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Air Board Denies Key Permit for Mountain Valley Pipeline, Dealing Critical Blow to Beleaguered Fracked Gas Project

Contact

Jessica Sims, jessica@appvoices.org
Gabby Brown, gabby.brown@sierraclub.org

Chatham, VA — Today, in a victory for environmental justice, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted 6-1 to deny the air quality permit for the proposed Lambert Compressor Station. The station would have connected the beleaguered Mountain Valley Pipeline to a proposed ‘Southgate’ extension into North Carolina. Had the permit been granted, nearby communities would be subjected to additional air emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter 2.5, and formaldehyde — substances known to contribute to respiratory problems, heart disease and cancer. The permit denial is a clear victory for communities working tirelessly to protect their health and homes from corporate polluters — and a major setback for the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Without this key permit, the Mountain Valley Pipeline and its Southgate extension are unlikely to ever be built. The MVP mainline project lacks necessary federal and state authorizations, has racked up more than $2 million in fines for more than 350 water quality-related violations in Virginia and West Virginia, is years behind schedule and continues to face stiff grassroots opposition. Investors are abandoning projects like this amid growing attention on the true climate impacts of fracked gas, which primarily consists of methane — a greenhouse gas at least 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The United Nations and International Energy Agency both recently found that the world would not be able to meet its climate goals and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis unless we immediately reduce gas use and replace it with clean electricity.

The Air Board received public input for two days in Chatham, VA, where more than 80% speakers warned of disproportionate health impacts to minority communities from air pollution, impacts to the climate, and the environmental injustice from the proposed station. This mirrored the overwhelming 90% of public submissions received during the Spring 2021 public comment period that asked the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to deny the permit. Ahead of the hearings, 16 Virginia Delegates voiced environmental justice and health concerns about the compressor station.

In articulating their permit denial, Board members cited the negative health impact this additional industrial facility would have on air quality in the region, as well as the lack of a thorough environmental justice study, including identification of and outreach to people of color and/or low income living within three to five miles of the proposed Lambert Compressor Station site.

Lynn Godfrey, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Community Outreach Coordinator said, “No one should be asked to sacrifice their air, water, and health so that fossil fuel executives can make a quick buck in a world transitioning to clean energy. This is a win for Virginia communities who already live with elevated levels of fossil fuel pollution, and everyone everywhere who wants a livable future for their children. The writing is on the wall if the wealthy investors backing this project are willing to read it: the age of fossil fuels is over, it’s time to drop this polluting pipeline.”

Elizabeth Jones, of the Pittsylvania County NAACP Environmental Justice Committee said, “Environmental and climate justice is a civil rights issue. We all depend on the physical environment and its bounty. The Air Pollution Control Board’s denial of the air permit to MVP ‘s Lambert Fracked Gas Compressor Station took courage. We have faith that we can protect our communities.”

Virginia Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, Jessica Sims said, “The citizen Air Board was right to deny the permit sought by MVP Southgate—the project is unjust, and the proposed permit was wholly insufficient to protect human health and the environment. The Chatham community’s incredible work opposing the ruinous Mountain Valley Pipeline shows that neighbors can stand up to big fossil fuel companies and win — especially when their fellow citizens serving on state boards do the right thing. It’s past time for this destructive project to be canceled.”

Elle De La Cancela, Central Virginia Grassroots Organizer with Chesapeake Climate Action Network said, “The Chesapeake Climate Action Network would like to thank the members of the Air Pollution Control Board for acting in the interest of the citizens it represents, and standing up to an extractive industry that is reliant on the suffering of marginalized people. No longer will our regulators be swayed by proposed claims of economic benefit, which in truth are nonexistent and only cause more harm. It is abundantly clear that the only way for us to ensure a thriving future is to continue to deny faulty permits and stop the MVP and all new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

“For many months, our movement has been demanding a stop to the Lambert Compressor Station in Pittsylvania County. Today, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board opted to deny the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s air quality permit, which is necessary for the compressor station to be built. This is a key step forward in the movement to stop the environmentally-unjust, dangerous Lambert Compressor Station and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Now we march onwards to ensure an end to this unnecessary fossil fuel project and a livable future for our communities,” said Russell Chisholm, Co-Chair of Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR).

POSTPONED: Miners with black lung launch two weeks of demonstrations urging Sen. Capito to back 10-year extension of Black Lung Excise Tax

Contact

Trey Pollard, 202-904-9187, trey@pollardcommunications.com

Due to inclement weather and the increased risk it poses to people with black lung, these demonstrations have been postponed. This press release was updated at 11 a.m. on Dec. 6.

CHARLESTON, WV — Today, the National Black Lung Association announced it would hold two weeks of daily demonstrations to urge Senator Shelley Moore Capito to support a critically-needed 10-year extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax.

“Everyone says how we need to support coal in West Virginia, but people don’t realize that they’re not really supporting miners, just the companies. We’re out here on the street because we need everyone to know what black lung is putting us through, and that we need their backing,” said Gary Hairston, President of the National Black Lung Association, and President of the Fayette County (WV) Black Lung Association.

Earlier this year, Senator Manchin introduced the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Act of 2021 to extend the Black Lung Excise Tax for 10 years, but Capito has yet to endorse the bill or any extension of the excise tax this Congress. The excise tax is the only dedicated source of revenue for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF), a fund that is already over $4 billion in debt. The BLDTF pays for medical benefits and provides a small monthly living stipend to coal miners who are disabled by black lung disease, and to their surviving dependents. Over $40 million in benefits from the fund was distributed to families in West Virginia during 2020, and over $162 million was distributed nationally. Without congressional action, the excise tax will be cut in half at the end of the year.

“If we don’t get this bill passed, the debt will just keep on building up,” Hairston said. “Sooner or later, the companies will be paying nothing and the taxpayer will have to pay everything. We need Senator Capito to support the 10-year extension so that we don’t have to worry about if our benefits are going to keep being funded. If Senator Capito would join Senator Manchin on this, it would let everybody know that this isn’t about one party. It’s something that the people of West Virginia really need. I’m really hoping they will get together on this.”

Coal miners are facing an epidemic as black lung disease has risen to historically unprecedented levels, hitting a 25-year high in Appalachian coal mining states. The incidence rate of black lung, a preventable disease caused by exposure to coal dust and silica on the job, has doubled nationwide since 2000. 1 in 5 veteran coal miners in Central Appalachia now have the disease. Many miners diagnosed with the disease today are younger and sicker than ever before.

“Without sufficient funding from the excise tax on coal, miners disabled by black lung will have a more difficult time obtaining compensation to support their families.” said John Cline, a Beckley attorney who represents miners with black lung. “West Virginians are already struggling economically, and families cannot afford any delay or reduction in black lung benefits. This funding is an absolute necessity!”

Background:

Coal miners who are disabled from black lung, as well their surviving dependents, are entitled by law to modest living and medical benefits. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund pays for these benefits in cases where the miners’ employer has gone bankrupt or where no coal company can be identified as responsible for the miner’s disease.

The trust fund is more important now than ever because a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry has created increased pressure on the program. It is supported by a small excise tax paid by companies per ton of coal sold domestically, at a rate that was unchanged for more than three decades: $0.55/ ton of surface mined coal, and $1.10/ ton of coal mined underground.

In 2018, the excise tax was reduced and collected at less than 50% of its historic rate for the entirety of 2019, pushing the BLDTF deeper into debt. In 2019 and 2020 the higher, historic rate of the excise tax was reinstated through one-year tax extender bills, but the rate will be cut in half again at the end of this year without action from Congress. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund Acl would extend the Black Lung Excise Tax on coal sales at the current tax rates for 10 years. Meanwhile, the Build Back Better Bill that recently passed through the House of Representatives includes a 4-year extension to the tax. A 10-year extension provides longer-term security for the fund, and for the miners who depend on it compared to short-term, one year extensions.

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Chatham residents and others to speak against Lambert Compressor Station at air board hearing

If You Go

State Air Control Board Meetings: Dec. 2, 1 p.m.; Dec. 3, 9:30 a.m.

Olde Dominion Agriculture Complex Education and Conference Center
19785 U.S. Highway 29, Chatham, Va.

Opponents of the compressor station plan to gather at the agriculture complex.

Beginning on Dec. 2 at 1 p.m., the State Air Pollution Control Board will consider an air quality permit for the Lambert Compressor Station proposed for Pittsylvania County at a thrice-delayed public hearing in Chatham, Virginia. The hearing will continue on Dec. 3 at 9:30 a.m.

The hearing will take place at the Olde Dominion Agriculture Complex Education and Conference Center.

The Lambert Compressor Station would be the only compressor station for MVP Southgate, a proposed 73-mile extension of the unfinished 303-mile fracked-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline. It would be the third compressor station located on Transco Road.


Compressor stations, which help maintain pressure and flow of the natural gas in pipelines, can be significant sources of pollution, emitting carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxides and volatile organic compounds, among other harmful substances.

“Why us? Why in our backyard? Why in the Banister District in Chatham in Pittsylvania County?” asked Elizabeth Jones, who chairs the environmental justice committee of the Pittsylvania County Branch of the NAACP, during an online meeting in August. “It’s because there is very little resistance. … This is an environmental justice issue.”

Jones noted that Banister District is predominantly African-American. She lives on a farm near the site of the proposed compressor station with her husband Anderson, who spoke during the meeting about the farm that’s been in his family for 98 years.

“The Jones family farm is one of the beautiful areas in Chatham,” he said. “We used to have cows, hogs, chickens. We had fruit trees. We had a wonderful farm and the land was very fertile. The pipelines have come in and destroyed the beautiful landscape. You just need to look at what they have done to it.”

Only people who submitted public comments during the original comment period earlier this year will be allowed to speak at the public hearing. DEQ said there are plans to livestream the meeting, but those details have yet to be released.

The in-person hearing was originally scheduled for July 7 in Richmond — a decision that was reversed after a fierce backlash. The Pittsylvania County Branch of the NAACP urged the board to either add a virtual option for attending the meeting or move it to Pittsylvania County.

“Our members and others from Southern Virginia are facing a 300-mile, 6-hour round trip, and a 1- or 2-night stay in order to attend the meeting,” wrote President Anita Royston in a letter to DEQ. “Given the current set-up, we can only speak — and listen — if we make the trip.”

The hearing was postponed to September, then October and finally pushed back again to Dec. 2. With the Delta surge in COVID-19 cases only beginning to decline, the lack of a virtual option for speakers remains troublesome.


“By not allowing a hybrid hearing format, DEQ is failing to protect citizens’ right to engage in important governance decisions that affect their community,” said Jessica Sims, Virginia Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “Throughout the public comment period, the public raised serious concerns with this misguided project, including that environmental justice issues were not properly addressed and community engagement was lacking.”

DEQ has received hundreds of comments from people opposed granting the air permit, including a letter from 16 members of the Virginia General Assembly asking DEQ to deny the permit.

“As reflected in over 300 submissions from the public regarding the project application, including comments from technical and health experts, the Compressor Station would have disproportionate adverse impacts on the affected community,” wrote the legislators. “Members of that same community indicated they did not receive timely notice of the project, nor receive authentic outreach. As meaningful engagement with impacted communities is a foundational aspect of the Virginia Environmental Justice Act, we are especially concerned.”

Read more about the proposed Lambert Compressor Station in The Appalachian Voice.

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Black Appalachian Coalition aims to shift narrative on energy, other issues

Appalachia’s people of color have borne greater social and economic burdens, on average, than their White counterparts, but their stories are often left out of policy discussions about energy and other issues in the region. 

A new coalition is now seeking to amplify those unheard voices.

Bishop Marcia Dinkins

The Black Appalachian Coalition is an initiative of Black Women Rising. Bishop Marcia Dinkins, the group’s founder and executive director, recently talked with the Energy News Network about its work to shift from a single story about Appalachia.

Q: Why do we need conversations with Appalachia’s people of color about the effects of fossil fuels, pollution and other problems?

A: “We should be having these conversations because Black people are impacted,” Dinkins said. “And when we look at the inequities with regards to exploitation, extraction and exclusion — historically and presently — it continues to divest from these voices.”

As she sees it, people often have one view of America and a separate view of rural America that is primarily White. By numbers, Black people are a small minority in many parts of Appalachia. “But it does not mean there should be an absence of these rural voices.”

Q: What’s the result of a system that doesn’t seek out and listen to stories from people of color?

A: “It keeps them outside of policymaking. It keeps them outside of being a part of legislation that’s moving to improve the quality of life for others, but not for them,” Dinkins said. “They’re outside the conversation. They’re not at the table.”

Q: Why are energy issues especially relevant for communities in Appalachia?

A: “Fossil fuels have been a contributor or a conduit for allowing systemic racism,” Dinkins said. And energy issues are intricately intertwined with racial disparities. “Black voices need to be in this conversation because they’re the ones who speak best to systemic racism and how fossil fuels have impacted their communities.”

Appalachian states have long been centers for coal mining and various coal-intensive industries. More recently, the combination of fracking and horizontal drilling has accelerated natural gas extraction, along with the range of disruptions it often brings. Black communities are especially affected by those activities and by industries that burn fossil fuels in factories, steel mills and so forth, Dinkins said.

Q: BLAC hosted listening sessions this fall, where individuals from communities in Appalachian Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky shared insights. What were you looking to find out?

A: “Our goal for these listening sessions is to hear the voices of people about their lived experiences and to walk alongside them to identify solutions for their community,” Dinkins said. In other words: What are people of color experiencing as a result of pollution, a lack of infrastructure, limited opportunities, disparities in resources and other issues in their areas?

People’s stories have also highlighted disparities that reflect systemic racism. Parks in White areas may get funding and modern restrooms, for example, but not one in a Black neighborhood. Gaps in educational achievement are linked to school funding based on property taxes, and Black people have had less economic wealth, on average, than White people. “We know that all of these things connect,” Dinkins said.

Q: How can those experiences lead to policy solutions?

A: BLAC is asking people what they want, rather than telling them what they need, Dinkins said. “What is the change that they believe should happen or occur in their communities to improve their quality of life?” Once people have answered those questions, then policy solutions can be proposed. And the solutions will often differ based on a community’s size, available resources and other factors.

For example, if residents are impacted by pollution from an industrial plant that uses fossil fuels, they don’t want the pollution to continue. But they may not necessarily want the plant to shut down and hurt the local economy. And they may resent comments that they should move away if they don’t like the pollution. Instead, people near the plant may want stricter enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, so plant owners are held accountable for the harm they cause. And they may want the plant’s owners to rectify pollution problems that are hurting people’s quality of life.

“People aren’t just looking for the big things,” Dinkins added. “It is the little things as well.” Weatherization can cut heavy energy burdens from electricity and gas bills. Better public transportation can eliminate multi-hour grocery store trips. Still others want workforce development and opportunities for job training, as well as ways to increase entrepreneurship and investment in depressed communities.

Q: Why is it important to look beyond general problems in Appalachia to specific impacts on people of color?

A: Economic depression and other problems are widespread in Appalachia, but people of color often feel those impacts more severely.

“Black people have had big houses on their backs that they’ve had to carry. At some point in time, you’re bent over for so long that you’re stuck in a position that you can’t look up,” Dinkins said. “And if you can, it’s not too far.”

Also, when the single story policymakers hear is about the problems of White people, solutions will focus mainly on them. Even if solutions could technically help everyone, lack of a car or other practical considerations may still exclude many people of color, Dinkins said.

Q: Why is it especially important now for the public and policymakers to hear from Black people in Appalachia?

A: “This is an important moment in history,” Dinkins said. Congress just passed a massive infrastructure bill. Other bills to address climate change remain pending. Yet even programs that sound good on paper won’t address the needs of Appalachia’s people of color unless they get a chance to tell their stories and to be at the table for fleshing out those programs, Dinkins said.

Q: Why have those voices been left out of policy discussions for so long?

A: Many people’s view of Appalachia stems from a “nostalgic narrative that romanticizes whiteness inside of rural America,” Dinkins said. Black and Native American people have long lived in Appalachia. Yet many missionaries and others didn’t see them as deserving, she said. “So the failure to talk about these things, it starts politically: Which communities are deserving [of help and public resources], and which communities are undeserving?”

Q: How is that narrative still promoted today?

A: “Black erasure” efforts are still at work to suppress people’s views and voices, and those efforts reinforce systems “that were built on racist policymaking in the first place,” Dinkins said. That lets privileged groups hold onto their power.

“By eliminating truth and not allowing certain things to be taught in school, it only gives you one side of the story.” That reinforces “Black invisibility and the continuation of policymaking that only advances the agency of the policymaker and keeps all these things like fossil fuels in place.”

Q: Why is BLAC important as a safe place for people of color to share their stories?

A: “Racism is a powerful dynamic,” Dinkins said. People of color don’t always feel safe speaking out in other public forums. As a result, many people feel a sense of despair and inertia, she said. BLAC provides a safe space for people to share stories.

“It is also the fact of Black people knowing that their stories are worth being told and worth being heard,” Dinkins said. “Then we can move the needle” on changing policies and making progress against racism.

“But nobody wants to fight alone.”

This article first appeared on Energy News Network and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Tennessee Field Coordinator

Appalachian Voices seeks a Tennessee Field Coordinator to advance an equitable, just and democratic clean-energy transition in Tennessee. The Field Coordinator will organize with community members and partner organizations to support local communities’ goals of democratic decision making and clean energy implementation at their rural electric cooperatives, municipal utilities and at the Tennessee Valley Authority. The coordinator will also fight the expansion of fossil fuels and harmful coal ash handling and storage practices in our state. The ideal candidate will have experience in community organizing and the ability to collaborate closely with team members, organizational partners and community members from a range of backgrounds and experiences in order to develop shared strategies and carry out effective tactics.

This position will be based in East Tennessee with preference going to candidates in or willing to relocate to Knoxville, Tennessee. Remote candidates in other Tennessee locations will also be considered.

Responsibilities

  • Collaborate with Appalachian Voices’ colleagues, partner organizations and coalitions in developing compelling, timely, and creative strategies and play a lead role in implementing them.
  • Responsibly engage with communities by earning trust and building relationships with local community members
  • Facilitate meetings and provide tools, resources and leadership development to key community members and groups
  • Track and support the implementation of agreements and next steps coming out of meetings
  • Organize and drive turnout to in person and digital events and actions, using a range of outreach strategies including but not limited to phone banking, door knocking and social media promotion
  • Grow and cultivate AppVoices’ members and volunteers and maintain accurate records in our supporter database
  • Contribute to a dynamic and impactful team that has built significant momentum toward our goals

Skills required

  • Organizing experience – campaign and/or issue advocacy
  • Excellent written and verbal communications skills
  • Skilled at working in dynamic team settings and supporting participation from underheard participants
  • Experience running events and facilitating inclusive meetings skills
  • Ability to problem-solve and consider short and long-term goals in decision-making. Background in campaign planning preferred.
  • Familiarity with energy-related issues preferred
  • Driven, self starter who enjoys working both independently and in teams
  • A demonstrated awareness and sensitivity to the needs and concerns of individuals from diverse cultures, backgrounds and orientations

Compensation

This is a full-time position. Appalachian Voices offers competitive compensation and benefits that include employer-paid health care, vision, and dental policies with options to include family members at a reduced cost, plus short- and long-term disability plans; as well as generous paid vacation and parental leave, options for flexible working hours, and an employer-matched retirement plan. Salary commensurate with experience, however expected salary range is between $40,000 – 45,000.

To Apply

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until this position is filled. Target employment date is February 2022. Questions about the position are welcomed via email. No calls, please.

Please send a resume, a writing or communication sample, and a brief cover letter that addresses the questions below to jobs@appvoices.org with the subject line “[YOUR NAME] application for TN Field Coordinator.”

  1. What’s your connection to Appalachia and/or Tennessee and why do you want to work on energy and environmental issues affecting the region?
  2. Share an example of when you supported others leadership development in order to win a campaign or complete a project

Residents Near Proposed Lambert Compressor Station Push Back, Cite Environmental Racism

By Makaelah Walters,

Elizabeth and Anderson outdoors on their land

Elizabeth and Anderson Jones live on a 57-acre farm in Chatham, Virginia, that has been in Anderson’s family for decades. They are outspoken opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would cross their land, and Lambert Compressor Station, which would be the third such facility in the area. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Jones


A Pittsylvania County community is urging the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board to deny a permit for Mountain Valley Pipeline’s proposed Lambert Compressor Station, which would pressurize and pump natural gas, emitting air pollution in the county’s historically Black Banister District.

The board will consider the permit for the natural gas facility at an upcoming meeting on Dec. 2 at 1 p.m. and Dec. 3 at 9:30 a.m., and will make a decision following the second meeting.

“This is our future, this is our posterity for our children and grandchildren, and it looks like it won’t be for quiet enjoyment; It’s going to be for the fenceline landowners to do as they please and the fenceline owner is Mountain Valley Pipeline,” says Elizabeth Jones, Pittsylvania County NAACP’s environmental climate justice chair.

Among peers, Jones is known as “Sister Truth.” She and her husband, Anderson, live on a 98-year-old farm in Chatham, Virginia, where Mountain Valley Pipeline has allotted 18 acres for the placement of Lambert Compressor Station. When the pair inherited the property, they inherited a legacy of environmental injustice.

“Even in the 1940s and 50s the farm was labeled ‘C’ for colored — that’s in the deed books — and that means those farms were able to be exploited,” Jones says.

Pittsylvania County’s Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning request from MVP in February, reclassifying land near the Jones’ property from agricultural to heavy manufacturing.

The compressor station is proposed as part of MVP’s Southgate route, a 75-mile extension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s 303-mile mainline route. The project would pump and pressurize fracked gas to travel from Chatham into North Carolina, posing several environmental and public health risks for the historically Black community.

Compressor stations, which help maintain pressure and flow of the natural gas in pipelines, can be significant sources of pollution, emitting carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxides and volatile organic compounds, among other harmful substances. The station emits constant noise, but noise levels are most severe during a “blowdown” or release function. The Lambert project would be the third compressor station located on Transco Road.

pile of tree trunks in clearing

MVP, LLC used eminent domain to clear trees on the Jones’ farm for the pipeline’s path. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Jones


“The compressor station that we already have lets out enough emissions that make us sick,” Jones says. “If [the proposed Lambert station] gets an air permit it’s going to be even more poisonous.”

Jones’ husband suffers from severe asthma. He is 82 and still works out on the farm, which includes 20 acres of loblolly pine trees. It is the same farm his mother lived on in 1976 when she died of asthma-related complications.

Fine particles emitted into the air are the largest environmental cause of human mortality in the United States, according to an April 2021 study published in Science Advances.

Results from the study indicate a trend in the United States, wherein people of color experience a higher-than-average exposure to a type of particulate matter called PM2.5, an air pollutant the EPA links to asthma, decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing and nonfatal heart attacks.

“Because of a legacy of racist housing policy and other factors, racial-ethnic exposure disparities have persisted even as overall exposure has decreased,” the study’s authors write.

Black people are especially at risk of exposure to this fine particulate air pollutant. By measuring the concentration of PM2.5, scientists conducting the study found that the disparity between the number of Black people and White people exposed to PM2.5 from coal electric generators alone (21%) is greater than that of all people of color and White people (14%).

“[MVP and similar companies] use their power and their profits and their funds to make sure African Americans and people in rural areas do not have a voice in the environment that we breathe, drink, walk on.” Jones says.

Jones says the absentee status of nearby farm owners makes it easier for MVP to secure land for projects like the compressor station.

Other residents of Pittsylvania County share the Jones’ concerns. The Virginia NAACP has been meeting virtually with community members to discuss the potential impact another natural gas facility could have on Chatham. In addition to negative health impacts, they cite the heavy equipment and road damage that have altered the local landscape.

Virginia DEQ has dismissed these concerns, according to Jones, disregarding an integral part of the permit process: consulting with the residents about the proposed infrastructure.

According to Mary Finley-Brook, a geography, environmental and global studies professor at the University of Richmond, the air board’s failure to facilitate a conversation about the compressor station within the community also violates Virginia’s Environmental Justice Act.

This kind of meaningful engagement is crucial and helps residents make informed decisions, according to Finley-Brook.

“Nobody knows what this community wants because nobody ever really asked them until after they’ve already mapped the project, decided where it was going, promised millions and millions of dollars,” she says.

“We know they go through poor, Black, rural communities, and we know they’re put there because air quality will not be questioned,” Jones says.

pipeline being laid in right-of-way

Pipeline construction in MVP’s right-of-way on the Jones’ farm. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Jones


“Throughout the public comment period this spring, the public raised serious concerns with this misguided project, including that environmental justice issues were not properly addressed and community engagement was lacking,” says Jessica Sims, Virginia field coordinator for Appalachian Voices, the environmental organization that publishes The Appalachian Voice and an opponent of the compressor station.

DEQ has received hundreds of comments from people opposed granting the air permit, including an October letter from 16 members of the Virginia General Assembly asking DEQ to deny the permit.

“As reflected in over 300 submissions from the public regarding the project application, including comments from technical and health experts, the Compressor Station would have
disproportionate adverse impacts on the affected community,” wrote the legislators. “Members of that same community indicated they did not receive timely notice of the project, nor receive authentic outreach. As meaningful engagement with impacted communities is a foundational aspect of the Virginia Environmental Justice Act, we are especially concerned.”

In July, Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board pushed the permit decision on Lambert Compressor Station to September. In September, the control board pushed the decision again until December.

Pittsylvania County’s community members, including the county’s NAACP branch and Virginia Sierra Club, continue to organize in the meantime.

Witnessing the historically Black community of Union Hill’s victory against a proposed compressor station for the now-scuttled Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the defeat of the Byhalia Pipeline slated for a predominantly Black part of Memphis, has been encouraging in the community’s fight for environmental justice.

“Unfortunately, it’s environmental racism and it is a system that has been on for several years, and the national chapter hears this from branches across the country when pipelines are laid,” Jones says.

“The problem there is there is always another way,” she adds. “This has been done to Black property for 400 years.”

Opponents of the compressor station plan to gather at Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex in Chatham before and during the meetings on Dec. 2 and 3.

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House vote gives Senate an opportunity to spur clean energy investments in Appalachia

CONTACT:

Molly Moore, Appalachian Voices Communications, (847) 401-3633, molly@appvoices.org
Dana Kuhnline, Legislative Coordinator, (304) 825-3262, dana@appvoices.org

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act, a bill that, if passed by the U.S. Senate, will deliver significant investments in Appalachian families and workers and create jobs bringing cleaner energy to our communities and making our region more resilient in the face of climate change.

The Build Back Better Act, also known as reconciliation, contains groundbreaking measures to address the climate crisis and makes significant investments to support communities in the midst of a big economic transition with the downturn of the coal industry. The bill will vastly increase access to solar power and energy efficiency in Appalachia and across the country, making clean energy much more widely available to people, businesses and communities from every walk of life.

“We are truly right on the cusp of doing something transformational for the planet we’re leaving our kids, for working families, and for communities that have given so much to the nation. We need to lean into that, keep calling our senators, and get this over the finish line. Then we’ll be able to roll up our sleeves and dig in on the big job of implementation,” said Tom Cormons, Executive Director of Appalachian Voices and a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

Appalachian senators and representatives have been powerful in the negotiation process for this bill. Provisions in the Build Back Better Act that will directly benefit Appalachian communities include:

  • Expanding access to rooftop solar and weatherization assistance for low- and moderate-income families by extending the Investment Tax Credit and adding residential direct pay to make this benefit accessible to all, as well as additional grants and tax credits to encourage solar projects in low-income and tribal communities.
  • Funding to help rural electric cooperatives retire costly fossil fuel power plants and replace them with affordable, job-creating, and accessible renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  • Important environmental justice investments to increase access to clean energy for disadvantaged communities, including the Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator.
  • Incentives to make communities more resilient to climate change impacts like flooding while creating jobs through investments in forestry, soil conservation and agriculture.
  • A four-year extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax, which provides funding for healthcare and benefits for coal miners who have contracted this deadly, and increasingly widespread, disease.

“This bill reflects the fact that our region’s champions in the House worked closely with Appalachian groups to hear about our priorities and the investments we want to see for our region, and made sure many of these priorities are included in the Build Back Better Act,” said Chelsea Barnes, Legislative Director with Appalachian Voices. “We urge swift passage of the Build Back Better Act in the Senate.”

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Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.

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Cleaning up mines owned by Gov. Justice and his family would create hundreds of jobs

Appalachian Voices staff and partners joined the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to inspect reclamation progress at an A&G Coal Corporation mine in February 2021.

In 2019, a Forbes magazine exposè detailed the well-established pattern of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice failing to pay his bills, coining a nickname for Justice: the “deadbeat billionaire.” That nickname has lost some of its accuracy over the past two years, as Justice’s net worth has slipped below the billion-dollar mark. But the “deadbeat” part of the moniker still holds true, with recent headlines describing Justice family coal companies refusing to honor healthcare commitments to employees, missing deadlines to pay fines and fees, and failing to complete required mine reclamation despite years of extra time granted by regulators.

It’s clear at this point that delaying and evading regulatory compliance is the standard operating procedure for Justice-owned companies. This has obvious negative consequences to the environment, and we at Appalachian Voices have tried to illustrate how this also poses a threat to state reclamation funds (see this March 2020 blog, for example). But what about the workers who should be employed reclaiming these mines?

In late October, we published a new report, “Reclaiming Justice Family-owned Coal Mines Could Create Hundreds of Jobs Across Appalachia,” which estimates that there is enough outstanding reclamation liability on coal mines owned by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and/or his adult children to employ 220 to 460 workers for five years. Based on data provided by state and federal regulators, we found that nearly 34,000 acres of Justice-family mines across Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia are in need of some degree of environmental cleanup, with more than a third lacking any reclamation work at all.

These jobs have eluded the region’s workforce for years, as regulators have repeatedly extended compliance deadlines for the Justice companies in exchange for promises that anyone paying attention would expect to be broken. In a promising recent development, a state court in Kentucky found that Jim Justice and his son Jay are personally liable for $2.9 million in fines, stemming from numerous violations of reclamation and other environmental standards on five mines in the state’s eastern coalfields. Regulators are now moving forward to revoke these permits, forfeit the associated bonds, and collect the fine money from the Justices. Upon bond forfeiture, reclamation becomes the responsibility of the regulator, or if the regulator chooses, the financial institution that underwrites the bond. Perhaps on at least these five mines, some of these elusive jobs will soon manifest.

Learn More

Repairing the Damage: The costs of delaying reclamation at modern-era mines,” a report issued by Appalachian Voices in July 2021, explores the estimated mine cleanup needs at permitted mine sites at seven Eastern states. Check it out to learn more about the problem — and suggestions for how to fix it.

Throughout his political career, Justice has declared his support for miners’ livelihoods at every turn, most vociferously when such claims were in the service of slamming environmental regulations. In a 2017 letter to Congress, Gov. Justice cited jobs in urging opposition to the Stream Protection Rule, an update to federal regulations that would have required higher reclamation standards and more stringent protections for waterways.

Justice got his way on that when former President Trump repealed the Stream Protection Rule early in his administration, and the Congress used a rare statute known as the Congressional Review Act to make sure no similar efforts on the part of regulators would ever proceed.

But it’s the damnedest thing. Even without having to contend with the Stream Protection Rule, Justice companies have left many mines in need of reclamation more-or-less idle for years now, resulting in a lost opportunity for hundreds of would-be workers. The Justices’ business philosophy seems to hold that payroll is an acceptable expense when and only when coal is coming out of the ground. If the Justice companies retained their workforce to complete reclamation — a key aspect of the jobs they’d been promised — rather than simply laying them off and leaving the land and people to languish, then maybe the governor’s lofty rhetoric about jobs wouldn’t ring quite so hollow.

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NC’s bad ratepayer bill passed into law

Despite immense pressure from advocates and ratepayers across the state, Governor Roy Cooper signed HB 951, Duke Energy’s handwritten legislation, into law.

HB 951 sets a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2030, but lacks the teeth to make sure we get there. Additionally, it drastically raises rates on families and small businesses, something we just can’t afford.

HB 951 is ambitious and well intentioned, but just falls short. For ratepayers who are already struggling with unaffordable bills, the situation will only get worse. It does nothing to give communities more power or more control over their energy systems. It is another example of the continuation of the status quo. Combined with the passage of the Farm Act earlier this year, HB 951 is more of the same, disregard for vulnerable North Carolinians.

Over the next several years advocates and interveners will have the opportunity to argue in front of the North Carolina Utilities Commission over the carbon reduction plan and its implementation. Given the shortcomings of HB 951, that work becomes evermore important to protect the wellbeing of our most vulnerable communities. Our planet and our people need it.

Our fight for energy democracy did not begin at the legislature, nor does it stop there. It begins and ends with the communities impacted by it.

Learn more about our work in North Carolina and how you can get involved.

U.S. makes largest-ever investment in abandoned mine cleanup

CONTACT:

Matt Hepler, Appalachian Voices Central Appalachian Environmental Scientist, (540) 871-1564, matt@appvoices.org
Molly Moore, Appalachian Voices Communications, (847) 401-3633, molly@appvoices.org


The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act President Biden is expected to sign into law today includes the nation’s largest-ever investment in cleaning up decades-old abandoned coal mines. The bill reauthorizes the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Program and provides an additional $11.3 billion for abandoned mine cleanup.

The bipartisan law will also deliver significant improvements and upgrades to Appalachia’s infrastructure, including the region’s drinking water systems, roads and bridges, and broadband network.

“By including abandoned mine land cleanup in the infrastructure bill, lawmakers recognized that cleaning up these dangerous and polluting sites is an important way to create jobs and help communities in historic coal mining areas continue to move forward,” said Tom Cormons, executive director of Appalachian Voices and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “We applaud Congress for getting this across the finish line and urge them to pass the Build Back Better Act. The infrastructure bill was only half the battle — the Build Back Better Act contains critical measures to tackle climate change, bring massive amounts of affordable solar online, and support families and places in the midst of a big economic transition.”

“Reclaiming abandoned mine sites by closing open mine portals, removing unstable highwalls and remediating water pollution improves local safety as well as environmental and economic health,” said Matt Hepler, Central Appalachian environmental scientist at Appalachian Voices. “A great example of this is happening in the coming weeks in Dante, Virginia, as crews begin installing safety gates at open mine portals and constructing bike trails nearby.”

Going forward, Appalachian Voices and other mine reclamation advocates will work with agencies and members of Congress to ensure that these investments are used to employ local workers and prioritize places with the highest AML cleanup need, and that funds are set aside for long-term restoration of polluted water, including ongoing acid mine drainage remediation.

The law reauthorizes collection of the AML fee on current coal production at 80% of its current level for an additional 13 years. The additional $11.3 billion will be distributed to states and tribes over 15 years based on historic coal production. West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee will see increased annual funding, as will most other coal-producing states. This increased funding will result in nearly 3,000 jobs and $7.45 billion in economic output across West Virginia, Ohio, and Virginia alone, according to analysis by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition.

>>See estimated funding distributions here.

Background:

Abandoned mine lands are former coal mines and mining-related sites, like old coal tipples, that coal companies abandoned prior to the 1977 passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. The law requires mine operators to reclaim land and water at future mine sites, and requires companies to post a bond that the state or federal government can use to clean up the site if companies fail to do so. (See a July report on flaws with modern-era mine reclamation.) The 1977 law also established the Abandoned Mine Lands Program, funded by a fee on coal production, to address the thousands of existing mine sites in need of reclamation. The program and fee collection expired in September.

The program has distributed just over $6 billion to states and tribes for AML cleanup over the past four decades. The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement estimates that over $11 billion is still needed to clean up remaining AML sites. Independent analysis by the Ohio River Valley Institute estimates the figure is likely more than $20 billion.

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