Grass Roots Environmental Effort Newsletter

December 2000

Wood, Water, Dereg, Targeted at Fall Gathering

The 11th annual fall membership conference was held Sept 29th to Oct1st at the Appalachian South Folk Life Center near Pipestem, WV. Conference attendees felt right at home at the Center with its rich history of organizing for social justice and workers' rights. (Its founder began at the Highlander Center in Tenn. where Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks taught non-violent resistance.)

The Gathering began with a traditional "I live on a Dot" session where folks introduced themselves and briefly described their "backyard" issue. These sessions demonstrate the breath and depth of West Virginia's environmental movement and never fail to inspire everyone in the group.

Next came a detailed discussion on the upcoming lobby effort with suggestions on improvements in communication and accountability with the Council's member groups. Lobby Team coordinator Gary Zuckett described the nuances of day-to-day reconnaissance at the Capitol where new bills surface daily. These must be analyzed for potential impact and then triaged and communicated to the member organizations and general membership. "It's challenging to be on the front lines of environmental protection at the state Capitol," said Zuckett. "We depend on back-up from our groups and members to help deal with unexpected assaults on enviro rules and regulations which industry lobbyists are continually trying to weaken or kill. This is one of the reasons improved communication and cooperation with members and groups is so important."

One of the main events at each annual meeting is the setting of the legislative agenda for the coming session. Extended discussion on various issues brought forth an agreement to focus on three main areas: Wood, Water, and Electric Deregulation. These critical issues are briefed inside this newsletter so a few words on each will suffice here.

Wood: Timbering is the only industry that is regulated using "voluntary best practices." That's right, it's up to the largesse of individual timber operators whether or not they play by the rules. At the very least the Council wants to see these minimum requirements made mandatory. Better yet, a comprehensive bill to strengthen timbering regulations is needed.

Water: A Stream Protection Bill and Water Quality Standards Package dealing with Anti-Degradation of existing clean water (among many water rules) are in the works.

Electric Deregulation: This is a 'sleeper' but probably the most far-reaching environmental issue to be dealt with this session. Will WV complete its conversion into a "sacrifice zone" in order to supply the East with cheap electricity? Will the race to Dereg flatten even more mountains as dirty, coal-hungry power plants all run at continuous peak capacity to make power companies even richer? Will WV follow Calif. with rolling brownouts and blackouts on top of skyrocketing electric rates? The 2001 legislature will either give Dereg its blessing or pound nails in its coffin. Stay tuned

As you can see, the Council has its work cut out for it in 2001. What can you do to help? First of all, renew your membership. Member support is a must to finance our lobby efforts and several pledges of support from member groups are on a 'matching' basis to funds we raise directly from YOU! Second, send in your name, Snail-mail and E-mail address to cahogbin@cs.com in order to get our Legislative Update E-mailed to you every Friday night and, in between, Action Alerts for quick response in support of important legislation. Our total effectiveness at the session depends on lawmakers' knowledge that you are out there ready and willing to back us up on the issues.

Attention Teachers:

We know you are concerned about what is happening to West Virginia's mountains, forests and streams. Would you be willing to participate with others to determine legitimate ways to bring the multi-faceted issues of mountaintop removal (MTR) to the forefront of classroom discussion?

Bill McCabe and others are trying to identify classroom parctitioners who have the energy and interest to participate in a discussion of how MTR issues can be legitimately incorporated into the adopted cirriculum. They want to start with an e-mail contact group for discussing strategy and tactics. Contact Bill McCabe at bmccabe@neumedia.net or P.O. Box 261, Valley Head, WV 26294 to get involved.

Legally Sick

As I lay there in my hospital bed for a few days after Thanksgiving, reality dealt me a severe blow: I am really sick!!

Although the physical health problems I have been dealing with of late are relatively minor and not life threatening in the least, I am really quite ill!!

Being held hostage in that hospital room by a television set broadcasting an endless array of reporters and talking heads while lawyer after lawyer droned on and on about the recount in the presidential election in the State of Florida, it hit me: I have a serious case of "legal-beagle-itis."

I found myself actually relishing every minute of the legal debate and every minor nuance of the law "proffered" by the network legal analysts (are they analysts now because they are out of work as lawyers?) and by the attorneys for both sides. It didn't matter if they represented Gore or Bush; I was still intrigued by their arguments.

What is a "butterfly" ballot? When is a "chad" a vote? Just how does a chad get "pregnant," and when is a "dimple" just a pimple? Give me more. Bring it on. I want to know the answers! I am sick with curiosity, and it seemed I wasn't alone. Poor George W. was apparently so sick with curiosity that his face broke out in a big boil!

I have noticed this same illness has infected many of my enviro colleagues over the years.

One good friend of ours (who is also a former state senator) actually loves reading all the figures in the voluminous state budget each year. Another Trout Unlimited buddy of mine delights in perusing every dredge and fill permit that is filed (or NOT filed) in the state and knows all the relevant state and federal regulations better than those in charge at the Corps of Engineers.

Another dear friend knows the statutes and regulations governing strip mining as well as any lawyer in the country, and she is not an attorney. Others at Rivers Coalition know the Clean Water Act like the backs of their hands, and they also are not attorneys. And then there's a couple of fellas from the Sierra Club - one of them specializes in the Clean Air Act, the other in the National Forest Management Act. And no, they are not attorneys either.

It is not clear to me as yet if we are infected with this "legal-beagle-itis" disease against our will or not. On the one hand, we seem to be prone to contracting the disease because our immune system is always weak - we rarely have enough funds to hire attorneys of our own. On the other hand, some of the sickest among us seem to relish delving into the legal complexities on which environmental protection is grounded. I am among the sickest.

Each year as we assemble another lobby team and get ready for the assault of another West Virginia Legislative Session, I am thankful that there are those among us who suffer from this disease. I am thankful there are those among us who are smarter than I and who seemingly relish the legal battles we always face.

But as I write this, the country still does not know who our next president will be.

And I am loving it!!

Donald S. Garvin, Jr., WVEC President

The Word on Water

by Nathan Fetty, West Virginia Rivers Coalition

It'll soon be time for another refreshing dip in the shark tank (a.k.a. the annual state legislative session), and yours truly will be there to track water quality issues. Last year was my first year of learning to swim with the sharks, so to speak, and I'll be returning this winter a little more seasoned.

Anticipating what will happen in the legislative session is pretty difficult unless you happen to have a crystal ball (which I don't). But since a lot of the issues WVRC is already dealing with are slated for legislative action, we can make a pretty fair guess as to what bills we'll be promoting, defending, killing and altering.

One of our top priorities will be tracking the huge package of rules that deals with water quality standards. In this package resides an anti-degradation implementation plan the plan that details how the state is supposed to protect its already clean water, and keep dirty water from being polluted further. West Virginia has been without this plan since the Clean Water Act was passed in the early 1970's, and the plan before the legislature is weak, weak, WEAK! It's way up in the air how this rule will go through the session, since the federal EPA has promised to step in and implement a rule that conforms to federal standards, and the state DEP wants to submit a separate plan to the legislature.

Elsewhere in the rules package, we'll be watching for attacks on West Virginia's drinking water protections and attacks on coldwater trout stream protections for Upper Blackwater River.

We're also looking to promote the Protection of Water Bill, a bill that we successfully introduced in both houses last year. This bill clarifies the DEP's oversight in permitting stream work, and curbs reckless stream destruction while protecting homes and property. We're developing even more support for the bill, and hope it will see committee action, if not passage.

With water legislation, we hope the legislature will re-visit a bill to increase maximum daily fines for Clean Water Act violations. This legislation, which was introduced last year by DEP and eventually died in both houses, would increase the maximum amount of daily fines from $10,000 to $25,000. This bill would help deter bad actors from doing business in West Virginia, and make sure it's not more cost-effective to illegally pollute our rivers and pay the fine than for polluters to clean up their act. Also, we'll be looking at funding for the DEP Office of Water Resources to make sure regulators are given the resources they need to protect our rivers.

SEN Update

by Trenton Harper

Three SEN members from Elkins recently went to Cincinnati for a mass protest against the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, a group of around 150 CEOs from the U.S. and European Union meeting to discuss "free trade."

This group is a policy maker for the World Trade Organization (remember Seattle?). We did trainings and worked as street medics out of the clinic during the actions. We treated our first tear gas and mace victims. It was a far away place compared to our mountains here at home.

For more info on SEN (Student Environmental Network), call 636-5658 or visit senwv@yahoo.com.


Election Cloud w/o Green Lining

by Norm Steenstra, WV-CAG Executive Director

In stark contrast to the sweeping green victories of a decade ago, this past election left little to be optimistic about. The headlines recapping the 1990 election predicted a "rising environmental tide in the state." The ensuing WVEC legislative victories in the early 90's were largely the result of that political climate.

Look for no such headlines this time. Consequently don't look for any major legislative gains either. In the big picture, WV environmentalists have a congressional delegation that is now less green. To a great extent we've alienated the new governor and still have to deal with the same anti-environmental legislative leadership of Bob Kiss and Earl Ray Tomblin. Oh, and we'll probably have George W. too.

Don't expect major changes in the legislature. Fourteen of the 18 state senate seats were won by incumbents. The good news is that three of the four new senators are friendlier to our issues than those they replaced. The reelection of Jon Blair Hunter was a major victory and broke the trend (Becky White, Dave Grubb and Mike Withers) of one-term green senators. Larry Rowe's (D-Kanawha) election to the Senate will add a voice of reason and compassion to that good old boys' club.

The brightest news in the House was the victory of Barbour County's Mary Poling. She becomes the fifth WVEC GREEN subscriber elected to the Legislature. The others were Don Perdue, Ginny Mahan, Don Macnaughtan and Jon Hunter. Mary beat back a serious "Democrats for Underwood" effort to defeat her and won the race by a resounding 33 votes. Mary, like Macnaughtan and Mahan, is a veteran leader in the "garbage wars" of the early 90's.

As we begin a new legislative era, once again it will take a combination of activism, legal maneuvers, media savy and dedicated lobbying to keep our fingers in the green dike and figure out how to eventually drain the sea.


Enviros Take On Wheeling & WV

by Mel Finstein,

Vice President, The Wheeling Environmentalists

Ten years ago and more, environmentalists labored mightily to have recycling mandated by West Virginia law. Among them were David Grubb, Martha Huffman, Tom Degen, Clint Hogbin, and Norm Steenstra (apologies for any omissions). The resultant law, passed in 1991 and fully in effect as of 1997, covers household "recyclables" such as bottles, cans, newspaper, and, by means of composting, leaves, brush and other yard waste.

This article is not a comprehensive review of how well, or how poorly, the law's intent law has been realized. Rather, it describes a conspicuous failure in Wheeling, and how this led to lawsuits against both the City and the State. Also noted is a case of serious backsliding in the eastern panhandle, in Martinsburg.


Almost two years ago, shortly before moving to Wheeling, I learned that the City conducts a special seasonal collection of leaves, amounting to some two thousand tons per year. These separately collected leaves are then dumped into a landfill, at a cost of approximately $100,000 per year (hauling and dumping, exclusive of the street-by-street pickup). Also I learned that for West Virginia cities over 10,000 in population, dumping yard waste is illegal. Moreover, the City owns an ideal site for a yard waste composting operation.

Thus marked the start of a personal campaign to affect change in this small corner of the environment. With the formation of The Wheeling Environmentalists organization ("act both locally and globally") about eight months ago, the campaign became a group project.

A listing of our efforts, at the levels of the City and the DEP, would fill this page. Early on, I wrote a technical analysis of the proposed site noting its evident suitability. This led to interactions with various officials, many presentations to the City Council, favorable editorials in the local newspaper, etc. I had discussions with the Director of the DEP, the Chief of the Office of Solid Waste, and many other contacts at various levels of the DEP. It is fair to say that no stone was left unturned.

The response of the City was - well - actually there was no response. The response of the DEP may be summed up in the statement that "we [DEP] don't want to criminalize the people up there."

Importantly, we recently learned that the City of Martinsburg plans to (or already has) closed two yard waste composting operations. The intention is to resume the landfilling of yard waste.

Our efforts having thus far failed, the choice was to either give up or to bring the matter to the courts. We chose the latter, and engaged Mary Ann Maul as our attorney.


Our suit argues that the City is in violation of State law, which bans the dumping of yard waste and mandates the composting of this fraction of the waste stream. The suit includes a request for injunctive relief.

At the State level, we are suing the DEP and the Public Service Commission. This is much more involved.

Our complaints against the DEP are:

1) A failure to enforce the law.

2) The issuing of landfill operating permits that do not prohibit the dumping of yard waste and other recyclables.

3) The discouragement of recycling and composting in the way its tonnage assessment fee is managed.

4) A proposal to weaken its already wimpy yard waste regulation.

The complaint against the PSC is that it sets rates for illegal activities namely the hauling of leaves to the landfill and the dumping of them into the fill.

With respect to item 3), the DEP's monetary income is reduced to the extent that materials are diverted to recycling rather than being dumped into a landfill. We DO NOT advocate the termination of the assessment fee! Rather, we advocate that part of the fee be used for 'tonnage grants' to municipalities, according to the amount diverted. This would transform what is now a disincentive to an incentive to recycle and compost.

With respect to item 4), the DEP proposes to change a single word in its yard waste regulation (33 CSR 3) from 'practical' to 'available'. This seemingly innocuous change would let the City of Wheeling, among others, off the hook. While it's eminently practical for Wheeling to establish a yard waste composting operation, one is not currently available.



What started as a narrowly conceived effort to get the City of Wheeling to compost yard waste has blossomed, logically, into a broad effort to comprehensively reform the way the WV DEP administers the recycling law.

The Wheeling Environmentalists need your help in this effort! Please attend the hearing 1 PM on January 3rd in Kanawha Co. Circuit Court of Judge Zakaib.

Editors note: Mel Finstein, a Professor Emeritus (retired) of Environmental Science at Rutgers University, is an internationally recognized expert on the composting microbial ecosystem. He currently serves on the Board of WVEC . At our December Board of Directors meeting, WVEC voted to sign on as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

A Gift That Gives Twice

Why not give a gift that gives twice? Pilgrim Glass' master artist Kelsey Murphy has designed two new etched glass ornaments depicting the scarce Pink Lady Slipper orchid and the showy Pileated Woodpecker. Etched onto Pilgrim's signature cranberry glass, these orbs are helping to raise awareness of scarce species. They also raise money for OVEC in its work to protect the habitat of these species, as OVEC receives half the proceeds from their sales.

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the most spectacular birds in West Virginia. Its closest relative was the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, which is now extinct because of habitat destruction.

Ornaments from both the 1999 and the 2000 collection are $30 each and are available for pick up at the OVEC office and at the Pilgrim Glass gift shop. Call 304-522-0246 to arrange for pick up. Orders can also be shipped for an additional $4.00. To receive shipped ornaments before Christmas, orders must be placed by December 10.


Utilities Forced to Clear Air

by Jim Kotcon

One year ago, WVEC joined Natural Resources Defense Council and other citizen groups in a lawsuit against American Electric Power to require the utility to meet tougher clean air standards. Under the Clean Air Act, power plants that upgrade their facilities to increase output are supposed to also reduce their emissions, which AEP and other utilities have failed to do.

At the same time, several states from the Northeast filed suit against AEP and other utilities on the same grounds. Later, EPA filed yet another suit against these and other power plants. Over the last year some utilities, most recently Dominion Resources which operates the Mount Storm power plant in Grant County, have settled with EPA and agreed to install required pollution control equipment. However, AEP continues to insist on polluting our air, so a lengthy briefing schedule has been established with the trial date set for May 2002.

Air quality in West Virginia is poor, with many areas proposed for designation as "non-attainment" for failing to meet health standards, especially for ozone. Ozone damages crops and forests, and causes serious respiratory problems for children, the elderly, and those with illnesses such as asthma or black lung. Coal-fired power plants are far and away the largest emitters of the pollutants causing ozone, so getting these old dirty plants to clean up will help us all breathe a little easier.


Creation's Corner

by Mary Ellen O'Farrell

As the Season of Lights approaches - the Winter Solstice, the eight days of Hanukkah, and Christmas Day - may you experience deep joy and peace with these blessed events, celebrations and customs! May the cold and dark of our land's winter sleep open our hearts to the beauty of frozen, silent winter landscapes (and cityscapes), and to the possibility of lives lived a little more slowly, with the possibility of fewer activities, and less rushing to GET THINGS DONE!

During these (possibly) less frantic times, you might want to locate and enjoy a book edited by Steven C. Rockefeller and John C. Elder, published in paperback by Beacon Press of Boston, and titled Spirit of Nature - Why the Environment Is A Religious Issue - An Interfaith Dialogue. A book like this can be a very good way to introduce care of God's Creation as a religious issue to churches, synagogues, mosques, Sunday school classes and ethical issues caucuses, as well as to your favorite preacher, rabbi or iman.

For further assistance, or to communicate your interests, concerns or suggestion, contact the Interfaith Center For Public Policy (WVICFPP), a new organization which held its initial meeting on October 24 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Charleston. The Center needs to know of your region's activities, needs and plans regarding Creation Care. Find out about the WVICFPP by calling the WV Council of Churches at 344-3141 or write to 1608 Virginia St., East, Charleston, WV 25311.

Please don't forget to contact me at 346-3303 or Linda Mallet at lmallet@wvwise.org for contributions to this column, as well as to remember in your prayers during this holy season all who are working for the health and restoration of God's Creation. And let us all say Amen, be it so!

Dereg, It Ain't Over Till It's Over

By Linda Mallet, WV-CAG

On just about everyone's legislative priority list at WVEC's Fall meeting was electric deregulation. It could possibly be one of the most far-reaching, yet most difficult to understand environmental and consumer issues that the lobby team has had to tackle. If you've followed this issue, you may be thinking we "lost" this battle at the end of last year's session. Well, the Senate Judiciary Committee attached an amendment to the Public Service Commission's deregulation plan that forces the Legislature to revisit this issue during this year's session. At issue are tax ramifications (changes in the state, city and county revenue) from a deregulated industry. In other words, the Legislature realized that there were some important fiscal questions yet to be answered and included this mechanism to slow things down. There are green issues to be readdressed, too.

So the good news is, we still have opportunities to improve on the PSC's plan, both at the Legislature and during the rule-making process. And while the WVEC and WV-CAG are against the PSC's concept of deregulation, we have been fighting for enviro-friendly rules all year long by submitting written comments and participating in hearings. You see, the legislation was passed, with the above-mentioned stipulation, and the PSC then began to write its rules. The public, of course, has been invited to participate in any and all of the process, as long as it is available during business hours. Oh, and it's helpful if you hire an attorney to represent you at the hearings and to help you prepare your testimony and assist you when you are cross-examined. Oh, and Charlotte Lane, PSC chair, really doesn't like us much.

Even though we oppose the PSC's Dereg plan, we have worked to make the rules as green as possible. We argued for a uniform disclosure page where customers can turn to find out a power supplier's emissions data and generation sources (coal, wind, biomass, etc.). This page would also include pricing information. The Coal Association wants only pricing information on this page. Hmm, wonder why.

WVEC, WV-CAG and the Sierra Club testified that customers should receive this page in their bills. The utilities maintain that notices should go in newspapers where the public gets its information. An attorney for one utility actually said that "customers are not the public."

Stay tuned as the session looms. Jim Kotcon, Jim Sconyers and Norm Steenstra are also watching another Dereg issue net-metering. More in the next GREEN.

And, finally, Happy Holidays!! Let's hope that WV learns from California where in its deregulated marketplace this year Christmas lights are causing brownouts.

Is A Coal Sludge Disaster Coming To A Community Near You?

by Vivian Stockman, OVEC

On October 11th, 250 million gallons of sludge broke through from a 72 acre coal waste and slurry impoundment at Kentucky's largest mountain removal operation into an old underground mine below the impoundment.

The thick black glop exploded from the old mine into Coldwater and Wolf Creeks. It spread downstream some 70 miles, till it reached the Ohio, wiping out aquatic and other wildlife along the way. Apparently, pets that have gotten rescued out of the sludge have later died. We are still trying to find out what's in the sludge-don't believe reports that it's little more than rock. Coal companies use nasty chemicals to clean coal, and those end up in the sludge. The coal waste itself contains cadmium, mercury, arsenic and more.

Communities along the sludge's path have had to truck in clean water and now, nearly two months later, cleanup efforts are still underway. Water wells are contaminated and septic systems are ruined. Property values are likely to plunge. OVEC staff and volunteers have visited the impacted areas and we're still reeling from what we saw. In places, the sludge has spread along the creeks' floodplain-people's yards!-up to 70 yards wide and 7-10' thick. Newspaper reports have said the disaster will take six months to clean up, though at least one said the area may never fully recover.

The coal company responsible for the impoundment, AT Massey, has said in court documents that the spill was an Act of God! This ludicrous, insulting defense should never again have been mentioned. Pittston Coal said the same thing when its Buffalo Creek coal slurry dam broke in 1972, subjecting 125 people to a horrifying death and wiping out numerous communities.

Many of our current mining laws were enacted in response to this tragedy, so obviously an act of Man. Dams are certainly better engineered now, but even so, the Kentucky dam that just broke through was rated as having a "moderate" risk of potential breakthrough. The US has over 600 coal slurry dams, many in Appalachia. Many are labeled as having "high" potential risk for breakthrough.

AT Massey's coal slurry impoundment above Whitesville is over 100 acres. Could the same thing happen there-or at any of hundreds of other sites? Are these dams violating coal mining law? Citizen activists and environmental groups are working feverishly to find out. Stay informed by getting on OVEC's e-mail action alert list by e-mailing vivian@wvadventures.net or vivian@depotltd.com. or calling OVEC at 304-522-0246.

Job Announcement

WV Council of Churces Interfaith Global Climate Change Campaign is seeking two part-time (15-20 hours per month) regional coordinators - one for the Eastern Panhandle and one for the North/Central Region.

The Council is sponsoring a 2001Interfaith Global Climate Change Campaign. Representatives of many faith communions have been trained to work in their congregations and communities to educate and lobby about the global warming issue. A person is needed to continue the work in each region, which began in 2000, with those trained in the regions and with the state coordinator.

Qualifications: active in a faith community; concerned about stewardship & environmental issues (does not have to be expert); has organizational and communication skills; access to computer and computer skills; ability to resource, network, and monitor regional campaign activities; attend meetings of the Steering and Executive Committee.

Send resume' & letter of recommendation to:Marcia Leitch, P.O. Box 226, Talcott, WV 24981-0226; E-mail: jmleitch@cwv.net, phone:466-0982, fax:466-4790 by January 5, 2001.

Free Water Quality Sampling

Alternative Testing Laboratories, Inc. has generously offered to provide chemical analysis of natural and waste waters to West Virginia's watershed groups free of charge. Watershed groups pay only the cost of shipping samples.

Paul Baker, president and the one offering the lab's services, is a semi-retired chemist residing near Fairmont, W.Va. Alternative Testing Laboratories is located in Lemont Furnace, Pa. Water quality testing parameters include acidity, alkalinity, conductivity, metals (aluminum, iron, manganese), pH, suspended solids and sulfate. Contact Paul Baker, Alternative Testing Laboratories, Inc., 2252 University Dr., Suite 300, Lemont Furnace, Pa. 15456. (724) 437-6514.