and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the university.

— Otto Solberg

New Pollution Controls for Virginia Natural Gas Plant

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality imposed precedent-setting protections against air pollutants by requiring that Dominion Power employ the best available control technology in its proposed gas-fired power plant in Greensville County, Va. The move comes in response to extensive comments from citizens and organizations such as Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Appalachian Voices and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. The department also decreased allowable carbon dioxide emission limits by more than 10 percent compared to the original proposal, according to a press release from the organizations.

— Hannah Petersen

$30 Million for Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Projects

In July, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf awarded $30 million for 14 projects to reclaim abandoned mine lands that were selected based on their potential to create long-term economic benefits. Funding for the projects comes from a federal pilot program passed by Congress in December. The program is structured similar to the RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation that, if passed, would distribute $1 billion over five years to support land restoration and economic development in communities across the country impacted by the coal industry’s decline.

— Brian Sewell

Pipeline Would Cross Hazardous Landscape

If constructed as proposed, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would encounter many geologic hazards as it carries natural gas from wellheads in West Virginia to Virginia, according to a recent study commissioned by Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (The POWHR Coalition). Because of its weak soil structure, the possibility of surface collapse and potential for seismic activity, the karst landscape along the West Virginia-Virginia state line makes this area a “‘no-build’ zone for the project,” according to Dr. Ernst H. Kastning, the study’s author.

Karst topography is formed when soluble rock layers such as limestone are dissolved, leaving behind underground caves and sinkholes.

— Elizabeth E. Payne

Renewable Energy Growing

Renewable energy sources supplied an estimated 23.7 percent of the world’s electricity in 2015, and that number is expected to rise as better funding enters the competitive market, according to a report from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

The world added more renewable power capacity than fossil fuel capacity in 2015. Hydroelectric power added a trillion watts, wind added 63 billion watts and solar added 50 billion watts.

— Otto Solberg

Coal Production Drops

The first quarter of 2016 saw the lowest level of coal produced since 1981 and the largest quarter-over-quarter decline in coal production since 1984, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA report shows that weaker demand due to above-normal winter temperatures, alongside complying with environmental regulations and competing with renewables and natural gas, have caused production to decline.

— Hannah Petersen

Gov. McAuliffe Forms Working Group to Cut Carbon Emissions

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order in June directing state officials to form a working group to recommend ways the commonwealth can reduce carbon pollution from the electric sector.

Coming five months after the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the Clean Power Plan, the move represents the latest in a back-and-forth battle between McAuliffe and the state General Assembly over how to respond to the federal carbon limits.

The order was widely seen as an attempt by the McAuliffe administration to circumvent the General Assembly. Republican lawmakers stripped the administration’s ability to craft a state compliance plan in the spring by inserting a line into the budget that prevents the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality from using any funds “to prepare or submit” a state plan.

The order calls on the Secretary of Natural Resources to provide a report on the department’s recommendations to the governor before June 2017.

— Brian Sewell

Norton’s walk along the river

Monday, August 8th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Dylan Reilly, 2016 Riverwalk Design Assistant at Appalachian Voices and student in the landscape architect master’s program at the University of Maryland

30 area residents provided input during the Riverwalk Design Evening. Photo by Fred Ramey

30 area residents provided input during the Riverwalk Design Evening. Photo by Fred Ramey

In the Southwest Virginia city of Norton, Appalachian Voices is supporting a project that would enhance recreation along the Guest River and clean up an abandoned coal tipple that is both an eyesore and a source of pollution.

In 2008, Norton city officials began to contemplate using their new sewer main right of way for a two-mile multi-use path connecting the downtown with the community of Ramsey. The proposed Riverwalk presented a unique opportunity to encourage Norton residents of all abilities to recreate along the scenic Guest River and to improve pedestrian connectivity.

Groundwork for the Norton Riverwalk project was laid by the City of Norton’s 2010 feasibility study, environmental research from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and a 2011 conceptual design for an adjacent coal tipple reclamation project completed by Virginia Tech student Nathan Brown.

As the Riverwalk Design Assistant with Appalachian Voices, I’ve been working in close collaboration with other stakeholders this summer to orchestrate a community engagement process that will result in a feasible conceptual design. This rigorous outreach process is helping Norton city leaders inform the public about the Riverwalk and allow area residents to have a substantial impact on the design, while it is still in its most flexible form.

Perspective of a historic coal tipple site reimagined with the addition of a Riverwalk walking and biking trail.

Perspective of a historic coal tipple site reimagined with the addition of a Riverwalk walking and biking trail.

In addition to meeting with local groups such as police, park officials and public health advocates, a large community Design Evening was held on July 7. Participants were divided into three facilitated teams, each team tackling the same design challenge. Teams received three maps for Riverwalk Phase 1, icons of amenities, and sticky notes.

The teams were tasked with determining where amenities like amphitheaters, restrooms and water fountains should go, using the sticky notes to explain their design reasoning and to propose ideas that the icons could not encapsulate. The two-hour Design Evening was a smashing success with 30 participants and great design ideas. The results of the community engagement process and the conceptual plan will be presented to the Norton City Council on Aug. 16.

Project partners are seeking grant funding for the remediation, design and construction of the Norton Riverwalk. A Clean Water Act settlement is paying for an environmental assessment of the site. Appalachian Voices, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and the Sierra Club were recently plaintiffs in a Clean Water Act lawsuit that resulted in the defendant paying $35,000 for a Supplemental Environmental Project to complete the environmental assessment of the coal tipple site along the proposed Riverwalk. This assessment will be completed by the end of the year, opening the door for the project to continue.

If I had a hammer…

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 - posted by Lara Mack

Finding collective power at the “March on the Mansion”

Appalachian Voices' Virginia Field Organizer Lara Mack (l) and friend Amy Cantrell from Harrisonburg.

Appalachian Voices’ Virginia Field Organizer Lara Mack (l) and friend Amy Cantrell from Harrisonburg.

Last Saturday, more than 600 Virginians gathered at the footsteps of Governor McAuliffe’s mansion in Richmond to demand energy justice for all citizens of the Commonwealth. Chartered buses arrived from major cities including Hampton Roads, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, and Roanoke, as well as rural areas like Nelson County and Montgomery County.

I helped organize the bus from Harrisonburg, where I live, and we started our drive to Richmond with the song If I had a Hammer:

“If I had a hammer
I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening
All over this land

And I’d hammer out danger
I’d hammer out a warning
I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land…”

This well-known song was written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays in 1949 in support of social justice efforts of the time. For us, starting with the historical tune was a clear reminder that this march was not just about fracked-gas pipelines, climate change, coal ash, and renewable energy, but also about the stories and struggles of people impacted by corporate power and monied special interests.

Our voices were represented in an open letter, signed by more than 60 organizations, sent to Governor McAuliffe last month. Saturday’s march was the next step; We walked as a part of a legacy for democracy, environmental justice, and the power of community.

The bus arrived and the doors opened to a hazy and hot day on the banks of the James River. The temperature was expected to reach 99 degrees, which meant the day felt more like 104 degrees. We took a group photo before the march (why not get a photo of us before we all wilt?) with our signs and grins and enthusiasm easily seen in the snapshot.

by laraAs other marchers slowly arrived from all corners of the Commonwealth, I saw the crowd of dedicated and concerned citizens grow. Many carried creative signs about the local issue their community was struggling with (my favorite was “NO PIPELINES. Especially [from schools] to prisons”). Though the messages were diverse, the overarching statement was very clear. We know what is best for our communities. We know that we can create a system that can be safe and healthy for all, that doesn’t create sacrifice zones or climate change to meet monolithic electricity production expectations, that doesn’t deny a person’s rights and humanity no matter their race, age, income or sexual orientation, or whether they live in the country or in the city. And the current system is not meeting our needs.

The “March on the Mansion” was a message directed at Governor Terry McAuliffe and our voices rang loud and clear. But as we gathered back on our buses to head home, I realized this gathering was also a reminder to all those in the crowd that we each carry a hammer, a bell, and a song and when we stand as a community together, we can get work done.