Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Appalachian legislators give POWER+ the cold shoulder

Friday, June 26th, 2015 - posted by Adam

Virginia’s coal-bearing counties would directly benefit from the adoption of the POWER+ plan, a proposal in the Obama administration’s 2016 budget that would direct more than a billion dollars to Central Appalachia.

But the U.S. House budget cuts Virginia entirely out of the forward-thinking Abandoned Mined Lands funding reforms that were spelled out in the POWER+ Plan. That component of the plan would send $30 million directly to the Virginia coalfields for economic development and put laid-off miners back to work cleaning up the messes left by coal companies.

Last week, the U.S. Senate appropriations committee passed a budget bill the leaves out any mention of POWER+.

For more background, we recommend this piece by Naveena Sadasivam for InsideClimate News, which details the curious quiet around POWER+ and how the plan has been pulled into the partisan bickering that’s embroiled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and the 2016 budget process as a whole.

Under the federal Abandoned Mine Lands program, sites that pose a threat to safety are prioritized over sites that offer a potential economic benefit if cleaned up. While this program has reduced potential hazards in the coal-mining regions of Appalachia and the U.S., it has done little to positively impact local economies.

The POWER+ Plan, however, calls for funds to be used for projects that not only improve the environment and reduce hazards, but also create an economic benefit for local economies.

There’s still time for both House and Senate to include the meaningful funding proposals outlined in POWER+. But in order for that to happen we need to make sure that Virginia’s U.S. Senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, hear the clear message from you to make sure Appalachia gets this much needed funding!

Virginians: Please contact your senators now to make sure they support a budget that includes a path forward for the commonwealth and all of Appalachia.

On the Front Lines

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion
Inman Park was built by local residents and “never cost the town a penny,” says Ben Hooper of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Photo by Erin Savage

Inman Park was built by local residents and “never cost the town a penny,” says Ben Hooper of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Photo by Erin Savage

When mountaintop removal threatened to surround the tiny town of Inman, Va., residents pushed back

By Molly Moore

At the top of Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky, Highway 160 crosses into Virginia and winds between Looney Ridge and Ison Rock Ridge. When it reaches a narrow valley, the road follows Looney Creek through the quiet mountain community of Inman, Va.

Inman consists of a tidy park, a well-kept Baptist chapel, several brick public housing apartments, and a collection of about 50 modest homes. A forested slope rises steeply on each side of the narrow valley.

Yet behind this “beauty strip” sprawls a 3,000-acre mountaintop removal coal mine that runs the length of Inman and beyond, carving the top off of Black Mountain.

“Strip mining was controversial in the ‘70s here, but it was in no way as destructive as taking the entire top off of mountains,” says Ben Hooper, president of the community organization Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. He was born in an Inman coal camp house — the community was owned by a coal company until 1976. When he was a child, Looney Creek was still full of fish. Kids would gather minnows to sell as bait to the coal miners traveling to and from the mines. But there are no fish now, and the creek is on the federal list of impaired waterways.

The onset of mountaintop removal mining on Looney Ridge in the early 2000s changed life in Inman. Blasting damaged homes and shook pictures off the walls, and toxic dust from the mining operations coated cars and buildings. And then, on an August night in 2004, mine operators widening an access road without a permit dislodged a half-ton boulder that crashed 649 feet down the mountainside and into the home of three-year-old Jeremy Davidson, killing him in his sleep before stopping at the base of his brother’s bed.

The tragedy rallied opponents of mountaintop removal, and spurred the formation of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, based in the nearby town of Appalachia, Va.

Ben Hooper of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Photo by Erin Savage

Ben Hooper of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Photo by Erin Savage

In 2007, A&G Coal Corp., which owns the Looney Ridge operation, applied for a permit to mine 1,230 acres on Ison Rock Ridge, located on the other side of Inman. The mine would come as close as 100 yards from the backyards of many Inman residents, and perilously close to four other communities.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards led opposition to the permit, and for eight years community members spoke out against the proposal.

SAMS member Judy Needham lives on the other side of Ison Rock Ridge from Inman, in Andover, a place she describes as “a community where families congregate together.” She and her husband have cousins, siblings, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the surrounding towns. Her great-grandchildren live in the town of Appalachia, at the foot of Ison Rock Ridge. “If [mountaintop removal] continues, they will never know of the mountains,” she says.

For years, Needham participated in community meetings and events opposing the permit. She recalls driving around the area to notify residents of an upcoming rally at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality office, and the successful effort to bring the area’s congressman, Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., to Wise County to show him the proximity of the proposed mine to surrounding communities.

Local activists, with the support of allies from around the region, also visited congressional representatives and federal agencies in Washington, D.C., to talk about their experience with mountaintop removal — the blasting, the dust, the lost landscapes — and voice their opposition to the Ison Rock permit.

“You have to do what’s right, and I feel that the mountains are sacred,” says Needham. “If you look how many times mountains are in the Bible, they’re sacred. They’re refuge, they’re habitat.”

comm-at-risk

A new interactive map shows that, even as Appalachian coal production declines, mountaintop removal coal mining is encroaching on many communities in the region.

She notes that while some area residents are unwilling to speak out against mountaintop removal publicly because they have relatives whose livelihoods are linked to coal, she has received many private words of thanks for her activism. Nobody has ever disturbed the “Save Ison Rock Ridge” sign that has hung on her fence for years, she says with community pride evident in her voice.

The state initially approved the Ison Rock permit in 2010, but A&G Coal ran into trouble for water quality violations and bond issues at some of their existing mine operations, including Looney Ridge, that needed to be resolved before the state would let the Ison Rock Ridge permit move forward.

According to Matt Hepler, an Inman resident who works with SAMS, water quality concerns and poor reclamation of mined lands are commonplace at operations owned by Jim Justice, the West Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate who owns Southern Coal, the parent company of A&G Coal.

“In the past two years [Justice] has amassed countless violations in every single state … West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia,” Hepler says. In 2014, three Justice-owned companies in Tennessee received 39 federal cessation orders for various environmental and road maintenance violations, and a 2014 investigation by NPR and Mine and Safety Health News found that Justice owed more than $2 million in unpaid safety fines.

The 3,000-acre mountaintop removal coal mine on Looney Ridge stops just 300 feet from the yards of Inman residents. Photo by Erin Savage

The 3,000-acre mountaintop removal coal mine on Looney Ridge stops just 300 feet from the yards of Inman residents. Photo by Erin Savage

In Inman and nearby communities, Justice’s poor track record has contributed to the pollution in Looney Creek, and has residents such as Hepler questioning whether the company will properly reclaim Looney Ridge. But that same poor record also helped halt the threat of mining on Ison Rock Ridge.

In 2013, the state of Virginia denied the permit for Ison Rock after A&G Coal failed to address their outstanding issues. Due in part to pressure from local citizens and from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the state made a final decision to deny the permit in March 2015. A&G Coal exhausted its appeal options in April 2015.

“It is such a relief, to know that, for right now, that we’re not going to have to fight this battle,” Needham says. “I don’t think A&G will ever apply [for a permit here] again because of the way the conditions are for coal right now.”

Yet if demand for coal rises, coal companies could apply for new mining permits on Ison Rock Ridge.

“A huge percentage of the land in Wise County is not held by private citizens but actually large landholding companies, and many of them will lease this land out to the coal companies,” says Hepler. “The fight’s never going to be completely over as long as [the outside companies are] owning this land.”

Ben Hooper says the group will stay vigilant. “We’re just not going to let another ridge — and one of the few that we have left — be destroyed like Looney Ridge was,” he says. “The community now would like to look at helping with the recovery on Looney Ridge.”

“Most people here grew up without [a] voice,” Hooper says of the effort to empower local residents “If you spoke against anything that the coal mine wanted to do you could be sat out in the street, you know, in the old coal camps. But even after that they had so much control that you didn’t speak against the coal mines. And it was just letting people know that you really do have a voice.”

He gestures around Inman Park, a welcoming space built by local residents, as an example of the area’s can-do attitude. “We can do good things,” he says, “but we need the opportunity.”

McAuliffe Fast-tracks Efficiency

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

Citing the clean energy sector as a “key strategic growth area” for Virginia’s economy, Governor Terry McAuliffe moved up the state’s goal to reduce retail electricity use by 10 percent from 2022 to 2020. The governor appointed 12 individuals from the public and private sector to his Executive Committee on Energy Efficiency, which is tasked with developing a strategy to meet the accelerated goal. Currently, Virginia ranks thirty-fifth in the nation for overall efficiency policies according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Another challenge facing coal: Cleaning up

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015 - posted by brian
As even some of the largest U.S. coal producers run the risk of caving under their debts, officials that oversee the federal surface mine bonding program are voicing urgent concerns about post-mine reclamation liabilities to state officials.

As even some of the largest U.S. coal producers run the risk of caving under their debts, officials that oversee the federal surface mine bonding program are voicing urgent concerns about companies’ ability to pay for post-mine reclamation.

After bankruptcies, legal fees, fines, plummeting share prices and years without a profit in sight, another aspect of the financial perils U.S. coal companies face is coming into full view.

Recently, regulators worried about the ability of coal companies to pay for post-mine reclamation have begun scrutinizing a practice known as “self-bonding,” which allows a company to insure the cost of restoring the land after mining without putting up collateral, provided it meets certain financial criteria.

Reuters reported last week that Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, is under the microscope and may be violating federal bonding regulations under the 1977 Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act.

Peabody, which reported a $787 million loss in 2014, had roughly $1.38 billion in clean-up liabilities insured by self-bonding at the end of March, according to the report. In fact, as its finances deteriorate, analysts say Peabody is warping the language of the law and pointing to the relative strength of its subsidiaries’ balance sheets to continue meeting self-bonding requirements.

Peabody is not alone. Arch Coal, which Reuters found has also failed the financial test to meet self-bonding requirements, is restructuring its multibillion-dollar debt. The company ended 2014 with $418 million in cleanup liabilities and hasn’t turned a profit since 2011.

On May 29, Alpha Natural Resources received word from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality that it is no longer eligible to self-bond in the state. The company now has less than 90 days to put up $411 million in anticipated mine cleanup costs. The nation’s second-largest producer by sales, Alpha told investors earlier this year that it had $640.5 million in reclamation liabilities at its mines in Appalachia and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

Watching as even some of the largest U.S. coal producers run the risk of caving under their debts, officials that oversee the federal bonding program are voicing urgent concerns to state officials.

In April, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement sent a letter to West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection urging that the state conduct a fuller analysis of future risks — not just rely on historic data — to calculate reclamation costs.

“Given the precarious financial situation” of companies operating in West Virginia, the letter states, regulators should closely examine the risk of failure for sites with markedly more expensive liabilities such as pollution treatment facilities.

From where we’re standing, it’s tough to see how the situation could improve. Taken together, the country’s four largest coal companies — Peabody, Alpha, Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy — have about $2.7 billion in anticipated reclamation costs covered by self bonding. Bloomberg News reported in March that nearly three quarters of Central Appalachian coal is mined at a loss.

As the problem grows, regulators and advocates for reform face their own predicament. Stricter self-bonding standards and enforcement push cash-strapped companies closer to bankruptcy. But inaction could leave taxpayers to pick up the bill if companies with unreclaimed mines eventually crumble.

Learn how mountaintop removal puts Appalachian communities at risk. Read the latest issue of
The Appalachian Voice.

Appalachian communities are still at risk

Friday, May 29th, 2015 - posted by tom

Mapping the encroaching threat from mountaintop removal

communities-at-risk-widget

One thing we at Appalachian Voices particularly pride ourselves on is our ability to work in the realm where technology, hard data and storytelling converge.

Over the years, we’ve applied these skills to develop tools on iLoveMountains.org like What’s My Connection? and The Human Cost of Coal to show in compelling and unmistakable fashion how mountaintop removal coal mining is ransacking Appalachia’s communities and natural heritage.

Last month, we unveiled our latest project, Communities at Risk, an mapping tool revealing how mountaintop removal has been expanding closer to people’s homes in Central Appalachia — even as coal is in decline — and posing increasing threats to residents’ health and the environment.

EXPLORE: The Communities At Risk From Mountaintop Removal Mapping Tool

We used Google Earth Engine, U.S. Geological Survey data, publicly available satellite imagery, mining permit databases and mapping data from SkyTruth to develop the interactive map and identify the 50 communities that are most at risk from mountaintop removal. The resulting map offers the first-ever time-lapse view of the destruction’s encroachment on Appalachian communities.

Behind all the data and coordinates, of course, are real people and communities, and that is what drives our work. The communities most at risk from mountaintop removal suffer higher rates of poverty and are losing population more than twice as fast as nearby rural communities with no mining in the immediate vicinity. The health statistics are equally troubling; a 2011 study found double the cancer rates in counties with mountaintop removal compared to nearby counties without it.

Our goal with Communities at Risk is to ramp up the pressure on the White House to end this practice, which remains the single-most overwhelming environmental threat in the region. In the early days of President Obama’s administration, promises were made that regulating mountaintop removal would be based on science. The science on the dire impacts is definitive, yet the administration has failed to act accordingly.

WATCH: Communities At Risk — End Mountaintop Removal Now

Appalachians are working hard to reinvent their economy and outlast the fall of King Coal. Much of that future rests on protecting the air, the water, and the region’s unparalleled natural beauty.

It’s incumbent on the Obama administration to help revive this region that has powered the nation’s economic ascendancy for generations. As citizens have argued for years, cracking down on the continuing devastation of mountaintop removal is critical to moving Appalachia forward.

For Appalachia,

Tom Cormons

Video Shows Rare View of Mountaintop Removal Mining

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - posted by cat

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

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

View the video here (4:30).

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

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

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

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

###

Residents in Mountain Valley path pipe up at hearing

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 - posted by hannah
The James River Spinymussel crew of Craig County outside the first of two public hearings on the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The James River Spinymussel crew of Craig County outside the first of two public hearings on the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. Siltation from tree clearing and pipeline construction could further threaten the endangered species. Click to enlarge.

Turnout was tremendous at the first of two hearings this week in Virginia, where federal energy regulators are taking public comments on the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Residents of Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke and Franklin counties and nearby areas told their stories and highlighted their environmental concerns on Tuesday night in Elliston in an effort to make sure the impact study process on the project is thorough.

Most commenters shared common themes: that the companies proposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline would not be able to carry out their vision for the 330-mile natural gas pipeline without egregiously damaging the area’s ecological treasures, and that the project is not in local residents’ interest and should not be allowed to proceed.

Citizens voiced a wide range of environmental concerns, many of which relate to issues unaffected by the potential rerouting of the pipeline. Among the risks that can only be prevented in a no-build scenario include:

  • Creek and river siltation from the tree clearing and installation process that threatens populations of James River spinymussel in Craig County. This species was also hard-hit by the Dan River coal ash spill in 2014. A precedent exists for protecting these areas from development based on the potential negative outcome for threatened creatures; in the ‘90s a high-voltage transmission project was undone in part due to the anticipated adverse impact on freshwater mussels.
  • Unique caves in the area, including Pig Hole Cave and Tawney’s Cave, have been used for years by cave diving explorers for recreation and have provided research opportunities for Virginia Tech students. While building is not normally allowed over their mapped passages, the proposed pipeline route lies directly over Pig Hole Cave and would make it inaccessible during construction and possibly permanently unsafe. New species of cave-adapted arthropods and other rare specialized lifeforms have only recently been found to exist there.
  • Numerous area homeowners also spoke about the proximity of their homes to the “centerline” or middle of the up-to-40-yard-wide swath proposed for each of the various possible alternative pipeline routes. Homes, wells, gardens, trees and creeks are all in the path of proposed routes. In the event of a pipeline rupture, if the combustible gas the pipeline would carry were to ignite or explode, some neighborhoods would have no road outlet. Local leaders spoke about those fears, adding that the increase in housing in Montgomery County in the past 20 years makes it difficult to avoid these kind of direct impacts by rerouting.

Several speakers described the sense of looming danger generated by the pipeline proposal, and articulated their feelings about the project in memorable ways: as a tentacle of a symbolic Kraken representing the fossil fuel industry seeking greater profits at the expense of communities; as a wrong-headed distraction from the right of residents’ to their own property; and as a destructive force that perpetuates the exploitation of Appalachian counties threatening what is among the nation’s most valued, biodiverse and scenic environments

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has only scheduled hearings for Virginia in Elliston and Chatham this week. Organizers and local leaders are currently petitioning for an extended comment period beyond the current deadline of June 16.

Click here to submit your comment about the Mountain Valley Pipeline to federal regulators.

UPDATE: FERC will also hold public hearings in Weston, W.Va., on May 12 and Summersville, W.Va., on May 13. Learn more here.

Appalachian communities at growing risk from mountaintop removal

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 - posted by brian
Click through to explore the Communities at Risk tool on iLoveMountains.org

Click through to explore the Communities at Risk tool on iLoveMountains.org

Announcing a new tool to end the destruction of Appalachian mountains and streams

Coal is in the news a lot these days. The market forces and much-needed environmental and health protections cornering the dirty fuel are topics of endless interest as America’s energy landscape shifts toward cleaner sources. And yes, all signs point to coal’s continued decline.

In many ways though, the forces chipping away at coal’s historic dominance are overshadowing another big story — one that Appalachian citizens still need the public and policymakers to hear — about just how much the human and environmental costs of mountaintop removal coal mining persist in Central Appalachia.

That mountaintop removal is an extremely dirty and dangerous way to mine coal has never been better understood. The overwhelming body of evidence is built on a foundation of the countless personal stories found in communities near mines and bolstered by dozens of studies investigating disproportionate health problems in coal-producing counties compared to elsewhere in Appalachia. More recently, advocates have employed technological tools to visualize complex data and add another dimension to arguments against the practice.

Appalachian Voices is committed to both creating a forum for those personal stories and sharing the most up-to-date data available about the ongoing risks mountaintop removal poses to our region’s communities and environment. Today, we’re excited to share a web tool we developed to reveal how mining continues to close in on nearby communities and send a resounding message to President Obama that ending mountaintop removal is a must if we hope to foster economic and environmental health in Appalachia.

Explore Appalachian Communities at Risk from Mountaintop Removal on iLoveMountains.org

A view of the Communities at Risk mapping tool. Click to enlarge.

A view of the Communities at Risk mapping tool. Click to enlarge.

The centerpiece of “Communities at Risk from Mountaintop Removal” is an interactive mapping tool on iLoveMountains.org that allows anyone to explore mountaintop removal’s expansion over the past 30 years.

Created using Google Earth Engine, U.S. Geological Survey data, publicly available satellite imagery, and mapping data and consultation from the nonprofit SkyTruth, the tool gives users greater perspective into the decades-long scourge surface mining has had on the Appalachian landscape and generations of families that live in the region.

The Communities at Risk tool also concentrates on impacts at the community level, where the powerful personal stories that first brought mountaintop removal to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness and agenda for environmental change are found.

Fifty communities spread across Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia are identified by the tool as being the most at risk. By clicking on a community icon on the map, you can see the number of acres classified as active mining within a 1-mile radius of a particular place over time. In some communities, the number has fallen. In others, it has grown dramatically in recent years even as regional coal production has plummeted.

Inman, Va., resident Ben Hooper discusses the long-lasting impacts of mountaintop removal on his community. Click to open video.

Inman, Va., resident Ben Hooper discusses the long-lasting impacts of mountaintop removal on his community. Click to open video.

In the coming months, we’ll take a closer look at a handful of these communities, sharing local perspectives on how the proximity of mountaintop removal has affected local livelihoods. Our first “featured community” is Inman, Va., a small town in Wise County, where residents have successfully battled back a proposed mountaintop removal mine while experiencing the devastating impacts of another that began operating in the early 2000s. You’ll also see stories about featured communities on AppalachianVoices.org and in upcoming issues of The Appalachian Voice newspaper.

Learn about Inman, Va., from local residents Matt Hepler and Ben Hooper

If you want a fuller picture of the data we used to create the mapping tool, check out the companion white paper, which describes the background, methods, results and implications of our initial research.

Over time, we’ll work with impacted citizens in communities near active and proposed mines to expand the use of the tool and update our maps with current, high-resolution satellite imagery we’ll obtain through a partnership with Google’s Skybox for Good project.

Read our white paper for an in-depth look at the ways mountaintop removal continues to put Appalachian communities at risk.

The constant flow of news describing something close to the death of the Appalachian coal industry could leave outside observers with the impression that the problems of mountaintop removal have been resolved by the industry’s impending collapse. That impression, however, is at odds with the personal experience of many Appalachian citizens, the visible impacts of mining in communities across the region and the data that comprises Communities at Risk.

Visit CommunitiesAtRisk.org to explore the mapping tool, learn more about the 50 most at-risk communities and tell President Obama that more must be done to protect Appalachian communities.

New Map Tracks Growing Threat of Mountaintop Removal

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 - posted by cat

Contacts:
Matt Wasson, Program Director, 828-262-1500, matt@appvoices.org
Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator, 828-262-1500, erin@appvoices.org
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

A new interactive map released today shows that mountaintop removal coal mining has been expanding closer to communities in Central Appalachia in recent years, posing increasing threats to human health and the environment even as coal production in the region has declined dramatically. The mapping tool, developed by the nonprofit organization Appalachian Voices, is the first-ever, time-lapse view of the proximity of mountaintop removal mines to communities.

The organization identified 50 Appalachian communities that are most at risk from destructive mining based on the proximity of mining to those communities and the rate at which mining activity has been increasing. Krypton, Ky., Bishop, W.Va., and Roaring Fork, Va. are the top three communities at risk, while the top three counties with the highest number of communities at risk are Pike County, Ky. (seven), Wise County, Va. (six), and Boone County, W.Va. (five).

>> View the interactive map
>> Download the white paper, with tables and methodology

Based on the map, and working with impacted citizens in the coal-bearing region, Appalachian Voices can now identify mining “hot spots” and access on-demand, up-to-date, high-resolution satellite images through a unique partnership with Google Inc.’s Skybox For Good initiative.

The “Communities At Risk” web feature is part of the organization’s ongoing campaign urging President Obama to end mountaintop removal mining before he leaves office. “Contrary to what the coal industry and its allies in Congress claim, federal action to end this atrocity is not a ‘war on coal,’ but rather is at the heart of securing the region’s future,” says Erin Savage, Appalachian Voices Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator.

Other key findings include:

  • Communities where mountaintop removal mine encroachment is increasing suffer higher rates of poverty and are losing population more than twice as fast as nearby rural communities with no mining in the immediate vicinity;
  • Southwest Virginia had a disproportionate concentration of at-risk communities on the list (20%), but accounted for only 8% of Central Appalachia’s surface mine coal production in 2014; and
  • West Virginia, where 60% of all Central Appalachian surface mine coal production occurred in 11 counties in 2014, accounted for nearly half of the 50 at-risk communities.

Appalachian Voices developed the map and identified the 50 communities most at risk using Google Earth Engine, U.S. Geological Survey data, publicly available satellite imagery, mining permit databases, and mapping data and consultation from Skytruth. Much of the expanding surface mining is for metallurgical coal used to make steel, as opposed to thermal coal used in power plants. Metallurgical coal is usually exported overseas, says Matt Wasson, Appalachian Voices Program Director who developed the methodology for the web tool.

“The human suffering and environmental destruction from mountaintop removal mining won’t just disappear as America’s aging power plants retire,” he says. “It’s incumbent on the Obama administration to help revive this region that has powered the nation’s economic ascendancy for generations, starting with ending mountaintop removal mining.”

For the campaign launch, Appalachian Voices focused on one of the 50 communities—Inman, Va., which ranks #22 on the list. The 3,000-acre Looney Ridge mountaintop removal mine has loomed over Inman for more than a decade. The area’s population has declined 9% from 1990 to 2010, while surrounding Wise County grew by 2.4%, and the state grew 14.7%. The poverty rate in the Inman area jumped from 17.3% in 2000 to almost 28% in 2013.

“Strip mining was controversial in the ‘70s here, but it was in no way as destructive as taking the entire top off of mountains,” says Ben Hooper, a long-time resident of Inman. “There’s no way you can take the entire top off the mountain and not destroy a lot of things. There was safe water to drink at one point off one of the mountains—but there’s no safe water now.”

>> Watch the video with Ben Hooper; contact Cat McCue to arrange an interview with him.

The mapping tool was developed by Appalachian Voices for iLoveMountains.org on behalf of The Alliance for Appalachia.

###

Appalachian Voices is an award-winning nonprofit organization that is cultivating a citizen movement across Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky to shift our region from harmful, polluting energy practices — like mountaintop removal coal mining and fracking — to cleaner, more just and sustainable energy sources. Through community organizing, innovative communications tools and advocacy at the highest levels of power, we bring people together to protect our beloved mountains and rivers, our forests and farmland and our children’s future. Join the movement today at AppalachianVoices.org.

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+.