Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Groups in two states challenge WB XPress

Thursday, February 4th, 2016 - posted by cat

Contact:
Ben Luckett, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, 304-645-0125, bluckett@appalmad.org
Kate Rooth, Appalachian Voices, 804-536-5598, kate@appvoices.org
Anne Havemann, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 240-396-1984, anne@chesapeakeclimate.org
Kirk Bowers, Virginia Chapter, Sierra Club, 434-296-8673, kirk.bowers@sierraclub.org

On behalf of conservation groups in Virginia and West Virginia, Appalachian Mountain Advocates today filed a formal protest and motion to intervene in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s permitting process for the WB XPress, an $850 million natural gas infrastructure proposal from Columbia Gas Transmission.

The project consists of two new compressor stations, 26 miles of pipeline replacement, and 2.9 miles of new pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia. Construction would impact the Monongahela National Forest, as well as privately owned forest and agricultural lands.

“The WB XPress would fragment prime forest habitat, endanger family farms and homes, and amplify the threats to drinking water and air quality in communities plagued by fracking operations,” explained Ben Luckett, Staff Attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates. The WB XPress is intended to boost Columbia’s capacity to pipe fracked natural gas from West Virginia’s Marcellus region. The fracked gas would be sold in markets farther south and perhaps abroad.

“We’re also highly concerned that this project will increase the pressure to build the Mountaineer XPress, which would have even more destructive impacts throughout our region,” explained Luckett. The Mountaineer XPress, proposed by a consortium owned in part by Columbia Gas, involves constructing three new compressor stations and approximately 165 miles of new pipeline in West Virginia.

This fall, these same groups filed similar challenges to the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline. These groups hope to shed light on the rash of gas projects currently pending FERC review. “Appalachian communities have been hard-hit by the fracking boom, and now face the threat of a huge build-out of natural gas infrastructure,” explained Kate Rooth with Appalachian Voices. Collectively, the projects involve thousands of miles of pipeline construction and upgrades costing tens of billions of dollars to move fracked gas out of West Virginia.

The massive network of new gas infrastructure proposed for the region has prompted many to call on FERC to perform a comprehensive analysis of the entire planned pipeline scheme. “FERC should perform one comprehensive review of these massive fossil fuel projects so we can see the entirety of the environmental and climate impacts of this proposal — not a fragmented one that fails to recognize the devastating impacts these pipelines would have,” said Kirk Bowers, Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Taken together, these pipeline projects will lock the region into decades of reliance on a fossil fuel that is just as bad as coal for our climate,” said Anne Havemann, general counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. A new report by the Sierra Club found that just two of the pipeline proposals would trigger nearly twice as much total climate-disrupting pollution as all the existing stationary sources in Virginia combined. Climate-disrupting emissions from the WB XPress project will only add to the problem.

“Every dollar invested in this dirty and dangerous fossil fuel is better spent on clean energy and energy efficiency,” said Havemann. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network has found that for the same cost as building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, for example, a utility could instead install solar panels to power over 400,000 homes.

Columbia Gas Transmission filed its application with FERC earlier this year. FERC is tasked with determining whether the project will serve the “public convenience and necessity” and coordinating an environmental review. Columbia has asked FERC for a certificate decision by Dec. 1, 2016.

Appalachian Mountain Advocates has intervened on behalf the following groups: Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the West Virginia and Virginia chapters of the Sierra Club.
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Action needed: Va. General Assembly considers pipeline policy fixes

Thursday, February 4th, 2016 - posted by hannah
Virginians expressed their opposition to proposed natural gas pipelines in front of the Capitol Building in January.

Virginians expressed their opposition to proposed natural gas pipelines in front of the Capitol Building in January.

Late last month, we learned that the U.S. Forest Service rejected the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s proposed route. This development significantly checks the lickety-split pace of the project.

If that renews your desire to take action, there are opportunities channel that feeling into these important legislative fights in the General Assembly.

Lobby days in Richmond displayed pipeline opposition — now, committees coming up

As the chorus of Virginians voicing opposition to fracked gas pipelines in our region grows and becomes more diverse, we took our movement to the General Assembly for a major day of action to educate legislators about our agenda to safeguard land and water. On Tuesday, Jan. 19, participants from across Virginia came to Richmond and held dozens of meetings with state delegates and senators. Addressing attendees the morning of the event, State Senator John Edwards made it clear that he stands with Virginians who are concerned about the risks of the dirty pipeline proposals.

Citizen lobbyists covered issues including the landowners’ right to deny pipeline companies permission to enter their land to conduct invasive surveys (SB 614 and HB 1118) and the importance of requiring rigorous site-specific sediment and erosion control plans to protect streams and ensuring unrestricted public access to such plans (SB 726). Now these bills have been scheduled for upcoming committee meetings, so here are directions on informing your legislators:

SB 726 in Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 4

SB 726 would fix a serious problem with how Virginia limits erosion and sediment pollution from utility company construction projects, including pipelines. The status quo system would allow the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline to avoid proper regulation through a loophole. Area legislators in the relevant committee include senators Emmett Hanger and Mark Obenshain.

Tell your senator the current system is wrong — and here are some reasons why: it allows utility companies to avoid proper government agency oversight; it exempts utility companies from requirements that apply to all other construction projects; it excludes the public and local governments from involvement; and it greatly increases the threat of damage to the environment and property due to the extensive and complicated nature of these projects.

Virginia State Senator John Edwards speaks with citizens about pipeline legislation.

Virginia State Senator John Edwards speaks with citizens about pipeline legislation.

Urge your legislator to restore proper government oversight of these developments and revoke the free pass that companies now have to pollute Virginia waterways. Use the blue tab at the top of the General Assembly’s website to look up who represents you and find contact information for his or her office.

If you can make it, we encourage you to attend the committee at the General Assembly in Senate Room B on Thursday afternoon starting at or around 2 p.m. to impress the importance of these decisions upon our legislators in person.

Help Win Repeal of the “Survey Without Permission” Statute — Bills Up Soon in Commerce Committee

On Feb. 8 and 9, respectively, committees will take up SB 614 and HB 1118 related to companies’ ability to survey without landowner permission. You can contact your legislation in support of these measures by going to the General Assembly’s website and clicking the blue bar up top to find out who represents you and how to email or call their offices.

As background, HB 1118 and SB 614 are House and Senate versions of a bill to repeal VA 56-49.01, which allows Dominion to force surveys on unwilling property owners. That means that under Virginia law there is really no legal way for property owners to unequivocally demonstrate opposition to a gas pipelines, no matter the size, going through their property.

Be sure to contact your legislators before committees deal with these bills so that your comments will be most effective: the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee will discuss SB 614 Monday, Feb. 8, starting at approximately 2 p.m. The House Subcommittee on Energy will discuss HB 1118 on Tuesday, Feb. 9, starting at approximately 4 p.m. Again, feel free to attend, and contact hannah [at] appvoices [dot] org if you have questions about how to participate in these committees’ decisions.

What else does recent news tell us about these risky pipelines?

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) letter to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (that is, Dominion Resources) states that alternative routes cannot cut through “highly sensitive resources … of such irreplaceable character that minimization and compensation measures may not be adequate or appropriate and should be avoided.” The pipeline company has not, in the USFS’s view, demonstrated “why the project cannot reasonably be accommodated off National Forest Service (NFS) lands.”

If Dominion tries to stick with the original route, it will have to say why it thinks the pipeline has to be built on USFS lands. The company could propose a new route, impacting a different set of landowners and their properties, or it may have to go back to the drawing board with a new application. -We hope Dominion will turn in an entirely different direction, as this project, like the other pipelines proposed in Virginia, is unneeded, hazardous and misguided.

Communities in our region have been on the receiving end of the fracking boom. A major build-out of this kind of infrastructure will only worsen the impacts of fracking in those communities while locking us into decades of dependence on dirty energy. At the same time it defers our collective chance to harness the cleanest, most-sustainable energy sources — which happen to be a great deal for customers too.

Our work seems to be provoking a reaction. Dominion recently went into high-gear in its public relations. Spokesman Jim Norvelle said last week that gas-fired power plants are widely viewed as essential to meeting the goals of the Clean Power plan. To anyone who understands the economic opportunity presented by the EPA’s carbon pollution standards, or for those who have been reading recent reports describing the benefits of prioritizing renewable solar power, wind power and energy efficiency in Virginia, that probably sounds ludicrous. Whatever the polluters say or do next, and whenever there’s a chance to take action, we’ll be keeping you in the loop.

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Va. leaders urge Gov. McAuliffe to reject Dominion’s climate-polluting plan

Thursday, January 28th, 2016 - posted by brian
This week, a wide array of Virginia leaders released a letter asking Gov. McAuliffe to reject efforts by Dominion Power that would increase carbon pollution in the Commonwealth. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This week, a wide array of Virginia leaders released a letter asking Gov. McAuliffe to reject efforts by Dominion Power that would increase carbon pollution in the Commonwealth. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s the latest news from Appalachian Voices’ Press Room:

Earlier this week, a wide array of Virginia civic, health, faith, and environmental leaders released a letter asking Governor Terry McAuliffe to reject all efforts by Dominion Virginia Power to push for implementation of historic federal clean power rules in a way that would increase carbon pollution in the Commonwealth.

Leaders representing 50 organizations, including Appalachian Voices, reminded McAuliffe that only he, as governor, is authorized to make the final decision on how to implement the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” in Virginia. It is therefore his explicit responsibility to reduce carbon emissions while strengthening Virginia’s economy and helping improve public health. Anything less will support more pollution, which is “fundamentally contrary” to existing U.S. policy and the interests of Virginia residents, the groups write.

Tell Governor McAuliffe: Create a Bold Clean Power Plan for Virginia

“I cannot remember such a diverse range of groups weighing in on a pollution issue in Virginia before,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of the group New Virginia Majority. “This letter calls for action on what we hope will be the governor’s greatest legacy. The governor can adopt a plan that will strengthen our economy while protecting people’s health now and for generations to come.”

The letter states that Virginia should reduce its total carbon pollution from power plants at least 30 percent by 2030, by applying the same standards to both existing and new power plants, and increasing our use of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

But Virginia utilities, led by Dominion CEO Tom Farrell, want a plan that would apply the federal rule only to old, existing power plants – not new fossil fuel power plants. This would allow Dominion to increase carbon pollution for decades more.

Read our full press release here.

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The 2016 General Assembly session begins in Virginia

Thursday, January 21st, 2016 - posted by hannah
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Clean energy is a major area for potential policy changes during this year’s General Assembly session. Here is a roundup of energy bills to watch.

Clean energy is a major area for potential policy changes during this year’s General Assembly session.

Governor Terry McAuliffe touched on the subject in his State of the Commonwealth speech last week, pledging to “stimulate economic growth by expanding our use of renewable energy” and touting recent commitments that amount to a 100-fold increase in solar generated in the state.

Still, some of the most exciting measures that legislators are considering face significant challenges. Here is a roundup of energy bills to watch.

Solar Power Solutions

Legislators who are allied with our clean energy agenda admit there are barriers to making meaningful change during this session. In a radio interview last week, Senator Creigh Deeds invoked lyrics from a familiar Talking Heads song to describe the partisan divide: “Same as it ever was.” This sentiment pointedly captures utility companies’ opposition to basic provisions governing customer freedom to select clean energy options and others aimed at reducing wasted energy in Virginia.

Last month, we discussed the vital need to legally clarify that it is legal in Virginia for an electricity customer to enter into an agreement to purchase power from a company than can install a renewable energy generating system on their property. Power Purchase Agreements can encourage arrangements that involve no upfront cost for the customer, present attractive cost-saving opportunities for schools and churches, and avoid more costly forms of generation while relieving grid congestion, among other benefits to the whole customer base. SB 139, SB 140, SB 148, HB 618 and a bill currently being finalized by Delegate Randy Minchew entitled the Renewable Energy Provisions Bill will all be considered as ways to promote solar affordably in Virginia.

Energy Efficiency Policy Reform

Year after year, one roadblock that has kept Virginia from improving energy efficiency is the fact that state regulators evaluate proposed energy efficiency programs using a flawed process. This method practically guarantees that the most thorough demand management measures, such as home and business assessments, will be denied. This results in fewer cost-saving options for customers and perpetuates a system that makes rewards utilities for pursuing more expensive ways to meet demand.

A bill sponsored by Delegate Lee Ware, HB 352, could reform these tests to give robust energy efficiency programs a better chance of being approved by the State Corporation Commission. HB 1053 and SB 395 are companion bills that are intended to address another dimension of this problem: in theory, electric utilities that operate energy efficiency programs are allowed to request recovery of the revenue that they have lost from the energy saved, that is, the energy the utility would have sold to customers. But regulators tend to be apprehensive about approving programs that could result in such future costs to ratepayers, and they can turn down programs based on that consideration. Other states have dealt with this by rewarding utilities a lesser dollar figure for the energy they save by running such programs — this a reform that the McAuliffe administration supports and one that should get traction this year.

Who’s Grandstanding Against the Clean Power Plan this Year?

Three bills introduced this year would impede Virginia’s compliance with federal carbon pollution standards and interfere with our path toward a clean energy future. HB 2, SB 21 and SB 482 all would require the General Assembly’s approval of the compliance plan prepared by the state Department of Environmental Quality. This approach is being advocated by the likes of the industry-friendly American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which recently lost American Electric Power as a member, apparently because of this very issue.

Governor McAuliffe expressed his intention to veto such legislation should both houses approve it, which is good news for the state’s economic and clean energy outlook. Even a consulting firm that Virginia’s utilities often look to has shown that the Clean Power Plan will reduce customer bills and grow clean energy, a sector that created $3.9 billion in revenue in Virginia in 2014.

Ensuring a Strong, Beneficial Clean Power Plan with the Virginia Coastal Protection Act

HB 351-SB 571 is the bipartisan Virginia Alternative Energy and Coastal Protection Act, which would authorize our state to join a carbon trading program with other states, providing more than $250 million in the first year through the auction of emission allowances. These funds would be divided to combat the effects of worsening sea-level rise, support energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and assist with economic development in Southwest Virginia.

Take a moment to fill your legislators in on the energy issues that matter to you most. Visit the General Assembly’s website and pull down the blue tab from the top of the page to look up who represents you, find email addresses for your state delegate and senator, search bills introduced this session and familiarize yourself with the civic process that determines Virginia’s energy policy. Then buckle up for a fast two-month-long General Assembly session!

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Open for business — APCo’s energy efficiency program

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 - posted by hannah
APCo's website for customers seeking to make energy efficiency improvements.

APCo’s website for customers seeking to make energy efficiency improvements.

The frigid temperatures that are dominating Virginia drive us to seek warmth and comfort. The rough weather can also serve as a reminder for all of us to make sure our homes have a basic level of energy efficiency, which can shave some real money off of monthly bills.

Just in time for the arrival of the harshest winter chill, Appalachian Power Company has news we can use — the company has introduced a new set of energy saving programs in Virginia that you can opt to participate in.

One would think that utilities would have long ago made saving energy a priority: after all, companies often say they are seeking more ways to get greener while protecting ratepayers from expenses. Well-designed energy efficiency programs can achieve significant reduction in wasted energy and the pollution associated with it. As a recent study shows, this strategy can and should be part of Virginia’s plan to comply with the federal Clean Power Plan in a way that barely affects rates and will reduce bills by using less energy. Moreover, for households facing the tightest budgets, energy saving programs can make a real difference.

If you’re an APCo customer, your menu of energy saving options now includes quick choices like an appliance recycling program for unwanted working refrigerators or freezers, in-store discounts on efficient products, and a markdown on Energy Star manufactured housing. There is also a whole-house assessment called the Home Performance Program, which you can think of as a check-up for your home. Skilled, friendly contractors will perform a clipboard walkthrough over about two hours covering your entire home. Any recommended improvements will be listed for you, and financial incentives will be applied to approved energy saving measures.

These are examples of the kind of services that will in the long run help to bring the housing stock in our region into the 21st century with elements like insulation, HVAC tune up, and eliminating outside air leaks. The involvement of highly trained, professional building auditors helps ensure that residents will be happy with the results and that improvements are scientifically sound and will likely make a building healthier and more comfortable to live in.

Virginia has enormous potential to capitalize on efficiency. We currently rank 31st in efficiency, so we have a ways to go. We’ve often had to fight for the energy saving programs that our utilities now offer. Expanding these programs in the future to a more robust level will take the dedication of many Virginians voicing their support for the most unsung energy source.

Energy efficiency advocates are committed to increasing access to and participation in these programs, which in turn sends a signal to APCo that customers value the programs they are now offering and want the utility to expand from modest plans toward even more ambitious efficiency operations in the future.

So look over the options that APCo is now providing. If you’re interested, don’t delay! Use the utility’s website to apply for a home energy efficiency assessment now.

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A winning approach for the Clean Power Plan in Virginia

Thursday, January 14th, 2016 - posted by hannah

solar-worker,-housing-project-cropped

A new study out today discusses Virginia’s opportunity to comply with the Clean Power Plan — the first-ever standard on carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants — in a way that benefits ratepayers and the economy. It shows that Virginia should strongly prioritize renewable energy and energy efficiency and allow for participation in carbon trading with other states in order to boost economic activity, cut electricity costs, and safeguard healthy air.

Such a plan, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists report, will result in appreciable monthly bill savings for residents, lead to investment in clean energy development and workforce training that will connect workers with new jobs, and reduce dangerous air pollution long-term while addressing our state’s contribution to global warming.

In particular, the carbon-trading approach would yield some $251 million annually for Virginia between 2022 and 2030. If that money were apportioned in a way that is currently being proposed in a bill this legislative session, approximately $25 million a year would be designated for workforce training in the coal mining region of Southwest Virginia, which is struggling with the ongoing decline of coal markets. The region could also see some of the additional $87.8 million that would be distributed statewide for renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation programs.

Check out this post by Jeremy Richardson of the Union of Concerned Scientists for a closer look at how choosing a more ambitious path will create positive ripples across Virginia.

And stay tuned for updates on how you can be involved with Appalachian Voices as we work to ensure that Virginians get the strong state plan we deserve.

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Prayers not pipelines

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

Special to the Front Porch: Welcome to our occasional feature where we invite a guest to “pull up a chair” and share their views on issues important to you. Our guest today is Jill Averitt, who, together with her husband, sisters and in-laws, is raising seven kids, lots of chickens, and vegetables on 130 acres in Nelson County, Va. Jill created the “Prayers Not Pipelines” project to express her concerns about a massive fracked-gas pipeline that is proposed to cut right through her family’s land.

Jill-cropped

When the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was first announced, it took us a few months to understand the reality of the proposal. The original route was going through our friends’ property on Shannon Farm and it seemed unreal. We decided to get involved because we could feel their anxiety and wanted to help.

Soon after, the pipeline route was moved. A victory! We thought. Until Dominion announced the new proposed route was going through our property, which we share with my in-laws, my two sisters and their families. And not just our home, but right through the middle of the land where we had begun building our dream project – a nature-oriented resort.

The pipeline would clear our forests and put our lives in jeopardy if there was an explosion. We have seven children between us and four homes on 130 acres where we have spent the last ten years raising our kids. No amount of money can replace that.

We really got into the fight at this point. There are many nights of anger, fear and frustration from being bullied by Dominion. It has more money, it seems to be heard more quickly and have a special immunity to accountability. My husband, Richard, has worked tirelessly, reaching out to our senators, congressmen, Board of Supervisors, and governor’s representatives, not to mention the endless meetings with advocacy groups and lawyers trying to find angles to fight this behemoth.

I have been sad and physically sick a lot of nights after talking all day about our fight. I wanted to do something positive and uplifting for my family and community who have been spending any little time they have in their busy lives experiencing the same emotions.

So I came up with the idea of the prayer project that was later named Prayers Not Pipelines. This is what I sent to a few friends:

“I’m thinking of creating an art piece on both sides of Route 151 where the pipeline would intersect the road. Imagine a ‘wall’ of white gauzy fabric on both sides of 151 that you can see through to the trees, but blocked enough to imagine their loss. It would be 125-feet long, the width of the path of the proposed pipeline.

“In front of that white wall we would stand hand in hand with our ‘No Pipeline’ shirts. We would line both sides of 151. As we filter in and out to take turns, we could set up a station at the Rockfish Valley Foundation Natural History Center to hand out information flyers. While the community is waiting their turn to stand, we would have a table for folks to create their own prayer flag. We would have white squares of cloth with markers and people can make their own statement, intention, artwork or prayer. We will collect them and pin them to a ribbon and hang them on the wall. One for each side.

“Our intention for this is to send out positive messages to the community and the forest. Blessings and protection, if you like. So what is left is not a bunch of ‘No Pipeline’ signs, but prayers going out to the world that this is a protected and sacred place.”

Jamie'sfixed

After sending this out, the project took on a mind of its own, and in 12 days our community hosted the Prayers Not Pipeline event. It was a fantastic event that was covered by four news stations, three newspapers and several websites. But mostly it did exactly what we intended it to do and it continues to reverberate those feelings every day. You can’t drive past the wall of flags without feeling that this energy is real and that the pipeline is not coming through this area.

After the event, we left the fabric wall up for two days. By the third day it started to rip and I took it down, leaving the prayer flags to blow in the wind and do their thing. I called the Virginia Department of Transportation to ask them to let me know when they wanted to take the flags down because I wanted to keep them. They said I could leave them up.

That lead me to the second half of this project, which is happening right now.

prayerflag3

prayerflag2
prayerflag1
Each week I go to Trager Brothers Coffee at the Rockfish Valley Community Center in Nelson County to collect the flags that folks have made during the week and I add them to the others. As I approach, the flags flapping with each car that flies by, I can feel the power of the collective intentions. It’s strong and with every blast of wind, I can feel the expansive release of blessing rushing around me. It fills me with a sense of calm that is hard to come by for those of us working on this fight. I have come to realize that tending to the wall has allowed me to hold my intentions firm in times when I start to lose faith. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and feel that protection.

I will keep pinning up these flags and making sure they fly securely to remind us all not to lose faith or give up hope. This pipeline will not come through our county and I believe it will not be built at all. How that happens or what it looks like I do not know, I just have faith that our collective work will stop it. Our community in Nelson County is the most loving, caring, sharing community I have ever lived in. That has a lot of power.

So please stop by to participate in this amazing collection of blessings and add yours. I can see thousands of flags flying and yours is one of them. You can stop by the Natural History Center on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 to 4 p.m. Enjoy a scenic walk on the nature loop while you’re here. Or stop and have a coffee at Trager Brothers in the Community Center and make your prayer flag there.

(Email Jill here.)

Budget holds promise for Central Appalachia

Friday, December 18th, 2015 - posted by thom
The federal budget is settled. It’s not perfect. But it’s pretty darn good.

In the spending bill, Congress steered clear of the Stream Protection Rule and increased the budgets of agencies focused on economic development in areas including Central Appalachia.

Look for a deeper analysis on the budget deal from us next week.

Today the U.S. Congress passed a spending bill that covers all federal government expenditures and sets the budgets of agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, Department of Labor, and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The spending bill is a big deal for Appalachian Voices. And honestly, it looks pretty darn good.

Until President Obama signs the bill, which he said he will do, the details aren’t final. But negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders from both parties have been going on for months, including several straight all-nighters this past week. The horse trading has already happened. So while we can’t be certain that everything in the current draft bill will remain, I’d be shocked to see changes.

Spending bills offer a chance to do a lot of good and a lot of bad. Congress can fund projects to improve and diversify the economy of Appalachia (which it did, more on that later), and Congress can prevent federal agencies from completing much-needed environmental rules (which it did NOT(!), more on that now).

Appalachian Voices has been working for years to get a strong Stream Protection Rule. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) released a draft version of the Stream Protection Rule earlier this year, and while it’s in need of improvements, the rule is still expected to improve safeguards for streams near mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia.

Naturally, the coal industry and its backers in Congress have fought against the rule. They argue that protecting our streams from coal’s toxic waste will cost more than 100,000 jobs. While that’s absurd, it is true that forcing mining companies to stop haphazardly dumping all of their junk into streams, and instead coming up with plans to repair damage, will cost them money. So the industry has been begging its congressional advocates to block the rule from being finalized.

But the bill does not include a rider preventing OSMRE from completing the Stream Protection Rule, despite a large group of representatives pushing for one. We are relieved, to say the least.

On the positive side, there are elements of the POWER+ Plan in the budget. The Department of Labor will receive an additional $19 million in 2016 to aid displaced coal mine workers, which is a bigger problem in Central Appalachia than anywhere else. The Appalachian Regional Commission got a huge boost to its budget, from less than $90 million all the way up to $146 million. The agency has recently been concentrating its funding more towards economic development in the coalfield areas of Appalachia. We expect that trend to continue considering its exciting and unexpected 62 percent boost in funds.

Most surprisingly, the bill includes $90 million for abandoned mine cleanup in Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The money is designed to be a pilot program that can later be applied to other states, and we can’t wait to see it expand to Virginia and Tennessee. The interesting part about the funding is that it’s not just about patching up abandoned mine sites, but also focuses on our region’s transition away from a coal-based economy. The purpose of the money is to create jobs and support projects that will aid business development in areas hit hardest by coal’s decline. We have been working hard to see these sorts of projects happen, and while this short-term funding is definitely not enough, we’re excited about the new direction.

So the federal budget is settled. The government won’t close down. Our federal agencies can continue their work to protect Appalachia from mining waste. And our region just got tens of millions of dollars tossed its way for economic development.

It’s not perfect. But it’s pretty darn good.

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What to expect for Virginia’s energy policy in 2016

Friday, December 18th, 2015 - posted by hannah
Ahead of the 2016 General Assembly session, Virginians gathered in Richmond to call for greater commitments by their leaders to address climate change and advance renewable energy.

Ahead of the 2016 General Assembly session, Virginians gathered in Richmond to call for greater commitments by their leaders to address climate change and advance renewable energy.

Around this time of year, we usually offer a Virginia legislative preview, looking ahead at the issues that will arise in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Recent events relate to some of those possible policy changes, thickening the plot and making this session one worth watching and engaging in — especially for customers of Appalachian Power Company.

Legislation Attacks the Clean Power Plan, Again

With the McAuliffe administration in the lead, Virginia is now drafting a plan to comply with its carbon pollution reduction target as set by the federal Clean Power Plan. Many central elements of the state plan remain in question, including whether reductions will be based on the rate of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy generated, or on the total mass of emissions, as well as whether Virginia will trade emissions with other states.

On Tuesday in Richmond, an open meeting of an official group of Clean Power Plan stakeholders was held in the Department of Environmental Quality office. While public comment is not taken in these meetings, they are a key opportunity to follow the process and let decision-makers know how important their work is to you, so stay tuned for future meetings.

Even as these policy experts, advocates, and business and utility representatives invest time and energy into constructively discussing Virginia’s carbon-reduction plan, there are those who are focused on stymieing this effort. Recently proposed legislation would require General Assembly approval of our state Clean Power Plan. The bill (HB2) would hold up our progress and could result in the federal government telling Virginia how to meet its carbon-reduction targets, removing the flexibility that many parties believe makes these emissions reductions economically doable.

As the players at the table shape state plans, it is resulting in some interesting shifts in political activity.

AEP Drops ALEC

American Electric Power, the parent company of Virginia’s second-largest utility, Appalachian Power Company, announced last week that it is ending its relationship with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. A widely known climate denial front organization, ALEC currently has half a dozen pieces of model legislation opposing the Clean Power Plan that it’s pushing in state legislatures. By way of explaining its termination of membership, an AEP spokesperson said the company is reallocating resources as it focuses on working with states around the Clean Power Plan.

AEP says it supports the federal plan and renewable energy, and has “long been involved in the reduction of greenhouse gases.” Still, reporters pointed out the company’s significant reliance on coal in its generation mix, although projections show its coal use declining in the near future.

So what is subsidiary Appalachian Power (APCo) planning to do to meet demand with clean energy in its Virginia service area?

APCo’s 2015 Long Range Resource Plan

APCo customers that read this blog will be aware that we have followed the company’s release of its latest long-term plan for meeting demand in its service area, and that media have reported on some important ways this plan is distinguished from what we have seen the utility propose in the past.

APCo proposes 510 megawatts of solar and land-based wind development in the coming years. Oddly, the predicted growth in its customers’ self-generated energy from solar arrays is low. APCo offers no assessment of the overall costs and benefits of rooftop solar, nor steps to encourage residents and businesses to go solar.

Prompted to comment, an APCo representative made the interesting point that managing demand by offering customers ways to save energy and reduce their bills is an approach that may cost less than developing energy generation. That sentiment may ring a bell for regular readers of this blog: it’s an argument that Appalachian Voices has been stressing for years. Now we’ll be holding onto that nugget of brilliance and keeping the utility on track to live up to those words.

More energy bills this session: solar purchasing, resilience and the pipeline fight

In September, the State Corporation Commission considered a case about APCo’s proposed program for customers looking to go solar. Schools, churches, nonprofits and other non-residential entities were the most affected by the program, which would provide one way for a customer contract for solar power with a system installed and owned by a third party. Such customers in Dominion Virginia Power’s territory can go solar with no upfront costs, thanks to innovative financing for this type of arrangement.

But under APCo’s program, the utility would act as middleman, paying back lower-than-usual credits to the customer and charging higher-than-normal fees. It all adds up to an uneconomic deal that’s likely to deter use of this option and diminish the ability of customers to realize their energy goals and environmental preferences, while slowing job growth in Virginia’s solar industry.

Businesses and concerned customers are now coming together behind legislation that would remove many of the hurdles that are currently hampering solar development in Virginia. Watch for updates on this bill.

A bill to join Virginia into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is again being introduced, with important differences from last year’s version. Notably, through the auction of emissions allowances, the wVirginia Coastal Protection Actwould raise approximately $250 million in the first year of Virginia’s membership, more than $20 million of which would be allocated for economic development in southwest Virginia.

Show your support for this measure and stay tuned for more ways to educate yourself and your legislators about legislative solutions and threats as the General Assembly 2016 approaches.

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States Hold Strong on Clean Power Plan Positions

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 - posted by interns

By Brian Sewell

The legal assault on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan began long before Oct. 23, when it was published in the Federal Register. But that day, states and industry groups were able to officially challenge the rules, which are aimed at limiting carbon pollution from coal plants and boosting cleaner energy sources.

Within a day, more than 15 separate cases were filed, making the Clean Power Plan the most litigated environmental regulation in history, according to E&E Publishing. Appalachian states including Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio signed onto a lawsuit led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey that includes 20 other states.

Attorneys general and agency officials fighting the EPA, however, may not have the public on their side. A poll released in November by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found that a majority of residents in every state except West Virginia, North Dakota and Montana believe there should be strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants.

Virginia and Maryland are among a group of 18 states intervening in the case to defend the Clean Power Plan.

Describing his reasons for supporting the EPA, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told reporters that policies to address climate change and invest in renewable energy are “exactly the kind of shot in the arm that we need to grow a real, vibrant clean-energy economy here in Virginia.”

The fight over the Clean Power Plan’s future is expected to last years, especially if the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, states are carefully considering their approaches to compliance.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality quickly crafted a plan focused entirely on improving power plant efficiency — the only component of the Clean Power Plan the state agency considers to be legal. Experts say that approach could easily backfire, leaving North Carolina with less control over its carbon-reduction efforts.

“If the EPA successfully defends the [legal] challenge and the EPA denies DEQ’s plan, it can impose a federal plan it is developing without the states,” Jonas Monast of Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions told the Charlotte Business Journal.

Kentucky could also be assigned a federal plan if incoming Gov. Matt Bevin keeps his campaign promise to rebuke the EPA. Due to Bevin’s refusal to even develop a compliance plan, the group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth has pledged to create its own.

“They are turning their backs, again, on our opportunity and Kentucky’s future,” the group wrote on the website for the project, Empower Kentucky. “If the politicians won’t do it, it’s up to us.”