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Blue Ridge Briefs for September 2008


Earlier this year, the EPA slightly raised the national air quality standard for ozone to 0.075 parts per million. As a result, dozens of Southern cities fell into non-attainment status, which could mean heavy penalties and the loss of federal funds for transportation projects. Cities now in the non-attainment status for ozone pollution include Macon, Athens, and Augusta in Georgia; Nashville and Chattanooga in Tennessee; Richmond and Hampton Roads in Virginia; and Asheville, Rocky Mount, Greenville and New Bern in North Carolina.

Dominion Energy’s proposal for a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County, Va., includes plans to bury 3,880 feet of stream and almost a half-acre of wetlands to dispose of its coal ash left over from burning coal. Virginia law prohibits burying industrial waste within 100 feet of a stream, yet Dominion is seeking a variance from this rule so that it can bury its mercury-laden waste not just within 100 feet of a stream, but on top of a stream. Dominion estimates that it will need to dispose of two million tons of toxic coal ash each year. Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality admits that there may be high levels of mercury in the waste ash, and there are a number of threatened and endangered species just two miles downstream in the Clinch River.


Duke Energy is moving forward with construction of the Cliffside coal-fired power plant despite its violation of the Clean Air Act. Duke is required by law to use the most stringent pollution controls for all of the hazardous air pollutants the facility would emit, including mercury and 66 other toxic substances such as hydrochloric acid, arsenic, dioxin, and other heavy metals. Duke began construction on January 30 using outdated technologies for pollution controls. It has not gone unnoticed: the Southern Environmental Law Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Sierra Club will file suit against Duke if it fails to implement the strongest possible mercury controls.


Don Blankenship—CEO of Massey Energy, the coal giant responsible for almost all of the mountaintop removal in southern West Virginia—was caught on tape threatening an ABC News reporter. Blankenship was recorded saying, “If you’re going to start taking pictures of me, you’re liable to get shot.” The reporter was asking him about some pictures taken of Blankenship vacationing with state Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard in the French Riviera, during a time when Maynard was overseeing a multi-million dollar suit against Massey. Maynard was not only removed from the case (although it did eventually go Massey’s way), but he was also removed from his job, when he lost a re-election bid in May.


Last month, Appalachian Voices and state congressman Pricey Harrison announced the Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act, a bill that would end North Carolina’s use of coal obtained from mountaintop removal mining. If the bill is passed, North Carolina would be the first state in the nation to implement such legislation. Thirteen North Carolina power plants purchase coal from mountaintop removal mine sites, and North Carolina is the country’s second-largest consumer of mountaintop removal coal.


Tennessee lawmakers refused to pass a bill banning mountaintop removal this past spring due to pressure from National Coal Corporation. The company threatened to pack up shop in Tennessee and fire all of its whopping 234 employees if mountaintop mining was banned in the state. National Coal Corporation is targeting mountains in the Sundquist Wildlife Management Area for mining, ironic because the state recently spent $100 million to protect the land but failed to purchase mineral rights.


Santee Cooper’s proposed 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant on the Pee Dee River will annually emit 3,500 tons of nitrous oxide, 7,500 tons of sulfur dioxide, 900 tons of lung damaging particulate matter, and over 100 pounds of toxic mercury. Yet the energy giant is calling it a “clean coal” facility. Physicians have been protesting outside South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to call attention to the serious public health impacts of the proposed plant.


This past spring 11 environmental groups sued Dynegy, who wants to build a massive 1200-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Southwest Georgia. The coalition of environmental groups claims the plant, which will produce nine million tons of new global warming pollution, will violate federal air quality health standards for particulate matter. Georgia already has three of the country’s dirtiest power plants and buys more mountaintop removal coal than any other state in the nation.


Mountaintop removal mining threatens the four most endangered mountains in Appalachia: Black Mountain, Kentucky; Huckleberry Ridge, Kentucky; Walden’s Ridge, Tennessee; and the mountains of Wise County, Virginia. All of these regions are threatened with increased coal mining and pollution—especially from mountaintop removal mining. America’s Most Endangered Mountains is published by, a coalition of regional environmental groups and over 30,000 citizens focused on ending mountaintop mining.

“Even as the tide of public opinion has turned against mountaintop removal coal mining, Big Coal has been moving forward with plans to rip off the tops of some of the most beautiful mountains in Appalachia,” says Mary Anne Hitt, director of Appalachian Voices and spokesperson for

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