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Army Corps reopens Mountain Valley Pipeline application to dump into rivers

Due to all of the feedback and pressure that we and many concerned citizens gave the United States Army Corps of Engineers during the initial 404 comment period for the Mountain Valley Pipeline back in May of this year, the Corps has opened a second comment period for this proposed permit application. This new comment period, which closes on November 19, will feature entirely virtual public hearings held by the Army Corps, allowing for anyone to attend and share their concerns about the impacts to our waters along the pipeline route. These hearings will take place on November 1, 2021 for West Virginia and on November 4, 2021 for Virginia, both beginning at 6 p.m.

Virtual 404 Public Hearings
November 1, 2021 for West Virginia, 6- 8 p.m.
November 4, 2021 for Virginia, 6 – 8 p.m.

To receive a registration link, email Adam Fannin using the links below (click on the email link, then replace text in parentheses with the appropriate information):

West Virginia Participants:
Email CELRP-MVP@usace.army.mil

Virginia Participants:
Email CELRP-MVP@usace.army.mil

More information about the hearings can be found here.

You might be thinking, “Wait—didn’t I just comment on the 404? How is this different from the 401 comment period that is ending this month?” Hopefully, we can answer those questions and explain how this is an incredible opportunity to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The purpose of this 404 permit is to allow the Mountain Valley Pipeline company and its contractors to dump soil and rocks that they dig up or displace during construction directly into the rivers, streams and wetlands along the route. This permit is part of the Clean Water Act and is required, along with the 401 permit, to do any kind of construction on a large project through waters of the United States and any water feature that is directly adjacent or connected, such as wetlands. The 401 permit deals with a wider range of discharges than just earthen material and is applied for through the state environmental agency (such as the West Virginia Depart of Environmental Protection and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality). The comment period for MVP’s 401 in Virginia closes on October 27, and if you have not participated in that comment period, please take action and sign our petition to the Virginia State Water Control Board.

In the announcement of the new public hearings from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Michael Hatten, Regulatory Division Chief, stated that the Corps would be considering the public’s concerns, including “whether or not the proposed project will be contrary to the public interest.” As defined by the Corps, a project is in the public interest if its favorable outweigh the detrimental impacts. When examining the impacts to the quality of our water resources, the endangered species in our region and the risks that this project would cause for our climate, it is unclear how the Corps could view the project in any way but contrary.

This emphasis could also signal a shift that is underway in a similar federal agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who were ordered by a federal appeals court in June to scrutinize pipeline projects with “self-dealing” precedent agreements. This concerns an overly abused practice in which the companies that build a pipeline are the same companies that will purchase the gas from the pipeline after construction, and such an arrangement is allowed as a satisfactory proof of the need of a pipeline under the Natural Gas Act. This tactic was used to approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline and also for the now-cancelled Atlantic Coast and PennEast pipelines.

In May, Appalachian Voices, along with 200 other supporters, asked the Army Corps for a thorough review of the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s 404 proposal, which would impact many rivers and endangered species. This time around, we believe that MVP’s request for a 404 permit should be denied due to unnecessary and potentially substantial impacts to pristine rivers and wetlands of the Ohio, Little Kanawha, Elk, Gauley, Greenbrier and New River watersheds.

The sedimentation and habitat disruption from the permanent and temporary dumping of material into streams and wetlands—and the construction activities that would produce the material— will likely negatively impact endangered and sensitive aquatic species like the Candy Darter and Roanoke Logperch. These discharges could also lead to downstream impacts on drinking water supplies for many towns and cities across West Virginia and Virginia and affect the recreational uses at many popular locations used for swimming, fishing and paddling.

A new report from Oil Change International addressed to the Biden Administration, presents analysis that the Mountain Valley Pipeline, if granted this permit and completed, would significantly increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The report claims that not allowing this unneeded pipeline’s estimated 89 million metric tons of emissions each year would be one of the easiest ways the Administration, and by extension the Army Corps of Engineers, could tackle accelerated climate change.

During the previous comment period in May, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which stated that the agency “identified a number of substantial concerns with the project as currently proposed, including whether all feasible avoidance and minimization measures have been undertaken, deficient characterization of the aquatic resources to be impacted, insufficient assessment of secondary and cumulative impacts and potential for significant degradation, and the proposed mitigation.”

We, along with our partners, identified the same concerns in our petition to the Army Corps– namely that Mountain Valley Pipeline has not sufficiently outlined how they can safely and properly perform the construction required for this project and have misidentified the natural resources and the impact that the MVP would have on them. For these reasons, as well as the potential impacts described above, we believe that the 404 permit should be denied.

If you live near, recreate in or enjoy the watersheds of the Ohio, Little Kanawha, Elk, Gauley, Greenbrier or New River, we need you to lend your voice and tell the Army Corps how the Mountain Valley Pipeline will impact you at these upcoming virtual hearings.

Launch of Appalachian Solar Finance Fund will spur solar in coal-impacted communities

CONTACT:

Autumn Long, Appalachian Solar Finance Fund Project Manager
autumn.long@appvoices.org, 304-841-3539

The Appalachian Solar Finance Fund (SFF), a new program to jump-start commercial and institutional solar projects in coal-impacted communities throughout Central Appalachia, will launch on Thursday, November 4 with a webinar at noon Eastern Time.

The SFF will use a recent $1.5 million ARC POWER Initiative award to deploy select subgrant awards for solar projects on nonprofit and public buildings. The SFF also will facilitate competitive technical assistance contracts for solar installations on commercial enterprises and will develop additional investment and credit enhancement strategies to unlock more solar deployment in the region.

During this webinar, members of the SFF Executive Committee will discuss the history of the fund, its purpose and goals, and the structure of the program. Attendees will learn about the program’s available financing tools, applicant eligibility criteria and the application process for entities and developers seeking funding for solar projects. Speakers include:
Adam Wells, Regional Director of Community & Economic Development, Appalachian Voices
Hannah Vargason, Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives, Partner Community Capital
Marc Palmer, Co-Founder and CEO, New Resource Solutions
Andrew Crosson, CEO, Invest Appalachia

The presentation will be followed by a Q&A. Commercial, government and nonprofit building owners and facilities managers, and solar developers and installation professionals are encouraged to attend and bring questions about the process. Media are also welcome to attend to learn more about the program and how it works.

RSVP here to attend.

The Appalachian Solar Finance Fund is a project of Appalachian Voices, the Central Appalachian Network, Partner Community Capital, Invest Appalachia and New Resource Solutions that aims to accelerate solar development and economic growth in Central Appalachia. Support for the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund is provided by the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative, the Appalachian Investment Ecosystem Initiative, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, New York Community Trust and other pending sources. The resulting solar projects will produce a powerful convergence of employment opportunities, business creation, new investments and wealth retention in Central Appalachian communities directly impacted by the decline in the coal economy.

Learn more at solarfinancefund.org

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The Sun is Shining on Southwest Virginia’s Growing Solar Industry

We all wish that going solar was an easy process. The truth is that it takes a mix of knowledge, experience, technical know-how and dedication. Though the process can be challenging to go through alone, communities across Southwest Virginia are making headway in kickstarting a solar energy industry through collaboration, community involvement and a lot of hard work and vision.

Below are several exciting updates on the bright future for Southwest Virginia’s growing solar energy industry, broken down into four categories: 1) residential solar, 2) commercial solar, 3) utility solar and 4) shared solar.

Solarize Southwest Virginia open house in Clintwood, VA

1) Residential solar

In 2021, the Solar Workgroup launched its second rendition of the Solarize program. Solarize Southwest Virginia focused on reducing the cost of residential solar and increasing local understanding of solar energy by helping homeowners across the region go solar together. The program included residents in Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee and Wise counties. Despite setbacks from the COVID-19 Pandemic, the program was able to find a partner in Solar Energy Solutions, headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, to provide the opportunity for a free solar assessment to over 100 local homeowners. Installations will be taking place throughout the remainder of 2021 and into 2022.

Tazewell County Solar Tour at Clinch River Farms in Pounding Mill, VA

Throughout the year, the Solar Workgroup also hosted a variety of solar education events. These included individual solar open houses in Wise and Clintwood and a tour stop on the National Solar Tour at Clinch River Farms in Tazewell County.

2) Commercial solar

News regarding solar installations on schools in Southwest Virginia has also picked up recently. On October 19, the Securing Solar for Southwest Virginia Program announced that nine schools in Wise and Lee County have agreed to install a combined 3.2 Megawatts of solar panels. This would save the counties an estimated $11.5 million on energy bills over the life of the systems. In partnership with the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia, the contract agreements between Wise County Schools and Secure Futures would make Wise County the first school system west of Roanoke to install commercial-scale solar panels and receive a significant portion of their electricity from solar energy. These developments can be partially attributed to the successes of local communities fighting for the rights of local schools to access no-upfront-cost financing options. Once finished, each of these projects will serve as a model for schools, hospitals and businesses across the region.

Local small businesses have also been going solar across the region. In Big Stone Gap, Iron Works Cycling, a locally owned bike shop, installed solar in 2020 to cut their cost of electricity and to support local solar development. The 16 kW system utilized technical assistance from the Solar Workgroup and financing from solar energy development grants to make the array a reality.

To assist solar development across Central Appalachia, The Appalachian Regional Commission recently awarded Appalachian Voices $1.5 million for the development of the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund. The Solar Finance Fund will help support the continued growth of solar energy on commercial-scale projects such as schools, businesses or municipal buildings. By providing financial and technical support, the program will increase the potential for solar development in the coal-impacted communities of Central Appalachia. The program launches on November 4. All interested parties are invited to join the webinar for more information.

3) Utility solar

Utility-scale solar has also begun to experience a burst of energy and excitement in our corner of Virginia.

This year, Savion, LLC and Edelen Renewables announced a 75 MW solar array project in Buchanan County while seeking funding opportunities through Virginia Energy’s Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization program. In September, Governor Ralph Northam and Representative Morgan Griffith announced that the program would receive funding, cementing it as one of the region’s first large-scale solar projects planned forSouthwest Virginia’s previously mined lands.

A few months later, The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with Sun Tribe Solar of Charlottesville and Sol Systems, based in Washington D.C., announced a projected 120 MW of solar energy development on previously mined lands as a part of the Cumberland Forest Project. This includes sites in Dickenson and Wise Counties.

4) Shared Solar

Though solar energy is becoming more prevalent in the region, not everyone has fair access to the region’s fun in the sun. Southwest Virginia communities are left out of the most accessible form of solar energy, shared solar. Shared solar is recognized as one of the best options for those who can not afford or otherwise install their own solar arrays. Making these programs available in Appalachian Power and Old Dominion Power service areas will allow low-income families, renters, small businesses, schools, municipalities and anyone else who wants to go solar to choose cheaper solar energy.

Communities across the region are working to make these programs available to Southwest Virginians in next year’s General Assembly. If you support solar energy for all, sign on to the shared solar letter asking legislators for their support.

To keep up with all the solar energy news across Southwest Virginia, follow the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia Facebook page or sign up for the Workgroup’s email list at swvasolar.org!

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How acid mine drainage fits into pending mine cleanup legislation: A conversation with Joe Pizarchik

This is the second in a series of blogs examining the damages caused by acid mine drainage and solutions for cleanup. Click here for the full series and related materials.

In this second blog about the acid mine drainage (AMD) challenge, advocates for abandoned mine land restoration are looking into potential solutions being considered right now and how they may — or may not — help solve this problem. Congress is currently considering a bipartisan infrastructure bill with $11.3B in potential investments in abandoned mine land (AML) clean-up, raising new questions about what this money could do and cannot do to tackle AMD issues, how states can respond, and why it is so important to get this right. To help explain the proposal, its benefits, and its drawbacks, we were pleased to have an in-depth conversation with Joe Pizarchik.
Joe Pizarchik photo
Originally from southwestern Pennsylvania, Pizarchik served as the director of the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation within Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection before serving as Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement during the Obama administration. He is one of the nation’s foremost experts on complex and sprawling abandoned mine lands issues, and here he provides an essential overview of how AMD fits into pending legislative proposals and where we should look next.

See part 1 in our AMD blog series: Confronting acid mine drainage: A conversation with Rural Action’s Marissa Lautzenheiser.

Acid mine drainage stains rocks a reddish-orange color.

Acid mine drainage stains rocks a reddish-orange color.


Q: What is the value in treating AMD?

Pizarchik: One of the biggest values is the permanent, well-paid jobs created to operate and maintain the AMD treatment systems, whether they’re passive treatment systems for smaller discharges or large treatment plants. It also creates temporary jobs whenever that system needs to be rehabilitated. Those jobs aren’t going to be outsourced.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission did an analysis of how much the polluted streams in Pennsylvania are costing everybody. They documented that there are 5,559 miles of streams that are polluted with acid mine drainage. And because those streams are not fishable, the annual loss of revenue here on average is $29 million in angler-generated revenue.

That’s just for the people who would go fishing. If you restore streams, you get even more local revenue generated from other recreation such as boating, kayaking or camping.

Q: What are some examples you’ve seen of this kind of progress?

Pizarchik: Near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the Conemaugh River and Stoney Creek were polluted with acid mine drainage for years. Progress has been made on cleaning up that acid mine drainage, and as a result a new business was created for whitewater tubing and kayaking. Nobody goes red-water rafting — they’ll go whitewater rafting.

In North-Central Pennsylvania there’s a stream called Kettle Creek. The headwaters of it had wild trout in it, but downstream the creek was devoid of all aquatic life due to acid mine drainage. Trout Unlimited worked to build a number of passive treatment systems to deal with those discharges. Those systems restored miles and miles of stream for wild trout. The initial thought was that it would take a couple of years for the trout to repopulate it. But within months after the last systems went online and cleaned up the water, there were wild trout in that whole part of the stream.

Image of acid mine drainage with quote: "Nobody goes red water rafting - they go whitewater rafting."
Q: We’ve heard of the historic pending $11.3-billion investment in abandoned mine lands clean-up in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but understand there are some shortcomings as well. Can you speak to the gaps you see in the language of this bill and its current version?

Pizarchik: The $11.3 billion for abandoned mine land is a very good contribution to a long-suffering need. But the bill could be even better if it allowed states the freedom to restore streams poisoned by acid mine drainage

The bill also fails to allow funds to be used for the operation and maintenance of hundreds of treatment systems that were built by volunteer good Samaritans. And instead, it relies on them — who often are just folks who are out trying to raise money through bake sales or raffles — to maintain these systems. Hundreds of miles have been improved. But there’s no funding stream to maintain those systems even though there was funding to help build them and that is what is needed.

Q: Can you speak about the Casey amendments? What do those include and why is that so important?

Pizarchik: Senator Casey had the intelligence to see that communities will never prosper without clean water. There are countless examples throughout Appalachia — and also throughout Pennsylvania — where acid mine drainage is still holding communities back.

His amendments would allow states to use some of this $11.3 billion to treat acid mine drainage that is not adjacent to abandoned mine lands. Right now, the law does not allow a state to spend money to treat acid mine drainage unless the discharge is adjacent to a high-priority site — a Priority 1 or Priority 2 site. In addition to that, the Casey amendments would allow states to set aside some of the money to pay for future operation and maintenance of a treatment system that they built.

A passive treatment system typically does not require a lot of operation and maintenance costs. But many discharges are so big that the only way to treat them is to build a conventional treatment plant. A state’s not going to spend the money to build one of those treatment plants if it does not have the money to operate and maintain it into the future. Senator Casey’s amendment would allow the states to put aside infrastructure bill money for that particular purpose.

There are numerous examples where coal companies built tunnels to drain the water out of a coal mine. These tunnel discharges are tens of millions of gallons a day and are miles away from the abandoned mine lands. Without the flexibilities that Senator Casey’s amendments include, this acid mine drainage and these miles of stream pollution will never be addressed.

Box with quote that says "The Casey amendments would allow states to set aside some of the money to pay for future operation and maintenance of a treatment system that they built."

Q: Are there other changes that you’d like to see to the way that the funding is structured in the infrastructure legislation to make it even more impactful?

Pizarchik: Yes. The bill could have more of a positive impact if it provided for or at least encouraged local citizen input. Some states work with the local communities on helping to plan and or decide which AML problems to address. But not all states do that. And there are numerous instances where the public is excluded from the process of cleaning up these resources. It’s their communities, their land, their water — they ought to have some input on what they think is the most important in their area to have addressed first.

It would also be helpful if some priority was given to restoring abandoned mine lands on public lands, such as parks and state forests.

Another huge opportunity is to prioritize the restoration of native forests on these reclaimed, abandoned mine lands. That’s particularly important because if you restore the native forest, it has multiple benefits. It’s going to pull carbon out of the air — much of which got there from burning coal — which will help reduce or limit some of the adverse climate impacts we are experiencing today. It will provide for more clean water because those forests will limit or stop erosion and sedimentation. And, they create habitat for wildlife.

If all you’re doing is eliminating the hazard, you’re missing an opportunity to do more to help the environment, and the people and the climate.

Q: What can states do to prepare for this potential influx of funding if the proposal for $11.3 billion passes?

Pizarchik: States should start planning now to hire the staff that they need. If the bill is passed [to add $11.3 billion to address AML issues], they can move immediately to start gearing up to have the staff to utilize these funds. They should also be designing projects now so that they can solicit bids for the construction of those reclamation projects soon after their grant money is approved.

In addition to that, states ought to look at whether they have any large, costly AML projects for which they previously did not have enough money to complete reclamation. Those big projects could create jobs more quickly than small projects and will last longer.

I also would encourage the states to use the new authority that’s in this bill to award the reclamation contract for multiple projects in an area. That reduces the administrative costs and the overhead and provides certainty for everybody, and then the state can be working on other AML reclamation projects, designing them and getting them ready, while that larger project or multiple projects go forward.

Q: What are the steps advocates should take if they are concerned about the need to provide funding to treat acid mine drainage?

Pizarchik: I think we need to start looking at standalone legislation to provide states the freedom to use money on acid mine drainage. Don’t mandate it, give the states the choice. But where the acid mine drainage is important for a region, then they’d have the ability to do it and do it in an effective and timely fashion.

Our email tool provides a quick and easy way to contact your legislators and let them know funding for this issue is essential.

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From the Rockies to Appalachia: Virginia can look to Colorado for electric co-op reform

rural power line

By Grace Gray
Grace Gray is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, where she studies Environmental Thought and Practice. She is interning with our Energy Democracy team this fall.

“Democracy and transparency issues were apparent to me from the time I went to my first co-op annual meeting about ten or eleven years ago.” These are the words of Seth Heald, a member-owner of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC), which provides energy to over 140,000 members in central Virginia. Heald has spent his time since that first meeting studying issues at other electric co-ops in Virginia and advocating for reform statewide. National energy experts echoed Heald’s message during a virtual energy democracy forum on September 28. Organized by Solar United Neighbors of Virginia, Repower REC and Appalachian Voices, the panel featured Joe Smyth, Research and Communications Manager for the Energy and Policy Institute; Benita Wells, CFO at Southern Echo in Mississippi and electric co-op reform advocate; and Holly Metzler, Board Member of La Plata Electric Association in Colorado, alongside Heald. The panelists described their communities’ experiences with a lack of transparency at their electric co-ops and shared pathways towards reform.

Heald and Smyth first discussed the issue of proxy voting practices in cooperatives’ board of directors elections, a controversial voting system which some electric co-ops in Virginia (including REC) use. Proxy voting works by encouraging member-owners to designate the co-op board to vote on their behalf, sometimes giving incumbent boards control of more than half of all votes. Many electric co-ops—including REC—encourage uninformed proxy voting by offering drawings for cash prizes for those who submit proxy votes. These proxy votes then often go to an incumbent candidate, making it virtually impossible for outside candidates to win. This insulates the board from member-owners’ concerns. Indeed, for the past twelve years no candidate for REC’s board has won a single race without receiving the board-controlled vote.

Yet if you hop from the Appalachians to the Rockies, you see a very different story: Colorado co-op members underwent similar conversations about the lack of democracy in 2010 and responded by outlawing proxy voting in electric co-op board elections. The state further promoted fair practices by lowering the requirements to run for board positions, opening board meetings for member-owners to observe, and making board members’ contact information readily available. Taken together, Colorado’s movement beyond proxy voting has allowed co-ops to reprioritize their members. It’s time for Virginia to do so too.

2018 REC Proxy Voting Ballot

In addition to undemocratic elections, Virginia’s cooperatives also hold closed board meetings that provide little transparency to member-owners about their utility’s operations. This problem becomes increasingly urgent as many co-op boards meet privately to discuss raising rates or other charges, in effect taking money from member-owners’ pocketbooks without explaining why.

Heald shared how his struggle with REC’s closed-door meetings is reflected at other co-ops in the state: twelve of Virginia’s thirteen electric cooperatives hold closed board meetings, which exclude citizens from their democratic right to engage with their co-op. This stands in stark contrast to Smyth and Metzler’s experiences in Colorado, where each board meeting is openly advertised, publicly accessible, live-streamed and even attended by local press.

Proxy-voting: A voting process under which co-op member-owners delegate their votes to the current board’s recommended candidate(s), which highly favors incumbents, thereby discouraging progress and reform within electric co-ops.

Going further south, electric co-ops paint a very different picture. Wells shed light on the corruption coloring Mississippi’s twenty-six electric cooperatives. According to Wells, one co-op went 71 years without an election, while another used its profits to purchase a golf course that the majority of their member-owners could not join because of the color of their skin. In this case, an electric cooperative was reinforcing systematic racism.

In Tennessee, Powell Valley Electric Co-op members line up to vote at the 2018 annual meeting. Photo by Lynn Tobey

Yet Metzler’s more positive cooperative Board experience inspires hope in the cooperative model. When she joined the board in May 2019, La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) was already live-streaming its meetings, and the board has actively sought ways to make their meeting minutes and resolutions available online. In September, the LPEA board hosted two member-appreciation lunch-ins to chat with their constituents. With an open business meeting and two town halls scheduled for later this month, LPEA can’t help but seem like an idyllic version of what Virginia’s co-ops can become.

We can take this step towards progress through advocating for reform. Appalachian Voices is collaborating with Repower REC, SVEC Check, Piedmont Environmental Council, Solar United Neighbors, Virginia Organizing and the Virginia Sierra Club on legislation to require open board meetings and eliminate proxy voting in favor of direct elections. And every Virginia citizen can take action by signing our petition to follow Colorado’s example and implement these needed reforms. As Metzler herself put it, “The iron is hot right now. It’s hot on a lot of levels, and so we just keep pushing and pulling in the right direction to make our cooperative communities, and our communities as a whole, more resilient and healthy.”

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NC advocates’ press statement In response to the signing of House Bill 951

CONTACT:

Josh McClenney, josh[at]appvoices.org, (919) 454-1560


A bill drafted by North Carolina lawmakers behind closed doors was signed into law on Wednesday. House Bill 951 sets an ambitious goal of reducing carbon emissions 70% by 2030, and instructs the North Carolina Utilities Commission to take all steps necessary to achieve that goal by creating a carbon reduction plan. Advance Carolina, Appalachian Voices and the Center for Biological Diversity strongly opposed the bill due in part to the potential for significant cost increases for ratepayers and the potential to give Duke Energy sweeping authority to approve, reject, or modify the NCUC’s carbon reduction plan, potentially delaying or preventing the state from reaching its goals. The groups released the following statement in response.

The compromise piece of legislation has marginal improvements compared to previous versions of the bill, but in many ways still comes up short. The legislation shows continued commitment on behalf of Governor Cooper and his administration to take necessary steps outlined by Executive Order 80 and the Clean Energy Plan to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, the bill fails to address issues of affordability that already plague low- and moderate-income households, and which will get worse as a result of the new law.

Going forward, the governor, Duke Energy, the North Carolina Utilities Commission, and our elected lawmakers must be vocal advocates and champions for programs and reforms that support low- and moderate-income households and reduce the cost of electricity for all ratepayers. Specifically, we strongly recommend the following:

  • The creation of a Percentage of Income Payment Plan to directly address affordability concerns by capping low-income electric bills at an affordable percentage of household income;
  • The study and potential formation of a competitive regional wholesale market, which numerous studies have concluded could save ratepayers millions of dollars a year;
  • Increased and transparent reporting on utility shut-offs and utility bill debt;
  • Increased opportunities for shared and community solar that stand to benefit ratepayers of all classes as we continue to shift towards a cleaner energy future, and ensure that no one is left behind;
  • Opportunity for public input through a clear and transparent process of public hearings and electronic submission of public comments.

Quotes:

Jovita Lee, Senior Environmental Justice Campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity: “This is just more of the same from Duke Energy. The legislation completely disregards those they serve in the name of greed. This bill was heavily criticized by environmental organizations, justice and equity advocates, manufacturers, and numerous others, and the failure to address their concerns does nothing but terrorize families and business owners. They will pay even more towards already unaffordable energy bills without seeing many of the benefits. Our legislators and the NCUC need to hold the line and ensure that our rulemaking and implementation going forward addresses the shortcomings of this legislation.”

Josh McClenney, Energy Democracy Field Coordinator with Appalachian Voices: “HB 951 sets a goal for 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and gives the commission authority to get there, but the legislation also provides enough power and oversight to Duke Energy to prevent that goal from becoming a reality. In addition, the failure to address the concerns of low- and moderate-income ratepayers shows the need for the NCUC, Duke Energy, the governor, and all stakeholders to focus on ensuring the concerns of those ratepayers are addressed. We look forward to working in partnership towards that goal.”

La’Meshia Whittington, Deputy Director with Advance Carolina: “Lofty promises were made by Duke Energy, the NC Utilities Commission, and lawmakers that there will be next steps in prioritizing our communities, ensuring that low-income to moderate-income ratepayers will have resources to afford their energy bill. We are here to hold this promise accountable, and these are the next steps to ensure that promise is kept to the people of North Carolina. Our communities need resource assistance, not a loan or finance program that will deepen their debt. Our communities deserve the opportunity to give public input on the programs designed for them.”

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Duke Energy-backed bill would raise rates, doesn’t guarantee climate measures

Duke Energy is forcing through legislation in North Carolina (House Bill 951) that would raise rates astronomically. Low-income families, many of whom are still struggling to pay their utility bills as a result of the pandemic, will bear a disproportionate burden of those costs. Similar legislation in Virginia led to families and small businesses being overcharged by $1.2 billion dollars over the course of only four years.

Instead of taking the path outlined by Governor Cooper’s Clean Energy Plan, Duke Energy has continued to work behind closed doors to write legislation that lines the pockets of its shareholders, on the backs of ratepayers, while failing to guarantee that the 70% carbon reductions envisioned in the bill will even be achieved by the 2030 target date.

Tell your state legislators to vote against Duke’s bill!

Specifically, the bill:

  • Sets a goal for reducing carbon emissions by 70% by 2030, but falls short of mandating it.
  • Allows Duke Energy to earn extra profit while preventing the NC Utilities Commission from determining how those extra earnings should be used, such as returning it to customers, investing in energy efficiency for families and small businesses, or protecting workers as we transition to new forms of energy generation.
  • Fails to provide adequate support for low- to moderate-income ratepayers that are accessible to all communities.

In an attempt to quell opposition to the bill, several lawmakers — on both sides of the aisle — are making spurious claims about how the bill benefits and protects low-income customers.

Appalachian Voices Senior Energy Analyst Rory McIlmoil authored a point-counterpoint breakdown explaining how those claims — first made by Sen. Newton but now being shared by other lawmakers — are misleading our elected officials and the public. Read the breakdown here.

This bill does not do enough for us. It continues to give money to Duke and their shareholders, and makes families and businesses foot the bill.

Tell your legislators to vote no on HB951!!

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Potential Federal Action Would Address Common and Harmful “Forever Chemicals”

wide blue river flanked by autumn trees

UPDATE: On October 18, EPA announced a plan outlining how the agency aims to tackle PFAS chemicals between 2021 and 2024. The plan received a mixed reaction from environmental groups, with some applauding the action and others urging Congress to pass laws that set clear deadlines for the agency to regulate PFAS. Read more related to the Oct. 18 announcement at NC Policy Watch.

By Hannah Wilson-Black

Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may soon take serious regulatory action against a common but little-known family of man-made chemicals that has been sickening communities across the U.S for decades.

In September, the EPA announced its intention to set its first standards for PFAS concentrations in industrial wastewater discharges. And in October, the federal agency agreed to respond within 90 days to a petition from North Carolina health and environmental justice groups asking that Chemours, a chemical company with a history of discharging PFAS into the Cape Fear River watershed, be required to test for impacts to human and environmental health.

Separately, in July the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require the EPA to broadly regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The Senate has not yet held a committee vote. Two representatives are also looking to include funding for fire departments to replace PFAS-laden supplies into the ongoing budget reconciliation process. If these changes become law, they could provide a sense of justice to those harmed by toxic PFAS exposure and prevent further persistence of PFAS in water and air.

The PFAS Action Act, which passed the House 241-183, would require the EPA to establish drinking water limits for two common PFAS known as PFOA and PFOS — perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, respectively. The agency would also be given five years to determine how many more varieties of PFAS need to be regulated. The chemical family would be classified as a “hazardous substance” under the Superfund program and PFOA and PFOS would be classified as “hazardous air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. EPA would also be required to determine whether PFAS should be regulated under the Clean Water Act. If so, a limit would be set on the amount of PFAS that industrial sites can discharge.

Woman with blonde hair speaks into a microphone at a podium

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who sponsored the PFAS Action Act, speaks during the U.S. House floor debate on July 21, 2021. Photo courtesy U.S. House

“The Most Persistent Chemicals Ever Made”

PFAS, also dubbed “forever chemicals,” are not currently regulated by the EPA, despite the danger they pose. A 2011 study using 10 years of blood serum data from a representative sample of United States residents found PFAS in the blood of more than 95% of participants. Research into the health impacts of PFAS is ongoing, but studies have found a “probable link” to ulcerative colitis and two varieties of cancer, among other conditions. Additional studies referenced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the odorless, tasteless chemicals may raise cholesterol and cause changes in liver enzymes, among other health issues.

“It’s just kind of mind-blowing how many systems of the body are impacted [by PFAS],” says Sierra Club Senior Toxics Advisor Sonya Lunder, the lead author of a February public comment letter to the EPA calling for PFAS regulations that was signed by 30 environmental groups.

The same carbon-fluorine bond that makes PFAS ideal for use in heat-, water- and oil-resistant products like non-stick Teflon pans, firefighting foam and food packaging also means PFAS “may be the most persistent chemicals ever made,” according to the letter. The manufacture of PFOA and PFOS has been voluntarily phased out by the chemical industry, but the two chemicals persist in soil, air, groundwater and surface water.

Screenshot of map shows a patchwork of sites with known PFAS in drinking water.

The Environmental Working Group, a national public and environmental health organization, hosts an interactive map of known PFAS contamination in the U.S. This screenshot shows a version of the map updated Oct. 4, 2021. Explore the interactive map and click on each dot to learn more about the site by visiting the interactive map here. Copyright © Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org. Reproduced with permission.

Additionally, there are indications that industry replacements for PFOA and PFOS, alternative chemicals known as “short-chain” PFAS, are themselves dangerous. GenX, a short-chain chemical still in use as a replacement for PFOA, has caused cancerous tumors in rats at high doses and is being studied closely by the EPA.

The chemical industry “is shifting from one, well-studied chemical to another, slightly different one,” says Lunder. “And the fact that it takes scientists and regulators decades to figure out what it is, study it, figure out if it’s a problem, and regulate it.”

The EPA has been monitoring and encouraging industries to phase out PFAS for years, though the chemicals have never been federally regulated in the U.S. The PFAS Action Act would require significant regulation and set a stricter timeline to speed up development of a drinking water standard, a process that, according to Lunder, normally takes eight or 10 years if it happens at all.

Blood Levels of the Most Common PFAS in People in the United States from 2000-2014

chart shows low but persistent levels of three kinds of PFAS in Americans' blood, and a higher but declining level of PFOS

Four common types of PFAS were consistently found in Americans’ blood throughout the early 21st century. Chart by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A Job for State or Federal Government?

A common argument from opponents of the bill is that the legislation is a federal overstep. In a statement to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, U.S. Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) said, “It’s crucial we protect public health and the environment — especially in the Mountain State — from the challenges associated with PFAS, but House Democrats’ overreaching legislation is not the answer.”

In the eyes of some state politicians and advocates, however, strong federal intervention is just what is needed for PFAS.

A letter in favor of the PFAS Action Act signed by five governors in the Great Lakes region reads, “A strong federal law is needed to ensure a consistent national framework for addressing PFAS and because not all states have the capacity or legal frameworks in place to undertake state-driven actions.”

“I think state agencies are sometimes designed to fail, politically, or that they’ve been manipulated politically too much to be successful, which is unfortunate,” says Emily Donovan, co-founder of Fayetteville, North Carolina, volunteer organization Clean Cape Fear. Donovan and fellow Fayetteville residents founded the organization in 2017 after a local newspaper reported that DuPont Chemical Company had been releasing PFAS into the source of their drinking water, the Cape Fear River.

“I just assumed that when I turned on my tap it was safe,” Donovan says. “And what I realized was it was clear — it wasn’t clean.”

Most municipal water authorities do not possess the technology to screen PFAS out of their water, because it is not regulated as a hazardous chemical by federal law. Just seven states have enforceable limits on the amount of PFAS in drinking water, and 10 states have guidelines or issue notices for high PFAS levels, according to the environmental health network Safer States.

According to Donovan, states with particularly high concentrations of PFAS often lack state-level PFAS regulation. North Carolina, which does not have enforceable limits on PFAS levels in water, is an example. DuPont and, later, DuPont spinoff company Chemours, dumped waste that contained PFAS into the Cape Fear River from 1980 to 2017, according to Clean Cape Fear.

wide blue river flanked by autumn trees

The Cape Fear River begins in the central part of the state and flows southeast. Photo by Blipperman, license throughWikimedia Commons

Eric Engle of West Virginia organization Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action is dealing with similar PFAS contamination issues in his state, especially in the city of Parkersburg, and sees federal regulation as the answer.

“We’re going to need to look towards federal legislation and regulatory action more than any other vehicle for overcoming [PFAS pollution],” says Engle. “Especially at the state level in West Virginia, I don’t expect much from our legislature or governor at all.”

Parkersburg, W.Va. v.s. DuPont

Parkersburg, West Virginia, is a powerful example of the effects of PFAS. The city has made headlines periodically since Parkersburg farmer Wilbur Tennant and attorney Rob Bilott first sued DuPont Chemical in 1998 after Tennant’s cows began mysteriously dying.

DuPont began manufacturing the chemical PFOA, also known as “C8,” at its Parkersburg plant in 1951, in order to make Teflon products. In 2001, Bilott brought a class action lawsuit against the chemical company on behalf of 80,000 plaintiffs in six Ohio River water districts whose drinking water was contaminated by PFOA. In 2011 and 2012, a scientific panel finished a series of studies in the Parkersburg area and issued reports concluding that PFOA did indeed have a “probable link” to ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, testicular cancer and kidney cancer.

Yet another Bilott lawsuit is ongoing — the lawyer filed a class-action lawsuit in 2018 on behalf of all Americans with PFAS in their blood.

“The case of this one farmer in the Parkersburg area really was the shot over the bow that started all of this,” says Engle.

“[Parkersburg residents] were the people who taught us … the intense toxicity of PFAS,” says Sierra Club’s Sonya Lunder. Even with the settlements, she added, “justice for the people who had those intense exposures is lacking.”

Who Pays and How?

Litigation like Bilott’s lawsuits is important to advocates because it can force the companies responsible for PFAS-related harm to pay damages to individuals or pay for special technology to filter PFAS-contaminated drinking water. Bills like the PFAS Action Act would allow Superfund law to hold companies such as DuPont, Chemours and 3M accountable for PFAS cleanup costs, but would not necessarily force them to cover additional costs. As a result, communities often aim to receive damage payments and water filtration funding through lawsuits, Lunder explains.

A group of 13 organizations representing the nation’s municipal governments and drinking water and wastewater facilities submitted a July letter to Congress stating their apprehension that water municipalities and their ratepayers could be held accountable for cleaning up PFAS pollution they did not create. The organizations expressed concern that public water treatment plants will have to pay for PFAS cleanup both through purchasing new equipment to meet potential drinking water standards and through Superfund site rules that might designate PFAS disposal sites as polluted areas that municipalities must clean up.

“Wastewater utilities would face … liability through no fault of their own because they receive PFAS chemicals through the raw influent that arrives at the treatment plant,” the letter states. The groups state that water and wastewater utilities should be excluded from certain requirements of Superfund law through a special exemption.

“I think cost of pollution cleanup is a really important issue,” Lunder says, “but I think if we’re thinking about this big picture, the public is paying the price. Either you pay incredibly high water bills or you’re subjected to lifelong exposure to highly toxic chemicals. This is another place where the system is broken.”

The Future of PFAS

The PFAS Action Act passed the House and remains in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which may recommend the bill for a Senate vote if the issue appears to have enough bipartisan support. Apart from the bill, Reps. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Daniel Kildee (D-Mich.) are urging the House to include funding for the removal and replacement of firefighting foam that contains PFAS in the budget reconciliation process currently underway for fiscal year 2022.

“In the meantime,” Lunder says, “[Dupont, Chemours and 3M] continue to make, use, and skirt responsibility for the lifetime and generation impacts of these chemicals on people and the environment.”

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North Carolina Seeks Public Comment on Regional Haze Plan

view of a mountain is partially obscured by white haze
view of a mountain is partially obscured by white haze

A whitish haze caused by pollution sometimes obscures views in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Photo by NPS

By Carolina Norman

Long-range scenic views are a trademark of the Southeast and one of the fundamental reasons why so many flock to the mountains in the region. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the country and welcomed 12.1 million visitors in 2020. The views in these areas provide a sense of place and without them, experiences in the outdoors can be muted and less fulfilling.

North Carolina is developing its state implementation plan for the Regional Haze Rule, an air quality protection program coordinated by federal and state authorities that targets national parks and wilderness areas. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality is currently seeking public comment regarding its draft plan. Some conservation and health groups have expressed concerns that the methods North Carolina and other Southeast states use to analyze haze-causing air pollution are missing key sources of emissions that are disproportionately located in low-income areas.

Haze Pollution

Haze pollution is a combination of air pollution particles and gasses that block light and reduce the visual range, clarity and color of views. Haze is composed of both natural and manmade pollutants, with manmade pollutants originating from vehicles and a variety of industrial facilities including paper mills, chemical manufacturers and coal-fired power plants. In addition to muddying skies, haze pollution negatively affects ecosystems and is harmful to human health and can cause a variety of illnesses and health complications.

Haze-causing air pollution can travel hundreds of miles and affect national parks and communities. The National Parks Conservation Association, a national conservation organization, identified 28 industrial facilities in North Carolina that are potential threats to air quality in protected areas across the Southeast, and a total of 241 facilities from any state that potentially impact visibility in North Carolina’s protected areas.

Regulations

Regulations for haze pollution are intended to increase visibility and clean up the air in Class 1 Federal areas, which are areas protected under Section 162(a) of the Clean Air Act. North Carolina holds five of these areas: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Area, Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, Shining Rock Wilderness Area and Swanquarter Wilderness Area.

The Regional Haze Program finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1999 called for visibility to be improved in 156 national parks and wilderness areas. This plan is the blueprint to reduce and eventually eliminate human-caused air pollution in some of the country’s most iconic areas. Once every 10 years, each state must prepare a state implementation plan to lower air pollution until natural air is eventually restored.

The Second Planning Period covering 2019 to 2028 is currently underway in North Carolina for the Regional Haze Plan. The state is accepting public comments on the draft plan until October 15.

According to guidance provided by the Environmental Protection Agency to assist states in their state implementation plans, plans will likely adhere to a few key steps, including determining baseline visibility in Class 1 areas, identifying which Class 1 areas – whether in or out of state – are affected by a state’s own emissions, selecting pollution sources for which emission control measures will be developed, determining control measures for those sources and developing methods to measure progress.

The National Parks Conservation Association ranks Great Smoky Mountains National Park second among national parks in pollution burden from haze — making this area one of the most haze-polluted parks in the country.

In a September webinar hosted by CleanAIRE NC about North Carolina’s Regional Haze Plan, Ulla Reeves with the National Parks Conservation Association spoke of the significance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s standing regarding haze pollution.

“These statistics underscore the importance and the need for North Carolina to have a strong haze plan,” Reeves said.

A May report issued by the National Parks Conservation Association revealed 10 Southeastern states, including North Carolina, are overlooking more than 300 sources of pollution in their state implementation plans, which will potentially allow more than 500,000 tons of emissions to affect parks and communities. Hundreds of sources including coal-fired power plants and oil and gas development have been omitted from the analysis, 90% of which are located in communities living under the poverty line.

According to the NPCA report, the model the states used to analyze air pollution, developed through the Visibility Improvement State and Tribal Associations in the Southeast planning organization, sets high emissions thresholds that identify only 33 sources of pollution for monitoring–the expert commissioned by the NPCA identified 342 in the region. The model also relies on 10-year-old data that, according to the NPCA, inaccurately reflects increases in certain pollutants that have negative effects on air quality, including nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

In an April letter addressed to the North Carolina Division of Air Quality, 22 organizations including the Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Voices expressed concerns with planning processes. Authors cited concerns beyond visibility in wilderness areas–including protecting communities from harmful health effects and reducing climate pollution.

“By failing to request any analyses from coal-fired power plants, or analyses of possible [nitrogen oxide] or [particulate matter] reductions from any sources, North Carolina is hamstringing its ability to achieve clear skies,” authors wrote. “It is also missing an opportunity to protect fenceline communities who bear the brunt of air pollution from these industrial facilities.”

North Carolina Haze Plans

During the first planning period of the Regional Haze Program, from 2008 to 2018, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality reported improved visual range from 28 to 39 miles in the state’s Class 1 areas as a result of reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. This is an overall 30-mile improvement from the 9-mile visual range in 1998.

The North Carolina State Implementation Plan draft for the second planning period was released on August 31. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is accepting comments until October 15. Comments can be submitted via email to DAQ.publiccomments@ncdenr.gov with the subject line “NC RH SIP” or by voicemail to 919-707-8403.

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Tennessee Outreach & Communications Assistant

The intern will work closely with our Tennessee Campaign Manager to support base-building, community education, and other outreach from our Knoxville office.

Intern activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Tracking and tabling at relevant events in the Knoxville area
  • Maintaining our outreach database
  • Organizing presentations on our work at local colleges
  • Coordinating and recruiting for volunteer events
  • Assisting with workshops in Knoxville and surrounding rural communities
  • Writing blogs/website blurbs that describe our program focus and current work
  • Making Instagram and Facebook posts about current projects
  • Training rural co-op members on the use of Google Drive & other technology
  • Contacting regional organizations to engage in our campaigns
  • Supporting various projects as they arise

Requires 15 hrs/week commitment, on average. Compensation $15/hr. The internship will start immediately and last through the end of January.

Skills/Qualifications

  • Passionate about environment/social issues the Appalachian region
  • Great communication skills
  • Ability to compromise/work well with people from a wide range of opinions and backgrounds
  • Organizational skills- highly detail oriented
  • Sense of humor
  • Use of Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, etc.)
  • Self-starter that can work independently
  • Use of Facebook and/or WordPress
  • Good writing skills

To apply

Please send your resume and letter of interest to Tennessee Campaign Manager Bri Knisley, at brianna@appvoices.org. Please make the subject line of the email “Outreach & Communications Intern.”


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