Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Teri Crawford Brown- Conservation Starts at Home

Friday, August 12th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Otto Solberg

Photo by Paul David Crawford

Photo by Paul David Crawford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teri blogs about her thoughts and minimalist church renovation at

Norton’s Walk Along the River

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

Virginians March for Climate Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing and other shorts

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing

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

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

— Eliza Laubach

Mine Drainage Emits Higher Level of Carbon Dioxide

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

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

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

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

— Otto Solberg

New Pollution Controls for Virginia Natural Gas Plant

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

— Hannah Petersen

$30 Million for Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Projects

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

— Brian Sewell

Pipeline Would Cross Hazardous Landscape

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

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

— Elizabeth E. Payne

Renewable Energy Growing

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

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

— Otto Solberg

Coal Production Drops

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

— Hannah Petersen

Gov. McAuliffe Forms Working Group to Cut Carbon Emissions

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

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

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

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

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

— Brian Sewell

Norton’s walk along the river

Monday, August 8th, 2016 - posted by interns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I had a hammer…

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

Finding collective power at the “March on the Mansion”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New SWVa project shows top spots for turning old coal mines into economic drivers

Monday, June 20th, 2016 - posted by cat

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.45.15 PM

Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Coordinator
(o) 276-679 1691, (m) 804-240-4372,

Norton, VA — Appalachian Voices today released preliminary findings in an ongoing review of abandoned coal mine lands in Southwest Virginia to identify the best potential sites for reclamation and redevelopment for positive economic benefit for the region.

The nonprofit organization partnered with two expert consulting firms, Coal Mining Engineering Services and Downstream Strategies, to design and implement the analysis of 500 sites officially designated as “abandoned mine lands” (AML) by federal and state regulators. The initial findings released today narrow down the field of eligible sites to 21, scattered across seven counties in Southwest Virginia.

“This project brings a new way of thinking to the old problem of what to do with our region’s abandoned mine lands,” says Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Coordinator with Appalachian Voices. “We’re using this study to connect existing ideas from communities across the area with new funding sources to create new economic activity while improving the environment.”

Among the potential projects the joint team is considering for the sites are solar farms, community parks, forestry operations and permaculture farms with closed-loop systems that integrate waste back into improving the soil for growing organic crops.

The team evaluated the hundreds of AML sites based on a variety of criteria. It reached out to local planners to find sites that are already earmarked for some level of redevelopment activity. The team also assessed sites for proximity to population centers, transportation, and utilities infrastructure and markets. Finally, the team evaluated sites based on potential eligibility specifically for funding from the RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation introduced this year by Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and co-sponsored by Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith, along with several other Appalachian lawmakers. The bill would expedite expenditure of $1 billion from the existing Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which would be in addition to the fund’s annual allotment already coming to Southwest Virginia for mine reclamation.

The next step of the analysis will be a deeper assessment of each of the sites for its suitability for a variety of economic activities such as recreation and parks, renewable energy production, agroforestry, agriculture, and business or industrial park development.

The study was launched earlier this year, and the team expects to complete the final report this fall, which will be distributed to local, regional, state and federal entities to help further the growing conversation around economic diversification in Southwest Virginia.


The Miracle of Harvest

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

Meadowview Restaurant and Farm Focuses on Local Foods and Community

By Eric J. Wallace

After co-authoring 2007’s wildly successful New York Times best-seller, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle with his wife, Barbara Kingsolver, Steven Hopp got an idea: What if he used his portion of the profits to open a farm-to-table restaurant?

However, for many, Hopp’s 2008 decision to found Harvest Table Restaurant in the tiny southwest Virginia town of Meadowview seemed ludicrous. The area’s population totaled 967 and had a per-capita income of around $15,700.

‘Why would anyone open a gourmet seasonal restaurant here?’ scoffed Hopp’s critics. ‘It will have no clientele. The idea is naive. Foolhardy. And doomed.’

But Hopp thought differently. By considering the venture in terms of traditional, profit-motivated business models, detractors all but missed the point. Indeed, Hopp believed the true riddle was how to maximize a business’s positive impact on its community.

Turning a ‘Miracle’ into Reality

For Hopp, a professor of environmental science at Emory and Henry University, the notion seemed a logical outgrowth of Miracle. After all, the book had, at its heart, been about the Hopp-Kingsolver family’s year-long journey to eat and drink as locally sourced and seasonally specific as possible. As co-authors, while Kingsolver dramatized their day-to-day adventures, Hopp placed them in a larger context. Using the family’s individual struggles as a point of departure, Hopp wrote about America’s problematic eating habits.

“We’re having a lot of fun, and we’re healing the earth in the process,” says Steven Hopp, founder of Harvest Table Restaurant. Photo courtesy of

“We’re having a lot of fun, and we’re healing the earth in the process,” says Steven Hopp, founder of Harvest Table Restaurant. Photo courtesy of

Among the socio-environmental issues he took on were the problems of processed foods, genetically modified ingredients, shipping procedures that carry products thousands of miles via fossil fuels, the overuse of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, inhumane factory farming methods, and the disappearance of the family farmer, just to name a few.

“The story about our experiment to eat in-season, locally grown foods became more than just our story,” explains Hopp. “Thousands of folks responded, telling us of their efforts to reclaim a healthier food culture — they found their local farmers’ market, raised chickens and planted gardens. [Miracle] helped inspire individuals, families and communities to be involved in local food movements.”

Considered from such a vantage, opening a restaurant based on principles outlined in Miracle made perfect sense. It was simply the next phase of the project.

“The experiment started when we realized we could do something for [our little] town of Meadowview,” says Hopp. “Clearly we needed jobs. However, we needed jobs that created a deeper sense of community.”

Hopp hypothesized that if you create a business that maximizes local and regional participation, this will in turn bolster the community’s overall well-being.

Present the notion to many accountants and they will laugh in your face, decrying your thinking as, economically speaking, a loser’s bet. And likely they would be right. But in Hopp’s case, with financial backing provided by Miracle, while he wanted the business to be financially viable, he was ultimately chasing a different kind of profit.

“A sustainable and socially responsible business has three cornerstones: Financial, environmental and social,” explains Hopp. “For us, the latter was the most important … We believed if we made the restaurant a model for sustainable principles, it would effect a kind of paradigm shift for the community at large.”

Determined to test the hypothesis, Hopp bought and renovated a big building in the center of Meadowview’s dilapidated, .1-mile strip of a downtown that had once been a booming railway and textile hub. He convinced his long-time friend, protégé and farm-to-table mastermind Phillip Newton to man the kitchen, and promptly set to work.

Within a few short months of opening, Hopp and Newton had discovered nearly 50 local farms from which to purchase sustainably raised ingredients. They devised an impressive menu of Virginia-made wines, ciders and beer. Eventually, beyond free-trade coffee, South Carolina-produced rice, North Carolina seafood, organically grown Florida lemons and some spirits, Harvest Table was sourcing 90 percent of its items within a 100-mile radius.

“We quickly got to know our area producers,” says Hopp. “While we couldn’t buy every last heirloom tomato grown in the county, if someone was producing celery in October, we’d buy every last bit of it. It was a learning experience for [everyone].”

It didn’t take long for relationships to form. Growers began phoning Newton before planting the season’s vegetables. Expert foragers would stop in and peddle what they’d found. Farms were upgrading their infrastructure and purchasing additional heritage breed livestock to meet the restaurant’s demand for organic, sustainably raised meats.

In short, the project was working. However, Hopp and Newton weren’t done.

With sky-high culinary ambitions — “We wanted our food to taste as good as anywhere in the U.S.,” says Hopp. “That was one of our major goals.” — there remained specialty ingredients that weren’t getting produced. For farmers with the know-how to pull it off, the labor demands of raising small batches of specialty vegetables, herbs and spices didn’t make economic sense.

Harvest Table’s menu features well-crafted standards like stone-oven pizzas, pasture-raised meats, and vegetarian and vegan offerings. Photo courtesy of

Harvest Table’s menu features well-crafted standards like stone-oven pizzas, pasture-raised meats, and vegetarian and vegan offerings. Photo courtesy of

So in early 2010, Hopp purchased a 4.5 acre tract of property adjacent to his and Kingsolver’s homestead and hired Appalachian State University agro-ecology and sustainable development graduate Samantha Eubanks, charging her with the task of transforming the property into a world-class vegetable farm.

“Bringing on Sam allowed me to focus on the kitchen,” says Newton.

Beyond managing the farm and, as Newton and Hopp call it, ‘growing to the gaps,’ Eubanks took on sourcing duties and became Harvest Table’s insider within the local and regional farming community. In this manner, she was able to avoid growing what other farmers were already producing.

“A lot of my job is working with our suppliers to keep us all on the same page,” says Eubanks. “I coordinate with Phillip to make sure that everyone’s growing their share of what’s needed now and anticipating what’ll be needed in the future.”

Overall, the strategy has worked. Within seven years of opening, the number of partnering farms and artisans has blossomed to nearly 100. Taste-wise, by 2011 the buzz was so audible it attracted a New York Times food writer, who subsequently described the restaurant as a place that would be “an instant hit in a progressive, urban enclave like Brooklyn or Berkeley, California.”

Growing Beyond the Table

Devoted to spreading the gospel of sustainability through participatory education, Hopp began expanding his operations. He and Eubanks tapped into the World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farms network and partnered with Appalachian State to offer farming internships. They reached out to area public school systems, coordinating guided field-trips to the farm, and partnered with the Old Glade Antique Tractor Association, the city of Abingdon and White’s Mill to grow and mill heirloom corn varieties.

Harvest Table Farm gathered wood chips for mulch from state road crews, and collected nitrogen-leaching manure from local cattle and poultry operations to add to the wood chips for compost. And they spearheaded an effort to open a collective canning kitchen accessible to area growers.

As a board member of the Abingdon-based regional nonprofit Appalachian Sustainable Development, Hopp also offered keen insight into the organization’s 2012 Rooted in Appalachia initiative to create an online listing through which farmers could sell produce to regional restaurants.

Most recently, he and Eubanks partnered with the local 4-H club. “Basically we taught the kids how to grow broccoli using sustainable methods,” says Hopp. “We provided them with a template and instruction and then committed to helping them sell their crop.”

Nothing is fresher than a bite picked from the Tasting Garden, which is located along the patio in back of the restaurant and is available to patrons. Photo courtesy of

Nothing is fresher than a bite picked from the Tasting Garden, which is located along the patio in back of the restaurant and is available to patrons. Photo courtesy of

The idea was to show kids that money can be made growing more than hay and cattle.

“They got to sell produce to stores and restaurants, [which] got them excited,” says Hopp. “They could see this was a viable career path.”

The Farmers Guild General Store, a two-story cooperative retail outlet adjacent to Harvest Table, features the work of over 200 local artists and artisans, including hand-carved chess boards, home-spun wools, paintings, photographs, books, hand-blown glass ornaments, soaps, jams, furniture, jewelry, earthenware and myriad other items. All are exquisite, locally produced and definitely for sale.

By combining the storefront with the restaurant, Hopp is able to provide talented local artisans with a sales platform.

With an estimated 40 percent of Harvest Table’s customers streaming in from nearby arts presentations in Abingdon, Trip Advisor recommendations, or articles like this one, the benefits to the community are substantial. And the fact that the restaurant has been named by both Virginia Living and Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine as the state and region’s “greenest” restaurant has certainly helped.

“When someone visits we want them to have a good time and be amazed by the food,” says Hopp. “We want them to access the community experience. Which, I think, is why we have so much repeat business. That’s what keeps them coming back.”

In the end, while Hopp is quick to point out the project is not making anyone rich fast, he says the farm, restaurant and Guild are putting money in the pockets of over 300 individuals and families. The overall result, he asserts, is a net positive for the community.

“When you shop at a big-box store, 90 cents on the dollar leaves the community,” says Hopp. “Here, 85 cents of every dollar is going back into the town. A substantial share of that money comes from non-local sources … In just eight years we’ve put upwards of $1 million back into the local economy.”

Meanwhile, according to Hopp, everyone involved is learning a little something about sustainable agriculture.

“We’re touching tons of people,” he says. “Hundreds and hundreds of farmers have altered their perceptions. Children and diners are learning about environmentally responsible agriculture. We’re having a lot of fun, and we’re healing the earth in the process.”

And all of this has been made possible simply by believing in local foods. Isn’t it amazing what a meal can do?

To find more information, visit

A power play for Virginia’s power plan

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by hannah
Citizens signal their support for clean energy at a recent meeting of the Dept. of Environmental Quality's Clean Power Plan stakeholders group,

Citizens signal their support for clean energy at a recent meeting of the Dept. of Environmental Quality’s Clean Power Plan stakeholders group.

The shift to a clean energy economy in Virginia faces many obstacles – extreme mining, extreme drilling, and apparently extreme legislating. Weeks after the 2016 General Assembly’s regular session adjourned, opponents of clean energy progress attacked state climate policy in an unorthodox way: through the budget of the agency tasked with preparing a state plan to cut carbon pollution.

Those budget provisions will take effect July 1, and that’s unfortunate, but it’s not stopping Appalachian Voices and other organizations and clean energy advocates from continuing to push for a transition to wind, solar and energy efficiency.

Let’s take a step back and see how we got here. But first, a quick primer. In August 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed the historic Clean Power Plan, the first federal rule to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s fleet of coal-fired power plants. Based on years of research and public feedback, the rule establishes a series of deadlines, as well as individualized reduction goals for each state, and provides a framework for states to devise their own plan for how to get there on time. The rule was immediately challenged by the fossil fuel industry and their political allies, and earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily stayed the rule pending further review.

State government: Checks, balances and the occasional blatant overreach

At stake in this past Virginia legislative session, as it was in the 2015 session, was control over the state plan to implement the federal Clean Power Plan., and whether the General Assembly would wrest that authority away from the governor.

Bills mandating that the legislature approve a state plan prepared by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) were introduced and approved, with highly charged rhetoric and dire claims of skyrocketing utility bills used to justify the power grab. Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed these bills, for the time being preserving his administration’s opportunity to produce a strong carbon reduction plan on time.

Meanwhile, an official stakeholders group convened by DEQ began working through many fiendishly technical areas, from the pros and cons of basing standards on emissions rates versus using an overall statewide cap, or mass-based plan, to the thorny socially oriented questions like how the state plan can yield the most benefit for low-income Virginians and what approaches would yield jobs where they are needed most.

But as it turned out, the struggle to uphold administrative authority over the process was not over, and it continued into the spring when a budget amendment (369#1c) was introduced that would ensure that funds for DEQ to plan state compliance with the Clean Power Plan be withheld. The budgetary tactic was unusual, sidestepping the responsibilities that normally rest with each branch of government. The legislature was becoming involved in a matter delegated to the executive, not ordinarily within its purview, by going after the “purse strings.” This break with tradition may be viewed as a symptomatic part of a larger, multi-issue partisan divide.

Amid murky intricacies of the Constitution of Virginia, Governor McAuliffe did not exercise a full veto of the budget amendment, but rather made a line item edit, striking a reference to using funds “for planning” state implementation of the new standards. The prospect of upholding this fix was slim, requiring 51 votes out of 100 members of the House of Delegates, spelling real trouble for the state’s formal planning process, which was on track to produce a draft outline by early summer 2016. As expected, the amendment language prevailed, revoking DEQ funding as of July 1, 2016, for state planning.

While aiding polluters, CPP stop-work order shortchanges Virginia workers and communities

As energy markets continue to shift, our sources for generating electricity need to diversify, and the change is underway. From the proliferation of solar arrays on Virginia homes and small businesses to mid-size and large projects at data centers and universities, examples bear out the proven economics of renewable energy. According to the Energy Foundation, Virginia has seen an increase in jobs in the solar energy business of 157% since 2012, and this is a field that is immune from outsourcing, like home energy efficiency assessment and retrofitting.

The state DEQ is first charged with ensuring adherence to pollution limits in Virginia. However, the scope of its work has extended to consider the policy impacts of how air and water pollution are reduced, from the cost savings or increases to energy customers to the reliability of the electric grid over time. Perhaps no aspect of the issues that DEQ deals with is more deserving of its attention than the environmental justice implications of these rules.

Areas of Virginia that have been burdened by job loss, disproportionately high energy bills relative to household income, and extractive activities that carry environmental risks deserve immediate attention. While these communities should be directly involved in designing a just and beneficial state carbon-reduction plan, political grandstanding may shut down the planning effort altogether. Leaders that operate by rigid, lock-step dedication to polluting industries are clearly missing opportunities to act in the interest of the people they represent.

DEQ may yet be able to carry out work with similar aims to the Clean Power Plan in the absence of the planning funding. The agency intends to meet new rules for the energy sector, as Director Paylor made clear in remarks made during public stakeholder meetings, and Governor McAuliffe has stated support for this approach and will still have a chance to leave a robust legacy in that regard. But there is uncertainty over Virginia’s ability to have a plan by the EPA deadline. If we fail, a federal plan will be imposed, without the same level of public input in Virginia. In that situation, there will be a greater need than ever for citizens to engage with the administration and with our legislators to pursue a clean energy future in the commonwealth.

Where the Clean Power Plan court case stands

Just as a strong majority of Virginians expects government officials to take meaningful action to address carbon pollution, national polls reflect that the Clean Power Plan is popular – even in states that are suing over the plan. And just as there are opponents in Virginia, including elected officials who put politics over people and use red-herring arguments to justify calling off the planning process, there are opponents who have sued over the EPA’s rule.

The legal challenges were filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which would normally hear it before a panel of only three judges.But the process has been changed for this case, likely due to the significance of the issues involved, and it will now be an en banc hearing with at least nine judges presiding. The court will meet September 27, which sounds like a delay from the previous hearing date of June 2, but since the full court might have asked to review the decision, and prolonged the process anyway, this change may actually streamline the case.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, as the planning funding restrictions draw closer, watch for news in Virginia as to how the McAuliffe administration plans to move forward with Clean Power Plan planning.

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