Across Appalachia

To Avert Disaster: “Pennies of Promise” campaign begins for Marsh Fork school

Ed Wiley, grandfather of a Marsh Fork WV elementary student, and other residents of the Coal River Valley gathered at the steps of the Capitol building in late May to announce the launch of “Pennies of Promise,” a campaign to raise the funds needed to build a new school in their community to replace Marsh Fork Elementary School.

Marsh Fork Elementary School sits just 225 feet from a coal loading silo that releases coal dust associated with coal processing. Worse, an earthen dam permitted to hold 2.8 billion gallons of toxic coal waste sludge looms just 400 yards upstream. “My Bottom Line is you shouldn’t have a huge impoundment above a school, even if it’s the best impoundment in the world,” said Davitt McAteer, mine safety expert.

“This is an unacceptable condition,” Wiley said. “Governor Manchin has promised to look into building a new school but has not followed through, so the residents feel it is up to them to raise the money.”

“We cannot wait until another disaster strikes.We cannot continue to allow our children to be sick from the coal dust and chemicals they are breathing every day.


New Coal Power Projects Planned

Appalachian regional utilities have a new round of coal fired power plants in the planning and permitting stage. Both American Electric Power (WV) and Dominion Power (VA) announced plans this May for 500 megawatt coal-burning power plants. Duke Energy (NC) also released plans that call for two new coal burning plants.

AEP expects to be first to have a unit finished because, as its CEO said recently, West Virginia has an easier regulatory process than other states. The AEP power plant proposed for New Haven in Mason County would use “Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle” (IGCC) technology. It would cost about $1 billion for 500 to 600 megawatts of power. Its not clear whether the AEP plant would capture carbon dioxide for underground storage or would simply be built so that this would be technically easier in the future. The AEP unit is being billed as a “clean coal” plant, but many environmentalists believe the term is an oxymoron.

The proposed Dominion power plant in Wise County, Va. would use fluidized bed combustion, a technique that floats coal powder on air and mixes it with limestone as it burns in order to reduce sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions. It would cost $1 billion or more for 500 to 600 megawatts.

In North Caroline, Duke power says it will plan for three new nuclear reactors and two coal-burning plants to meet energy demand within a decade. But during public hearings recently, many people urged the state Utilities commission to require conservation and renewable energy, which were lacking in the plan. John Runkle, a lawyer for groups challenging the plan, said the proposals “do not reflect even the most conservative growth in energy efficiency, let alone growth in alternative energy production.”

NC Sues Over Air Pollution

Meanwhile, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper sued the Tennessee Valley Authority federal court. The suit contends that pollution from the utility’s 11 coal-fired power plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee was making people in North Carolina sick.

Although the TVA claims it has spent over a billion dollars in pollution controls, North Carolina hopes to force TVA to further reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury to a level required under North Carolina’s Clean Smokestacks Act. The state is not seeking monetary damages.

Shenandoah River Placed on Most Endangered List

Rapid development is threatening the Shenandoah River of Virginia, American Rivers said as it listed the river as America’s fifth most endangered river for 2006. The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report highlights ten rivers facing a major turning point in the coming year, where action by citizens can make a difference for both community well-being and river health.

“Poorly-planned development is marching like a marauding army through the Shenandoah Valley, threatening this fabled river’s priceless recreation, rich heritage, and green vistas,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “It’s OK for counties to put out the welcome mat, but they shouldn’t be doormats for developers.
Planning for the future and growing smart makes sense for Valley residents and newcomers alike.”

Best Practices Database Launched

A new US Dept. of Agriculture database is geared towards best sustainability proactices of organizations in the Southeast and Appalachian region.

The database can be accesssed at:

The database is searchable by organization, keyword and practice area “Say, for example, you are concerned about watershed issues in your county and want to know how others have already learned to cope with watershed conservation,” USDA said. “Click on the term, and you will find more than 15 groups who have worked through these issues in their own region, from tiny headwaters to the shores of the Tennessee River.”

The database team also said: “We think this region holds some very important secrets to the local, regional, national, and global success of sustainability efforts.”

Surviving Chestnut Trees Found

A stand of chestnut trees that may have escaped the notorious chestnut blight was found along a hiking trail in Pine Mountain, GA.

The discovery is exciting for those working to restore the American chestnut. Nathan Klaus, a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, spotted the trees. Klaus believed that the trees were probably not drought resistant, but rather, that something unique at Pine Mountain had given the trees resistance. One possibility is that the chestnuts have less competition from other trees along a dry, rocky ridge, or that the fungus that causes the blight cannot thrive in the dry environment.

Among the half-dozen trees, the largest is about 12 meters in height and probably 20 to 30 years old. “This is a terrific find,” said David Keehn, president of the Georgia chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation. “A tree of this size is one in a million.”

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