Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

Coal slurry spill in West Virginia linked to Alpha Natural Resources affiliate

Thursday, April 20th, 2017 - posted by Erin
Coal Slurry Spill

Black coal slurry on the banks of Drawdy Creek in Boone County, W.Va.

On March 23, the Admiral Processing Plant in Boone County, W.Va., leaked approximately 5,400 gallons of coal slurry into Crooked Run, a tributary of the Coal River. The plant has been operated by Black Castle Mining Company since November 2015 and is affiliated with Alpha Natural Resources. The spill resulted from a broken pipe at the facility, much like the Kanawha Eagle Processing Plant spill just north in Kanawha County in 2014.


Footage courtesy of Kanawha Forest Coalition

The spill occurred 17 miles upstream from Lincoln County’s municipal water intake and 35 miles upstream from the St. Albans intake, both located on the Coal River. A second spill of unknown quantity occurred during cleanup operations on March 24, when a pump being used to move contaminated water failed. In response to the spills, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued a Notice of Violation, for the company’s “failure to minimize the disturbance to the hydrologic balance.”

Appalachian Voices and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition staff responded to the spill by collecting water samples and documenting its impact. The facility has a Clean Water Act permit that sets limits on common coal mining pollutants that the plant can release into waterways, which is standard for mines and processing plants. The Admiral Processing Plant permit limits the discharge of iron, manganese, aluminum and total suspended solids.

Spill samples collected by citizen groups were analyzed by two independent, certified laboratories. According to the test results, the spill violated the plant’s daily maximum discharge limit for all four pollutants. The spill also resulted in the discharge of arsenic, beryllium and lead into the stream. While levels of these pollutants were fairly low, all are known to have negative impacts on human health.

The company was able to stop the main spill after about three hours, but not before, the coal slurry spread from the initial tributary, Crooked Run, into Drawdy Creek and all the way to Coal River, approximately 1.5 miles downstream. The coal company did not install any sediment control structures until about 24 hours after the spill occurred.

Slurry spill with hay bales

Before and after photos taken on March 24 showing the installation of hay bales to prevent solid particles from the coal slurry from moving further downstream in Drawdy Creek. These steps were not taken until almost 24 hours after the spill.

We do not yet know how much the Department of Environmental Protection will fine the company. In instances like this, fines should be large enough that companies invest the time and money necessary to prevent further spills rather than just paying for fines and cleanup costs after the fact. Slurry spills continue to be a common occurrence in southern West Virginia and other Central Appalachian states, demonstrating the need for stronger state and federal oversight to protect public water and the communities that depend on it.

White House budget leaves Appalachia in the dust

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 - posted by thom
The White House's budget won't become law, but it should alarm people across the country — and perhaps especially people in Appalachia.

The White House’s budget won’t become law, but it should alarm people across the country — and perhaps especially people in Appalachia.

The White House released its budget blueprint last week, and the proposal is nothing short of a disaster for Appalachia and rural communities across the country. The Trump administration will release a more complete budget request in May, but we have a lot of information to go on already.

Congress, not the president, holds America’s purse strings, so the majority of the White House budget proposal will never become a reality. But the “skinny budget” still reveals a great deal about where Appalachian communities fall on the administration’s list of priorities.

First, let’s look at a few agencies and programs the White House wants to completely eliminate:

Appalachian Regional Commission – For more than 50 years, the ARC has provided funding for projects throughout the region to create economic opportunities and improve critical infrastructure. ARC funding and assistance has created an entire highway system, and introduced broadband, all while supporting local and sustainable projects like all of these. Recently, ARC has improved efforts to build leadership and community participation. Republican leaders from Kentucky, most notably Rep. Hal Rogers (KY-5), have successfully increased annual funding for the ARC in the past four years from about $60 million to over $120 million.

Economic Development Administration: The only federal agency focused entirely on economic development, the EDA promotes innovation and competitiveness in regions in need. The EDA has a crucial role in the diversification of Appalachia’s economy, as well as communities throughout the country coming together and seeking ways to overcome the downturn in the coal industry.

Weatherization Assistance Program and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: While the programs are quite different, they work in tandem to help low-income families reduce their energy bills. Energy efficiency and weatherization can greatly improve Americans’ health and quality of life, save money, and improve the value of homes. But without assistance, many low-income families cannot afford to make the necessary home improvements to achieve these benefits. Housing in Appalachian is among the least efficient in the country, and these two programs are needed to change that fact.

Abandoned Mine Lands: In response to widespread support from Appalachian local governments for ideas outlined in the Obama administration’s POWER+ Plan, Rep. Rogers and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last year carved out money for a pilot program to repurpose Abandoned Mine Lands for economic development projects. The program sent $30 million each to Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania for projects on previously mined sites. While the pilot program was never intended to continue indefinitely, Congress plans to continue funding it for one more year, this time including funds for Virginia, Ohio and Alabama.

We haven’t even gotten to the big cuts yet. You might have noticed I been buried the lead, and that’s mostly because it’s been widely reported since rumors started to emerge about a month ago.

Environmental Protection Agency: The White House wants to slash the agency’s budget by 31 percent. The EPA is America’s best defense against air and water pollution. Appalachian Voices has long worked to hold the EPA accountable for its shortcomings, but we should not for a moment overlook the immeasurable benefits the thousands of EPA employees have had on all of our lives. Before the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and National Environmental Policy Act were passed to provide us with the protections we now enjoy, we were racing down a dangerous path of pollution. The challenges have only gotten greater in the past 40 years, but we live in a stronger, healthier, more sustainable world because of the EPA. Hampering the agency’s ability to carry out its job is unacceptable.

Climate change programs: The official position of the White House Office of Management and Budget is that climate programs are a “waste of your money.” If you believe that climate change is a hoax, then I suppose that makes sense. On the other hand, if you agree with the rest of the world and recognize that an urgent and effective response to this global crisis is long overdue, then this is more than just crazy talk — it’s catastrophic thinking.

Everything else: The White House budget also eliminates the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. These are not uniquely relevant to Appalachia, but the region is hardly unaffected by cutting these types of programs. Despite what the Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney seems to think, eliminating funding for things like PBS is not a favor to coal miners or anyone else in West Virginia. Mulvaney indicated that people in Appalachia have no use for PBS, NPR, or the arts, and maybe that just tells us what he thinks of those programs. Then again, maybe it tells us more about what he thinks of people in Appalachia.

It bears repeating that Congress has control of the budget and none of these proposals have become law. We are confident that most of the programs will continue to be funded at or near current levels for the near future. But the budget is the clearest, most comprehensive picture we have of the dangerous direction in which President Trump wants to take the country. And it’s a call to arms for everyone to protect successful programs that Americans support and benefit from every day.

FERC’s pipeline review process is broken

Monday, February 20th, 2017 - posted by Peter Anderson

Former chairman adds his voice to public demands for greater scrutiny

As new research refutes industry's pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

As new research refutes industry’s pro-pipeline arguments, former FERC chairman Norman Bay is calling for greater scrutiny of proposed natural gas infrastructure projects.

Sign the petition to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline today!

It’s no secret: oil and gas pipelines have captured the nation’s attention, not to mention the new administration’s. Standing Rock’s resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline continues to put water protection, indigenous rights and environmental justice at the fore of any pipeline discussion. And not so long ago, the Keystone XL pipeline came to symbolize the United States’ willingness to lead (or not) on climate action. Now the Trump administration hopes to revive both.

The Trump administration also hopes to push through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would transport fracked gas 600 miles from the Marcellus Shale in northern West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina. A list of the administration’s top 50 infrastructure priorities leaked in January includes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at number 20. The document reports the pipeline’s permitting process as “done,” despite the fact that comment periods for some federal and state permits are currently open and no permits have been issued. How’s that for alternative facts?

Pipelines not needed

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency with primary authority for permitting interstate gas pipelines, was generally viewed as pipeline-friendly even prior to the Trump era. The agency allows a 14 percent rate of return on investments in pipeline capital, and its environmental reviews typically fall short in analyzing both the need for additional pipelines and the projected climate impacts of new projects (in addition to many other deficiencies).

However, former FERC Chairman Norman Bay offered a surprising call for reform of the agency’s pipeline certificate process when he stepped away at the beginning of February (see the last six pages of this FERC order). Bay criticized the method FERC uses to determine whether or not there is a need for a pipeline. He pointed out that FERC usually looks to precedent agreements between pipeline owners and gas shippers as evidence of need. But this method is flawed.

According to Bay, “focusing on precedent agreements may not take into account a variety of other considerations, including … whether the precedent agreements are largely signed by affiliates.”

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Norman Bay, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In other words, a company applying to build a new pipeline says, “Look, we have subscribers lined up to buy gas from the pipeline, so there must be a need for it.” But a closer examination reveals that the buyer and the seller are both affiliates of the same parent corporation.

This echoes a concern highlighted in a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis published in April 2016. That report found that “in situations in which a pipeline developer contracts with an affiliate company to ship gas through a new pipeline, this is strong evidence that it is doing so because of the financial advantage to the parent company from building the pipeline, but not necessarily that there is a need for the pipeline.”

This report studied the risks of building both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile gas pipeline that would also cut through the Appalachian regions of West Virginia and Virginia. It pointed out that for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, five of the six companies contracted to buy gas are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline. Energy behemoths Dominion Resources and Duke Energy have a combined 85 percent ownership stake in the pipeline, and their subsidiary companies have subscribed to 86 percent of the gas shipped. For the Mountain Valley Pipeline, all six of the buyers are affiliates of the companies building the pipeline.

Another report, published in September 2016 by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., studied conservative estimates of future gas demand in Virginia and the Carolinas. It concluded that, even under scenarios where gas use for electricity production is high, existing pipelines have more than enough capacity to provide energy to the region. That is, we can keep the lights on and businesses thriving without ever building the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines.

Climate impacts of gas pipelines

In addition to the needs analysis, Bay also called on FERC to reform its evaluation of climate impacts. In its draft environmental review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, FERC refused to consider that the pipeline would spur more gas production, enabling more methane leakage along the entire supply chain. Without quantifying them, FERC compared downstream smokestack emissions to global greenhouse gas emissions and concluded that the pipeline’s emissions would merely be a drop in the bucket.

In its draft environmental review for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, FERC did attempt a rough calculation of downstream emissions but again refused to analyze upstream effects or methane leakage. FERC’s review stated that emissions from burning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s gas would be roughly 29 million metric tons (MMt) per year.

A new briefing published by Oil Change International puts a comparable number on emissions from gas combustion for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, estimating 31 MMt annually. But when you add increased gas production and methane leakage along the supply chain, total emissions more than double, reaching nearly 68 MMt per year. The organization also published a briefing for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, estimating total life-cycle emissions at nearly 90 MMt annually.

To put that in perspective, emissions from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be the rough equivalent of adding 20 coal-fired power plants to the grid or putting 14 million more cars on the road. Emissions from the Mountain Valley Pipeline would be like adding 26 coal-fired power plants or putting 19 million more cars on the road.

While Norman Bay defended FERC’s existing climate analysis methods from a legal perspective, he also argued for change. He stated that “in the interests of good government” the agency should analyze downstream impacts and perform lifecycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions — not just from pipelines — but from the entire Marcellus and Utica gas production region.

Other environmental impacts

Besides bludgeoning our atmosphere with huge amounts of new greenhouse gas pollution, the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines would, of course, threaten thousands of groundwater sources, surface streams and wetlands. Constructing the pipelines would force the permanent removal of trees along their routes, fragmenting habitats and spoiling views from the Appalachian Trail. The projects would threaten human health and safety, especially near powerful compressor stations used to pump gas along the line. They would disproportionately impact lower-income communities, communities of color and Native American communities, threatening important historic and cultural resources.

What can you do?

Unfortunately, Bay did not follow his own advice and revise the way FERC analyzes pipeline need or climate impacts while he led the agency. But here’s how you can do your part:

Mountain Valley Pipeline:

Atlantic Coast Pipeline:

Using Art to Combat Environmental Destruction

Friday, February 10th, 2017 - posted by interns

Inside Looking Out

By Andrew Tarley

Monongalia Arts Center, the historic home for arts and culture in Morgantown, W.Va., is collaborating with local artist Betsy Jaeger to show the visible changes in the rural countryside caused by the fossil fuel industry in an exhibition titled “Inside Looking Out.”

The arts center provides a forum for activism through the arts. This time, the issue is one that affects residents throughout the county: fracking and strip mining.

Inside Looking Out: Southwest Windows (Betsy Jaeger)

Inside Looking Out: Southwest Windows (Betsy Jaeger)

Jaeger lives in rural Monongalia County, just west of Morgantown and outside of the commotion of the small city. She moved to Morgantown from Chicago in 1976 to earn a Master of the Arts from West Virginia University. While at WVU, she met her husband, a sculptor, and the two married and moved to a serene 12-acre plot of land in the countryside.

“Many of our neighbors, then, earned their living by raising cattle to send to the big feedlots. Our little community was beautiful, and we really enjoyed the quiet and night-time darkness to see the stars and planets,” Jaeger writes. “But inevitably, all things change, and our rural idyll was no exception.”

With the advent of modern mining equipment in the mid-2000s, surface coal mining in Monongalia County quickly grew in scale, and Jaeger perceived a seismic shift in her community. She refused to sell her rural home and mineral rights to a coal company, even though some of her neighbors had begun, one by one, to agree to sell their mineral rights. According to Jaeger, some also sold their entire properties.

Betsy Jaeger

Inside Looking Out: Southeast Windows (Betsy Jaeger)

“We watched what had been a charming farm community become an industrial wasteland in just two years,” she says. “There was not enough bond money to pay for adequate reclamation.”

In 2012, strip mining began directly in front of her home, adjacent to her property line. Jaeger tracked more than 200 blasts, which rattled the foundation of her home, and she monitored the water quality in her local stream, finding high levels of heavy metals near mining outfalls.

Fracking companies and their trucks also arrived to build drilling stations. “They caused much less damage to the physical landscape than the strip mines, but the air and water quality continued to degrade,” Jaeger says. Wastewater from the fracking sites caused a massive fish-kill on a creek north of her home.

Jaeger created “Inside Looking Out” to share the drastic changes that occurred. This exhibition recreates the views outside of her 12 windows, past and present, using mixed-media elements such as sculpture, photographs and paintings. She says she hopes that this exhibition will spark local discussion and energize the community.

Inside Looking Out: Power Line (Betsy Jaeger)

Inside Looking Out: Power Line (Betsy Jaeger)

“People in Morgantown need to be aware of what is happening to their air and water and landscape,” Jaeger says. “We need to be aware of what is going on outside of the city because it affects us all.”

The exhibition is free and will open with a public reception on Friday, March 3, 2017, at 6 p.m. Refreshments and snacks will be available. “Inside Looking Out” will be on display until April 1. Monongalia Arts Center is located at 107 High Street, Morgantown, W.Va. Inquiries should be directed to info@monartscenter.com or 304-292-3325.

Andrew Tarley is the Media and Advertising Coordinator at Monongalia Arts Center and a former Appalachian Voices intern.

Devastating Forest Fires Ignite Southeast

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

By Tristin Van Ord

The Party Rock Fire rages near Lake Lure, N.C., in November.  Photo by John Cayton

The Party Rock Fire rages near Lake Lure, N.C., in November. Photo by John Cayton

Numerous forest fires continue to burn across Southern and Central Appalachia due to dry weather conditions. According to USA Today, over 119,000 acres of forest have already burned throughout the region this fall.

Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia have all been affected.

At least 300 homes and business were damaged or destroyed after wildfires tore through the city of Gatlinburg and Sevier County, Tenn., on Nov. 28. Fourteen people lost their lives in the blaze and its aftermath.

The Southeast is currently experiencing a “once in a generation drought,” according to PBS News. While drought has increased the spread and intensity of the fires, arson is to blame for many of them. The Associated Press announced that multiple people were arrested for intentionally starting fires. A Kentucky resident was arrested after he started a wildfire to gain popularity on his Facebook page through a forest fire video.

Over 200 homes in the Nantahala National Forest in Western North Carolina were evacuated, and N.C. Governor Pat McCrory issued a state of emergency in 25 counties.

Smoke from the fires is also a public health hazard. According to the Weather Channel, at least two people in Kentucky died from respiratory complications due to the fires, while hundreds have been hospitalized.

Thousands of volunteers are working to stop the spread of the fires, including firefighters from across the country.

Citizens should check to see if their county is under an open burning ban. The North Carolina Forest Service advises keeping a shovel and water at hand if burning outside is necessary.

Editor’s note: The print version of this article stated that seven lives were lost in the Gatlinburg fire at press time. That figure has been updated in this version.

America’s miners deserve better than this; time to do your part

Thursday, December 8th, 2016 - posted by thom
Time is quickly running out for Congress to pass the Miners Protection Act. Photo by Ann Smith, special to the UMW Journal

Time is quickly running out for Congress to pass the Miners Protection Act. Photo by Ann Smith, special to the UMW Journal

America owes a debt to the nation’s coal miners. Not just a debt of gratitude, but a financial debt as well.

The good news is that there is a bill in Congress that would allow this country to begin to pay that debt: the Miners Protection Act. The bad news is that the opportunity to pass the bill is quickly slipping away.

The Miners Protection Act would provide retired members of the United Mine Workers of America the pensions they’ve been promised and the health benefits many of them and their families desperately need. There is broad bipartisan support for the bill — the Senate Finance Committee passed the Miners Protection Act earlier this year by a whopping 18 to 8 margin.

But Congress is on the verge of passing a budget that would leave out pensions altogether, and only provide a band-aid solution for the health benefits. As UMWA president Cecil Roberts explains:

The inclusion of a mere four months of spending on health care benefits for retired miners and widows is a slap in the face to all 22,000 of them who desperately need their health care next month, next year and for the rest of their lives.

Further, the complete exclusion of any language to provide help for the pensions of 120,000 current and future retirees puts America’s coalfield communities on a glide path to deeper economic disaster.
The miners are calling on “any and all allies” to join them in fighting for the pensions and health benefits they have earned. We hope you will join us in becoming one of those allies.

Please call your senator today and tell them that you support the Miners Protection Act, and that they need to pass it before Congress goes on recess. Tell them it is the right thing to do, and going home without doing it is totally unacceptable.

North Carolina – Richard Burr (202) 224-3154
Note: Sen. Burr is a cosponsor of the bill. We need him to show his support by insisting the entire bill passes before he goes home.

Kentucky – Mitch McConnell (202) 224-2541 Note: He is failing the miners by not working to secure their pensions. He needs to support the entire bill and bring it up for a vote before he goes home.

West Virginia – Shelley Capito (202) 224-6472 Note: Sen. Capito is a cosponsor of the bill. She needs to keep fighting, and do everything she can to get this entire bill passed before she goes home.

Tennessee – Bob Corker (202) 224-3344 Note: Sen. Corker needs to show support for the miners. It’s the right thing to do, and he should help get the entire bill passed before he goes home.

Virginia – Tim Kaine (202) 224-4024 Note: Sen. Kaine is a cosponsor of the bill. He needs to do everything he can to make sure the miners get their pensions before he goes home.

Rest of the country – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (202) 224-2541 Note: He is failing the miners by not working to secure their pensions. He needs to support the entire bill and bring it up for a vote before he goes home.

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 birthplaceofrivers.org

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 ramusa.org.

For additional volunteer opportunities or to donate to relief efforts, visit wvflood.com 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 createyourstate.org

— 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.”