Across Appalachia: Environmental News in Brief

Stream Buffer Zone Rule Repeal Deserves President Obama’s Attention

To the outrage of environmentalists across the Appalachian region, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a severe weakening of a rule protecting streams from coal mining pollution in early December.

The Stream Buffer Zone rule had been in effect since 1983 to protect the nation’s headwater streams from being buried by valley fills from mountaintop removal and radical strip mining. Previously, the law required that the impacts of mining be kept at least 100 feet from a stream. In August of 2007, the Bush Administration and the Office of Surface Mining, Reclaimation, and Enforcement (OSMRE) proposed a change to the law that essentially repeals this important regulation, and allows coal companies to permanently bury Appalachian streams beneath hundreds of millions of tons of mining waste.

The change had to receive written approval from EPA before it could be finalized. Although the EPA gave its approval, opponents of the change argue that EPA did so illegally, because it conflicts with their duties under the Clean Water Act.

“Once again, the EPA has failed to live up to its name,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “With less than two months left in power, the Bush administration is determined to cement its legacy as having the worst environmental record in history. This is a sad day for all people who are thankful for the clear mountain streams and stately summits of the Appalachians.”

In the days leading up to the decision, Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen and Kentucky governor Steve Beshear came out in opposition to the rule change. “Kentucky’s vast water resources are critical to our health and economic development,” Beshear wrote in his letter to Stephen Johnson, EPA administrator, “and I do not believe the newly proposed waivers can be effectively and uniformly applied to protect these water resources.” Beshear was joined in his objection by Attorney General Jack Conway and Congressmen Ben Chandler, of Lexington, and John Yarmuth, of Louisville, all of whom wrote individual letters of concern to the EPA.

This rule change will be one of the most important of Bush’s “midnight regulations” for President Barack Obama to repeal upon assuming the presidency. If done quickly with the correct timing, the President Obama could overturn it with a direct executive order. However, if the rule remains in place too long, it will take Congressional legislation to overturn it, a process that, by its nature, takes much much longer. Every day that passes while this rule remains in place means greater and greater potential for pollution of water resources across the coal fields of Appalachia.

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Study Shows State-specific Effects of Climate Change
by Sarah Vig

A September 2008 study published by the Center for Integrative Environmental Research (CIER) at the University of Maryland in conjunction with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) details the predicted effects of climate change on the economy and environment of 12 states across the nation, including the Appalachian states of Tennessee and North Carolina.

The study estimates possible costs to North Carolina’s economy of $14.1 billion due to lost property value from sea-level rise, lost tourism revenues from increased hurricane activity, and threat to forest productivity from the spread of invasive species. For Tennessee, the study predicts that projected impacts due to increased flooding or drought could be significant, affecting the state’s $21.7 billion forest industry, infrastructure, and water resources.

“This report shows that climate change will affect all areas of Tennessee’s economy,” said Dean Menke, a policy specialist at Environmental Defense Fund, an organization who provided funding for some of the research.  “Droughts, like the one this year that affected the state’s water quality, agriculture and forestry, could become more frequent and severe if climate change is left unchecked.”

The overview of the project and links to individual state reports can be found at:

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Corridor K Highway Project Stokes Controversy

Public opposition is growing against a 10-mile section of a proposed four-lane highway in western North Carolina that would cut through a portion of the Nantahala National Forest and ultimately link Asheville, NC to Chattanooga, TN.

An environmental study by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) claimed that the road would have little environmental impact, but several conservation groups condemned the findings, stating that the project is exorbitantly expensive, would pose a threat to local water quality, wildlife habitat, and other natural resources, and would not be the economic boon to local communities it was conceptualized to be in the original planning stages 40 years ago.

The highway, known as Corridor K, is projected to cost $378 million and would cut a 2,870 foot tunnel under the Snowbird Mountains, requiring excavation of 3 million cubic yards of rock.

Furthermore, studies conducted by DOT show that for most hours of the day, driving the new road would make no difference in travel times compared to existing routes, which, with modest improvements, are projected by the NCDOT to have acceptable levels of traffic for 20 years or more.

Opponents to the proposed Corridor K fear it is just a stepping stone to another controversial road project, Interstate 3, which would link Savannah, GA to Knoxville, TN.

An NCDOT public comment period on the project ended Oct. 14. The next public comment hearings are scheduled for the first of the year in Graham County.
For more information, visit or

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Inaugural New River Trail Race A Success

Runners of the first New River Trail 50K (NRT 50K) began their race with foggy 48 degree temperatures on Saturday, October 11, but finished with bright skies and sunny conditions. Of the 102 racers at the start of the 50K (31.1 miles) course—known as an “ultramarathon”—100 crossed the finish line and 96 finished in the 7-hour time limit.

The NRT 50k, a new race on the ultra running circuit, followed the New River Trail in the New River Trail State Park in Virginia, beginning and ending in Fries, VA.
Race Director Annette Bednosky billed the NRT 50K as a “green” event, conducting registrations entirely online, and using minimal disposables at the race itself. Bednosky enlisted the support of the local Fries community, and featured local and homemade foods.

Bednosky also sought sponsorships from companies with reputations for environmental concern, and dedicated proceeds from the race to the National Committee for the New River (NCNR). NCNR is a non-profit organization working to protect the New River in its three state (NC, VA, WV) watershed.

Sponsors and contributors to the NRT 50K included Mud Mama Pottery; Patagonia; Nathan Products; Montrail; Foot RX of Asheville, NC; Mountain Outfitters of West Jefferson, NC; Clif Bar; Flowers Bakery of Winston-Salem, NC; and Fries food purveyor Rebecca Adcock.

Winners in the men’s category were: 1st place—Aaron Saft, 30, of Asheville, NC (3:25:54). 2nd place—Bill Shires , 43, of Charlotte, NC (3:29:54). 3rd place—Tad Morris, 41, of PA.

Winners in the women’s category were: 1st place—Robin Weiner, 48, of WV (4:29:21). 2nd place—Leigh Hagan, 39, of PA(4:38:19). 3rd place—Kelly Fredgren, of Winston-Salem, NC(4:40:16).

Plans are underway for the 2009 event, which is scheduled for October 10, 2009. Registration will begin the 1st of the year and the race will expand to a 250-person limit. For more information on the National Committee for the New River, visit For details on the 2008 NRT 50K visit www.

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North Carolina Premier of Appalachia to Benefit Regional Environmental Groups

On Friday, January 16, 2009, the Diana Wortham Theater in Asheville will host the North Carolina premiere of the PBS series Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People, a visual narrative on the environmental history of Appalachia.

The evening will begin at 6:00 PM with a reception for the filmmakers and special guests, followed by a 7:00 PM panel discussion and screening of part one of the film, Time and Terrain. Admission to the reception and film is $50, while tickets for just the film screening are $25.

Southwings and the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition will co-sponsor the event. All proceeds from the event will benefit the good work of Southwings and SAFC in the region.

Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People is narrated by Sissy Spacek and features breathtaking scenes of the natural world interwoven with eloquent observations from well-known intellectuals such as Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E.O. Wilson and best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver as well as Appalachian activists such as Judy Bonds, Harvard Ayers and Lamar Marshall. The film is directed by Academy Award nominee Ross Spears and was produced by Asheville resident Jamie Ross.

Beginning with its geological history, Appalachia recounts the compelling story of how landscape shapes human cultures and, in turn, how humans shape the land.

To purchase tickets, visit or call the box office at 828-257-4530. For more information about the film and the filmmakers, visit


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