Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

POWER+ Plan deserves a warmer welcome

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - posted by Adam
The Clinch River Farmers Market

The Clinch River Farmers Market

While we here in Appalachia are working overtime to reinvent our economy with the fall of King Coal, you would think that our representatives in D.C. would be eager to pass measures that send much-needed and well-deserved federal aid to help our hard hit coal counties.

But most of the region’s congressmen and senators are staying silent, and those who are going on the record definitely are not stepping up to the plate.

When the POWER+ Plan was announced in February as part of the 2016 budget proposed by the Obama administration, Sen. Mitch McConnell labeled it as “cold comfort.” And Rep. Hal Rogers of Eastern Kentucky responded with a reluctant pledge to “bear it in mind” during upcoming budget deliberations.

POWER+ directs billions of dollars to Appalachia to help communities whose economies have been left hanging as the bottom drops out of the domestic coal market. Here’s a breakdown of where the money would go:

  • $25 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission for programs that support developing advanced manufacturing, energy efficiency, local food systems, tourism development, and health care.
  • $20 million to retrain workers who have been impacted by closures of coal mines or coal-burning power plants.
  • $6 million to the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) to coordinate and advance the federal government’s regional innovation efforts. EDA disburses grants to assist economically distressed communities by fostering an environment conducive to job creation and economic growth;
  • $5 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields and Land Revitalization program, specifically to increase funding for communities impacted by power plant closures;
  • $12 million in grants and $85 million in loans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program directed towards rural communities that have been impacted by coal’s decline (that’s most of Appalachia, by the way).
  • $1 billion over the next five years to the Abandoned Mine Lands program to clean up old, nasty coal mine sites with a focus on redeveloping the land for beneficial post-mine use.
  • $2 billion in tax credits for a technology known as “carbon capture.”

Wait a minute! $2 billion for carbon capture technology? That’s what I said, and just like my list here, it’s at the bottom of the fact sheet released by the White House.

Needless to say, Appalachian Voices and our allies aren’t happy about this last provision, but perhaps it’s needed in order to get the rest of POWER+ through Congress. Given all of the other impressive allocations to worthwhile causes, it might be worth focusing on promoting what’s good and ignoring the bad. Besides, the silver lining is that the plan has pretty tough requirements for power plants to qualify for the tax credits. Given the fact that this technology is still in its infancy (and might stay there forever), it’s uncertain if any of these credits will actually be deployed.

We’ve been talking about the need for a federal investment package like this in Appalachia for years, and it’s never been as critical as it is now. But our leaders have been slow to step up and support this forward-thinking plan.

Appalachian Voices is working with our regional allies right now to deploy a strategy that lifts up POWER+ as an economic jumpstart for the region and pressures our elected officials to stand up for the measure as the 2016 budget moves through Congress.

Live in Virginia? You can help by asking Senators Warner and Kaine to support POWER+.

“MVP” is not a most valued project

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Today’s guest to the Front Porch is Tina Badger, a resident of Elliston, Va. and an intern with Appalachian Voices. With a background ranging from water quality monitoring to feeding the hungry, Tina currently focuses on advocacy work in opposing the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Tina Badger

Tina Badger

It’s been nearly six months since the companies behind the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline pre-filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and residents are still unsure about the routes, full impact, and process.

Landowners and residents on and near the alternative routes released in February are just now learning of possible impacts of the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline if FERC approves the project, proposed by EQT Corp., NextEra Energy and partners under an entity called “MVP LLC.” The 300-mile pipeline, three-and-a-half feet in diameter, would carry natural gas under high pressure from the Marcellus fracking fields, starting in Wetzel County, W.Va., and ending in Pittsylvania County, Va, where it would tie in with another pipeline.

MVP LLC recently held open houses in Monroe County, W.Va. and Craig County, Va., where residents have quickly organized in opposition to the pipeline, joining a line of opposition all along the proposed route. The boards of supervisors in Giles, Craig, Montgomery, and Roanoke counties have all passed resolutions opposing the project, and Roanoke County created a Pipeline Advisory Committee to review the potential benefits and impacts. In W.Va., the Monroe County Board of Health has voiced its opposition as well.

Rally in Blacksburg against the MVP

Rally in Blacksburg against the MVP

All counties along the proposed route are preparing for FERC’s upcoming scoping meetings. At this time, there is no definitive date for these meetings.

Meanwhile, surveying continues along the proposed route and has started on the alternative routes, in spite of landowner opposition. EQT Corp. has brought a lawsuit against 103 landowners in West Virginia who have denied the company access to survey their land. Recently, a subcontractor on the project caused a small brush fire in Franklin County, Va., after discarding a cigarette, and residents are reporting survey stakes that are clearly marked “MVP” in areas that are not on the published corridor maps.

The latest proposed location for the Swann Compressor station, the only compressor station proposed for Virginia, would put it somewhere in or near the Catawba Valley, possibly in the North Fork Historic District. While there is no good location for a compressor station, an historic district in a pastoral rural valley seems especially inappropriate.

Everyone is encouraged to continue to submit comments to FERC and to join one of the many groups that have formed to oppose the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Now is the time to be involved. Stay up to speed with us and local organizers and take every opportunity to be heard.

Pipe Dreams: The push to expand natural gas infrastructure

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

By Brian Sewell

The vast network of natural gas pipelines that traverses the United States is a spiderweb of steel — more than 300,000 miles of it — and it’s growing larger every year.

Over the past decade, fracking in Appalachia has unlocked an abundance of low-cost natural gas, transforming America's energy mix and creating the present-day push to expand a regional network of natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure. Courtesy of Terry Wild Stock Photography.

Over the past decade, fracking in Appalachia has unlocked an abundance of low-cost natural gas, transforming America’s energy mix and creating the present-day push to expand a regional network of natural gas pipelines and other infrastructure. Courtesy of Terry Wild Stock Photography.

Over the past decade, natural gas has been the dominant force cutting into coal’s share of America’s electricity mix. Between 2007 and 2013, coal-fired electricity declined from nearly half of nationwide power generation to 39 percent, while natural gas’s share grew from 22 percent to 27 percent. In the first six months of 2014, gas-fired power plants comprised more than half of the 4,350 megawatts of new utility-scale generation. Renewable energy made up the rest.

Nowhere has the pivot toward natural gas been more pronounced than in the eastern United States. Fracking in northern Appalachia has boosted production at a breakneck pace, and electric utilities’ growing preference for gas over coal is reshaping the relationship between energy-producing Appalachian states and their East Coast customers.

That historic transformation also created the present-day rush to expand the region’s natural gas infrastructure, including pipelines and compressor stations, at a scale and speed proportional to the drilling boom.

Pipeline developers and electric utilities tout natural gas as a “bridge fuel” guiding the way to a future built on renewable energy, and argue that more pipeline capacity is necessary if states are to comply with federal regulations on carbon pollution in the near term.

Under Pressure


But landowners whose property lies along a pipeline route worry about local impacts, while others warn of the long-term consequences — to Appalachian communities, energy consumers and the climate — that could come with a reliance on this fickle fuel.

Parsing the Pipelines

Natural gas has traditionally flowed through pipelines from south to north, bringing the fuel from Gulf states to markets along the East Coast.

Consider the Transcontinental Pipeline. The largest-volume system in the country, the Transco Pipeline has a capacity of 10 billion cubic feet a day, runs more than 10,000 miles through a dozen states, and supplies gas-fired power plants operated by Duke Energy and Dominion Resources, among other electric utilities along its route.

Fracking in northern Appalachia, however, has boosted production to the point that Williams Partners, the operator of the Transco Pipeline system, announced plans in March 2014 to make the system bi-directional. The $2.1 billion Atlantic Sunrise Project would add 1.7 billion cubic feet per day of capacity by expanding existing pipelines in Pennsylvania and modifying compressor stations in mid-Atlantic states, including Virginia and North Carolina, to facilitate the flow of Marcellus gas southward.

A local landowner and a Dominion representative discuss the Atlantic Coast Pipeline's proposed route at a public hearing held in Nelson County by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Photo by Will Solis,

A local landowner and a Dominion representative discuss the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s proposed route at a public hearing held in Nelson County by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Photo by Will Solis,

The decision by Williams Partners is part of a larger trend to reverse pipeline flows in response to shifting supplies. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 32 percent of pipeline capacity into the Northeast could be bi-directional by 2017. And other energy companies hope to take advantage of Transco’s reach by connecting new pipelines with the expansive system.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, a joint venture of NextEra Energy and EQT, a fracking company operating in the Appalachian Basin, would originate in Wetzel County, W.Va., and course 330 miles through more than a dozen other counties and the Jefferson National Forest before connecting with a Transco compressor station in Pittsylvania County, Va. In both states, the proposal has caused vehement backlash that has erupted into legal battles.

In March, a group of West Virginia landowners who have resisted efforts by the pipeline’s developers to survey their property filed suit against the companies. Attorneys with the group Appalachian Mountain Advocates, which is representing the landowners, argue that the power of eminent domain can only be exercised in West Virginia if a project has “public use.”

But plans for the Mountain Valley Pipeline do not include any delivery points in West Virginia, where distribution companies could collect gas that would be sold locally. As a result, Derek Teaney of Appalachian Mountain Advocates argued, “not a single West Virginian will have access to, or otherwise use, gas carried by the pipeline.”

The lawsuit follows threats by the pipeline’s developers that “legal action will likely be taken in order to obtain the necessary access” to survey private land along the Mountain Valley Pipeline route. Across Appalachia, stories of citizen resistance are becoming commonplace in communities along a pipeline’s path.

An even larger proposed pipeline would originate in Harrison County, W.Va., not far from the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s beginning, and stretch 550 miles across West Virginia, central Virginia and the North Carolina Piedmont.

Dominion Resources’ $5 billion plan to build the project, known as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, was selected last year by Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas, which solicited proposals to build a pipeline that provides “geographical diversity” compared to existing pipelines and allows for “future low-cost expansions with minimal environmental impact.” Duke Energy would share ownership of the pipeline and be one of its largest customers, having opened five natural gas-fired power plants in North Carolina since 2011 to replace shuttered coal-fired capacity.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s route crosses several areas of ecological concern, such as the Monongahela and George Washington national forests, the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. To minimize the environmental impacts, Ernie Reed, president of the conservation group Wild Virginia, says companies should prioritize using existing right-of-ways.

“If you want to get more automobiles from Front Royal to Roanoke, you build another lane on the existing interstate,” says Reed. “You don’t build another eight-lane interstate that connects those two areas.” Dominion says it prefers to use existing rights of way where possible, but “oftentimes it is not feasible.”

Reed is a former resident of Nelson County, Va., where, by Dominion’s own admission, the groundswell of grassroots opposition the company has faced is stronger than anywhere else along the pipeline’s proposed route. On March 10, the county’s board of supervisors approved a resolution asking Dominion and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to respect landowners and carefully consider alternative routes.

According to the resolution, “Dominion has taken no action to minimize eminent domain takings in Nelson County by proposing a route using existing rights of way.”

Together, the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines would carry 3.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day from fracking operations in Appalachia to power plants, distribution companies and industrial users in the Southeast. Both are planned to begin operations by late 2018.

Regulating the Risk

As public opposition grows, so does frustration with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for regulating electricity markets and other interstate energy commerce.

“I think that our nation is going to have to grapple with our acceptance of gas generation and gas pipelines if we expect to achieve our climate and environmental goals,” FERC chair Cheryl LaFleur told an audience at the National Press Club in January.

Proposed natural gas pipelines would expand the fuel's availability to southeastern electric utilities, but some concerned citizens want developers to better utilize existing pipeline capacity. Map created by Rick Webb for Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

Proposed natural gas pipelines would expand the fuel’s availability to southeastern electric utilities, but some concerned citizens want developers to better utilize existing pipeline capacity. Map created by Rick Webb for Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

Worried about the type of investments being prioritized, a coalition of environmental and citizens group in Appalachia announced this month that they are aligning their efforts to challenge FERC. The groups, including Wild Virginia, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, FreshWater Accountability Project and Allegheny Defense Project, contend that FERC’s push to increase natural gas infrastructure “incentivizes fracking while stifling the development of renewable energy,” and that the agency is approving pipeline projects without first proving they are in the public interest.

“Part of that determination requires considering effects to the environment and communities, and there clearly are many,” Terry Lodge, an attorney representing FreshWater Accountability Project, said in a joint press statement. If FERC has already determined up front that the public is “just going to have to accept more pipelines,” according to Lodge, “it can’t be trusted to rigorously evaluate those effects.”

A February report by the U.S. Department of Energy emphasized that fully utilizing or rerouting existing interstate pipelines could provide “lower-cost alternatives to building new infrastructure and can accommodate a significant increase in natural gas flows.”

FERC recently completed a series of public hearings on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in North Carolina and Virginia. Local groups, including Friends of Nelson, asked residents to contact FERC requesting an extension of the public
comment period since, at least at one hearing, fewer than half of the people who signed up to speak were given the chance. Dominion urged FERC to stay the course. Public hearings on the Mountain Valley Pipeline were held in early April.

Once pipelines begin operation, new, sometimes catastrophic, risks emerge.

This past January, the ATEX Express ethane pipeline, used to transport the second-largest chemical component of natural gas, exploded in Brooke County, W.Va., just a year after beginning commercial operation. An explosion along I-77 near Sissonville, W.Va., in December 2012 charred 800 feet of the highway. And in 2008, the Transco pipeline ruptured in Appomattox County, Va., igniting a fireball that melted the siding on homes 400 yards away. In that case, investigators fined Williams Partners $952,000, citing failures by the company to meet monitoring requirements and prevent external corrosion.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration maintains that pipelines are “the safest, most environmentally friendly and most efficient and reliable” way to transport natural gas. But, the agency points out, “accidents still happen, sometimes with tragic consequences.”

Fueling the Future

With a typical lifespan of up to 100 years, natural gas pipelines are by definition long-term investments.

So, what does a more natural gas-reliant future look like? For millions of residents in the Northeast, it may look a lot like today. Around 44 percent of the region’s generation capacity came from natural gas last year, a sharp increase from 15 percent in 2000. During that same period, coal’s share of generation plummeted, but renewables only grew by 1 percent.

Investments in gas-fired generation have unsurprisingly been based on easy access to an abundant supply of natural gas in the nearby Marcellus Shale. But ratepayers have felt the sting of spiking gas prices, particularly during winter months when demand is highest, and a pipeline outage at any time of year would impact thousands of megawatts of generation.

The short-term solution is to push for more pipeline capacity, but that logic quickly becomes problematic and could create the type of energy trap that is the subject of “The Natural Gas Gamble,” a report by the science advocacy organization Union of Concerned Scientists.

While acknowledging the near-term benefits of burning natural gas instead of coal, the report warns that becoming too reliant on natural gas poses complex risks, including persistent price volatility and the problems associated with a changing climate. The analysis suggests the only way to bet on natural gas, and win, is to greatly expand adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency in the nation’s power supply.

“For its part, natural gas could still play a useful — but more limited — role in the transition to a clean energy system, not as a replacement for coal but rather as an enabler of grid flexibility in support of renewable technologies,” Jeff Deyette, one of the report’s authors, wrote on the group’s blog.

Researchers also point out that betting big on natural gas now could lead to unnecessary investment in pipelines and other expensive, long-lived infrastructure that would become stranded assets as utilities face the inevitable need to shift to truly clean energy sources.

Some see natural gas as the preordained king of America’s energy future. But responsibly balancing a reliance on the so-called “bridge fuel” looks more and more like a tightrope walk, where each step comes with considerable risk.

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’s the latest updates from state legislatures around the region.


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


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


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

Bustling Streets, Thriving Business: A Shared Vision in Southwest Virginia

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Kimber Ray

Residents and community leaders came together in Dungannon, Va., this February for the official launch of a new regional project, Hometowns of the Clinch.

Participating communities, which currently include Dungannon, Tazewell, Richlands, Honaker, Cleveland, Cedar Bluff and St. Paul, will encourage economic development along the Clinch River — one of the most biodiverse river ecosystems in the United States.

Their connection to this unique resource has communities excited about the potential to promote their region as a global destination for outdoor recreation tourism. By sharing a unified marketing message with branding such as brochures, signage, t-shirts and patches, participating communities expand their ability to attract publicity.

The Clinch River Valley Initiative, a collaborative group of local stakeholders formed in 2010, organized Hometowns of the Clinch as part of ongoing efforts to revitalize the historically coal-dependent region. To participate in the project, communities must be actively engaged in the initiative and develop resources to support local tourism and entrepreneurship.

The initiative has already seen a number of successes. Several river outfitter and rental companies have opened to take advantage of the growing number of river access points, new trails and recreation guides have been developed and, with the accompanying growth in tourism, one town recently opened its first hotel in years.

This March, Hometowns of the Clinch Entrepreneurship Week celebrated the continued success of the region’s small businesses. Several towns hosted free workshops and discussions led by experts in business development and marketing, and there was also a river clean-up, jam sessions and a square dance.

Learn more at

Yes, Virginia, there was a silver lining to the General Assembly

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - posted by hannah

1506880_545692232232755_7519825862257630233_nLegislator attitudes toward the level of carbon in our atmosphere and the rate at which corporate polluters are allowed to contribute to it range widely across the Appalachian region and the country. We’ve seen members of Congress deploy all manner of stunts to display their grasp of the issue (and lack thereof), most recently Sen. James Inhofe’s show-and-tell with a snowball.

In fact politicians across the country have sought to help polluting industries keep profiting off of dumping unlimited carbon into the atmosphere by fighting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Many Attorneys General—with the exception of Virginia’s Mark Herring—are planning to sue, state assemblies are considering bills to assert authority over state compliance plans or to set less stringent carbon pollution limits.

But there’s reason for hope here in Virginia.

More and more of our state legislators are beginning to accept that diversifying our energy system by investing more in clean sources is beneficial—even if the underlying motivation is to reduce carbon pollution and the standard is set at the federal level. In the General Assembly that ended earlier this month, we largely saw members opting not to support legislation that would have thwarted the EPA’s plan to cut carbon pollution. The bill, which was really just a politically divisive grandstanding bill by ultra-conservatives, failed.

That says a lot about the power of citizen engagement. An element of that legislative success was due to grassroots contact with legislators and their offices, in person, by email, and over the phone, and with a boots-on-the-ground approach by packing committee hearings and being visible and active on Capitol Grounds, repeating the facts and science for lawmakers to hear. And for that effort, we achieved a few more important victories.

Modest gains came our way as we went about tackling solar energy policies. Businesses and nonprofits with solar panels who want to sell some power back to their utility can have up to 1 megawatt versus half that before. The General Assembly established a new Virginia Solar Energy Development Authority to help the industry. The legislature also authorized the state’s largest utility, Dominion Power, to build the state’s first solar farm, up to 400 MW, and to recover costs for the facility from its customers. (However, the bill doesn’t provide for other companies to bid competitively to build a solar farm for Dominion, meaning Dominion’s cost to the customer will likely be higher than it should be.)

In addition, Virginia utilities are also now required to develop more programs to assist customers with saving energy. Ramping up clean energy sources like solar and efficiency is key for Virginia to reduce carbon pollution while growing the economy.

Virginia legislators heard testimony on EPA’s Clean Power Plan in the course of several committee hearings, starting back in November and continuing up to the midpoint of the session. The most comprehensive bill to address greenhouse gas pollution the Coastal Protection Act, was introduced this session, but didn’t make it across the finish line. Still, legislators were responsive to citizens, rejecting legislation that would have wrested power from Gov. McAuliffe’s administration to develop a state plan to comply with the EPA.

Yet, Virginia delegates and senators passed on some measures because they perceived the bills were controversial or did not understand them well enough. Making community solar possible, making third-party power sales for clean energy legal throughout the state, providing better financing for home energy-efficiency improvements, and joining a regional greenhouse gas initiative – these are all measures the General Assembly should approve in 2016

But they need to hear from you. Citizens can start educating legislators about the economic benefits of clean energy policies now.

Virginia Environmental Chief Supporting Weaker Coal Ash Rule

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - posted by cat

Amy Adams, N.C. Campaign Coordinator, 828-262-1500,
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373,

The following is a statement from Amy Adams in response to testimony today by David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, to the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy regarding “Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015.” Adams is the lead on Appalachian Voices’ coal ash initiative and is a former supervisor with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“In no way is this bill an ‘improvement’ of the new federal rule for coal ash disposal. In fact, it completely strips away health standards and public access to information, leaving citizens in the dark and vulnerable to ongoing health hazards.

“It’s beyond belief that the head of the agency charged with protecting Virginia’s environment and public welfare is up there in D.C. supporting it.

“There are people whose health is already compromised likely due to decades of coal ash pollution, yet David Paylor is supporting this bill that would shelter industry interests from accountability. As a former agency regulator myself, I can tell you this goes completely against the grain of what a public servant should do.”


Wise County, Va. resident joins Appalachian Voices staff

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - posted by cat

Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373,
Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Campaign Coordinator, 276-679-1691,

adam wells_AppalachianVoicesWise County, Va. – Appalachian Voices is pleased to announce the addition of Adam Wells, a sixth generation resident of Wise County, to our team of dedicated professionals. Appalachian Voices is a nonprofit conservation organization working to protect the mountains, water and communities of the Appalachian region.

As the Economic Diversification Campaign Coordinator, Adam will focus on bringing new economic opportunities and resources to the area, with a particular focus on energy efficiency and clean energy. Adam will work to connect with local residents and a variety of organizations, civic groups, businesses and government agencies to help promote positive and diverse economic growth in coal-impacted communities throughout Southwest Virginia.

Adam attended Appalachian State University, in Boone, N.C., where he earned a B.A. in an interdisciplinary course of study he designed focused on education for social change. He partnered with Appalachian Voices as a Field Organizer, traveling the South giving presentations about Appalachia. In 2008, he returned to Southwest Virginia to work as a community organizer for citizens groups and also as a Wilderness Therapy Field Guide.

Most recently, Adam was the Guest River Coordinator for the nonprofit Upper Tennessee River Roundtable, where he was responsible for the design, outreach, execution and reporting for a program that provides more than $87,000 in assistance to homeowners who need financial help with septic repairs and maintenance. In addition to coordinating with multiple government, social service, and private business partners, Adam, a certified water quality monitor, also was responsible for sampling water quality at more than a dozen sites throughout the Guest River watershed to measure the effectiveness of improving septic systems.

“Adam’s energy, talent, and integrity are tremendous assets for working with a wide range of partners to move things forward, and it’s that collaboration that’s really important now,” says Tom Cormons, Executive Director of Appalachian Voices. “We’re so glad to be bringing him onto the team at this important time for the region.”

“As a sixth generation resident of Wise County, I understand that we are living in a time of tremendous change in the coal-bearing region,” says Adam. “This area is my heritage and my home, like so many other Appalachians. I’m eager to channel this position and the mission of Appalachian Voices to be a part of creating sustainable communities for the future.”


Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, nonprofit organization that brings people together to protect the communities and natural resources of the Appalachian region by promoting a shift from harmful, polluting energy practices, including mountaintop removal coal mining, to a cleaner, more just and sustainable energy future. With offices in Boone and Raleigh, N.C., and Charlottesville and Wise County, Va., Appalachian Voices works at the local, state and federal level, focusing on grassroots organizing and policy reform.


Virginia lawmakers act on energy bills

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - posted by hannah
There has been no shortage of activity on energy policy during Virginia’s 2015 legislative session.

There has been no shortage of activity on energy policy during Virginia’s 2015 legislative session.

As the Virginia General Assembly enters the final days of its 2015 session, we can look back on five intense weeks.

Among the many issues our lawmakers labored over, a few were explosive enough to consistently make headlines. Energy policy was one of those issues thanks largely to electric utilities’ efforts to capitalize on worries about upcoming federal rules on carbon pollution.

Here’s a recap of the drama, along with a few important policies that received less fanfare.

>> First, a measure that shocked newspaper editorial boards, dismayed consumer groups, and stunned many of us who have challenged the utilities’ business-as-usual plans, but passed the legislature easily: under SB 1349, Virginia would see a five-year period when state regulators do not review rates set by Dominion Power and Appalachian Power, likely preventing any refunds of utility over-earnings to customers. The base portion of rates will be fixed, but other charges related to fuel costs can still rise during the period.

Political dynamics and election sensitivities made this legislation especially charged, and ultimately some of our top legislative champions for advancing clean energy stepped in and saw to it that the measure includes a designation for up to 500 megawatts of solar energy to be in the public interest, thereby authorizing state regulators to approve large scale solar farms — of which there are exactly zero in Virginia right now. The champs also added provisions for utilities to pay for low-income home weatherization programs.

Gov. McAuliffe signed the bill into law on Tuesday.

>> Last Wednesday, legislation passed both houses capping Virginia’s coal production and employment tax credits at $7.5 million annually. Appalachian Voices and other advocates have called for comprehensive study of whether such credits have their intended effects, including sustaining coal-related jobs in Southwest Virginia. A study by Downstream Strategies a few years ago suggests they do not. SB 741, which originally extended the tax credits by five years, is expected to come out of conference committee this week extending the credits for only two years while analysis is done by a reform-oriented panel.

>> On to one enormous highlight of the session: several bills containing extreme language against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan — aimed at reducing carbon pollution from power plants — never made it out of committee. One was an effort to empower the General Assembly to sue the EPA. Another bill that is still alive directs the state Department of Environmental Quality to consider concerns and take the input of legislators, and requires the General Assembly to express its approval of DEQ’s compliance plan in the form of a resolution.

>> Lastly, a bill based on a central concept of Gov. McAuliffe’s Energy Plan creates a Solar Energy Development Authority for Virginia. In spite of some legislators’ concerns about growing government, the promise of boosting job growth in the solar industry propelled this measure through both houses. A net energy metering expansion bill also still stands a good chance of passing.

With some great concepts like the Virginia Coastal Protection Act unable to find sufficient support in committee to pass this year, the work to pave the way for next year’s legislative efforts lies before us. Citizen contact with delegates and senators can continue year-round, and there are many ways to stay engage.

In addition to calling or writing your elected officials, enrolling in an energy-efficiency program offered by your power company or going solar sends a clear signal to our legislators about Virginia residents’ preferences and expectations on important energy policy issues.

Virginia Climate Fever

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by molly

How Global Warming Will Transform Our Cities, Shorelines, and Forests

By Stephen Nash


As visiting senior research scholar at the University of Richmond, Stephen Nash explores the stunning local aspects of climate disruption. This digestible work employs enough facts and visuals to demonstrate the amount of damage that global warming promises for the Old Dominion.

Nash, a journalist, takes the reader with him as he travels around Virginia, talking with scientists, citizens, officials and business people. Through these encounters, Nash reveals that our temperature averages will gradually rise during the next hundred years, essentially turning Virginia into present-day Alabama. Graphs show increasing numbers of days with temperatures surpassing 90 degrees, with drastic consequences for life-forms from trees to fish, and to both rural and city-dwelling humans.

Nash’s most compelling passages deal with sea level rise and the increasingly formidable threat of property destruction in the Hampton Roads region. This trend could result in climate refugees as limited financial resources cover only the costs of protecting high-value infrastructure and leave homeowners behind.

Throughout the book, Nash compares two scenarios of human response to global warming, labeled “business as usual” and “work and hope,” while maintaining that Virginians are not entirely the masters of their fate because global warming is a problem that requires a global response.

This book is fact-based and never overstated, making it mandatory reading for Virginians seeking a primer on a complex topic. — Review by Hannah Wiegard, Appalachian Voices Virginia Campaign Coordinator