Rounding up West Virginia's green news
One stop for all of the important Mountain State environmental news, from the Massey Energy buyout to remembering activist Judy Bonds.
Monday, January 31, 2011 - 16:52
January was a busy environmental news month for the Mountain State. Here's a roundup of the biggest green news in West Virginia:
Massey Energy buyout
The month's biggest headline was the buyout of Massey Energy.
Alpha Natural Resources agreed to buy Massey Energy. According to the New York Times, Alpha will pay $7.1 billion in cash and stock to take control of the embattled company.
Once finalized, this deal will unite the two largest American coal companies. It could also aid Massey's efforts to leave behind its massive heap of legal troubles.
State with fourth-highest mercury emissions
The environmental group Environment America released a report ranking West Virginia fourth in mercury emissions from coal-fired plants.
The mercury is released through the burning of coal and settles out of the air into rivers and lakes, moving into the human food chain through fish. If consumed in large doses, mercury can damage both the brain and other vital organs.
West Virginia is the second-largest coal producing state in the nation. The group is encouraging lawmakers to support federal efforts to curb mercury emissions from power plants.
Texas leads the nation in emissions, followed by Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Chemical Safety Board tries to protect public
In an effort to find better ways to handle chemical emergencies in the Kanawha Valley, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has some solutions.
The board wants the health department to create a local board to oversee hazardous chemical releases.
The new board would have the authority to inspect and regulate chemical plants and would work with those plants to come up with better ways to protect the public.
The CSB's recommendations come in the wake of the Bayer explosion that killed two workers in August 2008.
Miner killed in Wyoming County mine accident
The accident happened Jan. 27 at Jims Branch No. 3A mine in Wyoming County shortly before 12:30 p.m. The victim, 19-year-old John Lester, had 90 days of experience. Not many details have been released, but some reports say that the accident involved a conveyor belt.
This is the first fatal mining accident in the U.S. this year.
Massey denies cause of explosion
Massey Energy is rejecting every part of the Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) theory about what caused Upper Big Branch mine explosion.
Massey Energy's legal counsel Shane Harvey said Friday that "the company doesn't believe that worn shearer bits, broken water sprayers or an excessive buildup of coal dust contributed to the blast."
Massey stands by its claims that a sudden inundation of natural gases from a crack in the floor.
Harvey acknowledged that the shearing machine may somehow have ignited that gas.
Gerrardstown quarry OK'd
State regulators have given their approval for a proposed shale quarry in Gerrardstown.
The Department of Environmental Protection issued permits on to North Mountain Shale allowing operation of the quarry in the Northern Panhandle.
Mining and Reclamation director Tom Clarke said in a news release that the agency determined the quarry would have minimal and temporary effects on the environment.
WVU study supports Marcellus Shale drilling
A newly released West Virginia University study for the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association says that drilling in the Marcellus Shale field has created thousands of jobs and generated millions of dollars.
The report was released Jan. 25. It states that the Marcellus Shale industry created 7,600 jobs and nearly $300 million in wages and benefits in 2009.
The report also says that the gas industry employment jumped 34 percent between 2001 and 2009, mainly due to Marcellus drilling.
Researchers have concluded that even though there are many issues involving the extraction and production of natural gas in the state, including huge legal environmental hurdles, the industry has had a positive effect on the state's economy. Its effect on the environment in the end, though, may be more costly than the economic boost.
Massey to help fund new school
Massey Energy has fulfilled its commitment to give $1.5 million to the Raleigh County Board of Education to help pay for construction of a new elementary school.
The new school will replace Marsh Fork Elementary and will be located three miles from the existing school — a safe distance from Massey Energy's mine site.
Marsh Fork has been the center of controversy as parents feared a nearby Massey Prep plant and impoundment were health and safety risks to their children.
Massey's new CEO, Baxter Phillips, presented a $1.5 million check to the school board on Jan. 25. Phillips told the press that the donation is "the right thing to do."
The new school is expected to be complete by the fall 2012.
Thousands of jobs could be cut
According to the Associated Press, the Obama administration's proposal for protecting streams from mountaintop removal coal mining would eliminate thousands of jobs and curtail mining across much of the country.
The job and production losses are outlined in an Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement document that was obtained by the Associated Press.
The document outlines changes that OSM estimates would slash more than 9,000 jobs and production from surface and underground mines in 22 states.
Oscar-nominated documentary about natural gas drilling
The film "Gasland" about natural gas drilling in Appalachia's Marcellus Shale gas field has been nominated for an Oscar.
It is among five nominees for Best Documentary Feature. "Gasland" reveals an industry that is dangerous to human health and the environment.
Director Josh Fox told PBS that he made the film to raise awareness of the negative impacts. He says everywhere drilling happens, water and air pollution follow.
West Virginia is rich in Marcellus Shale. Shale reserves stretch from New York through Pennsylvania, western Maryland, West Virginia and eastern Ohio.
Charleston turning everyday trash into green power
Danny Jones, Charleston's mayor, flipped the switch on the city's brand new Power Generation Facility located at the Charleston, W. Va., landfill.
The new facility generates electricity from methane gas produced within the landfill.
The $7 million power plant is one of the first tests of green technology in West Virginia. The new plant will be able to provide enough electricity to power 13,000 homes. It will cut pollution by an amount equal to taking 15,000 cars off the road.
Reality show on W. Va. coal mine
Spike TV has wrapped up filming of a reality show in a West Virginia coal mine. There were no reported accidents or injuries, but federal regulators did cite the mine owner for 19 safety violations during the three months of taping.
The Spike TV series called "Coal" will premiere at 10 p.m. on March 30. There will be nine, one-hour shows that will air every Wednesday.
Money given to redevelop contaminated areas
$5,000 grants will be given to seven West Virginia communities to help create plans for redeveloping contaminated industrial sites.
The grants come from the FOCUS West Virginia Brownfield's Program.
In the plan is a effort to take property in Mount Hope and turn it into a housing development for families displaced by floods.
The plan also includes efforts to revitalize two buildings in Fairmont, a former dinnerware manufacturing site in Chester and a former school in Wyoming County. Another project in Buckhannon will redevelop a historic property into a recycling center.
Other projects include redeveloping a historic property in Buckhannon and converting a site in Westover into a recycling center.
Brownfields are properties where there is a great potential for hazardous substances, pollutants and or contaminants.
Weirton Energy chief engineer in jail
A man who has promised to build a $2 billion coal-to-liquid fuel plant in Weirton is wanted in Arlington, Texas, on grand larceny charges.
Deputies arrested 68-year-old Albion Arlo Norman, Jr., after learning during a traffic stop that he was a wanted fugitive.
Norman is chief engineer of Weirton Energy, a company that says it's trying to buy property owned by steelmaker ArcelorMittal.
Norman is currently being held in the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville. He has yet to make the $10,000 bond.
It is uncertain at this time if the Weirton project will survive.
W.Va. senator staunchly pro-coal
Sen. Joe Manchin has stated that his first piece of legislation will seek to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and prevent retroactive permit vetoes.
The former governor has sent his fellow senators a letter, urging them to join him in sponsoring the bill.
Manchin will be in Charleston on Feb. 3 for a pro-coal rally.( This writer finds it sad he can take time from his busy Senate schedule to attend this rally yet could not find time for his first vote as senator, which included Don't Ask Don't Tell.)
Possible ban on pumping coal waste underground
A permanent ban on new coal slurry injection wells that pump coal waste underground could soon be considered by West Virginia legislators.
An interim subcommittee studying the issue of underground coal slurry injection endorsed the necessary legislative proposal on Monday. The House-Senate panel is also including a tax break to encourage alternatives to slurry injections.
W.Va. state regulators have banned new injection sites since 2009. This new legislation would add that moratorium to state law. It would also reduce the amount of income tax assessed to operators that reduce or dry out the coal slurry that they produce.
It will be next year before the Public Service Commission (PSC) decides whether to approve plans for the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline or PATH project.
On Friday, the PSC granted a request for a delay from officials with Allegheny Energy and American Electric Power.
The hearings slated for March are now set for October. The decision PSC would have made in July will now be put off until February 2012.
If approved, the PATH project could run through more than a dozen West Virginia counties, covering 275 miles from Putnam County to Maryland.
Environmental activist Judy Bonds dies at 58
Word spread quickly that Judy Bonds lost her battle with cancer. Judy fought cancer like a warrior, just like she fought to save the mountains of the state she loved.
Judy was the longtime executive director of the southern West Virginia environmental group Coal River Watch.
Judy was diagnosed with cancer last summer. She was the descendant of three generations of West Virginia coal miners. She became an activist after seeing the devastating toll mining was taking on West Virginia's environment. Judy won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003.
She lead the campaign to save the mountains with pride, and her biggest target was Massey Energy, which she blamed for the destruction in the Marfork Hollow and other Appalachian coalfield communities.
Today the environmental world mourns the loss of a leader and a friend. Bonds' legacy will live on in everyone who fights for the mountains and streams of West Virginia. You will forever be missed Judy, but the lessons that you taught will never be forgotten.
That wraps up this month's environmental roundup. Please remember: "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but borrow it from our children." — Native American proverb
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