Richmond Police Descend on Blue Ridge Earth First! and Mountain Justice Activists Protesting Dominion Energy

Photo by Blue Ridge Earth First! For more, see coverage on Flickr. For more information, contact Hannah Morgan at 434-960-2080 or Hilary Lufkin at 804-357-4826.

Twenty non-violent activists were protesting Dominion Energy's promotion of new coal and nuclear facilities as solutions to climate change this morning when Richmond police swept in at 7:30 am to roust them. Five Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!) members had formed a human chain to blockade the entrance to Dominion's corporate headquarters on Tredegar Street in downtown Richmond at 7:00 am. Police also arrested seven other BREF and Mountain Justice (MJ) members at the site, all of whom were holding signs and banners and had intended to disband when the police arrived but were given no chance to do.

The protesters said the proposed $1.8 billion Wise County plant would emit too much mercury and carbon dioxide into the air, promote strip mining for coal in Southwest Virginia and cost consumers too much for electricity. The also oppose Dominion’s announced plans to consider an additional nuclear reactor at its North Anna plant in Louisa County.

Michael Martz of the Richmond Times Dispatch reported that the protest blocked traffic on Tredegar Street for "more than two hours" while Dominion employees were forced to walk to work. He reports that company spokesman Karl Neddenien said,
Dominion respects peaceful protest....However, we do not condone illegal activities, such as the blocking of the road and preventing our employees from getting to work.
The twelve have each have been charged with two class-two misdemeanors of impeding police and blocking access by emergency vehicles, as well as a traffic charge. Magistrates have set bail set at $2,000 each and BREF has asked that donations for the bail and legal defense be made through Paypal to Drumplaya112@yahoo.com or sent to BREF! care of Hannah Morgan, 1226 Stonegate Way Crozet, Virginia 22932.

Bethany Spitzer and Alyssa Barrett each had one hand locked into a weighted 55-gallon oil drum reading "We Won't Stop Until You Do." They were linked to Kaitlyn Hart and Holly Garrett, who each had a hand encased into two-and-a-half gallon bucket of hardened cement. Meanwhile, Marley Green served a counterweight to the oil drum, as he hung suspended from the Bell Isle Footbridge above the road. Other, as yet unnamed individuals, held banners that said "No New Coal Plant in Wise County" and "It's Up to Us Virginia. No Nukes. No New Coal. Renewables Now! No Dominion Over Our Democracy,"

Green explained, "Accelerating the rate of mountaintop removal mining to supply the citizens of Virginia with dirty energy is an irresponsible use of the most valuable resources of this Commonwealth. The impact of uranium mining, radioactive waste disposal, and nuclear plant operations on communities across the Southeast are unacceptable trade-offs for the continuation of business as usual energy policy. Dominion should further conservation and efficiency measures and develop solar, wind, and other renewable sources of power in order to do justice to the land and the people of Virginia."

"We’ve been through the regulatory process — it’s time to take action on our own," added Hannah Morgan, a 19-year-old resident of the town of Appalachia in Wise County, Virginia, who acted as spokeswoman for the protest.

Morgan was referring to the June 25, 2008 decision by the Citizen's Air Board to grant final permits for Dominion's proposed new 585 MW coal-fired electric plant in Wise County Virginia, which you can find reported on by Chesapeake Climate Action's Susanna Murley, as well as by the Richmond Times Dispatch's Rex Bowman. (NewsTrust reviews of the latter, here.)

While the Air Board reduced the permitted emissions from those Dominion requested, it declined to address the acceleration of mountaintop removal coal mining, increased carbon dioxide emissions and other issues raised by over a hundred Virginians at a June 24 public hearing at Wise County High School.

The Virginia permit bucked a trend in other states including Florida, Kansas and Texas, which have recently canceled plans for new coal plants. Dominion plans to begin construction this week. BREF! and MJS plan continued protests until Dominion agrees to cancel construction of its proposed Wise County coal plant, to stop burning burning coal mined through mountaintop removal in its existing coal plants and to build no new nuclear facilities.

Already, strip mining and mountaintop removal mining (MTR) have permanently demolished over 25% of Wise County's land mass to get to the coal, rather than using other methods which would preserve the mountains. MTR dumps the rubble from the blasted mountains and to date buried over 1,200 miles of headwater streams across Appalachia.

Dominion's website features a page, Myths and Facts, telling its side of the story and a contact form where you can ask for more information. The Wise Energy for Virginia Campaign (a partnership of Appalachian Voices, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, and Southern Environmental Law Center) has published its own list of 7 myths about Dominion's Wise County plant, six of which still apply after last week's permits, according to Tom Owens. You'll find them below.

MYTH #1: The Wise County Coal Plant will be a “Hybrid Energy Center.”
FACT: When first proposed, the plant was named the Southwest Virginia Power Station. Dominion’s marketing executives renamed the project the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center. But this is no Toyota Prius. Its deplorable environmental performance, outrageous cost, and massive global warming impact would make it the Hummer of coal-burning power plants. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) has determined that under Virginia law it is a “conventional coal” plant.1

MYTH #2: The Wise County Coal Plant will be carbon-capture compatible.
FACT: During proceedings before the SCC, Dominion executives were asked if there were any specific technologies the company had invested in to capture global warming pollution. Dominion conceded, “We have taken a look at, in a general way, [technologies] for carbon capture. But, no, there is nothing specific we have decided on this facility.”2

Not surprisingly, in granting Dominion a certificate to build the plant, the SCC rejected Dominion’s request for a financial bonus for carbon-capture compatibility. Rather, the SCC was explicitly clear – of the $1.8 billion approved to build the plant, not one penny is earmarked to address the plant’s global warming pollution, either now or at any time in the future.3

MYTH #3: The Wise County Coal Plant will be “state-of-the-art.”

FACT: Dominion is far behind the curve in addressing global warming. According to a report by MIT,4 only the most efficient coal plants (known as supercritical plants) will be ready to capture carbon. The proposed Wise County coal plant is not one of those – it would be an inefficient, subcritical coal plant. Dominion has no plan to capture the 5.4 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide the plant would emit every year.

Meanwhile, other electric utilities – even those heavily relying on coal – are working on technologies to capture carbon. AEP plans commercial operation of carbon capture equipment by 20125 (the same year Dominion wants to bring this conventional coal plant into service).

MYTH #4: The Wise County Coal Plant will clean up Southwest Virginia’s “gob” piles.
FACT: “Garbage of Bituminous,” or “gob” is the toxic waste coal left behind by the coal mining industry. Dominion has made no commitment to clean up “gob.” Instead, the fuel for the plant would likely be newly mined coal.6 As a result, the Dominion plant would only encourage mountaintop removal coal mining and other devastating practices. Where traditional mining practices cut mine shafts to access coal seams, mountaintop removal coal mining levels entire mountains and buries miles of streams in rubble. It literally obliterates the natural landscape.
MYTH #5: The Wise County Coal Plant Will Boost The Economy.

FACT: While the coal plant would have 75 permanent employees,7 the hundreds of jobs Dominion promises would only be temporary construction jobs that would disappear once the plant is built. At the same time, the coal plant would accelerate mountaintop removal coal mining, a process that has done far more economic harm than good. Since 1980, Wise County has experienced a 28% decline in the average income and a 53.1% decline in mining jobs -- despite an increase in coal production during the same timeframe.8
Mountain top removal coal mining also hurts the tourism industry in Wise County, which generates more than $32 million a year in expenditures, payroll, and state and local taxes. The Crooked Trail, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, draws more than 60,000 visitors to Appalachia and Southwestern Virginia each year.9 The USA Today reports, “From Dickenson County to Galax, rural areas that offer winding trails, bluegrass music and wine tastings have become some of the state's fastest-growing attractions.”10 And more than 35,000 acres of the pristine Jefferson National Forest lie within Wise County, providing a “multitude of outdoor recreational opportunities: hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing, hunting, fishing, camping, boating ….”11

MYTH #6: Electricity Rates For Dominion Customers Will Only Increase “Nominally.”12
FACT: The State Corporation Commission’s staff determined that rates would increase so much as to have a net negative impact on the Virginia economy, with a loss of 1,474 jobs.13 As “electricity rates increase,” the staff explained, consumers would have “less income to spend on other goods and services.” Less consumer spending hurts the economy, particularly small businesses. Dominion’s construction costs have increased $200 million since the SCC analysis was done, meaning even higher electricity rates and more job loss.

1 The Final Order from the State Corporation Commission states: “We find that this coal-fired facility qualifies, at a minimum, as a ‘conventional coal’ facility under § 56-585.1 .A.6 of the Code. …Accordingly, the Coal Plant shall receive an enhanced return of 100 basis points as prescribed for a ‘conventional coal’ plant by § 56-585.1 .A.6 of the Code.”

2 Cross-Examination of James K. Martin, Dominion Vice President for Fossil & Hydro Technical Services, before the State Corporation Commission, (Feb. 6, 2008).

3 The Final Order from the State Corporation Commission states:

We find that the construction costs projected by the Company to be incurred in connection with the proposed Coal Plant are reasonable and prudent at Virginia Power’s currently projected level of $1.8 billion. …
[W]e do not find that it is reasonable or prudent for the Company to incur any amount of costs above the cost estimates that comprise the projected level of $1.8 billion. We cannot approve in essence a blank check for Virginia Power to build the Coal Plant at any cost …
The finding of reasonableness and prudence herein does not extend to any costs associated with retrofitting, or other modifications to, the Coal Plant to make it carbon capture compatible. Accordingly, our approval herein is subject to the requirement that there shall be no recovery of any costs associated with future retrofitting, or other future modifications to, the Coal Plant to make it carboncapture compatible….

4 MIT, The Future of Coal, at pages 19, Table 3.1., 36, Table 3.7, and 96.

5 See Bruce Baine, AEP Vice President, “AEP and Climate Legislation,” (10/9/07).
6 Combustion calculations performed for Dominion by its contractor, Shaw, Stone & Webster, evaluate performance as if the plant would burn, alternatively: 100% Central Appalachian Coal; 100% run-of-mine coal; 60% Moss #3 waste coal and 40% Central Appalachian coal; and, finally, 83% run-of-mine coal and 17% wood and waste coal. These calculations were submitted as part of Dominion’s application for a federal Clean Air Act (Prevention of Significant Deterioration) permit to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
7 According to the testimony of Dominion’s Senior Vice President, E. Paul Hilton, “construction of the Plant will create at least 800 new jobs” while actual “operation of the Plant” will employ only “75 plant operators.”
8 Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration.

9 Dionne Walker, “Rural Virginia tourism: Small, But Growing Fast,” USA Today, 5/25/05. You can learn about Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, the Carter Family, Ralph Stanley, and much more at www.thecrookedroad.org

10 Dionne Walker, op. cit.
12 Tim Craig and Sandhya Somashekhar, “Dominion Gets Initial Approval For Coal Plant,Washington Post, 4/1/08, p. B2: “Company officials say there might be ‘nominal’ increases in residents’ utility bills starting next year to offset the cost of construction of the plant.”)
13 Testimony of Mark K. Carsley, Division of Economics and Finance, State Corporation Commission.


Don Thieme said...

Good to see that you are making your point. I wonder whether you want to be that specific about the tactics, though? BREF activists may want to fight these criminal charges.

Beth Wellington said...

Interesting point. To what tactics are you referring?

Don Thieme said...

The protest seems to involve economic disruption as well as attracting media and corporate attention to the issue.