Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

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

Friday, September 16th, 2016 - posted by cat

Contact:
Joe Lovett, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, 304-520-2324, jlovett@appalmad.org
Laurie Ardison, Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights, 304-646-8339, ikeandash@yahoo.com
Kirk Bowers, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, 434-296-8673, kirk.bowers@sierraclub.org
Kelly Trout, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, 240-396-2022, kelly@chesapeakeclimate.org
Lara Mack, Appalachian Voices, 434-293-6373, lara@appvoices.org

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.”

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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 kanawhaforestcoalition.org. 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, davidtstephenson.com

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

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 wvflood.com.

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.

OSMRE announces review of mountaintop removal health research

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016 - posted by brian
A 2012 Appalachian Voices' report mapped the findings of peer-reviewed health studies and data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, United Health Foundation and the Gallup-Healthways Well-being index.

A 2012 Appalachian Voices’ report mapped the findings of peer-reviewed health studies and data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, United Health Foundation and the Gallup-Healthways Well-being index.

Contact:
Erin Savage, Central Appalachia Campaign Coordinator, 206-769-8286

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) announced today that it will fund a $1 million review by the National Academy of Sciences of current research on the links between surface coal mining and human health risks.

It comes more than a year after the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection formally requested such a review, and nearly a decade after the publication of the first in a series of two dozen peer-reviewed studies that have found correlations between mountaintop removal coal mining and increased rates of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, and other negative health outcomes.

In recent years, multiple studies have established more direct, causal links between mountaintop removal and negative health impacts. Studies led by researchers at West Virginia University have concluded that exposure to mountaintop mining dust promotes tumor growth in human lung cells and decreases cardiac functioning in lab animals.

Research from outside the region show cause for concern regarding common mining pollutants such as manganese. Several studies1 over two decades have demonstrated a link between nervous system damage in children and manganese exposure through well water.

OSMRE will share additional information as it becomes available, including the dates of four public meetings to be held by the National Academy of Sciences.

A statement from Appalachian Voices’ Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator Erin Savage:

“We’re pleased that OSMRE has listened to the concerns coal-impacted residents have been voicing for years. And, while we always welcome additional research into the toll mountaintop removal takes on human health and the environment, action must be taken on the preponderance of existing evidence showing the known impacts of surface mining. If we value the lives of Central Appalachian citizens over coal profits, mine permitting would be halted until it could be proven safe for nearby residents.

“We are still awaiting a long-overdue Stream Protection Rule and are hopeful that a strong rule will be issued soon by the Obama administration. There is more than enough scientific research documenting the impacts of mountaintop removal on Central Appalachia’s streams and rivers to justify a moratorium on mining through streams, which irreparably harms aquatic ecosystems and likely contributes to a range of human health issues.

“It is unfortunate that OSMRE did not undertake this review sooner so the findings could help to inform the Stream Protection Rule. But despite the coal industry’s decline, mining in Central Appalachia will continue into the near future. This review could be the push the next administration needs to finally make this destructive practice illegal.”

1 – Bouchard, M.F., Sauve, S., Barbeau, B., Legrand, M., Brodeur, M.E., Bouffard, T., Limoges, E. Bellinger, D.C., Margler, D. 2011. Intellectual Impairment in School-Age Children Exposed to Manganese from Drinking Water. Environmental Health Perspectives Jan;119(1):138-43.

Hafeman, D., Factor-Litvak, P., Cheng, Z., van Geen, A., Ahsan, H. 2007. Association Between Manganese Exposure Through Drinking Water and Infant Mortality in Bangladesh. Hafeman, D. et al. Environmental Health Perspectives Jul;115(7):1107-12.

Woolf, A., Wright, R., Amarasiriwardena, C., Bellinger, D. 2002. Child with Chronic Manganese Exposure from Drinking Water. 2002. Woolf, A. et al. Environmental Health Perspectives Jun;110(6):613-6.

Wasserman, G.A., Liu, X., Parvez, F. Ahsan, H., Levy, D., Factor-Litvak, P., Kline, J., van Geen, A., Slavkovich, V., Lolacono, N.J., Cheng, Z., Zheng, Y. Graziano, J.H. 2006. Water Manganese Exposure and Children’s Intellectual Function in Arailhazar, Bangladesh. Environmental Health Perspectives Jan;114(1):124-9.

Daile Boulis: One coalfield resident’s journey to action

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } The following is an abridged transcript of a testimonial given by Daile Boulis of Kanawha County, W.Va., about how she became involved in the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining. This speech was delivered at a grassroots policy training held by The Alliance for Appalachia at the Highlander Center on April 9, 2016. It was transcribed by Forrest Gray Yerman.

Daile Boulis

Daile Boulis

I moved to West Virginia about three years ago to help take care of my father-in-law. He has a home he’s lived in since 1963 in a hollow about 10 miles west of Charleston. When I looked on Google Maps to show my friends in Ohio where I live I saw lots of big scraped areas. I went next door to my neighbor and asked, “what is this?”

She said, “oh, that’s Rush Creek Mine, don’t worry about. It’s three miles away.”

But as Rush Creek Mine was working this way, we started hearing more and more booms, and occasionally the houses would shake.

Someone came in and did a pre-blast survey and they didn’t talk to us. We thought, okay, we complained about hearing these booms from this mine getting closer. So they must be doing this to cover their butts, in case we make a claim. What we didn’t know is they had filed for a permit for an extension to this mine.

One day in May I was on Facebook, and I saw that the Charleston Gazette had posted a map of this permit that had just been approved. I’m looking at this map going, “I think that’s my house.” This mine was 2,000 feet from my house and our house is the monitoring well. I’m learning all kinds of stuff here, and I was shocked!

There was an organization posting on Facebook about this article saying, “You need to come help us fight this mine.”

I immediately texted someone from the organization and asked, “where do I have to be and what do I have to do?” And that started my journey. That was the Kanawha Forest Coalition.

This mine, I mean, it’s like they slid it under. And none of us knew anything about it. I don’t check classifieds. Do you? I had no idea that’s the only place they announce them. When they did the public comment period, they did it in a community 30 miles away from us. So we weren’t involved at all. We were told that our property value dropped 50 percent the day the permit was signed.

I’m a social media girl, so I’m out there going, “This isn’t right. How can they do this?” And I’m getting hate mail back saying, “If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

No I can’t, because I can’t sell my house now for anything near enough to move somewhere else. And my father-in-law has been here since 1963. Should he have to move too?

I started going to the Kanawha Forest Coalition meetings and I was mad. I couldn’t understand why my neighbors weren’t mad. My neighbors were kind of mad, but they figured I’m so naive and you can’t fight coal.

The state Department of Environmental Protection office is in Kanawha City. Well I can get to Kanawha City. So my wife and I went down to the DEP office thinking that they were going to stand with us. That that’s what they’re for.

So I walked in and said that I wanted to talk to somebody about this. But they told me, “well that’s not how it’s done.” Then I said that I would not leave until somebody talked to me. So we sat down and waited for somebody to come talk to us.

Eventually, a woman came down and gave us all these forms that we could take home and fill out saying we were against this mine. I said, “This is ridiculous, who can I talk to?” Someone else came out and said, “We’re going to set you up with a meeting. You’re neighbors can come in. We’ll set you up with an informational meeting.”

I can only get two of my neighbors to go to the meeting with me. So it’s my wife and me, and two of our neighbors. And there were twenty-four DEP people. At least half of them have this I’m-supposed-to-be-home-now look on their faces.

We said to them, “Look, this mine is right next door — literally. The only thing that separates it from us is a little road to Kanawha State Forest. There are trailheads that come down from there, and they’re going to be in the radius of fly rock.”

Well, I was told fly rock doesn’t exist, that absolutely nothing is allowed to leave the permit boundary.

I said, “Everyone’s told us we’re going to lose our wells.”

They said, “well, this is an awesome opportunity to get on city water,” at our expense, of course.

I looked at the guy — and mind you this is in May 2014, the water crisis happened in January of the same year — and I asked, “have you forgotten January that fast? Where do you think people went to get water and to take showers and to maybe wash a load of clothes? They came to my house, and the other houses in the holler.” I told them that we already have good water. Why is it okay, why is it just understood that I’m going to lose my water?

But I started this journey, and I saw people at Kanawha Forest Coalition meetings that showed me they were going to do something, that we could fight this. Everybody knows someone who works in the coal industry. I respect that. I understand that. But policies that say that our lives are the cost of doing business, that we’re an acceptable loss, are not OK. What does it take to get you fired up? I get it. You’re downtrodden. You’re tired and exhausted. But somebody has to scream, and stomp their feet, and go do whatever it takes to get their attention.

And this group in particular, the Alliance for Appalachia, has become family for me, and this family, I could contact any one of them and say, “Help me get mad!” Because mad is better than sad, and I’ll leave you with that.

Making sense of crisis: The West Virginia floods

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016 - posted by guestbloggers

Editor’s note: In this guest post, West Virginia resident and former coordinator of The Alliance for Appalachia Katey Lauer shares her perspective on the aftermath of the floods that devastated several West Virginia counties late last month, and the humanity she has witnessed as communities come together and begin to rebuild. To learn where you can volunteer or donate money and supplies, visit the West Virginia Citizen Action Group’s WV Flood Resources page.

Photos courtesy of Nate May.

Photos courtesy of Nate May.

“… My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
So much has been destroyed.
I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”

— Adrienne Rich

This might be an article where I tell you how devastating the flood has been. Where I tell you that the flood waters are not water at all. That they are sewage and mud and oil. That they are bits of plastic and metal. I might tell you that it’s four days into flood relief and I can’t get the smell out of my nose or off my skin.

And I might explain how I can’t shake the worst of the stories: how I sat with a grandmother who told me how she climbed to the top of a kitchen stool late Thursday night while the debris rose higher and higher around her ankles then knees then waist.

How I heard about a woman alone in her home in a wheelchair, waters rising up to her neck while her dogs piled onto her lap — all of them screaming. How her family heard her from outside but couldn’t get in.

I might tell you about the kind young man in the town where 17 people died. How he pointed out the mountain where he fled with his mother just after showing me the water line on the carport outside, well above our heads.

But the floods aren’t just about that.

Because this might also be an article about strength through hardship. About that phrase I see on fast food boards and church bulletins: “West Virginia Strong.” And I could tell you how my guess is that that sign is about the families on 5th Street in Rainelle, about the cheerleaders serving up soup beans and cornbread in the Kroger parking lot to anyone who’s hungry, about the volunteers sorting a pile of clothing 20 feet high in an Elkview gym, about the women running the volunteer check point in Clendenin. I could tell you about everyday heroes, but the floods aren’t just about that either.

IMG_2646

Because this article could be about issues: About our failing infrastructure. About climate change. About poverty. About how working-class, rural America is so unseen by the rest of our nation. I could say that.

But then there’s also the way that strangers come together in these moments of crisis. How I hauled heavy, putrid carpet with a dear old friend and a man I’d never met. How I piled water-logged drywall on a pile of building refuse with a man from Florida. How a woman stopped us on the street to give us a warm meal — a woman whose name I didn’t know and who I’d never see again.

Then I could tell you about the ugly parts, about people fighting in sadness in the streets. About that wits-end sort of withdrawal on the face of an older woman. I could say how I wonder where these tons of waste will be shipped and guess that it’s other poor communities that will deal with this new burden. I could tell you about the national guardsman, eyeing me for too long in a shirt tight with the damp.

But the thing that feels closest to the truth is that there is not one story here. In times of crisis, we can look for saviors and goodwill, we look for peeks at what’s best in the human spirit. We can look for a way to make sense of it — to give it a purpose. We can look for the revelation. If you have been touched by this crisis, my guess is you might well have found some of that. But you have likely also found more. I know I have. If these floods have taught me anything, it’s that crisis is not tidy. It is more threads than fabric.

What I mean is that crisis does not make us super-human; it makes us more human. The floods that have washed away homes and possessions and loved ones have also washed away pretense. And at the end of the day, here we are, neighbors and strangers, ankle deep in receding waters, doing our best — in our beauty and our faults — to reconstitute the world.

Visit the West Virginia Citizen Action Group’s Flood Resources page to donate and find other ways to support relief efforts.

West Virginia files Clean Water Act suit against Kanawha County mine

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016 - posted by willie
Acid mine drainage collects at the KD #2 mine site shortly after the state halted work at the mine. Photo courtesy the Kanawha Forest Coalition

Acid mine drainage collects at the KD #2 mine site shortly after the state halted work at the mine. Photo courtesy the Kanawha Forest Coalition

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has brought a lawsuit against Florida-based Keystone Industries over a series of Clean Water Act violations at the controversial KD #2 surface mine.

The 413-acre mountaintop removal mine in southern Kanawha County, W.Va., has been met with much opposition by local residents and others concerned about the mine’s impacts on nearby communities and on Kanawha State Forest, which borders the mine.

The suit, filed on March 9 in the Kanawha County Circuit Court, alleges that runoff from the KD #2 mine contains measurements of aluminum, iron, manganese, selenium, total suspended solids and pH that are in violation of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit granted to Keystone Industries under the Clean Water Act. The primary evidence supporting this claim is the company’s own quarterly discharge monitoring reports submitted to the DEP.

The Kanawha Forest Coalition, a grassroots environmental watchdog group comprised of local community members, has conducted water monitoring at the site since shortly after the mine began operating in 2014. Through these efforts, the coalition has identified numerous and persistent regulatory violations, prompting the DEP to issue 40 enforcement actions against the KD #2 mine to date.

“It was shocking to realize that it was through citizen complaints, and not DEP monitoring, that our land was being protected,” said Becky Park, a Kanawha Forest Coalition member from Charleston. “What it boils down to is we are the government. We can’t assume that DEP employees are monitoring permitted mining operations. We have to read the permits, understand the agreements made with mining companies, be willing to use the systems in place to submit complaints, and go to court when the systems fail to stop violators.”

Daile Boulis, who lives in the community of Loudendale immediately adjacent to the KD #2 mine feels similarly.

“From what I understand, this is one of best written permits in the state, and still, there are forty violations in two years? Imagine what the company would be getting away with, without the citizen enforcement and public media exposure? The same thing goes for the DEP,” said Boulis. “The only reason 75-80% of the violations have been enforced and fined is due to pressure from the Kanawha Forest Coalition. When you consider all of the other mines in West Virginia that don’t have a group like Kanawha Forest Coalition working on behalf of the impacted citizens, that’s terrifying! Our lives should not be the cost of doing business in West Virginia.”

By initiating its own suit against Keystone Industries, the DEP has prevented the Kanawha Forest Coalition or other grassroots organizations from filing suit on similar grounds. However, the organization may choose to file as an intervenor in the case, a move that would earn them a seat at the table — but not veto power — in potential future settlement negotiations with Keystone.

Doug Wood, a retired DEP official with 33 years of experience in water resources, is skeptical of his former agency’s motives in bringing this case against Keystone.

“This lawsuit seems to be an attempt to stop advocates from filing their own suits, and an attempt to get a little money to start water pollution treatment when Keystone says, ‘keep the bond, we’re outta here,’” said Wood. “… The DEP seems to be most interested in getting a court settlement so they can say, ‘we solved that problem’ even though the systemic problems that led to this disaster remain unsolved.”

The DEP’s suit against Keystone is expected to go to trial in spring 2017. Meanwhile, the Kanawha Forest Coalition continues to monitor conditions at the mine, regularly testing impacted streams and alerting the DEP of persistent problems.