Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

“MVP” is not a most valued project

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

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

Tina Badger

Tina Badger

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

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

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

Rally in Blacksburg against the MVP

Rally in Blacksburg against the MVP

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

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

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

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

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

Digging Under the Surface: West Virginia’s Fracking Boom

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

By Kimber Ray

When West Virginia landowners agreed to sever the right to use their land from their rights to the minerals buried beneath the surface, they never imagined the sweeping changes this could impose on the landscape of their communities.

A gas drilling rig was built on David Wentz's land in Doddridge County, W. Va., without his permission, a legal phenomenon that is increasingly widespread in areas such as the Marcellus shale region. Photo by Diane Pitcock, <a href=

wvhostfarms.org” width=”300″ height=”225″ class=”size-medium wp-image-61746″ /> A gas drilling rig was built on David Wentz’s land in Doddridge County, W. Va., without his permission, a legal phenomenon that is increasingly widespread in areas such as the Marcellus shale region. Photo by Diane Pitcock, wvhostfarms.org

This separation of land and mineral rights, known as a “split estate,” is permitted throughout the United States, but the prevalence of such contracts widely varies. Many of these agreements were negotiated while drilling rigs were still powered by horses or steam.

“[Drilling operators] take old leases — I’ve seen them from 1890, 1906 — and the wording in it will say ‘For as long as the well is in production, this lease maintains force,’ and that they can come back to drill additional wells,” explains Diane Pitcock, a local resident who moved to Doddridge County, W.Va. in 2005.

State laws governing whether homebuyers must be made aware of split estates are rare since, until recently, it was generally not considered an important issue.

Yet today, previously quiet, rural communities across West Virginia have watched concrete well pads come to dominate ridgetops above once-secluded homes. Long convoys of heavy trucks and trailers pulverize county roads. Networks of pipelines cut through forested lands to carry billions of cubic feet of Marcellus shale gas to neighboring markets each day.

Under Pressure

RELATED STORIES

Of the active Marcellus states — including West Virginia, eastern Ohio, and Pennsylvania — only West Virginia requires landowner compensation for surface damages, but companies are given broad freedom to determine what that payment should be. Mineral rights holders are entitled to “reasonable access” to their resources, a claim that often trumps the rights of homeowners. None of these states require compensation for subsequent air and water pollution, however, and companies have historically denied responsibility.

After witnessing the destructive impact of split estates on some of her neighbors, Pitcock decided to forgo her planned retirement and, four years ago, she founded the grassroots network West Virginia Host Farms. The program invites concerned landowners to help promote increased research and reporting on Marcellus shale drilling in West Virginia which, according to Pitcock, started to occur more intensively two years ago.

Beth Crowder and David Wentz are among many landowners who experienced this first-hand at their 300-acre property in Doddridge County, W. Va., which is known as a “sweet spot” of the recent Marcellus shale gas boom.

When the gas company announced that 37 acres of the Crowder and Wentz property had been sited for a Marcellus shale well pad, the company did not need their permission because neither of the two owns their land’s mineral rights.

“The first opening salvo you’ll get is somebody contacting you about a surveyor,” explains Crowder. “Maybe they’ll come to your property soon, or maybe never.”

Bucking Convention

Drilling and hydraulic fracturing are nothing new in West Virginia, but the process has long been dominated by vertical, or conventional, wells that tap into easily accessed pockets of oil and natural gas. More than 59,000 such wells are scattered across West Virginia today, according to the nonprofit FracTracker Alliance. Production from these conventional reservoirs peaked by 1920 for most of Appalachia.

Yet geologists had long known of the production potential from more hard-to-reach reservoirs such as shale gas. The two drilling techniques that would come to be known as fracking — hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling — were both developed in West Virginia decades before the first Marcellus shale gas well was drilled. But fracking remained largely unheard of until 2004, when improved computer technology and high natural gas prices set the shale boom in motion.

The large number of trucks needed to support drilling operations results n road damage and frequent accidents. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Host Farms, wvhostfarms.org

The large number of trucks needed to support drilling operations results n road damage and frequent accidents. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Host Farms, wvhostfarms.org

Pitcock recalls that, when fracking first rose to prominence, many landowners did not understand the term conventional “because that was the only type of well.” By February 2014, there were as many as 3,696 unconventional wells, and shale production accounted for more than 80 percent of all natural gas produced in the state.

Approximately 40 percent of West Virginia’s Marcellus shale gas wells have been constructed on private property, and of those, nearly 70 percent are split estates, according to a 2013 study by Alan Collins of West Virginia University.

His research also found that those residents with split estates are more likely to report problems such as polluted water and land and surface damage. His report did not indicate whether this is because companies actually cause more damage on split estates, or because surface owners with nothing to gain from mineral development on their land are more concerned about potential impacts.

What is clear is that, because mineral rights are often owned by out-of-state individuals or, according to Pitcock, even the gas companies themselves, many surface owners are left in the dark about long-term plans for their property.

Even after the well is finished, workers may come up to several times a day for maintenance, and wells may be fracked up to 12 more times in subsequent years. News that wells might remain in production for the next 30 to 50 years can be numbing for landowners.

“I tend to feel like I’d like to think about it later, and then it won’t seem so bad,” says Crowder. “But then you come home and it’s absolutely as bad as your worst fears.”

Who Owns the Land?

When Crowder and Wentz moved to West Virginia in 1977, they already knew the mineral rights had been separated from their land decades ago. But like many who bought property before the Marcellus gas boom, they never imagined such an extensive operation could be placed on their property.

The two built a log cabin home and, in 1981, their son Nathaniel was born. Wentz learned to work as a woodturner and Crowder, who paints pastel portraits and landscapes, won awards for her work, and even has some pieces displayed in the state’s permanent collections.

The minimum required distance between gas wells and homes allows for construction at close quarters with neighboring residents. Courtesy of Terry Wild Stock Photography.

The minimum required distance between gas wells and homes allows for construction at close quarters with neighboring residents. Courtesy of Terry Wild Stock Photography.

“We felt at the time that we were going to make our own life out of the mainstream, and raise a child in a rural environment,” Wentz says. “It was quiet and peaceful and we got to love it, but now it’s all torn up and we’re in the middle of an industrial zone. And at my age, you can’t really start over again.”

Before the well pad arrived, Crowder and Wentz divorced and agreed to split the property. The majority of the land taken by gas company EQT Corporation belongs to Wentz, but Crowder has also been affected by the impact of noise, traffic and air pollution, and the fear that their water has been contaminated.

Now, even on a calm day, a waft of natural gas is carried on the breeze to their homes and a 16-foot-wide gravel access road cuts through the woods. Lining both sides of the road are massive piles of trees where the company clear-cut a 45-foot right-of-way. In West Virginia, property owners are entitled to receive “reasonable damages” from the company, but Crowder and Wentz decided not to sign anything without a sense of what those damages would be.

“[The drilling companies] want you to sign ahead of time so they can tell you what they expect the damage will be and give you a dollar offer, take it or leave it,” explains Pitcock. “The problem with [trying to] negotiate is when they’ve taken out 20 more acres than they said they would, or completely bulldozed your orchard, or caused erosion problems and flooded out your vegetable garden, you obviously have more damages than what they predicted and already compensated you for, so it’s up to you as the landowners to sue them.”

Living with Fracking

For six months while the wells were being constructed, a noisy din hovered over Wentz and Crowder’s property around the clock. A towering drill rig operated nonstop to bore down more than 7,000 feet. Accompanying lights illuminated the surrounding area like a stadium, obscuring the night sky.

Today, drilling on the multi-acre well pad is complete, but nine separate wells and their accompanying condensate tanks remain. These special tanks heat the extracted gas in order to separate it from water and other liquids; although the process is comparatively quiet, the tanks require occasional releases of pressure. Carcinogenic vapors such as benzene, toulene and xylenes are emitted, and these heavy gases may accumulate in low-lying valleys rather than floating away.

All of this equipment, along with an average of 4 million gallons of water needed to frack each well, was hauled in by heavy diesel trucks and tractor trailers that precariously climbed up and down the mountainside access road built just above Wentz’s house. According to Pitcock, many of the truck drivers are workers from flat states such as Texas and Oklahoma, and they have gained notoriety for their inability to navigate the state’s winding, rural roads.

“There was a time we were averaging about 1-2 major accidents a week — that we knew of!” says Pitcock. “The first thing they’ll do when they run their tanker off into a ditch, is they’ll call the tow truck company that they deal with, and they’ll haul it away and it never gets reported.” Pitcock and local volunteers are watching, however, and they work to hold the industry accountable by photographing accidents and sharing information online.

A Watery Rebuke

Most landowners in Doddridge County have long relied on private wells for drinking water but, since drilling began several years ago, some residents have switched to using large plastic tanks called water buffaloes.

“They keep saying with people’s water wells that nobody can prove they’ve been contaminated by fracking, well all you have to do is drive around and anytime you see one of these water buffaloes, it means a person’s water well has been compromised,” says county resident Jonette Kirkwood, who has noted a rise in the number of houses with these 1,200-gallon white tanks in their yard. “The gas companies don’t just stick those in someone’s yard.”

West Virginia requires gas companies to provide an alternative water source in response to nearby contamination complaints, but this is not considered a legal admission of guilt. Legal condemnation would require a historical series of water quality tests, which companies are not obliged to provide. One local resident, who asked not to be named, notes that such tests can be prohibitively expensive for residents to obtain on their own. “You need baseline testing and you need to prove a change in your water; one test only captures water at that point in time.”

Wentz has had the property’s water tested twice so far, but he does not have baseline tests from before the company arrived. Pitcock remembers when Wentz had a one-acre frackwater pond near the well on his property — used to store the flowback of toxic wastewater that returns to the surface after a well is fracked — surrounded by a tall chain link fence.

“There was a sign here that said ‘Impaired Water. No Swimming,’” She laughs, then adds, “That stuff evaporates in the air with all those toxic chemicals. We have cases where they’d leave a pond like that for 2-3 years to evaporate what they didn’t pump out, and then if they pay the landowner an extra $20,000, he’ll let them just bury it there and cover it up.”

Unsettled Damages

Some West Virginia residents living near gas drilling operations have received 1,200-gallon water tanks, like the one pictured above, from those companies after water quality test revealed contamination. Photo by Molly Moore.

Some West Virginia residents living near gas drilling operations have received 1,200-gallon water tanks, like the one pictured above, from those companies after water quality test revealed contamination. Photo by Molly Moore.

Although EQT has essentially taken over a portion of Wentz’s land for the next 20 to 50 years, as far as auditors are concerned, those 37 acres still belong to him, and he is required to pay taxes on this land that he will likely never be able to make use of again.

EQT has finished drilling and fracking the well for now, but the daily rounds of truck traffic driving up to the well pad, the emissions from the drilling equipment, and the whistles from pressure valves at the well pad will not end.

“Drilling was very noisy and all, but it had a beginning and end. The traffic around David’s property will not end,” says Crowder. “Imagine if you did want to sell, especially to a younger family? You really feel like the place is ruined.”

Some West Virginians have responded by filing lawsuits for nuisance and negligence related to natural gas drilling, including environmental impacts, traffic and blocking public road access. Their complaints are directed at EQT and other natural gas companies including Antero Resources and Hall Drilling.

Even residents who owned their mineral rights and accepted payments to have a Marcellus well or pipeline built on their property have found that they agreed to more than they realized. “None of them ever had any idea that this was not the usual drilling,” says Pitcock. “They were in for something brand new, unconventional and far more devastating.”

“These people are saying ‘Why did I sign this? They told me they were only going to clear for a 16-inch pipeline and I came home and they took the whole side of my mountain and cleared all the trees,’” adds Pitcock. “Well, it’s too late when they’ve signed [the lease], you’ve got to read the small print.”

Feelings about what will happen to Doddridge County are mixed. For some, it’s time to leave; the Marcellus shale wells, and all the problems they have brought to the community, are here to stay. Others say it is important not to succumb to resignation.

“Who’s going to want to come here to live?” asks Kirkwood. “We only have I think 8,000 [residents] in the whole county and 800 in the town. And if people can’t sell their homes because their water’s no good, or because somebody’s put a great big well pad right in their land, what’s going to happen over the next 20, 30 years with the people here?”

Kirkwood’s adult children have suggested that she “Get out now while you can still get some value out of the house.” But the value of her home is less important to Kirkwood than the value of her community, where folks she knows stop by to chat or invite her to lunch as she tends her garden. “I’d rather just stay here where I belong,” she says.

State Legislative Updates

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

While lawmakers in Washington, D.C., might get most of the spotlight, the legislators in state capitols across the region are busy making — and blocking — laws that affect Appalachia’s land, air, water and people. Here’s the latest updates from state legislatures around the region.

Kentucky

Session convened Jan. 6, adjourned March 24

Perhaps the most publicized and contentious environmental law to pass during the Bluegrass State’s 30-day legislative session was an update to existing oil and gas drilling rules that addresses some of the challenges posed by fracking.

A new energy law creates an Environmental Regulation Task Force to review how electricity reliability in the state is affected by federal environmental regulations. The task force, which environmental groups say is skewed toward industry, will produce a report by December 2015.

Gov. Beshear also signed a bill that helps local governments finance water and energy efficiency projects. A committee hearing on the Clean Energy Opportunity Act, which would require Kentucky utilities to meet a certain portion of electricity demand through energy efficiency and renewables, was cancelled due to a March snowstorm, but a hearing during the legislative interim is expected.

It will be more difficult for timber companies designated as “bad actors” to operate in the state without paying civil penalties and remediating logging sites under another new law. And new rules regarding how local governments can handle stray horses and cattle provide guidelines for identifying owners and for gelding, or sterilizing, male animals if an owner is not found. — By Molly Moore

North Carolina

Session convened Jan. 14, adjourns early July

Since the legislative session began in January, the rules regulating oil and gas drilling in North Carolina went into effect and the state’s long-standing moratorium on fracking was lifted. A bipartisan bill introduced to “disapprove” the rules was left to expire in March.

The first law passed this session clarifies technical issues with the Coal Ash Management Act passed last September and removes a previous legal requirement that the state develop rules to limit air pollution from fracking operations. A three-judge panel ruled in favor of Governor McCrory, who claims that the Coal Ash Management Commission is unconstitutional because there are more legislative appointments than executive. The ruling means that progress cleaning up coal ash throughout the state will stall. It also affects the commission that wrote the fracking rules, which could impact the validity of the drilling regulations.

The bipartisan Energy Freedom Bill, which would open up the state to third-party sales for solar projects, was introduced in March. The bill is supported by environmental groups, large businesses and the military, but strongly opposed by Duke Energy, which currently has a monopoly on the state’s power production.

Though polls show that North Carolinians overwhelmingly support renewable energy options, Gov. McCrory continues to push for opening the coast to offshore oil drilling, which is a possibility now that President Obama is allowing states to pursue offshore drilling in the Atlantic. — By Sarah Kellogg

Tennessee

Session convened Jan. 13, adjourns late April

At the end of March, a bill to transfer oversight of surface mining in Tennessee from federal to state regulators had passed through a state Senate committee and state House subcommittee. The Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee would end the federal Office of Surface Mining’s 31-year term as the regulatory agency charged with ensuring that coal mining operations in the state abide by surface mining and mined-land reclamation laws. That responsibility would pass to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. In 1984, the federal agency assumed oversight of surface mining in Tennessee due to the state’s poor enforcement of environmental laws.

The Tennessee Mining Association says a return to state regulation will lead to faster approval of mining permits. Opponents of the bill argue that fees levied on coal companies to pay for the costs of administering the regulatory program would be insufficient, and leave the state bearing an added cost.

A bill to provide a general permit for noncommercial gold mining appears idle for the year; opponents were concerned the bill could damage water quality and trout populations in the Cherokee National Forest. And a bill to help finance renewable energy and energy efficiency was moving through legislative committees at press time. — By Molly Moore

Virginia

Session convened Jan. 14, adjourned Feb. 27

In the 2015 legislative session, Virginia electric utilities lobbied for what they described as a partial rate freeze, though consumer advocates said that average electric bills could still increase and the legislation would make it more difficult for regulators to catch utility over-earnings or require refunds. But amendments on the same bill declared solar energy development and energy efficiency programs as in the public interest, and the legislation passed.

Another bill would have joined Virginia into a regional network of states limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Through pollution allowance auctions, this initiative would raise funds for efforts such as coastal adaptation to sea level rise and renewable energy workforce training. The bill did not receive a vote, but this concept will likely be reintroduced next year.

Two new laws that passed will increase the size of nonresidential solar installations that can sell power back to the grid and encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency for multi-family and commercial buildings.

Meanwhile, Gov. McAuliffe reiterated his strong support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, one of three proposed pipelines that would, if built, carry fracked gas across ecologically sensitive areas. A bipartisan bill would have prevented interstate companies from entering and surveying private property without the written consent of the owner, but that legislation failed to pass, as did an attempt to make public service corporations using eminent domain subject to the Freedom of Information Act. — By Hannah Wiegard

West Virginia

Session convened Jan. 14, adjourned March 14

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin received criticism from mine-safety and environmental groups for signing the Coal Jobs Safety Act, a law that United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said “marks the first time in West Virginia history that our state has officially reduced safety standards for coal miners.” The legislation also prevents citizens from suing coal companies for violating Clean Water Act standards if those standards were not specified in the state mine permit, along with several other industry-supported changes to environmental rules.

The state also lowered the number of aboveground chemical storage tanks that need to comply with safety regulations by roughly 75 percent — the storage tank rules passed in the wake of the 2014 Elk River chemical spill. The legislature did agree to strengthen water quality standards for a 72-mile stretch of the Kanawha River so that it can be used as a backup drinking water source for the now-notorious Elk River intake.

A bill that would have allowed “forced pooling” for horizontal oil and gas wells narrowly failed. Forced pooling, which is currently allowed for vertical wells in the state, requires all mineral owners to lease their land for drilling if a certain percentage of other mineral owners in an drilling tract agree.

Two bills intended to expand the scope of agricultural cooperatives and make it easier for growers to sell at farmer’s markets also passed. — By Molly Moore

WV to Review Research on Mining Health Impacts

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

By Kimber Ray

West Virginia’s Bureau of Public Health announced in March that the agency will begin working with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate existing research that links surface coal mining and poor health.

The announcement came from the health agency’s commissioner Dr. Rahul Gupta one week after Randy Huffman, secretary of the DEP, also asserted that such studies should be examined. Many citizen and environmental groups have previously expressed frustration with the state’s failure to acknowledge the significance of this research.

Currently under dispute are a series of studies co-authored by Dr. Michael Hendryx, a professor at West Virginia University from 2006 to 2013. The coal industry has previously challenged efforts to submit his findings as evidence of the potential impacts of new surface mining permits.

Gupta plans to partner with federal agencies to conduct the research review. No timeline has yet been proposed for the project.

WV Coal Lab Penalty Upheld

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

The West Virginia Environmental Quality Board upheld a decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection to revoke the certification of Appalachian Laboratories Inc., where employees routinely conspired to violate the federal Clean Water Act.

The Beckley-based water-testing lab had previously appealed the revocation of its state certificate to conduct water testing services for coal companies and other industrial customers, arguing the actions of one employee should not disrupt its entire business. But during the Feb. 25 sentencing hearing of lab employee John Shelton — who will spend 21 months in prison for falsifying water samples — a U.S. judge said, “essentially everyone at the company… participated in some way in this conspiracy.”

Former Freedom Executives Indicted for Elk River Chemical Spill

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Kimber Ray

Federal prosecutors in December charged the now-bankrupt Freedom Industries and six former employees for criminal violations of the Clean Water Act in relatation to the January 2014 chemical spill that contaminated the water of more than 300,000 West Virginia residents.

The FBI released supporting documents showing that at least a decade before the spill, Freedom was warned of problems at the Elk River site such as critical deficiencies with the tank and containment wall that allowed chemicals to seep into the river. The agency also reports that company expenditures were almost exclusively devoted to projects that would increase revenue, rather than compliance with environmental regulations.

Former Freedom Industries President Gary Southern faces additional fraud charges related to the company’s bankruptcy filing the month of the spill. According to these charges, Southern, a company executive since 2009, falsely stated under oath to have assumed leadership with the company only days before the spill in order to avoid blame and protect his assets from lawsuits.

In response to the spill, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill to create the nation’s first requirement for inspection of aboveground storage tanks, according to National Geographic. As of mid-January, inspection certifications required for approximately 20,000 of the state’s more than 47,000 aboveground tanks were not submitted by the Jan. 1 deadline and, of those submitted, nearly 1,100 did not meet new safety requirements.

Industry lobby groups have tried to weaken the new chemical safety bill, in one instance proposing changes that would exclude thousand of tanks near drinking water sources from new inspection and safety standards.

Such changes could provide amnesty to Lexycon, a company created by former Freedom executives three months after the spill. The new company has already been cited for charges such as improper storage of MCHM — the chemical associated with the notorious spill — and releasing chemicals into waterways without a permit. No fines have been issued.

WV Repeals Changes to Climate Science Standards

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Chris Robey

Following a heated public rebuke, the West Virginia Board of Education reversed its decision to alter newly proposed national K-12 science education standards. The board’s alterations would have required West Virginia teachers to frame human-caused climate change as a debate rather than an accepted body of evidence.

Teachers and environmental groups denounced the alterations as an attempt to undermine peer-reviewed evidence of climate change.

The newly restored standards will be open for public comment until mid-February. In March, the board will vote on final standards for the 2016-17 school year. If adopted, the standards will mark the first time West Virginia students are required to study evidence supporting human-caused climate change.

The reversal comes just days after the conservation group, Friends of the Blackwater, released a report highlighting rising temperatures in the state’s Allegheny Highlands region. View the report, titled “On the Chopping Block,” at alleghenyclimate.org

Alpha Agrees to Water Pollution Settlement

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - posted by molly

Alpha Natural Resources agreed to a settlement in a 2012 lawsuit, brought by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, regarding high levels of conductivity found in streams at two of its mountaintop removal mining complexes in West Virginia.

The settlement includes no monetary penalties but would require Alpha to reduce pollution so that the streams either meet stricter requirements than set by state regulators or comply with a measure of conductivity designed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

West Virginia Legislative Maneuvers Disregard Water Quality

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - posted by molly

The West Virginia legislature has introduced two new bills that would loosen coal mining rules. If passed, the legislation would undermine the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s water quality standards for coal mining permits, resulting in far-reaching impacts on the state’s waterways.

Under the bills, mining companies would be shielded from many citizen lawsuits regarding water quality, including litigation based on selenium violations. These types of lawsuits have been successful in recent years.

West Virginia Repeals “Alternative” Energy Law

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - posted by molly

By Brian Sewell

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill to repeal the state’s Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, a law ostensibly aimed at promoting adoption of renewable sources.

In the opening days of the 2015 legislative session, West Virginia legislators moved quickly to dismantle the standard, arguing that they were standing up for the state’s weakened coal industry by putting clean energy on the chopping block. But the law has had a negligible effect since it was passed in 2009. A broad interpretation of what constitutes “alternative” energy under the law has allowed West Virginia’s largest utilities to easily meet the law’s requirements by relying on coal and natural gas without adding new solar or wind capacity.

Even though the West Virginia Coal Association helped craft the standard, it now supports repeal, citing regulatory and legal pressure on the coal industry.

Clean energy advocates reacted with indifference, since the doomed law did little to expand renewable generation, but they say there is a silver lining: lawmakers approved an amendment to the bill that allows West Virginians who have solar panels to continue receiving credit for the excess electricity they generate and put back into the grid.

Editor’s note: The online text of this article is longer than the print version.