Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

Monumental Momentum

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

Increased advocacy and a push for presidential action create renewed momentum for the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the July 2016 issue of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and is republished here with permission.

By Danielle Taylor

Birthplace of Rivers National Monument advocates Matt Kearns and Adam Swisher journeyed the entire 173 miles of the Elk River by canoe, bike and foot to generate interest among other paddlers for the proposed national monument. Photo by Chad Carpenter / West Virginia Rivers Coalition

Birthplace of Rivers National Monument advocates Matt Kearns and Adam Swisher journeyed the entire 173 miles of the Elk River by canoe, bike and foot to generate interest among other paddlers for the proposed national monument. Photo by Chad Carpenter / West Virginia Rivers Coalition

What will be President Obama’s legacy? The Affordable Care Act? The death of Osama bin Laden? Or perhaps his public lands legacy. President Obama has designated or expanded 27 national monuments and protected more than 550 million acres of public lands and waters, more than any other president.

Unfortunately, only 23 of more than 120 current national monuments are in the East. West Virginia currently has none. However, a group of Mountain State conservation advocates, businesspeople, outdoor recreation enthusiasts and other citizens has organized to secure a federal designation for the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument.

“There are no landscape-scale national monuments in the East,” says David Lillard, special projects manager with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “There’s a need and a worthiness in the East as well.”

Where is the Birthplace of Rivers?

The proposed national monument centers on the existing 47,815-acre Cranberry Wilderness, which lies within the Monongahela National Forest in east-central West Virginia and drains via the Cranberry and Williams Rivers. To encompass the headwaters of the adjacent Cherry, Gauley, Elk, and Greenbrier Rivers, the monument boundaries strategically include approximately 75,000 additional acres, also within the national forest, in two sections along the Monongahela’s northeastern and southern borders.

The naturally diverse area already attracts hikers, mountain bikers, paddlers, anglers, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts. Increased awareness of the area could bring more visitors to the “wild and wonderful” landscape. Protecting the area as a national monument would provide a wide range of benefits for West Virginia, where a West Virginia Rivers Coalition poll showed that 84 percent of voters support the proposal.

Why create a national monument? First, says Lillard, a national monument designation, unlike a national forest, would permanently protect the land from industrial development, a significant step in this fossil fuel-rich state.

Second, this measure would help ensure the purity of the rivers, a critical step given that millions of people downstream depend on them every day for fresh, clean drinking water. Just two and a half years ago, a massive chemical spill into the Elk River polluted more than 300,000 people’s tap water, which highlighted the vital need to protect this resource. Clean headwaters also facilitate positive recreation experiences downstream for fishing and paddling. More than 90 percent of West Virginia’s native trout streams fall within the proposed monument’s borders. And creek boaters flock to the headwaters of these rivers.

The highland forests of the Cranberry Wilderness would retain its high level of protection if the national monument is designated. Photo by Geoff Gallice

The highland forests of the Cranberry Wilderness would retain its high level of protection if the national monument is designated. Photo by Geoff Gallice

Third, says Lillard, a monument designation would help guarantee that any future logging remains at a sustainable level.

Finally, the designation of the monument would significantly boost tourism revenue throughout the area. According to an economic impact study commissioned by the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition, the monument’s designation would create 143 jobs, increase visitor-related spending in communities surrounding the monument by 42 percent, and generate more than $14.5 million in economic output annually. Similarly, land-management research group Headwaters Economics studied the local economies of communities bordering or adjacent to 17 national monuments in the western United States from 1982 to 2011, and they found that jobs grew at four times the rate of similar communities that didn’t have a national monument as a neighbor.

How can it be designated?

National monuments can be created either by a majority congressional vote or by a signed presidential designation under authority of the Antiquities Act. “We’ll take it either way,” says Lillard.

The International Mountain Bicycling Association and the West Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited have also joined in advocating for the monument. And over the past several months, Lillard has witnessed many local community members adjacent to the proposed Birthplace of Rivers site evolve from skeptics to advocates.

The stunning Falls of Hills Creek in the Monongahela National Forest are part of the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument. Photo by Samuel Coleridge

The stunning Falls of Hills Creek in the Monongahela National Forest are part of the proposed Birthplace of Rivers National Monument. Photo by Samuel Coleridge

“There’s been a strong groundswell of local support around the area where the monument would be,” he says. “They’re self-organizing and have local leadership on the ground with more plans to boost community engagement. A number of outdoor and tourism businesses have been rising up and saying they really want this for West Virginia. We even have ‘Birthplace of Rivers info centers’ now. At 14 local shops, they have maps people can take and postcards at the counter.”

In mid-May, Lillard and three Pocahontas County, W.Va., advocates traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with representatives from President Obama’s administration to discuss the Birthplace of Rivers proposal. Upon arrival, they delivered 1,500 letters of support for the monument to the president.

“Around the beginning of this year, the focus of this campaign shifted strongly toward the president,” Lillard explains. “He has indicated there will be more monuments designated. We’ve been meeting with his administration’s monument people for a long time, and they’re very interested.”

A presidential precedent of sorts exists for departing commanders-in-chief to establish 11th-hour public lands on their way out the door. For example, during the first seven years of President Clinton’s two terms in office, he designated one national monument. In his last year, he established 19, with seven of those only becoming official in his last week and a half in the White House.

What happens next?

Although many West Virginians have fully embraced this proposal, others have expressed concerns that the national monument designation might restrict access to the area, especially since the management plan for the landscape wouldn’t be fully developed until after the president or Congress approves the designation. The West Virginia state chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation has expressed concern over the president’s potential use of the Antiquities Act to establish the monument, which in their view would be a federal backdoor that bypasses public approval.

To ease these concerns, Lillard explains that sustaining current levels of access both now and for future generations is one of main motivations guiding the designation push.

“For the most part, we would take the current management plan,” he says. “Our proposal calls for some more restorative forestry, spruce in particular, but most things would continue to be what they are now. We feel like the proposal addresses the concerns, and we welcome anyone to voice their concerns. One of the biggest developments over the past few months has been that many former opponents are now at the table and see how the monument can be good for West Virginia and how they can have a role.”

If designated, the monument would remain under the management of the U.S. Forest Service. In a January 2013 letter to the then-president of the Pocahontas County Commission, U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell wrote that, “Typically, as has been the situation on recent Forest Service monuments, monument designations complement the underlying management plan — which is developed with public input. If hunting and fishing are permitted under the current forest management plan, that would typically continue as a national monument.”

Lillard agrees. “National monument status would allow the Forest Service to continue to manage it. We are not trying to create a national park, and we certainly don’t want to create more wilderness there or exclude people using it currently. What’s there now is what we want to keep. There are other types of protection, and we think this is the highest level of protection available.”

To help increase publicity for the proposed monument, in May paddlers and Birthplace of Rivers advocates Matt Kearns and Adam Swisher spent two weeks journeying from the Elk River’s headwaters in Southern Monongahela National Forest to the mouth of the river in Charleston. Throughout the “Elkspedition,” they shared information about the proposal with everyone they met. On the final day of their adventure more than 100 fellow Birthplace of Rivers advocates joined in for a flotilla escort of the last few miles.

In a blog post, Kearns describes a day where the duo had the river to themselves. “It was great to have such solitude, but the best part of Elkspedition has been meeting so many West Virginians on and along the river,” he says. “We can tell that support for designating Birthplace of Rivers National Monument is strong here.”

Said Swisher afterwards, “As President Obama wraps up his second term, designating this monument would be a significant way to ensure his lasting legacy in the Mountain State.”

Learn more at

Volunteers Still Needed for Flood Recovery in West Virginia

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Tristin Van Ord

Communities across West Virginia are still in dire need of assistance after fatal floods on June 23 killed at least 23 people and left 50,000 residents without power.

The state of West Virginia has helped affected communities with more than $300,000 in grants given to 45 local businesses.

Along with the state government, nonprofit and disaster relief organizations are making vital efforts in recovery. #WVFlood, a partnership of state agencies, stated that within the first few weeks following the flood, more than 5,000 people had signed up to volunteer. Yet volunteers are still in high demand for long-term repairs according to Pamela Roush, a resident of Clendenin, W.Va, a small town next to the Elk River that was severely impacted by the flood.

Roush is not part of an official organization, but she has helped mobilize vast numbers of volunteers from across the country. According to Roush, volunteer response was impressive in the weeks immediately following the flood, but has dwindled over time. “Things have been good, but after the fourth week [the volunteer initiative] started going down,” says Roush. Construction and skilled work are still needed, she says.

“The initial outpouring of support was unbelievable,” says Heather Foster, director of Volunteer West Virginia, an organization that helps recruit volunteers.

Foster noted that the organization mobilized over $1 million worth of volunteer hours in just the first couple of weeks after the flood and that the organization was proud of the work volunteers have accomplished. But she said that there was still work to be done, particularly preparing damaged houses for the upcoming winter. She also noted a particular need for volunteers with construction experience.

Specialized relief efforts are also addressing ongoing problems resulting from the floods. One such endeavor, Operation Photo Rescue, is working throughout the state to repair flood damaged photos.

Another effort being made in the aftermath of the flood is the cleanup of the 78-mile-long Greenbrier River Trail. According to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the trail was damaged from rockslides due to the flooding. Currently, the trail is closed from Anthony to Caldwell.

A free health clinic will be provided by West Virginia Health Right and Remote Area Medical in late October in Elkview, W.Va. To volunteer or for more information on the clinic, visit

For additional volunteer opportunities or to donate to relief efforts, visit or contact Pamala Roush at (304)-545-3753.

Create Your State Uses Art to Create Change

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

The Create Your State Tour is a presentation and workshop that uses live music and visuals to show participants how to ignite arts-based community development in their West Virginia towns. Presenters Lori McKinney and Robert Blankenship show how art and music helped transform downtown Princeton, W.Va., into a regional arts destination. Participants will learn skills and gain access to contacts and resources so that they, too, can create positive action in their communities. The participants can receive assistance from Create Your State throughout the process.

Ten towns in West Virginia will host the tour in 2016, including five in early October. Visit

— Tristin Van Ord

Mountaintop Removal Mine Shut Down in WV

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Eliza Laubach

The Kanawha Forest Coalition holds a press conference on Aug. 23. Photo by Joe Solomon

The Kanawha Forest Coalition holds a press conference on Aug. 23. Photo by Joe Solomon

The KD#2 surface coal mine in West Virginia was permanently halted by state regulators after a two-year, resident-led campaign to close the mine. A consent order signed in mid-July requires Keystone Industries to stop mining and only allows work related to reclamation and maintenance of the site.

Kanawha State Forest Coalition, a local grassroots network, organized the opposition to the KD#2 mine, which state regulators permitted in 2014. The permit allowed mining within 588 feet of the Kanawha State Forest and 1,500 feet of homes in Loudendale, W.Va. The company disturbed 100 acres, about a quarter of the total area, before permit violations caused state regulators to suspend active mining in early 2015, according to the coalition. The coalition’s watchdogging brought many of the 42 violations to state regulators’ attention.

“This is … a powerful demonstration of the impact citizens can have when we take a stand, stay persistent, and don’t back down,” coalition coordinator Chad Cordell said in a press release. “Many people thought this strip mine was unstoppable when the permit was issued over two years ago.”

Community and conservation groups condemn FERC’s review of proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline

Friday, September 16th, 2016 - posted by cat

Joe Lovett, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, 304-520-2324,
Laurie Ardison, Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights, 304-646-8339,
Kirk Bowers, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, 434-296-8673,
Kelly Trout, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 240-396-2022,
Lara Mack, Appalachian Voices, 434-293-6373,

The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline has drawn sustained criticism from landowners, localities, lawmakers and conservation groups since first being announced in 2014. Photo courtesy CCAN

The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline has drawn sustained criticism from landowners, localities, lawmakers and conservation groups since first being announced in 2014. Photo courtesy CCAN

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federal regulators today released a draft environmental review for the proposed fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline that public interest advocates say fails to adequately assess the public need for the project and the widespread threats to private property, public lands, local communities, water quality and the climate.

The controversial $3.2 billion pipeline, proposed by EQT and NextEra, would cut 301 miles through West Virginia and Virginia — crossing public lands and more than 1,000 waterways and wetlands — and require the construction of three large compressor stations. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is one of six major pipelines proposed for the same region of Virginia and West Virginia where experts warn the gas industry is overbuilding pipeline infrastructure.

>> See below for a bulleted list of major impacts as defined by FERC.

In preparing its draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relied heavily on gas company data to assess the public need for the project, the groups say. A report released earlier this month concludes there is enough existing gas supply in Virginia and the Carolinas to meet demand through 2030. The groups also fault the agency for dismissing clean energy alternatives.

In response to requests from numerous elected officials and organizations, FERC has extended the usual 45-day period for public comment to 90 days. Comments are due December 22.

While legal and environmental experts are continuing to review the nearly 2,600-page document, they have identified major gaps in FERC’s analysis, including:

  • The core issue of whether the massive project is needed to meet electricity demand, and whether other alternatives including energy efficiency, solar and wind would be more environmentally responsible sources;
  • A complete analysis of the cumulative, life-cycle climate pollution that would result from the pipeline;
  • Any accounting of other environmental and human health damage from the increased gas fracking in West Virginia that would supply the pipeline; and
  • Thorough analysis of damage to water quality and natural resources throughout the pipeline route.

“It’s shameful that FERC did not prepare a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement,” said Joe Lovett, Executive Director of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “It would allow a private pipeline company to take private property for private profit. Apparently FERC decided it didn’t have to do the hard work necessary to determine whether the MVP is necessary. Such a lack of diligence is remarkable because FERC has the extraordinary power to grant MVP the right to take property that has, in many cases, been in the same families for generations.”

“The resource reports MVP has already submitted to FERC are the alleged backbone upon which the DEIS is created. These reports are, however, uncatalogued collections of partial surveys, studies and desktop engineering notions which are rife with omissions, and inadequate and incorrect data”, said Laurie Ardison, Co-Chair of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR). “The DEIS is fatally flawed for a variety of process and substance matters, not the least of which is MVP’s insufficient, unsubstantiated foundational material.”

“FERC once again has its blinders on to the full climate consequences of fracked gas,” said Anne Havemann, General Counsel at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “FERC’s limited review ignores the full lifecycle of pollution the pipeline will trigger by acting as if gas comes from nowhere. FERC also provides no clear explanation of exactly how it arrived at its limited estimate of emissions. If FERC did a full accounting of the climate harm of this fracked-gas project and clean energy alternatives, it would have no choice but to reject it.”

“Recent studies have shown that our region has the necessary energy to meet demand through 2030 already. We know that clean, renewable energy is available and affordable, and by this time, it will be the only choice to preserve our environment and climate. Additional fossil fuel projects like the Mountain Valley project, are not needed to keep the lights on, homes and businesses heated, and industrial facilities in production — despite the claims by MVP developers,” said Kirk Bowers, Pipelines Campaign Manager with the Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club.

“This would be the first fracked-gas pipeline of this size to cross the Alleghany and Blue Ridge mountains. Running a massive gas project through the steep, rugged terrain laced with dozens of rivers and headwater streams is a perfect storm for major damage to our water resources,” said Lara Mack, Virginia Campaign Field Organizer with Appalachian Voices. ”FERC also fails to meaningfully address the safety issues and other concerns so earnestly voiced by hundreds of homeowners and landowners along the route.”

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline could result in taking people’s property in West Virginia solely to benefit out-of-state companies,” said Jim Kotcon, West Virginia Sierra Club Chapter Chair. “To make matters worse, it will affect all West Virginians because it will result in higher gas prices for local consumers. Low cost energy is one of the few advantages that West Virginia has in attracting new businesses, and this pipeline will make our energy costs higher while lowering costs for competitors in other states. That pipeline is bad business for West Virginia businesses.”


Highlights of major impacts of the MVP route as identified by FERC in the DEIS:

  • About 67% of the MVP route would cross areas susceptible to landslides.
  • The pipeline would cross about 51 miles of karst terrain.
  • Construction would disturb about 4,189 acres of soils that are classified as potential for severe water erosion.
  • Construction would disturb about 2,353 acres of prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance.
  • The pipeline would result in 986 waterbody crossings; 33 are classified as fisheries of special concern.
  • The MVP would cross about 245 miles of forest; in Virginia, it would impact about 938 acres of contiguous interior forest during construction classified as “high” to “outstanding” quality.
  • In West Virginia, the pipeline would result in permanent impacts on about 865 acres of core forest areas which are significant wildlife habitat.
  • The 50-foot wide operational easement would represent a permanent impact on forests.
  • FERC identified 22 federally listed threatened, endangered, candidate, or special concern species potentially in vicinity of the MVP and the Equitrans projects, and 20 state-listed or special concern species.
  • MVP identified 117 residences within 50 feet of its proposed construction right-of-way.
  • Construction would require use of 365 roadways.
  • A still incomplete survey of the route shows the pipeline could potentially affect 166 new archaeological sites and 94 new architectural sites, in addition to crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway Historic District, North Fork Valley Rural Historic District, and Greater Newport Rural Historic District, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Citizen action leads to closure of KD#2 mountaintop removal mine

Friday, August 26th, 2016 - posted by guestbloggers

Special to the Front Porch: Today we feature a guest post from the Kanawha Forest Coalition, a network of local residents and organizations that formed to fight the KD#2 mountaintop removal coal mine. Pressure from citizens led West Virginia regulators to adopt an especially strict permit for the KD#2 mine, which is adjacent to the Kanawha State Forest. Still, mine operators repeatedly violated their permit and polluted nearby waterways. Citizens repeatedly notified state regulators of the violations, and the state recently ordered a permanent stop to mining.

The KD#2 strip mine next to Kanawha State Forest has been permanently shut down following two years of citizen action.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has ordered a permanent stop to mining on the controversial KD#2 mountaintop removal strip mine adjacent to Kanawha State Forest following two years of action by the Kanawha Forest Coalition.

The KD#2 permit, approved by the DEP in May 2014 over strong community objections and warnings of likely impacts to water quality, allowed for strip mining and explosive blasting within 588 feet of Kanawha State Forest and 1,500 feet of homes in Loudendale, just outside Charleston city limits.

The Kanawha Forest Coalition holds a press conference on Aug. 23. Photo by Joe Solomon

The Kanawha Forest Coalition holds a press conference on Aug. 23. Photo by Joe Solomon

The Consent Order, signed by DEP’s Director of Mining and Reclamation following a year of negotiations with the Coalition and the permit holder, Keystone Industries, states that “No additional mineral removal activities may occur on this permit. Activity is exclusively restricted to actions necessary to achieve phased release of the permit”. Approximately 100 acres of the original 413-acre permit area was mined, but active mining had been temporarily suspended since early 2015, leaving three quarters of the permit area undisturbed.

“This is a victory for the people of West Virginia and a powerful demonstration of the impact citizens can have when we take a stand, stay persistent, and don’t back down,” said Coalition coordinator, Chad Cordell. “Many people thought this strip mine was unstoppable when the permit was issued over two years ago, however we doubled down in our determination to protect our streams, health, and mountains.”

The order stems from a pattern of violations and temporary cessation orders at the mine site over the past two years for drainage and sediment control failures, off-site erosion, failure to monitor water quality at the mine and in an adjacent landowner’s drinking water, and persistent acid mine drainage into tributaries of Davis Creek. The majority of violation notices were initiated based on citizen monitoring data submitted to the DEP by the Coalition.

Map courtesy Kanawha Forest Coalition

Map courtesy Kanawha Forest Coalition

The KD#2 mine was first proposed in 2009. The proposed permit went through several major changes before final approval in 2014, including removal of a proposed valley fill and the creation of buffer zones around streams to avoid the need for a federal “dredge and fill” permit under the Clean Water Act. Even with these changes, the nearby streams have been adversely impacted.

“The lessons learned at the KD#2 mine should be a wake-up call to WV residents, lawmakers, and regulators that even the best engineering and the closest scrutiny can’t make strip mining safe for our water, our health, or our communities,” Cordell said. “We now have perpetual pollution, including acid mine drainage, into tributaries of Davis Creek. It should come as no surprise, to the DEP or anyone else, that strip mining pollutes water.”

Under current law, a surface coal mine cannot adversely impact adjacent land or water outside of the permit boundary, nor can it contaminate the water leaving the permit in violation of water quality standards. Applications for surface mines must include information about how the operator will prevent toxic mine discharge. The KD#2 permit application stated that the mine was not anticipated to have the potential for generating acid mine drainage.

Photo courtesy Kanawha Forest Coalition

Photo courtesy Kanawha Forest Coalition

“The legality of strip mining is built on a mountain of false assumptions. To really look closely at the conditions on the ground, as we have, and not the fantasy assumptions on paper, means having to accept that mountaintop removal and other types of strip mining simply cannot be done without irreparable harm to our land, water, and health. It’s up to us to tear down the coal industry’s mountain of lies as effectively as they’ve torn down the mountains of our homeland,” Cordell said. “We sincerely commend the DEP for taking steps to address the many issues at the KD#2 mine, but these are not isolated problems. They are widespread problems inherent in strip mining. This campaign was never about stopping just this one mine. It’s about shining a bright light on the issue of strip mining and showing just how damaging it really is. Many other communities are being hurt by strip mining and both the DEP and our state lawmakers need to acknowledge and act on the reality of strip mining’s widespread impacts.”

The WV DEP website currently lists over twenty other surface mine applications, including the Long Ridge #2 and Center Contour surface mines, which are being actively contested by Coal River Mountain Watch, a Raleigh County based citizens’ group.

Editor’s Note: For more information, visit the Kanawha Forest Coalition’s website at You can also read a statement from local activist Daile Boulis on our blog and an article about the mine from the August/September 2014 issue of The Appalachian Voice.

Rebuilding Continues in Wake of Devastating West Virginia Floods

Thursday, August 11th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Otto Solberg

At least 23 people were killed in West Virginia due to the extreme flooding caused by storms on June 23. The floods affected most of the state and particularly ravaged southern counties.

Up to 10 inches of rain fell within a few hours in some areas, and the mountains funneled the water to the valleys where many communities are built. Some houses, businesses, cars and even roads were swept away, with others submerged in feet of muddy water.

The National Weather Service considered the devastating flood a thousand-year event.

More than 50,000 people were left without power, and gas lines had to be turned off after causing many fires.

Volunteers are still needed to assist with flood relief. Photo by David T. Stephenson,

Volunteers are still needed to assist with flood relief. Photo by David T. Stephenson,

Rockslides, mudslides, and flooding destroyed roads and bridges, leaving parts of West Virginia accessible only by helicopter. Others who were stranded in their attics and on their roofs were rescued by boat.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the West Virginia and Virginia National Guard assisted law enforcement, emergency response agencies and volunteers with rescues and rebuilding after the flood. Jenny Gannaway, the state chair for Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, told West Virginia MetroNews that full recovery will take at least five years. Grants up to $10,000 are available for small business owners in the affected counties through RISE West Virginia, a new public-private partnership facilitated by the state Chamber of Commerce.

In 2013, The West Virginia State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management warned that climate change might be responsible for more extreme weather events. A warmer atmosphere holds more water, causing heavier rains.

The state’s steep terrain is already prone to hazardous flash flooding, and many people live on slopes or in valleys. “West Virginia is among the places where effects of climate change are being felt by people now,” stated an editorial in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which called on state legislators to prioritize funding for agencies that provide necessary services before, during and after a disaster.

The further environmental impact of the washouts is enormous.

Parts of the 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail closed due to landslides, which swept away parts of the trail and dumped piles of debris in other areas. Park staff and volunteers are working on the trail, opening sections and updating their Facebook page as they restore it for hikers and bikers.

To donate to flood relief or find other ways to help, visit

Disputes Over West Virginia’s Water

Thursday, August 11th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Eliza Laubach

West Virginia American Water, a privately owned water utility serving much of the state, is facing continued public pressure.

In May, the company proposed a new surcharge on ratepayers’ bills that would amount to $88 million over four years, saying it was necessary to replace infrastructure and guarantee investor profits. Advocates for a Safe Water System, a local grassroots organization, argues that this profit is too high for no-risk investments and is calling for more cost-effective options. Earlier this year, West Virginia’s Public Service Commission approved the company’s request for a 15 percent rate increase.

This spring, a hearing was scheduled for November on a long-stagnant state investigation into the utility’s response to the 2014 Elk River chemical spill, which left more than 300,000 people in West Virginia without safe drinking water. The state recently declined the advocacy group’s petition to include emerging information from a separate court case over the water crisis.

The increases to customer bills, along with water safety and infrastructure concerns, have motivated the advocacy group’s call for county commissions to transfer the utility to public ownership.

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in West Virginia

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

Two mines proposed, one denied, another faces pollution lawsuit

By Eliza Laubach and Willie Dodson

Alpha Natural Resources, a coal company in the process of emerging from bankruptcy, has applied for two new mountaintop removal mine permits on Coal River Mountain in West Virginia. If permitted, the two mines would destroy 1,589 acres above the Rock Creek and Arnett communities.

Coal River Mountain Watch, a local advocacy organization, is petitioning the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to deny one of the permits due to the community’s concerns about pollution and the effect on the local economy, roads and ecology. The other permit is not yet advertised for comment, according to the group’s website.

In the two years since the WVDEP approved a mountaintop removal permit for Keystone Industries’ KD No. 2 surface mine, the agency has issued 40 enforcement actions on the mine. In March, the agency brought a lawsuit against the Florida-based company over a series of Clean Water Act violations at the controversial mine. The 413-acre mountaintop removal mine in southern Kanawha County, W.Va., was met with opposition by local residents and others concerned about the project’s impacts on nearby communities and on Kanawha State Forest, which borders the mine.

These actions were prompted by citizen oversight led by the Kanawha Forest Coalition, a grassroots watchdog group, which has conducted water monitoring at the site since shortly after the mine began operating. The company’s quarterly pollution reports support the claim that mine runoff violated the permit granted to Keystone Industries under the Clean Water Act.

A 15-year long permit battle over the Spruce No. 1 mine, a proposed 2,000-acre mountaintop removal site in Logan County, W.Va, saw decisive action in July. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 decision to block the mine’s permit due to the “unacceptable adverse effect” it would have on the environment.

West Virginia County Denied Regulation of Frack Wastewater, Regional Problem Unveiled

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Eliza Laubach

A federal judge recently invalidated an ordinance concerning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, passed in West Virginia last January. The Fayette County Commission’s ordinance banned fracking wastewater from being stored, disposed of or used in the county, except for temporary on-site storage.

The commission argued that county officials are allowed to protect residents’ health and welfare, but Judge Copenhaven ruled that the state has greater authority to manage fracking wastewater. The decision also served as a summary judgment on a lawsuit EQT Production Company filed against the commission regarding the ban and came just before a hearing was set to be held on the case. The commission plans to appeal the decision, according to The Register-Herald.

Frack wastewater contains endocrine disruptors, which are linked to birth defects and certain cancers. Researchers found these chemicals in a Fayette County creek near a storage site owned by a construction company that also sued the commission, according the The Register-Herald.

A June report by The Center for Public Integrity reveals that within the Marcellus Shale gas-drilling region, states have inconsistently regulated the industry’s by-products, which also include sludge, rock and soiled equipment. For instance, the report found intrastate transportation of radioactive sludge to landfills without much oversight. In May, environmental and community groups filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking stronger regulations for frack waste.