Old Dominion Postpones Seeking Air Permits for Proposed VA Power Plant

By Sandra Diaz

Wise Energy for Virginia coalition, a coalition of several environmental organizations whose mission is help secure a clean energy future for Virginia, has recently seen progress in their campaign to stop construction of a new coal-fired power plant in the Hampton Roads area proposed by Old Dominion Electric Co-op (ODEC).

ODEC recently announced plans to postpone pursuance of air pollution permits for up to two years. The coalition has been working to encourage ODEC to consider investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy over building the plant.

The coalition has long opposed the 1500 megawatt plant which, if built, would be the largest in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Among the coalition’s concerns are the resulting air pollution, water pollution from mercury, the use of mountaintop removal coal and the plant’s contribution to climate change.

“The degree of citizen opposition to the plant is clearly more than ODEC bargained for. When the Surry County Planning Commission took this up, over 200 people showed up and the great majority of speakers opposed the plant. This gives ODEC a sense of what to expect if it pursues state and federal permits and they can already see the opposition building in the greater Hampton Roads area and among their retail co-ops’ ratepayers,” said Tom Cormons, Virginia Director for Appalachian Voices, part of the coalition working to stop the plant.

However, the company is still working to advance the plant at the local level and is seeking water pollution permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, which requires a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement. The coalition is petitioning the Army Corps to critically evaluate ODEC’s purposed need for the plant and independently evaluate environmentally preferable alternatives to the proposal.

4th Circuit Court Overturns NC’s Emissions Lawsuit Against TVA

This decision will impact North Carolina health. Photo by Jan van der Crabben.

By Jed Grubbs

ourt of Appeals in Richmond, Va., unanimously voted to overturn a North Carolina judge’s ruling requiring the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to improve emission controls at four coal-fired power plants. U.S. District Judge Lacy H. Thornburg, of Asheville had previously determined the plants were having a deleterious effect on air quality in Western North Carolina.

TVA, which was created in 1933, is the nation’s largest public utility, servicing most of Tennessee as well as portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Indiana.

A health expert who appeared during the original lawsuit testified that if targeted emissions controls were implemented there would be 99 fewer premature deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, 19,000 fewer asthma attacks, 2,300 fewer lost school days, 60 fewer hospital admissions, and 55 fewer emergency room visits related to asthma in North Carolina alone.

A TVA health expert, meanwhile, called the impact of the utility’s emissions on North Carolina “almost imperceptible.”

Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, III, of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court wrote that allowing Judge Thornburg’s ruling to stand would have undermined the nation’s carefully crafted regulatory scheme.

Moving forward, North Carolina may appeal the July decision to the U.S. Supreme Court or seek a re-hearing before the full appeals court.

EPA Stops Fast Track Permitting for Mountaintop Removal

On June 17, the Army Corps of Engineers announced suspension of the Nationwide Permit 21 program effective immediately in Appalachia states from Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

NWP 21 allowed for the “fast-tracking” of Clean Water Act permits of valley fills permits for surface coal mining activities.

Permits will now be individually reviewed under more rigorous standards and subject to public comment.

In response to this decision and other recent actions by the Environmental Protection Agency to clamp down on the impacts of mountaintop removal mining, the National Mining Association filed a lawsuit against the EPA in July.

Court Orders Patriot Coal To Control Selenium Pollution

By Parker Stevens

U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers recently ordered Patriot Coal Company to clean up selenium pollution at two of its southern West Virginia mining operations.

The ruling signals a victory for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, The Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment and The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy – all plaintiffs in the case against Patriot.

“This will be the first time selenium is treated in this state, and it should be a lesson to both the Department of Environmental Protection and the coal industry that it must be treated,” said Margaret Janes, senior policy analyst for the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.

“The results of this case clearly show that the cost of mining high-selenium coal seams exceeds the profits.”

Selenium is toxic to humans in high doses, and can impact the reproductive cycle of many aquatic species, impair the development and survival of fish and damage gills or other organs of aquatic organisms subject to prolonged exposure.

As part of the ruling, Patriot Coal will be required to install selenium treatment control systems at its Ruffer Mine and Hobet 21 mine in southern West Virginia.

Wild and Wonderful: Gauley Fest Raises Awareness About River Protection

Brian Jennings is launched into the Gauley River. Photo by Ben Edson

By Maureen Halsema

Twenty-five miles of wild river featuring Class V whitewater rapids and breath-taking views of the gorge lures adventure seekers and nature lovers from far and wide to West Virginia’s Gauley River.

“Guaranteed flows, cool clear water, amazing variety of rapids, play spots and almost every type of craft you can imagine,” said Brian Jennings, general manager of North American River Runners. “The Gauley is a whitewater melting pot, not something you see on many other rivers.”

In honor of this famed river, American Whitewater, a nonprofit organization focused on conservation and restoration of recreational whitewater resources, founded Gauley Fest in 1983, to celebrate the cessation of a hydroelectric project that would have dewatered the river.

This year, Gauley Fest will be held September 17 to 19 in Summersville, W.Va. The largest whitewater festival in the world, Gauley Fest is an annual fundraising event featuring live entertainment, vendors, auctions, paddling and partying. The festival’s proceeds contribute to American Whitewater’s conservation and access projects across the nation.

“Gauley Fest helps raise money to fund river restoration projects that American Whitewater spearheads, particularly with hydroelectric dam projects,” said Mark Singleton, executive director of American Whitewater.

“Whenever there is a license renewal, we typically weigh in.”

Downstream from the epic white water run, the river faces a new threat: mountaintop removal mining.

In a study by American Rivers, an environmental conservation organization dedicated to protecting and restoring rivers, the Gauley River was listed as this year’s third most endangered river in the country.

The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report points to mountaintop removal as the reason for the designation. Mountaintop removal mining practices cause an increase of sediment and toxic wastes to flow into rivers, raising conductivity of the waters and altering habitats.

“The report is a powerful tool for saving these important rivers,” said Liz Garland, associate director of American Rivers’ Clean Water Program in Pennsylvania. “It shines a spotlight on key decisions that will impact the rivers and provides clear actions the public can take on their behalf.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently accepting public comments on guidelines regarding conductivity limitations downstream from mining operations. Conductivity is a measurement of the amount of salts and metals in water and its ability to carry an electrical current. The proposed limits concern the levels at which the water quality and aquatic life are considered impaired or at risk for impairment.

“Unless the EPA and Army Corps act now to end the devastating practice of mountaintop removal mining, the Gauley River and its communities will suffer irreparable damage,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.

EPA Solicits Comments On Coal Ash

By Kara Dodson and Parker Stevens

The EPA has proposed two options for regulating coal ash, and a public comment period is open until Sept. 21.

The first option, known as Subtitle C, would classify coal ash a “special waste;” this standard requires ash disposal sites to be lined, slurry ponds to be phased out and a strong national standard for waste disposal.

The second option, Subtitle D, would classify coal ash as a solid waste, and replace federally enforced standards with state guidelines.

Coal ash contains heavy metals including arsenic, mercury, lead and selenium. Hundreds of unlined ash disposal ponds store millions of tons of this hazardous waste across the U.S.

Reports from the Upper Watauga Riverkeeper, Earth Justice and Environmental Integrity Project among other organizations have documented contaminated groundwater and residential wells, polluted public waterways and structurally unsound operations.

Until recently, the EPA partnered with the coal industry to promote the re-use of coal ash, using it in an array of consumer, agricultural and commercial products. The partnership, called the Coal Combustion Products Partnership (C2P2), was suspended in late spring and the web pages removed from the EPA website while the agency re-evaluates the beneficial uses of coal combustion residues.

Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers is considering using coal ash to seal at least 11 levees along the Mississippi River. The levees, built between the 1930s and 1950s, are weakened and in need of reinforcement. When mixed with lime, coal ash forms a cement-like material that can be injected into the levees, though the possible effects on water quality have not been studied.

For over a decade, coal ash has been used to strengthen levees along the river near Memphis, Tenn. The Army Corps admits to being unaware of any testing to determine if toxic metals have leeched into the water.

If the EPA does classify coal ash as hazardous material, the Army Corps will reconsider its proposal.

During the public comment period, the EPA held five public hearings concerning the proposed regulation, including ones in Arlington, Va., on Aug. 30, and Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 14.

Visit AppVoices.org/Coal-Ash to read more about the hearings and comment period.

The Coal Truth – Notes from all over

POWERING DOWN: American Electric Power, one of the nation’s largest power generators, will idle 10 of it’s smaller coal-fired power plants due to slow demand.

The plants, located in Ohio, Virginia, Indiana and West Virginia, will be pulled back online as needed during peak demand months of January, July and August.

SUBSIDIZED : A draft study from the International Energy Agency revealed that the fossil-fuel industry receives $550 billion a year in global subsidies, about 75 percent more than previously thought.

APPLES TO PEACHES: Responding to pressure from lawmakers and environmentalists, electricity giant Duke Energy is conducting price comparisons of Appalachian coal from mountaintop removal to other sources of coal.

Duke energy is required by state laws to provide the cheapest possible electricity. In a report released earlier this year, Duke said “Our goal, as always, is to strike the right balance between economic, environmental and social considerations.”

DOCTOR KNOWS BEST: The 62,000-strong American Medical Student Association has formally adopted an amendment opposing the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining as well as the continued reliance on electricity from coal.

The AMSA membership includes pre-med and medical students, interns, residents and practicing physicians from across the country.

ALL RISE: A trial date of March 14, 2011 has been set in a coal dust lawsuit filed by Williamson attorney Kevin Thompson against Massey Energy and three of its subsidiaries.

The suit claims that hundreds of children were exposed to coal dust from a processing plant next to Marsh Fork Elementary School.

SWOOSH!: Sports giant Nike withdrew an promotional ad campaign for a new West Virginia University uniform when it met with strong disapproval over the image depicting a football stadium that resembled a mountaintop removal mine site. The uniforms were originally designed to honor the 29 miners killed at Upper Big Branch mine in April.

A BYRD IN THE HAND: West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin announced in July that he will run for the U.S. Senate seat held by the late Robert Byrd. Morgantown business executive John Raese is running on the Republican ticket.

LABOR BATTLE: On Labor Day weekend, over 100 people gathered at the Whipple Company Store and Museum in Scarbro, Wv. to support protection of Blair Mountain as a historic site.

In 1921 a labor battle occured between coal companies and miners seeking to unionize. Currently, there is a controversy over the recent listing and then subsequent delisting of the battlefield as a historic site. Food, music, tours of the store and artifacts from Blair Mountain were on hand. The organization Friends of Blair Mountain also discussed the lawsuit they are pursuing over the recent delisting of the site.


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