Grass Roots Environmental Effort Newsletter

April, 1999

 E-Council Spring Camp/Meet at Big Otter

What: Spring Gathering & Board of Directors Meeting

When: Saturday, May 22, 1999, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Where: Big Otter Comm. Center, Ivydale, Clay Co. Exit 40, Big Otter (from I-79), go south on State Route 16, approximately 3 miles to Center on the right.

Center includes a kitchen for our use for Lunch and Dinner. The building is available until 11:00 PM, for evening activities.


8:30 to 9:00 Registration

9:00 to 9:15 Welcome

9:15 to 10:10 End of Session Update

10:15 to 11;15 Legislative lobbying panel

12:15 to 1:30 Lunch

1:30 to 2:30 Summertime hot issues

2:30 to 3:00 WVEC Review

3:00 to 5:00 WVEC Board Meeting

Activities Available: Friday, 7 to 11 PM, Bluegrass Music & Dancing at the Big Otter Center, no charge (donation only). No alcoholic beverages. Bass or muskie fishing in the beautiful Elk River. Trout fishing in Laurel Creek, stocked frequently in Spring. Canoeing (rentals or your own), camping at Spread Park on the Elk (flush toilets, dump station, good drinking water). Dairy Bar across the road. Camping at Swandale park (Widen Ridge). Hiking Clay County's tallest peak, Pilot's Knob, located behind the Center (landowner has given permission for access). Beautiful view from the top. A 27-mile bike trail; Elkhurst Road, maps available to try Triplett Ridge, Widen Ridge to Ivy Loop. Or just plain enjoy the scenery, or the sound of the Elk River.

LODGING: RV Camping: Full hook-ups at The Country Inn, at Big Otter Exit, 286-3300, $9.95 per night. Also, limited RV space at Spread Park, no hook-ups.

Motels: The Country Inn, Big Otter Exit, 286-3300, Single $35 (1 bed), Double $40 (2 full beds). The Elk River Inn 295 Main St., Clay (304-587-7530). Clay is 12 miles from the Center. Single, 1 person $39, double $44, each additional person $5. Canoe rental $30 for 24 hours or can arrange drop off an pick up for return.

Hotel: Henry Clay Hotel, downtown Clay, an old style hotel with clean beds, full restaurant, also serves beer. Room rates are $15 single, $29 double, shared shower or $20 single and $25 double with shower in the room. One room available that has 1 double bed and 3 twin beds at $5 per person. Call (304) 587-4028 of reservations.

NOTE: For additional information call, Liz Sampson, (304) 286-2204 or WVEC Office 1-887-346-8928.

MTR Law - A Lesson in Democracy?

by Rick Eades

Mountaintop Removal (MTR) mining was considered as one of the highest priorities for the 74th Legislature. Forty days into the 60 day session, the leadership bill (SB681) finally appeared. It rolled through the Legislature like a runaway coal truck. West Virginia schools could teach a lesson in the democratic process using this landmark legislation. Here's some of what happened, as our elected officials scurried to get out of the way.

1. The law was taken up in 3 committees and on the House and Senate floor (twice each).

2. The speed-reading Senate Energy, Industry, and Mining Committee passed the bill in 45 minutes. Forty-five pages of brand new law was unseen prior to the start of the meeting. No amendments were offered.

3. The Senate Finance Committee scheduled 2 public hearings, and canceled both.

4. The Senate Finance Committee passed the bill in 15 minutes, though substantive revisions had been made behind closed doors (one of which deleted requirements to meet state and federal water laws). No amendments were offered.

5. As soon as the bill arrived from the Finance Committee, the full Senate suspended constitutional rules, waiving the requirement that the bill be read 3 times on three separate days. They passed the bill in 5 minutes, by a vote of 34-0, with no amendments offered.

6. The House Judiciary Committee announced a public hearing as the last order of business on the 55th day of the session, giving 16 hours notice.

7. On the 56th day, the public for the first time during the session had a chance to offer changes to the new law, in a closed door meeting where 1 of 112 citizenamendments was reluctantly accepted (to reinstate the requirement of meeting state and federal water laws).

8. The House Judiciary heard the public comments and took up the bill shortly thereafter. Lawmakers discussed some laughable weaknesses in the bill, then passed the bill anyway, with no amendments offered.

9. The full House took up the bill and allowed for amendments on the 58th day. After pleading with over 30 Delegates to offer an amendment, only one took up the torch. Del. McGraw offered one amendment, was promptly voted down, and and not even 10 Delegates could stand up and support his request to have their names and votes recorded by a roll call. One amendment offered, one voted down.

10. No one was surprised that 133 of 134 legislators so feared retribution from the "leadership" that they could not publicly offer one amendment.

On March 31, Governor Cecil Underwood signed SB681 into law. Standing on the Logan County Airport and former MTR site, he said, "Economic development projects must not be an afterthought. They must be part of the process." Twenty two years after the federal law said so, and after Judge Haden was left with no other choice than to say West Virginia's coal operators and environmental protection agency were breaking this law, Governor Underwood awakes and screams "Eureka!"

This bill does offer some very good news for coal. The newly created Office of Coalfield Community Development (within the WV development office) won't slow MTR permitting. The office's approval of a specific post mining land use is not required as a condition of the permit. Is this what they mean by "toothless" in West Virginia? The newly created Office of Explosives and Blasting will reside in the DEP, which testified on coal's behalf in federal court and has done nothing to address citizen complaints of damage from blasting so far. No wonder the highly paid coal lobbyists were all smiles as the bill passed and was signed into law.

A person can understand a lot about a new law by watching who celebrates its passage. A person can also learn a lot about the lawmaking arena by witnessing how a law gets passed. Without a doubt, the new MTR law is a classic lesson in how our democratic process is controlled by special interests with deep pockets.


Restoration, Not Greenwash

by Charlie Feldhake

The shear magnitude of acreage being subjected to mountain top removal prohibits any reasonable expectation that coal companies can develop this land for use by industrial parks or shopping malls. No land should be disturbed, therefore, unless it can be returned to a biologically productive condition. We owe this to future generations as an investment in jobs for them.

The current practice of creating nearly flat areas and seeding them to primarily tall fescue grass makes sense for erosion control. But from a productivity perspective these areas are biological deserts compared to surrounding forests. You sometimes hear people comment on seeing wildlife on these areas. This is mainly because these sites are exposed and wildlife is easily visible as it wanders across from one forested area to another. Tall fescue can be managed as useful forage for livestock. This requires maintaining good levels of soil fertility, including clover species as companion plants, and continual removal of the vegetative canopy so nutritious young leaves are constantly regrowing. This is not now being done on mined lands.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture researched management of mountain top removal sites as pasture back in the early 80's. After being monitored sitting idle for a few years, an area was divided into paddocks, fertilized, and grazed rotationally by beef cattle. After two years earthworm populations became evident and the hydrologic response of the area, determined using flumes to measure runoff on small catchments, improved dramatically. Soil forming processes accelerated as the plant-animal-earthworm-microbe system began cycling nutrients and there was increased retention of rainfall on-site.

This points out that aggressively managing these lands can have economic and environmental benefits. I am not, however, a proponent of having the coal industry subsidize beef production thereby further depressing prices received by our State's farmers. There are perhaps some better options for managing these lands intensively.

Dr. Jim Burger from the Department of Forestry at VPI has done a lot of research resulting in information on how to replace overburden materials so that land can be subsequently managed as highly productive commercial forests. Besides growing a future timber crop one could design species diverse systems to provide nut and fruit crops that would not significantly compete with the State's existing agricultural community.

An additional obstacle for communities to deal with is that even if these lands are made productive most will still be owned by corporations. The lack of local control over land resources limits the ability of communities to develop sustainable economies based on harvesting renewable resources and processing them through local value-added enterprises.

A study, done in California, comparing two towns of similar size, one surrounded by corporate farms and the other by small family farms, showed land ownership status had a significant impact on local quality of life.

The small-farm community had better community facilities: more schools, more parks, more newspapers, more civic organizations and more churches. The small-farm community had twice as many business establishments as the corporate-farm town and did 61% more retail business, especially in household goods and building equipment. Physical facilities for community living, such as paved streets, sidewalks, garbage disposal, sewage disposal and other public services, were far greater in the small-farm community. In the corporate-farm community some of these facilities were entirely lacking.

So what will the quality of life be for future generations in southwestern West Virginia? There is little doubt that the trend of fewer people being employed to mine coal will continue. What other resources will be available to drive the economy and who will own them is certainly a critical topic for discussion.


Blackwater Canyon Update

by Vivian Stockman

Urgent! Please call Senator Byrd and Congressman Mollohan as soon as possible. Ask them to introduce a bill authorizing a SPECIAL RESOURCES STUDY from the National Park Service as the first step in creating a Blackwater Canyon National Park. Now is the time the these bills are written, so please call at once!

Senator Byrd: 202-224-3954 phone 228-0002 fax

Rep. Alan Mollohan 202-225-4172, 225-7564 fax

If you can please also ask the same from:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller 202-224-6472, 224-7665 fax

Rep. Bob Wise 202-225-2711, 225-7856 fax

Rep. Nick Joe Rahall 202-225-3452, 225-9061fax

Please call, they really need to hear from you! And please keep writing to our elected officials asking for the establishment of the Blackwater Canyon National Park. Our collective voices can make a difference.

For more information on Blackwater Canyon visit WVHC's website at: www.wvhighlands.org


Timber Tax Wrap Up

by Mike Withers

The 1999 regular legislative session has ended but questions still linger as to the treatment of Managed Timberland tax appraisals. S.B.151 (1998 leg.) mandated the use of a new appraisal method for such property. As a result 54 counties will loose an estimated $3,491,236 in property taxes in FY 1999. As a result of protests by county officials, supporters of public schools and fair tax proponents the legislature was forced to deal with the issue once again. The legislature ultimately amended and passed a bundle of rules H.B 2570 placing minimum appraised values on the three grades of Managed Timberland. With this amendment the estimated tax loss to counties is expected to be reduced to $830,000 in FY 2000.

The fiscal impacts of the changes made in Managed Timberland (MT) appraisals are not uniform, a few counties will absorb the lions share of the tax loss. A few southern counties will actually increase tax collections from MT. In the closing moments of the session HCR 72 passed. This mandates the Joint Committee on Government and Finance to conduct an interim study of the timberland tax issue.

This fiasco is a another example of the legislature having great difficulty in saying "NO" to wealthy special interests who come asking for tax breaks. West Virginia's history provides almost constant reminders that someone's tax breaks become someone else's tax burden. With the legislature having a difficult time wrestling with this relatively small problem ($3.5 mil.), this author is frightened by the prospect of the same group rewriting most of our current tax code ($BILLIONS ). Look closely at the proposals being made by the Governors Commission on "Fair" Taxation before biting hook, line and sinker.


Coal, the Gift That Keeps On Giving

by Rick Eades

Gob Pile - Another Coal Stewardship Success Story

The Plateau Action Network (PAN) is moving ahead with a recently won $375K to protect and restore Wolf Creek, a Fayette County tributary of the New River. The stream has suffered the acid-producing impacts of a 72-acre coal waste (gob) pile for over 20 years. Randy Boyd (PAN official) recently chaired a meeting with numerous State and Federal agencies to ensure the money is protected and not commingled with Abandoned Mine Lands funds, and that all existing background data be reviewed and synthesized.

Slury Impoundment - Would Miano Say "No adverse impact?"

The West Virginia Organizing Project is addressing a citizen issue in the Whitesville area. Resident Freda Williams has been voicing concerns about a coal slurry impoundment on Brushy Fork, a tributary to Marsh Fork and the Little Coal River. Marfork Coal, a Massey subsidiary, is trucking huge volumes of coal waste to the site, and has applied to expand the impoundment. The expansion would result in a total vertical profile of 920 feet in elevation; higher than the New River Gorge at Fayetteville. DEP mining and reclamation officials have said that the fill will likely take 10 years to reach its maximum height and another 10 years to fill in the behind the impoundment before it is considered "abandoned."

New MTR Guidance - How Dead is My Valley

The DEP has developed draft guidance for returning MTR sites to approximate original contour (AOC). Upon first review, some serious concerns exist with the guidance. First, after 10 to 20 seams and splits are mined (to get to the lowermost coal seam) there is very little material left. Most of the overburden and interburden would have been "securely" placed in valleys anyway, to keep the bench open for mining the lowermost seam. Second, no compaction standards are offered, even though the models include rebuilding mountains with 250 - 800 feet of fill - vertically! That's right, no compaction. Just heap it up there and be glad you won't be around in 100 years to watch the outcome. Possibly (call me a cynic), the real reason for the guidance is to develop a defensible argument to calculate "excess spoil" and justify filling valleys.


Planning West Virginia's State Forests Conference

Sponsored by Forest Watch Coalition

West Virginia's State Forests

What are they? Where are they? What are they for?

How is planning done? What does a Plan look like?

A plan is being developed for each state forest. How can you and other citizens participate in the planning ? Join a conference and workshop to learn about:

*West Virginia's State Forests.

*State planning guidelines and the law.

*The state forest planning process.

*How citizens can participate.


When: Saturday, June 12, 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM

Where: Days Inn, Flatwoods, WV (I-79)

Registration ($5 before May 25, $8 after) includes conference, continental breakfast, and lunch. Make check to and mail to Forest Watch Coalition, 801 N. Randolph Avenue, Elkins, WV 26241. Questions? Call Jim Sconyers at 637-4082.


New Friends, No Cut Canyons and Same Bad Habits

by Norm Steenstra

I went to a great conference at Breaks Interstate Park last weekend. Breaks is often called the "Grand Canyon of the South" and is located on the Virginia_Kentucky border. The Levisa River cuts a pretty mean gorge through zillion year old rocks on its way to meet the Tug Fork River and form the Big Sandy River. If you absolutely have to spend money out of state _ go to Breaks Park You'll wish Cecil would annex it.

The Canyon is almost as beautiful and spectacular as our own Blackwater. Our southwestern neighbors aren't quite as smart as we Mountaineers are because they only use the place for tourism and spiritual regeneration. It doesn't seem to have occurred to them that they can have so much more if they timbered half of the canyon. We really need to send them some of our economic experts like Cecil Underwood and John Crites.

Equally as beautiful as the Breaks natural scenery were the local enviros fighting to protect their homes and waters. Several of them have been reading GREEN over the years and maybe they were just trying to make me feel good, but they raved about our newsletter. They were very well informed about Blackwater, MTR and our forces of darkness. They were much better informed than we were on their issues.

Groups like the Russell Fork Watch (KY), Buckhanan Citizen Action Group (VA), and the Headwaters Association (VA) expressed a real desire to form a regional alliance based on the incumbent responsibilities of living UPSTREAM. Kind of a neat Appalachian ethic huh? Anyway after a few beers I found myself (on behalf of gosh knows who), promising them that we would host a regional scheming weekend sometime this fall.

Somehow, I'm determined to pull off yet another gathering. Watch for more information because you'll love these folks and feel an immediate connection of values and visions.

PS. The Ky_Virginia folks also have another thing in common with us. They get so intense and caught up in the issues that they are "meeting" themselves to exhaustion. Just like us they do it inside a stuffy building overlooking gorgeous scenery. Let's all do ourselves a favor on this Earth Day and spend some time outside. That's what it's all about or so they say.


Underwood Flunks on Air Quality

by Jim Kotcon

The US-PIRG and the National Environmental Trust recently issued a report card which graded 10 southern Governors on air quality issues. Gov. Underwood received a failing grade in all four categories. While that is no surprise to many of us, DEP Office of Air Quality Chief Skipp Kropp defended the Gov.'s ozone plan by saying DEP didn't "think the dramatic nitrogen oxide reductions that EPA proposed to control smog are needed" and that they think the Gov.'s alternate plan "will be more effective".

So, are nitrogen oxide (NOx) reductions needed? The Office of Air Quality will almost certainly have to designate most of the state as being in nonattainment for ozone standards later this year. (NOx combines with volatile organic compounds to produce ozone.) Kropp, at a recent talk, tried to imply that NOx emissions were already going down under Clean Air Act controls for acid rain, so further reductions were premature. In fact, rather than declining, NOx emissions from utilities in WV have increased 10 % in the last 5 years.

But is Gov. Underwood's Plan for reducing NOx emissions from utilities (by 65 %) more effective than the EPA proposal to reduce emissions by 85 %? Well, the OAQ admits in their technical support document (available at www.dep.state.wv.us.oaq/index.html) that it is EPA's plan is more effective than the Governor's alternative plan. But won't we lose jobs and hurt our economy? Gov. Underwood in the past has frequently cited an outdated industry study that claims 11,000 jobs would be lost in West Virginia. Well, EPA recently came out with their Regulatory Impact Analysis (available at www.epa.gov/capi/ipm/npr.htm) The Benefits Analysis shows that, while a few coal mining jobs may be lost, the construction of new air pollution control equipment more than makes up for them. The EPA Plan will produce a net INCREASE in employment. And the EPA plan produces almost $2.00 in health benefits for every dollar in pollution control costs.

A recent study showed that government regulators overestimate the cost of environmental regulations EVERY time, and industry estimates are even worse. Even EPA's analysis admits they do not include economic benefits to agriculture and forestry from cleaner air, even though these are substantial.

In summary, Governor Underwood's Plan is bad for West Virginia's air quality, bad for our health, bad for our economy, and helps out-of-state utilities. No wonder he flunked!

What to do! Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to complain about our worsening air quality. Let them know the truth about Gov. Underwood's NOx Plan. Call 594-3322 for more info.