Wise County Board of Supervisors join growing list of localities supporting POWER+ Plan

The Wise County Virginia Board of Supervisors joined a growing number of Appalachian communities voicing support for the White House’s POWER+ Plan at its regular August meeting this evening. The Board unanimously approved a resolution supporting the federal budget proposal, which would steer billions of dollars for economic development and diversification to Appalachia’s coal-impacted communities, including those in Southwest Virginia.

Citing the “dramatic economic transition [from] the decline in the coal industry” the resolution notes that the POWER+ Plan could “reactivate idle equipment and put laid-off miners and other local residents to work reclaiming abandoned mine lands.”

The Wise resolution is the latest in a rising tide of support from local communities calling on Congress to advance the POWER+ Plan during the federal budget process. . On July 23, the Norton, Va., City Council became the first in the nation to pass a resolution in favor of the plan. The City of Whitesburg, Ky. passed a similar resolution on August 11, as did the Cumberland Plateau planning district on July 30.

The POWER+ Plan creates new funding and bolsters existing federal programs designed to diversify the economy in areas that have relied heavily on coal and are experiencing job losses as a result of contractions in the coal economy in recent years.

Citizen groups across Appalachia are promoting the plan, which is currently the most comprehensive proposal to support much-needed economic development in the region.

“It is so heartening to see the growing number of localities taking a positive stance on the very urgent issue of economic diversification in Central Appalachia,” said Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices, who worked with the County government to introduce the resolution.

“By passing this resolution, the Wise County Board of Supervisors is sending a clear message that the time for economic diversification is now and that federal assistance is key for a just and sustainable transition in the wake of the declining coal economy.”

Several residents of Wise County were present at the meeting and spoke in support of the resolution. In their remarks, one supporter cited family members who have recently been laid off of mining jobs who would benefit from the passage of the POWER+ Plan. Others expressed their hopes of developing more of a tourism-based economy in the region through the funding that would go to the Appalachian Regional Commission. And one speaker underscored the need to support retired miners through the provision to ensure the solvency of the UMWA health and pension plan within the Power+ Plan.

In response to the comments from the citizens in attendance, board member Ron Shortt remarked “We’re behind you 100% on this. We realize how important it is to Southwest Virginia and Wise County.”

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Attend the Ison Rock Ridge Victory Party

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The Membership and Board of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards would like to cordially invite you to our Ison Rock Ridge Victory Party and Fish Fry on August the 29th at 4 PM, at the Andover Community Center, in Andover, Virginia.

Join us for an evening of good food, music and friends as we celebrate the close of our 8 year campaign protecting Ison Rock Ridge. The evening may even include some dancing and some kickball.

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Its Over- Ison Rock Ridge permit denied with no more appeals

On April 20th 2105, The Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards learned all of their hard work and efforts had finally paid off. Ison Rock Ridge is safe from being mined, for now. Monday was the deadline for A & G to apply for its appeal in VA circuit court for its fourth appeal of the denial of the Ison Rock Ridge application. It did not file an appeal with circuit court clerk of Wise County, so functionally the permit application is no more.

A & G coal’s permit application was denied after failing to pay its bonds and fee’s and getting its required NPDES permit in a timely manner. The permit application was denied in February of 2013 and A & G coal has been pursuing appeals ever since. The most recent decision to from the deputy director of DMME was issued in early March of this year. The window for A & G to appeal once more has now passed. “We have been fighting this permit for eight years” said Jane Branham of SAMS “I am glad its over.”

That sentiment was echoed by several other SAMS members who plan to celebrate their victory in the near future with a large Fish Fry near Appalachia. “This just goes to show what a small group of people can do when they work together” said Judy Needham of Andover Va. SAMS remains commited to its mission of stopping dangerous surface mining, and rebuilding sustainable communities

Technically speaking there is nothing stopping from A & G coal or other mining operations for reapplying for a new permit application on Ison Rock Ridge because Penn Virginia Landholding company owns that land, and can lease it out to whomever they choose. But anyone applying would have to satisfy all the environmental requirements of a SMCRA permit application. “We will remain vigilant to make sure that no new mining operations will move in on Ison Rock Ridge” said SAM’s President Ben Hooper. “If they do, We will fight them just like we fought A & G, and we are a much more organized group now than when we were 8 years ago when we began this fight”

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Activist groups claims TMDL’s don’t work well in Va Coalfields

Big Stone Gap, VA – US District Court Judge Jones last week sided with Red River Coal Company regarding enforcement of the Clean Water Act. The decision allows the Virginia Division of Mined Land Reclamation (DMLR) to decide if and how to enforce pollutant limits contained within Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plans. Those plans are intended to help polluted streams recover by setting caps on the amount of pollutants that can be discharged by specific sources. In this case, the pollutant limits assigned to Red River’s mines are decidedly not being enforced and the streams receiving their discharges remain polluted.

In June of last year, citizens and environmental groups filed a lawsuit against Red River Coal Company for discharges of water pollution in violation of the Clean Water Act from several of the company’s mountaintop removal mines in Wise County. The mines in question discharged total dissolved solids and total suspended solids into the South Fork Pound River. Virginia regulators had previously determined that the South Fork Pound does not adequately support aquatic life, due to the high levels of these mining-related pollutants. In response, regulators developed a TMDL, which mandates the maximum amount of specific pollutants the entire stream can receive while still meeting water quality standards and allocates acceptable pollutant loads to individual dischargers in the watershed. Red River, the groups discovered, was single handedly exceeding not just the allocations for its individual mines, but the allocation for all sources in the entire South Fork Pound River .

In reaching yesterday’s decision, the court relied heavily on opinions expressed by Virginia regulators. Unfortunately, those regulators have declined to give effect to the limitations plainly stated in the TMDL and incorporated into the mines’ permits, and have opted instead to allow ongoing pollution into the impaired stream. In addition, during the course of the case, Virginia regulators allowed Red River to deconstruct the wastewater sediment ponds on three of the four permits at issue in the litigation, despite the ongoing exceedances of the TMDLs limits at those mines. Deconstruction of these wastewater treatment ponds allows unlimited ongoing pollution discharges because DMLR does not require Clean Water Act permits for the polluted surface water runoff from the mines once the ponds are removed.

“The purpose of TMDLs is to protect and improve streams,” said Matt Hepler, Water and enforcement organizer for Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “If the pollutant limits within these plans are not enforced, the plans do not work. We believe TMDLs are not being effectively enforced across southwestern Virginia. That is born out by the fact that most of the waters downstream from coal mines continue to have high levels of TDS and TSS pollution”

The state of Virginia interprets its TMDLs as establishing “aggregate” waste load allocations, as a result of a settlement between the mining industry and the VA Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy. In this scenario, all mine permits in a watershed “share” the total waste load allocation for a pollutant, even if, as here, the TMDL assigns individual waste load allocations to specific mines . This strategy allows individual permits — as in this case — to discharge up to 100% of the waste load allocation before enforcement action can be taken. Even then enforcement is completely up to the discretion of the agency. Based on that interpretation, DMLR considers Red River to be in compliance with its permits despite the fact that a single outfall at one of its mines exceeded the dissolved solids limits for the entire watershed.

“The enforcement of pollution limits within the context of TMDLs has become more and more lax in southwest Virginia,” said Erin Savage, Central Appalachian Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “If the state does not enforce these plans, then citizens’ groups must step in. Unfortunately, the state agencies interpret the plans to contain loopholes that make citizen enforcement practically impossible.”

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