Across Appalachia

Wind Power Questions Still Remain

Wind energy has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions and pollutants as it displaces other forms of electrical production, a National Academy of Sciences report said in May. But the report said there was practically no guidance or coordination of wind power policies on the federal, state or local levels.
The number of birds and bats killed by wind turbines is relatively small, the NAS reported. While the data are unclear and not entirely reliable, one estimate was that total bird deaths from turbines amounted to three out of 100,000 other bird deaths attributable to accidents with cars, buildings, cell towers and other man-made structures.
Questions remain, however, and “a better analysis of the cumulative effects” of wind towers is needed, NAS said, “especially given projections of substantial increases in the numbers of wind turbines in coming decades.” Numbers of wind turbines in the neighborhood of 9,500 to 36,000 have been projected, NAS said.
In Virginia, as if to confirm the NAS report on unclear guidance, the state supreme court agreed to review a Highland County approval of a 38 MW project. A State Corporation Commission hearing examiner has already said that Highland County did have the authority and acted properly in granting the permit for the wind farm two years ago.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, proposed legislation to regulate wind energy’s environmental impacts on birds and bats.
Wind energy advocates said the bill could stall the growing industry and they said the proposal was “anti-wind.” Some editorial reaction noted Rahall’s unflagging support for coal and mountaintop removal mining, which has a far larger impact on birds and bats.

Environmental Coalition Fights Tests of Genetically Modified Plants

A coalition of forestry groups including the Dogwood Alliance, WildLaw, Southern Forests Network, Sierra Club and Global Justice Ecology Project joined in May to stop ArborGen plans to plant genetically engineered eucalyptus trees in the southeast U.S.
ArborGen is laying the groundwork for massive plantations of non-native eucalyptus trees genetically engineered to be cold tolerant for biofuels and paper pulp, the GE Trees Campaign said.
In addition to the cold tolerance trait, these eucalyptus have been engineered for other traits which ArborGen refuses to reveal. News articles and reports indicate these traits likely include reduced lignin content and the ability to kill insects.
The first goal of this effort is to stop the USDA’s approval of ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus field trials in Alabama. “ArborGen wants approval from the USDA to allow their genetically engineered eucalyptus trees to flower and produce seeds,” stated Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club and the STOP GE Trees Campaign. “There has been no consideration as to what happens if these seeds escape into native ecosystems.”
Forests of the Southern US are already facing serious threats from industrial pine plantations, with over 32 million acres of native forest s converted in the last 50 years, according to the Dogwood Alliance. These pine plantations are 90-95% less diverse than a natural forest, the Alliance said.

Massey Charges

Federal lawsuits against Massey Coal Co. filed in May in Charleston WV allege a pattern of lawlessness and illegal waste dumping in recent weeks. In addition, Massey has been charged with safety violations in one of its underground mines and lost one round of an MTR mine permit challenge by environmental groups this spring.

• Illegal dumping – Massey has an “extensive history of violating the Clean Water Act”, said federal prosecutors working for the Environmental Protection Agency who filed a lawsuit in mid-May, alleging an estimated 4,633 violations in the past six years. Fines may total $2.4 billion.

Noting previous settlements of legal issues and two criminal plea agreements, along with numerous lawsuits by environmental groups and private individuals, “Massey Energy and its subsidiaries continue to violate the Clean Water Act,” the lawsuit said.

• Mine safety violations – The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration fined Massey $1.5 million for 25 violations connected to a fatal fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Logan County. Two miners will killed in January, 2006, in the same month miners were killed in an unrelated safety accident at the Sago mine. A criminal investigation is also ongoing. Meanwhile, the miners’ widows have also sued Massey.

• MTR permits lost – Meanwhile, four major MTR mining permits for Massey were rescinded in March, and although some were reinstated pending appeal. U.S. District Judge Chuck Chambers ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should not have issued blanket permits for MTR without determining whether the environment would be harmed. Massey will appeal Chambers’ overall decision to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has been reliably favorable to industry in the past.
Massey remained unapologetic, even as its stock prices plunged, stating that “the vast majority of incidents at issue had little or no impact on water quality.”
Bank of America financial analysts told Forbes magazine that “the concern for us is that these ‘overhangs’ are likely to remain for some time.” (Also see related story on bank protest).

Inter-faith group tour leads to Statement on mountaintop removal

An interfaith group touring mountaintop removal sites this May issued the following statement:

Representatives of many faith traditions were invited to participate on the May 1-2, 2007, Mountaintop Removal Tour for Interfaith Leaders. In fact the participants included representatives from many branches of the Christian tradition and one member of the Baha’i faith. The following document should be read with this understanding. However, we hope it will also be an invitation to people of all faiths to become involved and to take action.

As people of faith from varied religious traditions, we assembled in the Central Appalachian coalfields to hear the pleas from local people. Many of our brothers and sisters, living in the midst of natural beauty and extensive mineral wealth, do not share the abundance of the land, but instead experience their lives endangered and their area threatened by mountaintop removal.

Local residents told us that mountaintop removal damages the foundations of their homes and destroys the wells in nearby communities. We heard the story of a mother who has only poisoned water with which to bathe her child. We saw millions of tons of earth and rock dumped into valleys, ruining springs and headwaters of creeks essential to the animal and plant life for miles downstream. We saw water flowing orange with acid runoff, seeding the ground with volatile organic contaminants. We heard stories of graveyards and home places destroyed, altering communities reverenced for generations by families who trace their ties to that land.

Central Appalachia is a land of contrast. The rich beauty of creation stands next to the stark destruction of mountaintop removal. The wealth of coal companies stands beside the utter poverty of the people who have worked to make these companies successful and whose land contains these riches. We confess the role our own demand for cheap energy from coal has played in the destruction of creation and the impoverishment of the people of Central Appalachia.

Care of creation represents a common thread for all people of faith. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this care represents a spiritual act. God owns the land and trusts us to be responsible stewards. The Hebrew Psalmist says: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). We remember that God finished the work of creation and “found it very good” (Gen. 1:31.) God put humanity in the Garden of Eden, a symbol of the whole world, “to cultivate and care for it” (Gen. 2:15.) Hence, creation reflects the beauty of God and humanity becomes a caretaker with God. From our observations and the testimony of many, we conclude that mountaintop removal destroys God’s garden.

In addition, because God’s covenant of protection “covers every living creature,” decisions about the earth’s use must be determined by a concern for the common good. That common good also extends to future generations that must solve their problems, as we solve ours, with the finite resources God has given. Future generations may find their choices greatly limited because of expedient decisions made by our own generation.

We pray that society will produce its necessary goods and services without destroying creation. Unfortunately, our reckless patterns of consumption exploit both land and workers in a rush for quick profit. Society must reject the false dichotomy of jobs versus the environment and creatively find ways of preserving God’s creation while allowing workers of mountain communities to earn their livelihoods.

As a result of this tour we promise four actions:

First, each of us will examine our own wasteful and extravagant lifestyle that causes the destruction of the mountains by demanding cheap energy from coal. Our unexamined and often frivolous consumption has blinded us to the consequences of those demands on creation and the people of the coalfields.

Second, we will insert mountaintop removal into the growing conversation about global climate change.

Third, we pledge voice and vote against mountaintop removal. Our voices will retell the testimony we have heard and the destruction we have seen through our sermons, writings, and conversations. We will raise awareness of mountaintop removal’s devastation in our places of worship and community gatherings. Then, through the legitimate political process, we will encourage our elected officials to enforce fully the existing regulations that ensure clean water and air, while we join others demanding a ban of mountaintop removal as a method of mining.

Fourth, as people of faith we will make this a spiritual issue in our own lives and invite the members of our faith communities to do likewise. This involves engaging people’s conscience towards moral action and praying with the people of Central Appalachia.

We return to our homes enriched by the beauty of the mountains and their inhabitants, determined to live more fully with care of creation. As we travel through these mountains, these words sing in our hearts: “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord be glad in these works!” (Ps. 104:31).

This statement was signed by the following on May 2, 2007

Donna Aros
Duane Beachy
Rev. Robin L. Blakeman
David Britton
Fr. Robert Dueweke, OSA
Chris Elisara
John Gill
Patricia Hudson
Karen Hurley
Peter Illyn
Allen Johnson
Leonard W. Mann
Lenny Marr
David Miller
Rev. Joseph Mitchell
Mary Alice Pratt
Fr. John S. Rausch
Will Samson
Holly Shipley
Matthew Sleeth, M.D.


For more information contact Rev. Robin Blakeman


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