Progress and Setbacks for Appalachia’s Environment

Asheville City Council Approves Clean Energy Resolution

In October, the city council of Asheville, N.C., unanimously approved a resolution to phase out the city’s use of coal-fired electricity and increase power generated from cleaner sources and saved through energy efficiency. Led by local citizen groups including the Western North Carolina Alliance and the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign, the statement targets Duke Energy and the utility’s Asheville Steam Station.

The coal plant is western North Carolina’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, and has become a poster child for the poor regulation of coal ash. In the past year, the Asheville plant has been the target of protests and a lawsuit filed by the state focused on coal ash pollution of the French Broad River. The resolution calls on Duke Energy to work with city government to find ways to meet Asheville’s carbon reduction goals but does not explicitly ask Duke to close the plant.

EPA Approves Weakened Kentucky Selenium Standards

By Brian Sewell

On Nov. 15, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a controversial Kentucky Division of Water proposal to weaken water quality standards for selenium, a pollutant prevalent in coal mining waste that threatens aquatic life and stream health. Environmental groups say the new standards will not adequately protect aquatic life, and will make it harder to test for and enforce the limits near mountaintop removal coal mining sites throughout eastern Kentucky.

Although the EPA did not approve of all the changes proposed by the Kentucky DOW, the agency accepted raising limits and changing the testing method for the state’s chronic standard. The level of selenium in the water table that previously triggered enforcement will now require fish tissue sampling. But even the new fish tissue standard allows for more of the toxin than a standard proposed by the EPA in 2004 that was rejected after a group of the nation’s leading selenium scientists argued it was too weak.

In recent years, selenium has become a liability for coal companies, especially those that operate mountaintop removal mines in Central Appalachia. Due to the threat of lawsuits and the substantial clean-up costs, the coal industry has pressured regulators to weaken selenium standards. The EPA’s decision is likely to encourage other states to weaken their own limits on selenium — especially West Virginia and Virginia, where efforts are currently underway.

Report Documents Concerns Over Water Use and Fracking Waste in W.Va.

By Brian Sewell

As West Virginia undergoes a natural gas boom, more information is surfacing regarding the amount of water used in the drilling process and the monitoring of waste disposal. According to a report sent to state lawmakers by Morgantown-based consulting firm Downstream Strategies, West Virginia’s Marcellus Shale wells leave huge quantities of fracking fluid underground, and the industry’s water use and waste production is very poorly monitored.

The Downstream Strategies report found that of the approximately 5 million gallons of fluid injected per fractured well in West Virginia, only 8 percent returns to the surface. The remaining 92 percent stays underground, completely removed from the water cycle. Also, according to the report, since more than 80 percent of the water used is taken directly from nearby rivers and streams, improper timing of water withdrawals can lead to severe impacts on small streams and aquatic life.

State regulations have been slow to keep up with the fracking boom in West Virginia. After drilling occurs, the fate of 62 percent of the waste produced is currently unknown.

The Downstream Strategies authors claim that improvements in reporting, data collection and enforcement are needed to protect the environment from the growing volume of fracking waste. Still, research indicates that the reporting laws already in place are largely unenforced.


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