Monday, December 28, 2009

The top green stories of the ‘00s

A review of the major environmental news stories of the decade, compiled by Grist, is available here. From celebrities and politicians taking on green causes to growing concern about the climate to sustainable food, it's been a productive decade in raising awareness about all kinds of issues.

On first anniversary of massive spill, coal ash remains unregulated

On December 22nd, 2008, a quiet evening in the town of Harriman, Tennessee was interrupted when 1.2 billion gallons of toxic coal ash sludge burst out of a nearby landfill, poisoning the land and water in its path and causing untold hardship for families whose lives were turned upside down. A year later, the underlying cause of this massive environmental disaster is still unregulated.

Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mine Drainage Treatment Plant to Improve River Water Quality

Construction has begun on a mine drainage treatment facility that will restore aquatic life to the upper reaches of one of America’s most polluted rivers and improve the economic outlook for the entire region, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Full article here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Reporting on Coal River Mountain Rally

Written by Cynthia Wildfire.

Protesters on both sides of the Coal River Mountain issue turned out in front of the WV Department of Environmental Protection offices in Charleston Dec. 7. The protest, organized by state environmental groups, coincided with the start of Copenhagen talks on climate change. Around 300 community members turned out to protest blasting on Coal River Mountain, with about 200 counter-protesters showing up, most in reflective mining stripes. As we arrived, the police, who occupied the middle of the parking lot, bisecting the two groups, quickly ushered people to their respective sides. The pro-coal counter-protesters held signs with slogans expressing anger at "treehuggers" and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, who made a statement supportive of the EPA several weeks ago. In addition to the pro-coal advocates shouting slogans such as "Go back home" and "Coal! Coal!" several coal trucks circled the block with horns blaring in an effort to drown out the environmental speakers.

A long list of community members and activists spoke out against the blasting taking place on Coal River Mountain, with the event headlined by final speaker Robert Kennedy, Jr. Some speakers were very focused on Coal River Mountain, while others veered into general opposition to mountaintop removal mining. Within the crowd, there was some excitement about the recent statements Senator Byrd made regarding the future of coal in West Virginia. A couple of speakers directed comments to the WV DEP, asking them to "do their jobs" and enforce the Clean Water Act regulations more stringently, which could result in permits being revoked for the Coal River Mountain mine site. About half of the speakers expressed disappointment regarding WV DEP's management of permits and instead advocated for the US EPA to take over in West Virginia.

Many rally speakers expressed concern that the blasting on Coal River Mountain is taking place less than 200 feet away from the nearly-9-billion-gallon Brushy Fork slurry impoundment. Rally participants and local residents worry that blasting could cause instability in the impoundment, which has been cited for structural problems. Anger from the rally participants was largely directed at Massey Coal, rather than at the industry as a whole, with several retired miners speaking out about the jobs lost through de-unionization and mechanization. Chuck Nelson, a retired miner now working with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, responded to signs condemning President Obama and the EPA: "It's not Obama giving instructions to the EPA - it's us. They are listening to us!" Coalfield resident and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Maria Gunnoe referenced the pro-coal chant "Go Home" by expressing her belief that "Anybody that's here to destroy our mountains is an outsider." She also pointed out the dangers of water quality destruction, both from valley fills and from a potential leak or failure in the coal slurry impoundment, stating, "A paycheck's not important when you don't have water for your children."

Many attendees had signs with the slogan "Save Coal River Mountain" written across an image of a windmill, referencing research that showed the mountain would be an excellent location for a wind farm. Speakers suggested that a wind farm would offer sustainable jobs and energy, in contrast to coal, which they claimed could be mined out within the next generation. Jobs were a key phrase from both sides, with rally speakers asking for sustainable, green jobs, and economic diversification, and coal advocates carrying signs noting their dependence on coal jobs.

Robert Kennedy Jr. ended the rally with a detailed speech that covered various areas of interest, focusing on mountaintop removal in general. He spoke in detail about the externalities of coal, both from mining and burning it, which he said explain why a state with such rich natural resources remains so poor. West Virginia coal provides cheap energy, but the costs of respiratory disease, heavy metal contaminated water, neurological effects during fetal development, and environmental destruction are left out of the sticker price. He repeated a conversation he had had with his father about surface mining in Appalachia in the 1960s, quoting "They're not just destroying the environment. They are also permanently impoverishing these communities," an idea that he linked to Massey's anti-union stance. He suggested that the idea of a tradeoff between the environment and the economy is shortsighted, saying "A good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy" and that environmentally destructive practices like mountaintop removal give only the "illusion of a prosperous economy." Like many previous speakers, Kennedy spoke out against the WV political establishment and the state DEP. Kennedy's speech, as well as the reading of a note from Kathy Mattea, a speech by Rev. Jim Lewis, and Judy Bonds' speech, is available on The Head On Radio Network. Other news articles on the rally are available at the Huffington Post, WOWK TV,, and the Charleston Gazette.

Senator Byrd Makes Clear His Vision for West Virginia's Future

"West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear. The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose." Full speech here.

Mercury Contamination Found to Have Originated from Textile Plant

A federal study says soil contaminated more than 50 years ago by a textile plant is the source of 96 percent of the mercury in the South River. Link here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pa. Residents Sue Gas Driller for Contamination, Health Concerns

Pennsylvania residents whose streams and fields have been damaged by toxic spills and whose drinking water has allegedly been contaminated [1] by drilling for natural gas are suing the Houston-based energy company that drilled the wells. A worker at the company is among the 15 families bringing suit. The civil case, filed Thursday in U.S District Court in Scranton, Pa., seeks to stop future drilling in the Marcellus Shale by Cabot Oil and Gas near the town of Dimock. It also seeks to set up a trust fund to cover medical treatment for residents who say they have been sickened by pollutants. Health problems listed in the complaint include neurological and gastrointestinal illnesses; the complaint also alleges that at least one person's blood tests show toxic levels of the same metals found in the contaminated water.

The suit alleges that Cabot allowed methane [2] and metals to seep into drinking water wells, failed to uphold terms of its contracts with landowners, and acted fraudulently when it said that the drilling process, including the chemicals used in the underground manipulation process called hydraulic fracturing [3], could not contaminate groundwater and posed no harm to the people who live there.

The suit alleges that Cabot allowed methane [2] and metals to seep into drinking water wells, failed to uphold terms of its contracts with landowners, and acted fraudulently when it said that the drilling process, including the chemicals used in the underground manipulation process called hydraulic fracturing [3], could not contaminate groundwater and posed no harm to the people who live there.

"We've been lied to, we've been pushed around, and enough is enough," said Julie Sautner, whose drinking water began showing high levels of methane, iron and aluminum in February and who is receiving fresh water deliveries from Cabot. "We need to push back."

Full article here.