‘We’re Simply in Survival Mode’

first_img‘We’re Simply in Survival Mode’ FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Jeff Brady for NPR:“Right now I think we’re simply in a survival mode,” says Luke Popovich, vice president for external communications at the National Mining Association.In part he blames environmental regulations over the decades. But the coal industry’s problems go beyond that. Despite falling demand here in the U.S., the industry thought global demand would continue to rise. Popovich says coal companies borrowed a lot of money to prepare for that new business, but it never came.“Now they’re faced with paying off those debts at the same time that prices for all fossil fuels — not just coal but natural gas and oil — have virtually collapsed,” Popovich says.Coal’s problems don’t stop there. The renewable energy building boom also is stressing the industry. Once solar and wind projects are built, the power is cheap to produce.“Gas puts the immediate threat to coal, but the combination of gas and renewables places a longer-term threat to coal,” says Andy Roberts, analyst in international thermal coal markets for the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.He says last year was tough for coal companies, and the future likely will be even more painful.Full article/clip: From The Ashes Of Some Coal Plants, New Energy Riseslast_img read more

Kentucky muni signs solar power purchase deal

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Courier Journal:Kentucky is about to catch some rays in a big way.A new solar farm coming to Western Kentucky in 2022 promises to be the state’s biggest — by a wide margin. Some 800 acres of solar panels are planned for Lyon County, just north of Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. At their midday peak, the panels are expected to produce 86 megawatts of power, or among the top 2 percent in the nation for solar plants, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.The Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency, a group of 11 city-owned utilities, agreed last week to purchase the majority of that power starting in late 2022, with the rest planned for Owensboro Municipal Utilities, pending board approval. The solar plant would be Kentucky’s seventh and biggest. The largest currently is Kentucky Utilities’ 10-megawatt solar plant, which opened near Harrodsburg two years ago. Last year, five more solar plants opened, including three owned by Duke Energy.For Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency CEO Doug Buresh, whose agency will start delivering energy to member utilities next year, that’s a sign renewable sources are gaining traction. Buresh said he expects more plants to open in coming years and that the agreement to buy solar power demonstrates its commitment to environmentally friendly sources.The Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency has drawn scrutiny for leaning heavily on coal-fired plants. In its first three years, two-thirds of the group’s energy will come from coal. Starting in 2022, Buresh said he hopes to change that. The new solar plant would still, however, fill less than 10 percent of the group’s energy needs.The new solar plant’s builders are Texas-based Open Road Renewables and MAP Energy, an investor in renewable energy projects with offices in Oklahoma and California.More: Western Kentucky to soak up the sun with state’s largest solar farm Kentucky muni signs solar power purchase deallast_img read more

IEA data show India has invested more in renewables than coal over last three years

first_imgIEA data show India has invested more in renewables than coal over last three years FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Independent:A whopping 74 per cent of India’s electricity generation comes from coal-fired power plants, and coal use in the country continues to increase, but we may be seeing the beginning of the end of coal’s rein as renewable energy investments have begun to outpace those in fossil fuels.According to the International Energy Agency, India’s move towards spending on renewables has been driven both by policy and by the rapidly falling costs of bringing solar power online. For the past three years in a row India has seen greater total investments in renewables than in fossil fuels, the report shows, while spending on solar energy overtook spending on coal-fired power generation for the first time in 2018.Despite its growing use of coal and increasing demands, the country appears to remain on track to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement, in which it pledged to bring 175 gigawatts of renewable energy online by 2022. So far the country has installed over 77GW – double its renewables capacity of four years ago – and has signed off a further 60GW for construction.Meanwhile, India’s new coal power generation has dropped from roughly 20 gigawatts of additional capacity being added each year to less than 10 gigawatts added in each of the last three years, Sameer Kwatra, a climate change and energy policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council told Inside Climate News.The slow move away from coal in India fits with global trends in investment in fossil fuels which have tumbled over the last three years.More: India investing more money in solar power than coal for first timelast_img read more

State of Virginia approves 2045 deadline for 100% carbon-free electricity

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Greentech Media:Virginia has become the latest state to pass a law that sets it on a path to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045, as well as setting targets for massive investments in energy efficiency, energy storage, and in-state solar and wind power.The Clean Economy Act passed Virginia’s House of Delegates by a 51-45 vote on Thursday and the state Senate by a 22-17 vote on Friday, clearing the way for the bill to be signed by Governor Ralph Northam, who issued an executive order calling for it last year. Both votes were carried by Democrats who won majorities in both houses from Republicans in last year’s election, although one House Democrat voted against it and one Republican senator voted in favor of it.The primary feature of the law, SB 851, is its call for Dominion Virginia (the state’s dominant utility) and the smaller Appalachian Power Co. to supply 30 percent of their power from renewables by 2030, and to close all carbon-emitting power plants by 2045 for Dominion and by 2050 for Appalachian.For Dominion Virginia, this will mean securing enough renewables to replace coal plants that supply roughly one-quarter of its electricity and natural-gas plants that supply about another third. Dominion also gets more than one-third of its energy from nuclear power. That goes beyond the goals of parent company Dominion Energy, which has set its own 100 percent net-zero emissions goal for its 18-state utility, generation and natural-gas operations. It also puts pressure on Dominion Virginia to massively expand renewables, which currently make up about 5 percent of its resource mix. Those existing renewables are largely hydropower and biomass.To bolster the economics for this expansion, the law will bring Virginia into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, opening the market for renewables to earn money through the multistate carbon cap-and-trade markets. And to help balance intermittent wind and solar power, it calls for Dominion to procure at least 2.7 gigawatts of energy storage by 2035; along with Appalachian’s target of 400 megawatts, it is one of the biggest statewide storage mandates in the country.All told, it’s a massive step forward for a state that has had no binding renewable energy or efficiency mandates until now, said Harry Godfrey, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the Advanced Energy Economy industry group. “The thing that’s notable here is the speed at which we’re changing this policy.”[Jeff St. John]More: Virginia mandates 100% clean power by 2045 State of Virginia approves 2045 deadline for 100% carbon-free electricitylast_img read more

HESTA, major Australian retirement fund, completes divestment from thermal coal

first_imgHESTA, major Australian retirement fund, completes divestment from thermal coal FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享The Sydney Morning Herald:The $52 billion super fund for healthcare workers has divested holdings in thermal coal companies under a new climate policy that commits to ‘net zero’ emissions across the entire portfolio by 2050.HESTA’s updated climate plan involves reducing absolute carbon emissions across its investment portfolio by 33% within the decade and 100% by 2050, in an effort to bring its investment strategy in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.The role of large super fund investors to limit emissions has increasingly come to the fore after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found there would be “long-lasting or irreversible” impacts to the environment if warming exceeded 1.5 degrees.“Climate change is probably the single most important issue that we’ll be facing over the next century and really, for us, it’s so important because it’s a material financial risk for our portfolio,” HESTA chief executive Debby Blakey said. “We are the generation that needs to address this, and we really do need an urgent response.”The emissions reduction targets will apply to the fund’s entire portfolio – including passively held stocks and unlisted asset classes – and the plan also includes increasing investments in low-carbon assets, like renewable energy or green infrastructure.HESTA’s new climate policy applies this exclusion to all thermal coal companies, including retrospective investments, and a spokesman confirmed the fund had divested from Coal India as well as its holding in Whitehaven Coal, a company running four coal mines in NSW and Queensland.[Charlotte Grieve]More: Super giant HESTA divests coal, commits to ‘net zero’ investments by 2050last_img read more

Venture Global delays final investment decision on Plaquemines LNG export project

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):Venture Global LNG is delaying the financial close of its proposed Plaquemines LNG export facility in Plaquemines Parish, La., to mid-2021.The Plaquemines LNG facility, which will have an export capacity of up to 20 million tonnes per year, is anticipated to start commercial operations in 2024, Venture Global said on its website. Since obtaining the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval in September 2019, Venture Global has yet to make a formal final investment decision on the project.In September, the developer’s website said it planned to make a final investment decision on the project in late 2020 and start commercial service in 2023 to 2024, Reuters reported Nov. 18.The Plaquemines LNG export project is part of a wave of U.S. LNG projects that were expected to reach a final investment decision in 2020 until it was upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Among those projects, only Sempra Energy’s proposed Energía Costa Azul LNG export terminal in Baja California, Mexico, reached a positive final investment decision in 2020.Venture Global most recently said it remains on target to begin the commercial operations of its other LNG project, the 10-Mt/y Calcasieu Pass terminal in Louisiana, in 2022.[Dyna Mariel Bade]More ($): Venture Global to reach financial close of Plaquemines LNG project in mid-2021 Venture Global delays final investment decision on Plaquemines LNG export projectlast_img read more

The Dirt on Hemlock Hero Will Blozan

first_imgWillBlozanWill Blozan climbs hemlock trees for a living. It might be the perfect job, if he didn’t have to worry about those trees being gone in the next five years. Blozan is the subject of a new documentary, The Vanishing Hemlock: A Race Against Time. It follows the arborist’s quest to save the last remaining stands of old growth hemlock trees in the Southern woods. Hemlocks—some approaching 500 years old—are literally having the life sucked out of them by the woolly adelgid, a non-native insect introduced from Asia. Since 2002, it has been ravaging hemlock populations in the South, especially in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the past five years Blozan has dedicated his life to researching and treating hemlock trees in the Southern Appalachians. One of his biggest efforts, the Tsuga Search Project, is measuring and documenting the world’s tallest Eastern Hemlocks before they are exctinct. He’s a lone eco-warrior fighting a seemingly impossible battle, due to inaction by the government and continued public apathy. Although he admits saving hemlocks is a personal crusade for a species he loves, it is also a quest for ecological preservation, something everyone needs to consider.——————–BRO: When did the hemlock personally become so important to you?WB: When I worked for the National Park Service in 1993, I was hired specifically to survey and map these trees. Being out there in the backcountry with these ancient trees, the largest evergreen conifer in the Eastern U.S., I was able to develop a certain respect.BRO: Your company has been contracted by the government to treat trees in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. What’s your assessment of the trees in this daily work?WB: It depends a lot on the vigor of the trees. I can say that just about 100 percent of the hemlocks in the park have been infested. I’ve seen a lot of mortality this year. I have been treating adelgid since it arrived in 2002, and the trees that I reached right away are doing well. But some that weren’t treated have already died. It only takes five years. The trees that I am treating right now are heavily infested, and a lot of them have died this year, because of the drought. It’s a combination of stresses.BRO: Now that you are working with the government, can this be reversed?WB: It’s four years too late. They’ve known about this since 2002 and didn’t start treating until 2005. I don’t know why the Park Service waited so long to get going. They are not putting enough into this. The national park was established to preserve the superlative forest. But they recently received $18 million to repair a one-way dirt road that nobody really uses. That money should be going to save the hemlocks, which are the whole reason the park was established. Some of these forests could have been saved for a couple thousand dollars. The priorities are way off. It’s unfortunate that this lesson had to be learned in the national park, which is the epicenter of these trees.BRO: You treat trees with Imidacloprid, which is a controversial pesticide. Why do you use this instead of biological controls like predatory beetles?WB: Research has shown that as long as there’s organic material in the soil, the molecule in the pesticide binds so tightly that it can’t move and leach out of the soil. It’s been proven in a laboratory and a new field study that’s about to get published. The predator beetle has been released extensively, and it just can’t work. It’s true that it eats adelgid, but it physically cannot solve the problem because of sheer numbers. Their numbers cannot match the reproductive numbers of the adelgid. One tree can produce tens of billions of adelgidBRO: Public apathy is another reason hemlocks continue to perish. Why should our readers care?WB: To me the hemlock forests represent a link to our past that’s viable in its own right. I realize not everyone appreciates trees like I do, but this is a species that has an impact on people because of its size, shape, and character. Every time I take people into hemlock forests they get really quiet and touch the trees. They have an impact and create a deep connection to the earth.From an ecological standpoint, there are a number of species that are dependent on hemlocks. Water quality is a big concern. We could have higher flash flood events, and highly acidic water. Hemlocks are wet and spongy, so they moderate high rainfall by absorbing water, and basically prevent flooding. Wildfire could also be a big problem, because we’ll have all of this dead dry wood lying around. Some of these forests haven’t burned in a millennium. With the open sunlight being able to hit the forest floor without shade, dry weather would make these areas a tinderbox.BRO: Where do we go from here, now that the problem is so widespread?WB: There are many places out there that still have a lot of healthy hemlock growth. I don’t see any need to choose to let them die. I have no expectations of saving every tree. But there are some super high quality sites, like Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee, which do not have adelgid infestations at this point. We need to encourage people to save these forests, while they still can, and maintain them for the future.There is a false idea out there that preserving hemlocks is unaffordable, mainly because private companies are charging too much, riding the wave of alarm. The chemical is cheap, and the application is easy. I don’t understand how we as a human species can let another species go extinct, when there’s a reasonable, affordable option.BRO: What’s the goal for you in being the subject of this film?WB: I want my kids to be able to visit a healthy hemlock forest. My goal is to alert people to how serious this pest is and how quickly it kills. But also they need to realize how easy it is to save these forests. Public landowners need to do it. It’s a black and white situation. If this was happening in Redwoods National Park, I guarantee there would be a huge effort to make a difference.last_img read more

Drive By Truckers Still Rolling

first_imgPhoto by David McClisterAs Patterson Hood sings the chorus in “The Righteous Path,” a hard-hitting standout from the Drive-By Truckers’ new sprawling 35-track live album, his gravelly voice sounds a little more weathered than usual. Not that the wear and tear hasn’t been well earned. Hood is now 51 and he’s been fronting the Truckers alongside his main songwriting foil Mike Cooley for just shy of 20 years. In the two decades since the band emerged from Athens, Ga., it has played approximately 2,000 shows, released 10 studio albums, and had 14 different members. Impossible to calculate but no less relevant to the experience are the number of relentless road miles between gigs, Jack Daniels bottles killed onstage, or the eardrums permanently damaged at the band’s rowdy, deafeningly loud rock shows.DBTcover_Its-Great-To-Be-AliveIt’s Great to Be Alive!, which will be released on October 30, comes across as a grand retrospective that celebrates the Truckers’ scrappy longevity, despite some turmoil. Culled from a three-night stand at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, the effort finds Hood and Cooley trading tunes that touch every part of the band’s impressively prolific discography.Through the years various line-ups have adjusted the band’s Southern rock sound—a mix of big distorted anthems, twangy thought-provoking ballads and even some of the dusty soul from Hood’s upbringing in Alabama as the son of the bassist of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The common thread, however, has always been Hood and Cooley’s vivid lyrics, which illustrate with brutal honesty many hard-to-swallow aspects of life in the South.That’s on full display in the new live set, as Hood revisits “The Living Bubba,” a tragic story song about a bar musician with AIDS who finds the will to live through his nightly shows that first surfaced on the Truckers’ primitive 1998 debut Gangstabilly. Cooley shines on the band’s more recent material, particularly the politically charged “English Oceans,” where he tells the crowd a story about growing up in Alabama and remembering being embarrassed when a visit from then-President Jimmy Carter to his hometown was interrupted by the KKK.Make no mistake: the Truckers’ lead songwriters are both proud of where they come from. You can hear it when Hood gets personal looking back at his 1999 song “Box of Spiders,” written for his grandparents. But they’ve also never been willing to sugarcoat the region’s shortcomings. The Truckers’ critical breakout came after the 2001 release of Southern Rock Opera, a two-disc concept album about growing up in the South, creatively filtered through reverence for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hood referenced the album in July when he wrote a poignant op-ed in the New York Times Magazine about the Confederate Flag controversy that followed the tragic mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.“The album wrestled with how to be proud of where we came from while acknowledging and condemning the worst parts of our region’s history,” he wrote, while also elaborating on his craft. “As a songwriter, I’ve spent the better part of my career trying to capture both the Southern storytelling tradition and the details the tall tales left out, putting this dialectical narrative into the context of rock songs.”That sums up what’s destined to be the band’s cemented legacy, something worth noting at a time when the group finally seems to have a comfortable roster. The band has admitted to internal discord as notable members have come and gone through the years, including Americana tunesmith Jason Isbell, who wrote some of the band’s most popular songs during his six-year tenure.These days, though, the Truckers play as a lean five-piece outfit that is arguably its tightest incarnation. Hood and Cooley handle the guitars with steadfast drummer Brad Morgan behind the kit. Spunky bassist Matt Patton holds down the low end, and the unsung hero is keyboardist Jay Gonzalez, who shines on It’s Great to Be Alive! by easing the intensity of the distortion with gospel-hued organ accents, funky vamps, and airy piano fills.The new album closes with “Grand Canyon.” The song is a moving elegy for Craig Lieske, a band crew member who passed away suddenly of a heart attack in 2013. It’s meditative and melodic, persisting for more than 13 minutes before patiently reaching a crashing peak that tapers off into piercing single note of feedback. When Hood sings the line, “Lug our sorrows, pains and angers and turn them into play,” it’s a reminder that even with some age on the wheels, his band is still finding creative ways to roll with the punches.last_img read more

Mountain Mama | Getting Wild On Cumberland Island

first_imgAfter three years of wanting to explore Cumberland Island, the last barrier island on Georgia’s coastline, I got my chance to kayak camp there last weekend. As soon as I pulled my kayak across the muddy bank, I saw wild horses grazing in the early afternoon sun. On the steps of Plum Orchard, Carol Ruckdeschel, the subject of Will Harlan’s book, Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island, sat on the front steps of the Plum Orchard plantation. She was talking with park docents, enjoying the sun after the previous day’s storm. Carol told me about the artisan water and the best sources to fill up bottles, winking as she dismissed the park service’s warning to treat the water.On the mile hike to the primitive campsite at Yankee Paradise, a canopy of live oak and palmettos covered the trail. The grey tendrils hanging from the oaks blew in the wind, whispering about a past at once romantic and laden with secrets. My arm hairs stood on end, half-expecting to see an alligator scurry across the swampy parts of trail, but instead an armadillo scuttled by. Cumberland Island delivered exactly what I needed – a temporary escape from the wintery mountain landscape. Dolphins and wild boars rounded out the exotic feel of hiking through swamps and beachcombing along miles of deserted white sand.The next evening after paddling for a couple hours, I happily climbed into my sleeping bag at Brickhill Bluff campsite. No sooner than I’d zipped up the tent than rain began.  All night, the wind whipped the nylon and the swell ravaged the nearby bank, warning of a demanding paddle ahead.I slept in fits, waking up every few hours, surprised that the tent hadn’t yet leaked. My mind turned to the long paddle back to the truck. I planned the weekend, checking local weather forecasts and the appropriate tide charts. The Georgia coast, with the second biggest tidal range in the world, requires respect. Even with the help of the tide, it would be a formidable paddle. I lay in my down cocoon wondering if I could have planned better to avoid the weather.  From my lawyering days, I’d embraced planning and predicting to control how events unfolded. The next day I paddled against the wind. My thighs cramped from bracing against the plastic cockpit so I could crank my torso and use my whole body to paddle.  Red spots formed on my hands. I paddled for hours like that, one stroke at a time, knowing that if I stopped even for a minute I’d lose the ground I’d fought so hard to cover. The wind spit water in my face. I’d count to a hundred just to see where my kayak would be by then.  A dolphin surfaced in the distance and I felt the abundance of being able to see her. Watching the dolphin disappear, I realized that art of Cumberland’s beauty lends itself to the elements of nature that exist beyond my control. One of my favorite aspects of being in the wild is squaring up to what comes my way, including the wind.Somewhere before the evening after crossing the Intracoastal Waterway and heading up the Crooked River, something in me conceded to uncertainty.  I wasn’t going to beat the wind. I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d land my kayak before the soft pastels in the sky gave way to total darkness. For once I was okay with being unsure and it was enough to be out there paddling, taking it one stroke at a time. My battle with the wind turned into admiration, the powerful way it whipped the river into a frenzy of chaotic peaks.By a stroke of good luck, I landed my kayak on Crooked River State Park boat ramp in time to watch the last of the sunset.  Although my hands shook from the cold, I watched the sun until darkness took its grasp. It had taken me three years to get to Cumberland Island and there was no telling if or when I’d return so I wanted to enjoy even the last few minutes of being there.[divider]Related Articles[/divider]last_img read more

“Ain’t Nothin’ Livin’ in There”

first_img“That’s not how a creek should look.”We peered between the pine slats of the bridge crossing Butcher Branch, a creek in southern West Virginia. It was early January. The four of us had been hiking through tunnels of frost-wilted rhododendron when we came upon the stream. None of us knew much about water quality, but we knew what a healthy stream should look like. The sight of Butcher Branch, milky and sediment-choked, was enough to stop us cold.“Ain’t nothing living in there,” said one of the guys, scuffing his shoe on the bridge.According to a 2011 environmental assessment by the National Park Service, there is a likelihood of “yet unknown sources of contamination” acquired from Butcher Branch’s passage through the old mining community of Kaymoor. The stream ran within the boundary of a national park, the New River Gorge National River. Shouldn’t its waters run clear?In the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, water quality issues seep from every hill and holler, and largely at the hands of coal mining. Coal-related repercussions such as acid mine drainage, coal slurry and coal ash impoundment failures, leaky underground wastewater injection sites, and valley fills are the number one threat to rivers and drinking water.12467152624_593a6031e3_o_FIXAbout the time I was walking over Butcher Branch, the city of Charleston, W.Va., was remembering with painful clarity the 2014 water crisis that left 300,000 West Virginians (that’s one-sixth of the state’s population) without safe drinking water. More than 10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (4MCHM) and PPH leaked from a Freedom Industries tank into the Elk River.Just one month later in February 2014, a stormwater pipe that runs beneath a coal ash pond in Eden, N.C., broke, sending some 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. The toxic byproduct of burning coal, ash contains chemicals such as arsenic, selenium, and boron. It coated the Dan River’s bottom for 70 miles.Back in December 2008, 1 billion gallons of coal ash flooded the Emory River in eastern Tennessee after a dyke collapsed at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal-fired power plant. The 60-foot wave of sludge was enough to destroy three homes and leave more than 300 acres of land covered in gray muck.And nearly a decade before that, in October 2000, 306 million gallons of coal slurry burst through the bottom of a retaining pond at the Martin County Coal Corporation’s Big Branch impoundment near Inez, Ky. Over 100 miles of waterways turned black, more than a dozen communities lost their drinking water, and nearly all of the aquatic life from Inez to the Ohio River perished.MuddyCreekBlowout_FIXThese are just the big spills. Sadly, spills and leaks occur every day. Duke Energy estimates that nearly three million gallons of contaminated water seeps out of its 32 coal ash pits on a daily basis. And where does it go? Into rivers, lakes, and drinking water.The implications of coal-related water contamination go beyond the physical pollution itself. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, living near a wet coal ash storage pond is comparable to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. If you live within a one-mile radius of an unlined coal ash pond, your chances of cancer are 1 in 50—that’s 2,000 times higher than what the EPA considers acceptable.OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MINDIf 72 percent of toxic water pollution in the country comes from coal-fired power plants, it would appear that the coal industry operates on its own terms. This is something Jennifer Hall-Massey of Boone County, W.Va., knows all too well.In the early 2000s, about the time nearby coal companies began injecting coal slurry into abandoned underground mine shafts, Hall-Massey and her neighbors started noticing a difference in their tap water. The normally clean well water had acquired a terrible odor and oftentimes a cloudy gray color. Washing machines rusted and died, plumbing failed, and all the while, the county’s health was quickly deteriorating.“I’m talking about elevated cases of miscarriages, dementia, cancer, all kind of skin ailments, rashes, intestinal ailments, too, and tooth loss,” says Dr. Ben Stout, a professor of biology at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va. “I met a kid who was 18 years old and had one tooth left and he was going to get dentures. It wasn’t because he didn’t brush his teeth—there was so much manganese in the water, they just rotted out.”2014-10-08 (2)_FIXHall-Massey’s now 14-year-old son also suffered from dental issues. Many of his baby teeth were capped due to enamel loss.“The more he brushed with well water, the worse they were,” she says.What’s more, a health survey revealed some 30 percent of Prenter area residents had their gallbladders removed. A few years after Boone County started taking note of the health and water quality of its community, Stout’s expertise was enlisted. With the help of a grant, Stout tested more than a dozen household taps in Prenter. The results unearthed shocking levels of arsenic, barium, lead, manganese, and other chemicals in the water.“In a lot of the wells I’ve tested in southern West Virginia in general, they exceed manganese by 400 times,” Stout says. “With manganese, at those levels, you’re harming people.”Muddy_Creek_Confluence_AMD_DJI00188_Full_FIXHall-Massey didn’t need the science to prove what she had already witnessed in her community. At one of the earliest public awareness meetings in Prenter, Hall-Massey realized six of her neighbors in a 10-house span had brain tumors. Just one year prior to the meeting, her brother had passed away due to post-surgical complications with a brain tumor, which was reportedly non cancerous. Now, all but two of those six neighbors have passed away, too. And according to Hall-Massey, the afflicted neighbors were neither related nor similar in age.Surprisingly, the health surveys and tap tests did little to convince state officials in Charleston, W.Va., that coal companies were to blame for Boone County’s water problems. Despite the fact that Prenter residents’ tap water was laden with chemicals identical to those found in coal slurry, coal companies remained adamant that they had chosen underground injection sites far away from Boone County’s residents to dispose of the sludge.Yet the facts hardly support their argument. In just five years, coal companies injected nearly 2 billion gallons of coal slurry into abandoned mining shafts within an eight-mile radius of Hall-Massey’s home, 93 percent of which contained illegal concentrations of arsenic, lead, chromium, beryllium, and nickel. The pollution wasn’t a secret. By law, coal companies are required to report contamination to the state. The chemical concentrations found in nearby injection sites, which sometimes exceeded the legal limit by 1,000 percent, should, in theory, result in hefty fines and punishment for violating the Safe Drinking Water Act.But the coal companies never incurred a penalty. The three key polluters—Loadout, Remington Coal, and Pine Ridge—never even received so much as a slap on the wrist. For Hall-Massey, the lack of enforcement confirmed her worst fear: no one is going to stand up to coal.“Nobody gives a damn about the people living in this county,” she says. “We’re out of sight, out of mind. Personally, I could care less about the mountains. The people are what matters to me. You don’t risk lives and kill people to make a dollar.”Hall-Massey refused to back down. Eventually in late 2010, a completed pipeline brought in city water to roughly 75 percent of Prenter households, but one-quarter of the town’s residents are still living with contaminated water. For those tapped into the city system, however, the health crisis lifted almost immediately. Asthma improved within days, skin rashes disappeared, and Hall-Massey’s son’s permanent teeth grew in perfectly normal.THE COST OF DOING BUSINESSPrenter residents were also some of the 300,000 affected by the Charleston water crisis in 2014. Instead of coal slurry seeping into their tap water, the residents now faced the unknown side effects of 4-MCHM. In 2015, Hall-Massey joined the 30 percent of her neighbors who have had their gallbladders removed. In her opinion, the timing of her surgery aligns perfectly with the 4-MCHM spill.“No one knows the health effects and they will not know for years to come,” Hall-Massey says. “We’re a bunch of lab rats basically until time passes and someone collects the data.”2015-04-26 (18) Rush Creek_FIX“The rest of the country treats us like we’re the cost of doing business in America,” agrees Daile Boulis, a resident of Loudendale, W.Va.Boulis’ home is adjacent to Kanawha State Forest just nine miles outside of Charleston. During the 2014 water crisis, friends flocked to her doors to take showers, wash laundry, and fill up on water. Despite her home’s close proximity to the site of the spill, Boulis and her five neighbors along Middlelick Branch are still on well water.But, Boulis fears, her clean well water likely will not last forever. As of December 2015, she says her water has acquired a slight metallic taste that she attributes to acid mine drainage from the nearby Keystone Development (KD) #2 mine. The mountaintop removal site, which lies just 1,500 feet from Boulis’s home and only 588 feet from Kanawha State Forest, has racked up more than 20 violations in just over two years. Though the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) halted work at the mine and placed Keystone and its operator, Revelation Energy, on the federal Office of Surface Mining’s Applicant Violator System, Boulis says it’s not enough.“Their fines have been much less than the total of potential damage,” Boulis says. “[The violations] are big ones like method of operations and sediment control and fluid limits, all of which affect water quality.”Unfortunately for Boulis and her neighbors, the damage to Davis Creek and the Kanawha Forest watershed has already been done. While Keystone and Revelation Energy cannot purchase any new mining permits, the designation by the WVDEP does not guarantee the companies will clean up the pollution, which leaves West Virginians with two options—accept a ruined watershed or pay the price to restore it.CHEATED BY COALAs demand for coal decreases, more coal companies are filing for bankruptcy. Forty-nine percent of the active mine permit holders in West Virginia have claimed bankruptcy. This equates to a drop in the coal severance tax, which, in conjunction with the bonds set aside by coal companies, helps fund reclamation.“We are one catastrophic bankruptcy away from this fund being stressed out to the point that it won’t work,” says Randy Huffman, Cabinet Secretary for WVDEP. “When a coal company goes out of business, we revoke the permit and use their bond money, and money from the coal tax, to reclaim those mines to the current standards. [The bond] is never enough to do the work.”The shortage of money has people like Amanda Pitzer, executive director of the non-profit Friends of the Cheat, wondering what happens next. Her organization and its volunteers are heavily involved in the reclamation process of the Cheat River Canyon, which suffered substantial damage due to an acid mine drainage blowout on Muddy Creek at the T&T Fuels mine in 1994 and 1995. It’s taken unrelenting persistence on behalf of Friends of the Cheat to make progress in cleaning up the Cheat River’s tributaries. After 20 years, a multi-million dollar treatment facility will finally be built near the site of the blowout.“It’s a huge investment and it’s not a one-and-done. All of this stuff takes ongoing care,” Pitzer says,According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, more than $35 million is needed to treat abandoned mine land sites and bond forfeiture sites. That figure doesn’t take into account the nearly $7 million required annually to maintain and operate these treatment plans, which involve adding doses of lime to waters polluted by acid mine drainage.“It’s going to cost upwards of $10 million just to build the facility, plus operations and maintenance forever,” Pitzer says. “I mean, who is going to pay for that? What happens when you can’t pay to put the chemicals in the doser? Then what? Do we just let these creeks go back?”For the Cheat River watershed, which not only provides a habitat for fish but also drinking water for some 45,000 residents and a means of recreational tourism for the town of Albright, abandoning treatment of the Cheat River’s tributaries is simply not an option. Following the mine blowouts in 1994 and 1995, the Cheat’s whitewater industry suffered a 50 percent drop in business. For a state that has historically fallen at the bottom of national economic charts, financial hits to any industry are not to be taken lightly.POLLUTION SOLUTIONSWest Virginia is not alone in its struggle. Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina are also fighting the realities of a dwindling coal economy, which include not just mine reclamation but also high rates of unemployment, poverty, and alarming trends in drug overdose and addiction.“It’s really sad to see someone coming from a $60,000 mining job to a minimum wage groundskeeper,” says Dave Bassage, chief of staff at ACE Adventure Resort in Oak Hill, W.Va.Bassage is uniquely sensitive to the plight of coal miners and the environmental impacts of West Virginia’s coal industry—before working for ACE, Bassage was a raft guide, a co-founder of Friends of the Cheat, and chief administrator of the WVDEP Office of Innovation for six years. Despite, or perhaps on account of, his diverse experiences in outdoor recreation, non-profit, and state government work, Bassage doesn’t see the use in pointing fingers. The issue of clean water isn’t just the problem of coal companies, or the state governments, or the environmental advocacy groups: it’s everybody’s problem.“As a society, if we destroy our only home, that’s going to cost far more than whatever we invested to start with to take care of it,” Bassage says. “What we desperately need is a sense of future beyond extraction that’s something we can all wrap our arms around.”There are programs and spending bills in effect to help displaced coal miners find employment, such as the Abandoned Mine Lands Program and Coalfield Development Corporation’s Reclaim Appalachia. President Obama’s proposed POWER+ Plan would distribute $1 billion toward economic initiatives in the coal-impacted communities of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Investments in outdoor recreation tourism could also help stimulate dying economies in mountainous regions, given that the industry as a whole annually generates $646 billion in revenue and supports 6.1 million direct jobs.But the solution isn’t going to be any one thing. The answer lies somewhere amid a muddled mess of economic diversification, investment in renewable energy, improved management and oversight of existing mines and potential pollution sites, and support for legislation like the Clean Water Rule—which would protect 60 percent of the nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands responsible for supplying drinking water to one in every three Americans.“We all have concentric circles of values,” Bassage says. “At the core of that is our loved ones. Environmentalists have the same damn values as coal miners. Instead of focusing on those differences, if they focused on those shared values and found a way to care for their loved ones, that’s what will build a future.”WATER IN AFRICAA Problem and a SolutionIn November 2015, I traveled to western Kenya and stood shoulder to shoulder with a group of Kenyan schoolchildren at their local water source. A piece of PVC pipe crudely jutted out from a red-clay embankment, trickling water slowly, but steadily. BRO-TV: Follow the Liters from Blue Ridge Outdoors on Vimeo.Not a few yards away, the spring sprouted to life from its underground casing. Clusters of tired-looking cattle stood idly upstream beneath a grove of acacia trees, staring with indifference at the uniformed line of children and jerry cans. One of the older girls managed the proceedings. She stood her ground at the head of the source, dutifully filling jug after jug. Her small biceps flexed as she passed full five-liter cans to their respective owners.KENYA_edited-14_FIXWhile she worked, I knelt closer to the pool beneath the spout, expecting to see my watery reflection staring back. The grimy green surface revealed nothing. Its foggy waters, I later learned, hid a world of microbiological contaminants that made students ill with cholera, giardia, and typhoid. Families struggle to afford doctor visits and medicine, leaving children to miss weeks of school. Fortunately, at least for this school and the other 300-some schools our team would visit, the cycle of disease and absenteeism would eventually abate. Water filters from LifeStraw, which last three years, would replace the unreliable and inefficient methods of boiling and chlorination that were commonplace throughout rural Kenya.To date, 361,000 students in western Kenya have benefited from this program, which includes not just the distribution of community water filters but also lessons in basic hygiene. Though that number pales in comparison to the 900 million still living without, it was a step in the right direction.[divider]Related Articles[/divider]last_img read more