Let's Remember Mary C. Snow: An Open Letter to The Charleston Gazette

 Photo is from a screenshot of  WCHS television's video.


Thomas Carlyle is reputed to have written, "Histories are a kind of distilled newspapers."

As a lover of your newspaper, that's why I was disappointed today when I checked your archives and couldn't read more about Mary C. Snow, an educator in Kanawha County, West Virginia Schools for more than fifty years and the first African-American principal in the area. By contrast, WCHS television still has a January  video online. Perhaps that's because Wes Armstead, now Managing Editor at the station remembers Snow as one of his teachers.

Mary Snow passed away in January at the age of 97.  Now, as you report, many in the community have asked that West Side Elementary School be renamed in her honor as a remembrance of her dedication to the community's children. And yet, reading the virulent comments on the articles, I'm wondering how many folks know in any depth about the accomplishments of Ms. Snow and her importance in the history of Charleston and of West Virginia.

As the December 19 editorial in The Daily Mail noted of the School Board's 3-2 not to rename the school,
It's a crying shame, and a missed opportunity to teach history.

Snow, who died in January at age 97, was a shining example of the power of public education.

The school should have been named for her - not so much because it would properly have honored her, but because it would have extended her teaching career.

Nothing would have pleased her more.

Born in 1913, the oldest of seven children in a poor family, Snow lost her father to violence when she was 13. Her mother took in laundry to support her children.

But Mary C. Snow overcame poverty and racism to graduate from West Virginia State College and earn a master's degree from the University of Cincinnati.

She went on to serve as a teacher, principal and inspiration on the West Side for more than five decades.

Like West Side educator Isom Cabell before her, she changed history.Snow's story resonates as strongly today as it did when her generation was in elementary school.
As my friend filmmaker Jordan Freeman noted on facebook, "It's very representative of WV government's disrespect of its own citizens that the school board won't name the school after a well-respected community teacher, a small thing in the scheme of things, but a very clear example of unresponsive state government."

Community leaders including Reverend Watts are circulating a petition that already had 500 signatures as of December 15, according to your paper.

Jordan is planning a petition on Change.org (the same site that Molly Katchpole used to used to persuade Bank of America to cancel its $5 debit card fees. Jason explains, "They've been doing great on-the-ground organizing to get this name change, as the tip of the iceberg about basic community respect. An online petition will hopefully help further that effort." (I'll include a link when the petition is online.)

The Gazette has special reports which open its archives on scoundrels such as bank robber Roy Plummer and disgraced politician Jerry Mezzatesta. Also on some of the scourges that let outsides stereotype WV and Appalachia, in general, as benighted: drug overdoses, mining disasters, mountaintop removal. How about a special report on one of its outstanding assets, Mary C. Snow?  A good place to start might be the articles on the current controversy, as well as your obituary and the February 16, 1996 interview and the March 24, 1996 story on Ms. Snow's role in the origins of unity day.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is reputed to have said, "Sin writes histories, goodness is silent." Please don't prove him right.


SB 1751: If coal ash is so safe, the utility and coal company executives should eat it!

If you were to believe the above coal ash "facts" circulated by the American Coal Ash Association 's Educational Foundation, coal ash is safe.

Or, "Coal ash offers our society extraordinary environmental and economic benefits without harm to public health and safety when properly managed." One wonders who is going to make sure things are "properly managed?" Not the Environmental Protection, if that group and the coal companies have their way, right now they're pushing hard for passage of S. 1751 to stop the EPA's plans to regulate coal ash, especially the Democratic senators from the states of North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Montana and Alaska, all of whom are undecided on S. 1751. This despite the legitimate arguments that:

  •     S.1751 endangers the health and safety of thousands of communities: it will prevent the EPA from ever revisiting a federal coal ash rule even if it is found that coal ash dumps pose an even greater threat.
  •     S.1751 is a dangerous bill: it would allow the construction of coal ash dumps that don’t meet drinking water standards for arsenic, lead and other pollutants.
  •     S.1751 will cost American jobs: An October 2011 study by a Tufts University senior economist Frank Ackerman (email, bio)  found that strong coal ash regulations, such as the one proposed by the EPA in 2010, would generate 28,000 jobs annually.
  •     S.1751 will hurt recycling: once coal ash is dumped into water, which this bill would allow by permitting the construction of new coal ash ponds, it cannot be recycled.
  •     S.1751 fails to address the current threat: this bill will not phase out dangerous ash ponds or prevent another tragedy like the coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008.
  •     Coal ash is hazardous to our health: the cancer risk from drinking water contaminated by arsenic near some coal ash ponds is 1 in 50, which is 2,000 times greater than the EPA’s acceptable risk level
  •     Coal ash is a national problem: it is the second largest industrial waste stream in the U.S.

Emily Enderly, also at Earth Justice, sent me a chart that compares the presence  or absence of regulatory requirements for coal ash under four different regulatory schemes:

(1) EPA’s proposed subtitle C (special waste) rule;
(2) EPA proposed subtitle D (nonhazardous waste) rule;
(3) the municipal solid waste (household trash) regulations found in 40 C.F.R Part 258.
(4) Coal Ash Bill (H.R. 2273 (passed 267 - 144 on October 14) which is identical to S. 1751

I've set up a link on google docs where you can view, print and/or download it:

Comparison of Coal Ash Regulation under Four RCRA Regulatory Schemes

If you don't want to register for google and would like a copy of the chart, email me.

Background information:

Please remember that if you live near an existing or proposed coal ash dump, you can sign on to the letter below being organized by Environmental Integrity  by sending your name and address-- including city, state and zip code-- in an email  to Sam Flenner <samf.environmentalintegrity@gmail.com > and cc LaToya Archibald < latoya.s.archibald@gmail.com> by noon, December 12 Eastern Time. If someone doesn't have email, you can send  their name, address, city state and zip code (Phone and email optional) along w. the copy below.  And if you're lucky enough not to have this problem pass this on to others who might.

No matter where you live, you can  email, fax or phone your Senator to tell them that coal ash is dangerous and SHOULD be regulated, vote AGAINST Senate bill 1751.

Okay, here's that form and  letter...



The following give their permission to (name local sponsor org) to include their names name and addresses on the letter entitled Don’t Forget Us addressed to members of the US Senate.  They and their family are My are directly impacted by lax state disposal safeguards of coal combustion waste.  They urge their federal Legislators to support the EPA’s rulemaking process under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and oppose any actions or legislation that would impede the EPA rulemaking process to set common-sense safeguards for the disposal of this waste.
Name: ____________________________________

Address: __________________________________ 

City: _____________ State: ___ Zip Code _______ 

Phone: ____________________ (optional)     
Email: ____________________ (optional)             


October 20, 2011
US Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator ____:

We understand that you may soon vote on a bill that would leave oversight of coal ash dumps to the states, and prevent EPA from taking action against polluters who threaten our air and groundwater. We are referring to S. 1751, which is identical to the industry-backed bill that cleared the House of Representatives on October 14. We know Congress has already heard from industry lobbyists, big contributors, and state bureaucrats. We live near these dumps, and put up with their pollution year after year. Please hear our voices.

We know what it is like to suffer through the daily onslaught of blowing ash, drink water from faucets contaminated with ash leachate, and see our wetlands and creeks poisoned with toxic metals like arsenic. We have complained again and again about the endless noise, dust and pollution from trucks dumping coal ash near us while we become more stressed out or sick and the value of our property plummets, with no real response from our states.

Some of us are also joining this letter because a new ash dump has been proposed nearby or because we are concerned about the growing threat of coal ash in our area and its impact on our health and the quality of life in our community. More than two years ago, we were promised that the US Environmental Protection Agency would finally set national standards to clean up these sites, and close the most dangerous ones.

Now we face legislation that would stop EPA in its tracks, and replace real standards with imaginary state “plans” that polluters could ignore without fear of enforcement by EPA. After what is already known about the danger from storing millions of tons of coal ash in unlined ponds, why would you tie the government’s hands from ever stopping this practice?

Do our lives matter to you?

Is protecting coal ash “recycling” from a “stigma” more important than our health or the quality of our water? Even those who believe “stigma” is real cannot seriously argue that shielding leaking dumps from EPA enforcement somehow makes recycling easier. And ash mixed with other wastes in leaking ponds – now a common practice – cannot be recycled at all.

What will you accomplish by requiring federal and state bureaucrats to review, and then approve, disapprove, and reapprove state plans that can never actually be enforced by EPA against polluters? If your own family’s drinking water was being contaminated, would you think haggling over “plans” the right response?
States have had decades to improve their management of these dumpsites, and have done nothing – or next to nothing – as contamination has spread, even after the Kingston dam collapse manifested the problem. We know good, hard-working people in our state agencies, but budget cuts, political pressure, the power of local polluters, and the lack of any serious oversight or enforcement from EPA make their job impossible.

Put yourself in our place. What if you lived near a power plant’s landfill or ash pond like we or our neighbors do, and found out that the water you and your children drink may be unsafe to drink? How long would you want to wait for your state agency to do something about the problem? Three years? Five years? Ten? We have waited that long, and are waiting still.

As the Americans who live next to our nation’s ash dumps, our opinions should matter. These dumps should have permits that we can comment on. We should be able to object to any permit or plan that threatens our lives and property, and the government should be given a deadline to respond to our concerns. Dumps that contaminate groundwater should be closed, and the groundwater cleaned up. And EPA should be able to crack down on polluters – without having to wade through endless “planning” —or the bill will mean nothing.

As you consider this legislation, please don’t forget about us. We are not against the coal industry. We simply want laws that protect people and that they be enforceable. We appreciate your time and consideration.


U.S. District Attorney Goodwin: Alpha "not a life, it's not a being, it can't go to jail."

Editor's note: This was my draft of an article commissioned by The Guardian which appeared later the same day as, Who will pay for the Upper Big Branch mine disaster?: "Massey Energy's owner makes a $209m settlement, but safety violations that killed 29 miners in West Virginia go unpunished"

Montcoal, WV.  3:27 PM on Monday, April 5, 2010.  It was the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in nearly 40 years.  Twenty months ago, just across the river from Coal River Mountain  on Cherry Pond Mountain near its mountaintop removal mine, Massey Energy's underground mine at Upper Big Branch exploded.

We learned right away that at least twenty-five men had been killed, two more injured, one gravely. Four days dragged on, while we hoped for a miracle, but four missing men were dead. Over the course of time we learned from an independent report and another by the United Mine Workers that Massey had failed to maintain its ventilation systems properly causing methane levels to increase to dangerous levels.

According to Ian Urbina and Michael Cooper, writing April 6 in the New York Times,
In the past two months, miners had been evacuated three times from the Upper Big Branch because of dangerously high methane levels, according to two miners who asked for anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.
Finding blame

Flash forward to 3:00 p.m. on December 6, 2011, thirty miles away in the state capital of Charleston. The U.S. Mining Safety and Health Administration released its investigation report concluding that the disaster was "entirely preventable," caused in part by a pattern of major safety problems and Massey's efforts to conceal hazards from government inspectors. A summary video is here.

Earlier, at 11 a.m., U.S. District Attorney. Booth Goodwin announced that his office, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Labor had entered into a non-prosecution agreement which will cost Alpha Energy Resources, Inc., which had acquired Massey, $209 million.

Massey’s reputation was probably beyond repair.  Writer Jeff Goodell had profiled its CEO, Don Blankenship, as the "Dark Lord of Coal Country, the industry's dirtiest CEO. In southern Appalachia we knew Blankenship only too well.As Goodell described him, accurately,
he grew up in the coal fields of West Virginia, received an accounting degree from a local college, and, through a combination of luck, hard work and coldblooded ruthlessness, transformed himself into the embodiment of everything that's wrong with the business and politics of energy in America today — a man who pursues naked self-interest and calls it patriotism, who buys judges like cheap hookers, treats workers like dogs, blasts mountains to get at a few inches of coal and uses his money and influence to ensure that America remains enslaved to the 19th-century idea that burning coal equals progress. And for this, he earns $18 million a year — making him the highest-paid CEO in the coal industry — and flies off to vacations on the French Riviera.
Blankenship left Massey in December 2010.  December 6, ABC News tells us Don Blankenship accepted a $12 million golden parachute. Other parting gifts included an additional $5,000-per-month to serve as a Massey consultant for two years, paid health insurance, a secretary, residential property rights and accrued pay from his employment, including performance bonuses. In return, Blankenship agreed not to compete with Massey for two years and to cooperate with the company to resolve any litigation that arose during his tenure.

And yet, Kentucky records, alluded to by ABC, show that on January 26, 2011, Blankenship signed as president in a corporate filing for McCoy Coal Group. The corporation had previously registered its incorporation on January 11, under a slightly different name.

When Alpha announced January 29, 2011 that the company would spend $7.1 billion to acquire Massey, Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield said that "At the end of the day, we were actually able to get comfortable with the exposed risk" and Massey's estimated $150 million in losses related to the disaster was "appropriate." Massey had already taken a charge of $128.9 million during 2010 to cover costs from the explosion, including workers' compensation, restitution for the families of the miners and expected litigation costs.

But not prosecution

Under the December 6 agreement, Alpha will make payments and safety  investments totaling $209 million:
  • $46.5 million in restitution (at least $1.5 million for each worker)
  • $80 million for safety improvements
  • $48 million for safety research over the next two years
  • $10.8 million for fines for the accident and
  • $24.2 million to resolve pending civil penalties at all of its other former Massey operations
As Cecil Roberts, of the United Mine Workers pointed out in a newsrelease I received,
We have repeatedly heard from the current congressional leadership that they were not prepared to act until they knew what happened at UBB. Now they know.
He called for strengthened whistleblower protections for workers who want to report safety issues and official standing for the families of the victims in the investigative process.

With regard to the non-prosecution agreement, Alpha Natural Resources says that it acquired Massey
more than a year after the tragic explosion at their Upper Big Branch mine. Alpha believes the settlements announced today provide the best path forward for everyone. The bulk of the settlement will fund safety training, research and advanced technologies that the company believes ultimately will create a safer work environment for coal miners throughout the industry.
Ry Rivard, capitol reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail quoted District Attorney Goodwin as saying the non-prosecution agreement represented a "balance" and that Alpha was "not a life, it's not a being, it can't go to jail."

So who pays?

Twenty-nine men dead. Two more injured. Two hundred and nine million gets Alpha off the hook for prosecution? So much for the personhood of corporations. Stay tuned to see if any individuals get prosecuted other than Massey's security director. At least this time, the government didn't sign away its rights to do so.

Goodwin made his announcement at the Robert C. Byrd federal courthouse in Charleston, WV, named after that state's late beloved U.S. Senator, who has since been replaced by its former governor Joe Manchin. Although Byrd was generous in his support of the coal industry, towards the end of his life he was losing patience with Massey and its record of reckless disregard of its workers safety.
The old chestnut that “coal is West Virginia’s greatest natural resource” deserves revision. I believe that our people are West Virginia’s most valuable resource. We must demand to be treated as such.
As Vernon Haltom, of Coal River Mountain Watch told me in an email interview,
Spending on 'major safety initiatives' after 29 miners were killed is closing the barn door after the horse is out. The executives who routinely place profits above the lives of miners and community members must be held accountable for all their crimes. Until then, there will be no sense of justice where the coal industry leaves a legacy of death and destruction.
Goodwin assures us that the criminal investigation continues. He says that Alpha, and by extension, its predecessor Massey is not a person and can't go to jail. But what about Don Blankenship?


If there's a Heaven, Bob Thomas is playing bass there....

So sad to learn from Wes Chappell and Randy Marchany that Bob Thomas, the bass player for No Strings Attached (NSA) since 1984, died unexpectedly on Saturday, December 3 from  complications following a heart attack. That's a screenshot of  him on the right playing "Lady Be Good" with Randy. Wes, too, but he's off-frame. Bob took being a bassist seriously, playing not only acoustic bass, but bass clarinet, and bass saxophone, saying he had the goal of "owning a bass instrument from every instrument family."

Here's a photo of him playing that bass clarinet with NSA in 2000 taken by the late Don Shorock:

Bob was a sweet guy and a terrific musician (and showman) and his death leaves a gaping hole in our hearts and the New River Valley music community. There are many photos on this  NSA fb page.  UPDATE:  According to the December 11 Roanoke Times Bob was 66 and
The date of a planned memorial celebration will be announced at a later time. Those who wish to make a contribution in his memory could donate to the New Orleans Musician's Relief Fund, the Humane Society of Montgomery County, or the charity of your choice.
Bob was the son of the late Barkley and Margaret Ford Thomas. He graduated from Shelby (North Carolina) High School and attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Among Bob's survivors are his longtime companion, Patricia Polentz; his daughter, Maggie England and husband, Huiet; and grandsons, Mac and Jake England, of Cramerton, N.C.; sister, Susan Thomas, of Underhill, Vt.; niece, Johanna Hulick and family, of Seattle, Wash.; nephew, Jeremy Hulick, of Bethesda, Md.; aunt, Eleanor DeLashmutt, of Atlanta, Ga.; and several cousins.
John Jones II  posted a telling anecdote December 13 in the guestbook for Bob there.  Since I'm not sure it will remain up, I'll reprint it here:
I didn't know Bob personally, more like an aquaintance. I did borrow a contra-bass clarinet from him for a while. He had little information about me as we had never interacted but he loaned me the instrument with no questions asked and the simple request to take care of it.

 The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, Inc. is a grass roots certified 501c(3) founded by and for displaced musicians, which is still sending grants to displaced New Orleans musicians thanks to donations from around the world.You can also donate your time, your talent and/or your gear.  One way is to help publicize the organization.  More on that at the bottom of this post.  First, back to some pictures and music by Bob.


Rusty May, who himself play bass with NSA from 1980-4, described Bob in a note to the New River Old Time listserve, as 

the very talented and hardest working bassist in the New River Valley.... adept at bluegrass, bebop, old-time, swing and everything in between.  
 The picture is a screen shot from a video of the band playing with guests Guy George, Karen Mueller, and Butch Ross at the 2008 Winterfest in Irving, TX.

Here's Bob, Wes and Randy with Pete Hastings playing Carl Perkins (I think) All God's Children Want to Rock at the Dulcimer Festival Showcase concert in Shepherdstown, West Virginia on Sept. 13, 2008

In a more Celtic vein (although typically NSA eclectic) at the same concert:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuEkVXANkjc (the sound seems to start at about 0:33)

And as the soundtrack for a flick on the 2008 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta:

There are plenty of audio clips at No String Attached's website.  Probably the funniest Bob got was on "I'm a Hog for you, Baby."  (H/T to Jeff W. for reminding me.  Wish there were a video, or a complete version to share with you...but I'm guessing this addition photo by Shorock may be capturing one of the performances of that number:

BTW, with Pete exiting NSA in 2009, Jim Crawford joined the band.

In  addition to NSA, Bob played with a number of other groups including serving as the  upright bassists and bass saxophonist  for Front Porch Swing with Scott Perry  (r. reso-phonic guitar, ukulele & vocals), backed and Tom Ohmsen (l. on mandolin.)
 That group describes itself as a
hillbilly act Homer and Jethero jamming with be-bopper Charles Mingus, while Blind Lemon Jefferson and Ukulele Ike take turns sitting in

Bob also was part of the smooth jazz group, Mood Swing, which also included  Harry Doss on guitar, Karl Sanzenbach on guitar and wind instruments and Kathy Stell on vocals.

He also played in the Triple B Trio with Bill Adams and Brian Mueller. (Thanks, Rusty, for pointing that out...)

Back in 1989, he played Dixieland jazz with Doss, as well as Ed Schwartz, , John Gregg, Carter Edmondson, Bill Bondurant, Sally Walker, Norman Olmstead, and Kathy Duncan in the the Riverboat Ramblers.  I think that's the bass saxophone, right?

 And his friend, Nancy Grover Mason, a bass player who lives in NC, tells me that when she was in Blacksburg (Bob taught her how to play) she was in a trio with Bob from about 1991-5 named 2 Hot Sodas:  Sandy on alto sax, Edwin Lacy on clawhammer banjo, Bob Thomas on tuba.

At the end we had a euphonium player Kevin Wilkes join us, and Bob took over either clarinet or rhythm section. He had a big "bag of tricks" he'd carry, with sticks and percussion instruments, toys, etc.
 Here's a picture from the original lineup from a gig at a Blacksburg church.  (She's not sure which one, but says that it hosted folk concerts during the 90s.)


New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund


Milbank the Bully

Dana Milbank, a Washington Post's opinion writer, filed a story on the announced retirement of Barney Frank,"Barney the bully: Congressman Frank’s other legacy."
The morning after his retirement announcement, Rep. Barney Frank scored an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, gaining the opportunity to act as an elder statesman in front of a TV audience of millions. Instead, the Massachusetts Democrat chose to quarrel with the interviewer.
My friend from NewsTrust, Barry Grossheim recommended the story, rating it "good" for informaiton, insight, style and credibility,  commenting,
The other side of Barney Frank. I like his politics but on a personal level, not so much!
Sorry, Barry, but I can't agree with your assessment.  Milbank seems to write this just to be contrarian from those praising Frank upon his retirement. The reporter he quotes seems to have been playing gotcha and Frank wasn't cooperating.

 Milbank has been one of my least favorite writers ever since he penned his gem, "President Obama Continues Hectic Victory Tour on July 30, 2008," with the "clever" lede,
Barack Obama has long been his party's presumptive nominee. Now he's becoming its presumptuous nominee. For an analysis of that piece, see http://newstrust.net/stories/23965/
Jason Linkins (email), now a Huffington Post political reporter analyzed Milbank's piece that same day for HuffPo in "Washington Post Fuels Outrage After Misquoting Obama."  Not sure how much outrage there was, but Milbank, trying to be clever definitely took Obama out of context. Milbank quotes Obama as saying, 
 This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for...I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.
Linkins writes that according to a Democratic leadership aide in attendance, the full quote was:
It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It's about America. I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.
BTW, thanks Bob Her


Nikki Finney's Remarkable Head Off and Split Takes National Book Award

Affrilachian Poets  member and UK English Department prof  Nikky Finney wins National Book Award for Head Off and Split. I was wowed when I got to hear her read at the  Symposium on Affrilachia  @ UK in March.

In a November 11 interview with WUKY, Finney explains the title of her collection:

When I was a girl, my mom would send me to the fish monger. I would go in, choose the fish, hand it over to him. He would inevitably say, "Head off and split" question mark.

I went back five years ago. The same phrase was said to me. I'd heard it a thousand times. I thought, wow, that's a great metaphor for what we dismiss or cut away or don't want to see. The cold grey eyes, the scales, the fins, and then we're handed over the succulent fish without all those nasty details.

I wanted to bring that in to talk about how, as a culture and a community and a country, that I think we have to stay involved in all the details. We can't hand the fish over and just get it back with the succulent fish. I think we're in a time where we really we have to sort of get our hands in there and do the dirty work and not hand it off to somebody else.

Here's Finney reading some of her poems:

"Left" (pdf of poem)

"Condoleeza Suite"

"My Time Up with You"

"Red Velvet" [about Rosa Parks]

"Dancing with Strom"

And a long reading at the New School (starting @ 12:20) starting with her recounting the story of when Nikki Giovanni came to Tallladega College.

There's  an interview available at Oxford American and one at Poets & Writers for the February-March 2011 issue which you will have to read at the library, if you don't have a copy of the magazine..  The Virginia Festival of the book doesn't have its schedule up yet for March 2012, but announced via facebook that Finney is one of its readers.

Here's her acceptance speech (@16:50)
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/18565428  (I couldn't embed because evidently only YouTube works with Blogger.


Maria Gunnoe: We're Sick of Dying for Your Bottom Line

September 26, House Republicans stages its Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Oversight Field Hearing on "Jobs at Risk: Community Impacts of the Obama Administration’s Effort to Rewrite the Stream Buffer Zone Rule" 

Say what?  It was the Bush administration which tried to eliminate the Stream Buffer rule.  You can listen to the whole hearing and read the testimony here, with Bo Webb and Maria Gunnoe start their testimony at 99:22. and 106:27 respectively.

As Bo Webb wrote in the comments he submitted:
The very title of this hearing indicates a bias against those of us who are living (and dying) in mountaintop removal mining communities. The title suggests that jobs are at risk if the SBZ rule is corrected. The SBZ rule must be corrected in order to protect The People’s health. It’s been broken and it needs fixed.
Let us not forget, President Ronald Reagan, your president, my president, in 1983 created the Stream Buffer Zone Rule because he realized the responsibility he had to protect America’s water supply in the face of an industry that was moving more rapidly toward a method of mining that would turn entire mountains into ruin and destroy head water source streams that carry drinking water to millions of American citizens. This committee now shares that responsibility because President George W. Bush, with the stroke of a pen, trashed the Reagan SBZ rule just before leaving office as a present to a coal industry that wills itself to increase profit at all cost, even at the cost of human health. 
Or as Maria Gunnoe told Gene Kitts of Alpha as he was leaving the hearing, "We're sick of dying for your bottom line.


Do we need the EPA?

Table adapted from Beyond Red vs. Blue Political Typology, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, May 4, 2011.  See question  on pp 136-7 on public support for environmental regulation.  This is a first draft of a piece commissioned by The Guardian,"Why the GOP is going after the EPA: Republican lawmakers aim to cut back or even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, even though it pays for itself, published September 12, 2011.


Who is following the U.S. public in its strong support for protecting the environment?

If you can rely Pew's 2011 survey (see above chart), 71% of those questioned--across the political spectrum--agree with the statement, "This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment." Yet, on September 2, President Obama joined Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) critics in Congress and  GOP  presidential candidates  in  arguing that the agency unnecessarily burdens U.S. industry.

As the clever Erica Grieder (writing as E.G., Austin, in The Economist) says in "The Hole in the Ozone Standards,":

When the White House makes an announcement on the Friday before a holiday weekend, you can bet that it won't be anything in which they take special pride.

Obama stated that while his commitment to public health and the environment is "unwavering,"  he has ordered the EPA to withdraw its draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards in order to
underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.
Ground level ozone is the primary constituent of smog. In June, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) hearing on the Clean Air Act and Public Health.  In July she responded to EPW member Tom Carper (D, DE) that she had opted to review the 2008 ozone standards, rather than keep them in place until the next mandated review in 2013.  Bush's standards--which he  weakened at the last-minute in  2008 and are under court challenge were
not legally defensible given the scientific evidence in the record for the rulemakeing, the requirements of the Clean Air Act and the recommendations of the CASAC [the Congressionally-established, independent  Clean Air Science Advisory Committee.]
Further, were Bush's standards to be
overturned in court, it would have resulted in more financial and planning uncertainty for Cities and States, when they could affort it the least.
The most recent suit may be the one filed June 23 against the EPA for failing to enforce industrial emissions.  Ironically, Republicans on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works reacted with glee, posting this and this, only days after complaining about litigation costs, which had led them to order this study.

Will critics of EPA regulation see the irony, if the cancellation of ozone standards lead to more litigation costs?  Probably not.  Rather they will continue to complain that environmental groups are profiting from the taxpayers by suing the federal government.  What ever happened to concern for the public's health and safety?

Juliet Eilperin--who reports on on science, policy and politics in areas including climate change, oceans, and air quality for the Washington Post--called Obama's statement "a win for the business community."

Of course, Obama's position is nowhere near as extreme as that of Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL), who told an anonymous radio host (listen to the full interview at about 16:45 for context):

You know the fact is, if in fact I think the American people do next November what they started last November, that is, cleaning house, and we do get a Republican-controlled Senate and a Republican president, I think you going to see some dramatic structural changes in this country... Who says the federal government has to have an EPA. Every state has their own environmental protection agency. Why does the federal government need to be doing that? ... I think we’ll have to look at a lot of things that we’re doing at the federal level and ask ourselves, ‘is this really what the federal role?’ And if not, discontinue it.

As far as abolishing the EPA, investigation reporter Mark Schapiro--Senior Correspondent for the
Center for Investigative Reporting(CIR)--tells me,

It's an economic catastrophe to remove incentives and oversight.

Nor, is Obama's position as extreme as that of Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who has filed a bill to merge the EPA w. the Department of Energy.  Other Republicans and some Democrats would weaken the agency through budget riders or reduce its authority in specific areas, arguing against needless "job killing"  regulations.  This despite the fact that reports show the EPA’s regulations to be cost effective.

The CIR's Schapiro--author of  Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power--also tells me,
The dialogue between ‘jobs’ and ‘regulation’ is endless and repetitive, and in almost every instance the claims by industry that new, more protective regulations would result in job losses and harm competitiveness have turned out to be dramatically overstated.
 In the past,  the EPA's  Jackson  countered critics of federal regulation, saying that "[s]mart environmental protection can actually drive innovation."  Are some U.S. industries resisting innovation?  Are there ways--other than through their  lobbying against regulation--that they are putting themselves at a disadvantage in the world market?

The answer to both questions--according to Shapiro--is yes.


More information coming soon:

The Guardian had asked for the following, but I ran out of space because of the breaking news from the Obama admnistration:
  • who funds the critics
  • what things were like before the EPA existed
  • the EPA's budget

To give a more complete picture I'll also add:
  • Cass Sunstein's explanation to Jackson for Obama's September 2 statement
  • reactions to Obama's statement
  • the acceleration of funders' power because of the Supreme Court
  • the more moderate Republican critics with conservative cred  that say the EPA's methods are outdated but the severe critics are misguided:
  • the Democrat-sponsored legislation to weaken the EPA
  • the Republican-sponsored legislation for the same
  • the EPA's cost-benefit ratio, despite its critic's contentions
  • the  current weaknesses in EPA's power (standards of proof before regulation, etc, v.s. European standards)
  • Schapiro's  explanation of  how lobbying for weak regulation undermines U.S. status in the global economy


      Are Republicans Doing Oppo Research on Don Langrehr

      Photo of Don this July at the Ruritan fish fry by his neighbor Carol Brandt used with permission.


      Don Langrehr received the Democratic nomination for 12th District to the VA House of Delegates July 29. August 31, my friend and retired organizer Mark Barbour forwarded me something from Don's campaign.  Don says  that this week, the Town of Blacksburg received a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) for Town Council meeting minutes over the last 6 years from National Republican Congressional Committee.

      I'll update this as soon as I have time.  I need to interview some folks before I can write a decent piece, not just stenography, but given midnight September 1 deadline for donation reporting, I thought I'd pass on Don's rationale for why he needs your help.  I donated a bit at this link yesterday and some of my readers may want to do the same.  I think Langrehr, a Blacksburg Town Council member and Radford University education professor is someone who genuinely stands for equality and shared prosperity. 

      Don writes,

      I have a feeling that someone, perhaps a local Congressman, is not very fond of my candidacy for the General Assembly. I also get the feeling that our campaign will surely heat up over the next couple months with some blatantly negative advertising targeted at me.

      I must be prepared for any negative attacks on our campaign. Tomorrow at midnight is the filing deadline for the current financial reporting period and I need your financial help! A strong showing of financial support will demonstrate our resolve towards anything our opponents have planned....Please help send the message that any future dirty tricks are not going to derail our House of Delegates campaign.

      BTW, if you prefer to send a check:

      Don Langrehr for Delegate
      PO Box 10612
      Blacksburg, VA 24062


      Fracking Caused the Virginia Earthquake, NOT!

      Illustration adapted from a photo of the seismograph from Virginia Tech at the time of the August 23 earth quake with a epicenter near Mineral, Virginia.  If readers have additional questions, please add them in the comment section and I'll pass them on to Klose.  You can read reviews of this piece and/or add your own at NewsTrust.

      Life on the internet imitates  art

       Hurricane Irene, and before that Virginia's August 23  5.8  earthquake with its epicenter only  eleven miles as the crow flies from Dominion Energy's North Anna nuclear plant in Virginia--how much more havoc can we expect in the East? On August 23, art --in the form of a 2010 cartoon by Randall Monroe (website, blog)--predicted life:   The Twitterverse and other social media spread news the earthquake faster than the quake itself sent out its tremors.

      Click on the cartoon and it will appear large enough to read the captions.  Unfortunately, this was the only version I could find.  And, by the way, Monroe's strip, one of my favorites,  comes with a  warning:

      this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

       Unfortunately, new media can rapidly deploy misinformation

      Evidently, poor science writing can also be unsuitable for liberal arts majors.  Opponents of fracking were quick to send me (and others) an article attributing the Virginia earthquake to fracking. The author was  Stuart Jeanne Bramhall and her article appeared widely:  on Alternet, Open Salon, OpEdNews, and her own blog,The Most Revolutionary Act. And the misinformation spread from there, reaching even the news clipping services for the chemical industry.

      At least she signed her piece and included links, unlike an the author(s?) of even worse piece syndicated by Reader Supported News from Russia Today.

      I still had my doubts and asked my friend Rory McIlmoil (twitter), Project Manager of the Energy Program for Downstream Strategies to weigh in.  Rory wrote back,
      fracking has been associated with increased earthquake activity in Arkansas and Braxton County, WV. But fracking in no way could have caused the Virginia quake. There's no fracking anywhere near there.

      Cut-and-paste, rush-to-publish-and-syndicate "journalism"

      While Bramhall's  tone seems reasonable, her piece still has a fatal flaw.  Consder how she writes:

      According to geologists, it isn’t the fracking itself that is linked to earthquakes, but the re-injection of waste salt water (as much as 3 million gallons per well) deep into rock beds.
      Braxton County West Virginia (160 miles from Mineral) has experienced a rash of freak earthquakes (eight in 2010) since fracking operations started there several years ago. According to geologists fracking also caused an outbreak of thousands of minor earthquakes in Arkansas (as many as two dozen in a single day). It’s also linked to freak earthquakes in Texas, western New York, Oklahoma and Blackpool, England (which had never recorded an earthquake before).
       The problem:  Branhall  failed to interview said geologists about this particular quake.

      So what does a geohazard expert say about fracking and  the Virginia earthquakes?

      According to  Christian Klose (website, pictured below in a photograph he provided), while fracking can be associated with earthquakes, global statistics say that the geomechanical effects occur in a radiius of up to to 50 km radius.(That's only 31.068 miles--not the 160 miles cited by Bramhall.) 

      Klose--who studies human influences on geological events, or what he calls "geomechanical pollution"--says that according to his global study on human-triggered earthquakes
      the processes of injecting fluids deep underground [such as for fracking] can induce and trigger earthquakes of magnitudes greater than 4.5 if a) stress changes due to the injected fluids extend over a larger area and b) fault zones nearby are large enough and favorably oriented to set off earthquakes...As the name says, fracking is a controlled way to destroy intact impermeable rock to make it permeable for gas and fluids to flow. Each fracking indecent is a tiniy-tinty tremor. The goal is, however, to avoid large tremors (earthquakes).
      He tells me that at 4.5 magnitude, "earthquakes start to get are more or less damaging at that point."

      How I learned about my interview source

      Alexis Madrigal, who interviewed  Klose for Wired in 2007.  As someone who doubts the wisdom of  nuclear energy and mountaintop removal coal mining, I laughed at Madrigal's imaginative frame for his piece:

      In the first Superman movie, supervillain Lex Luthor plans to trigger a massive, California-detaching earthquake by detonating a couple of nuclear weapons in the San Andreas Fault.

      Crazy Lex! That scheme never would have worked, geologists will tell you. But, if he’d been serious about creating an earthquake, there are ways he could have actually done it. He would just have to inject some liquid (as some carbon-sequestration schemes propose) deep into the Earth’s crust, or bore a few hundred thousand tons of coal out of a mountain.
      Another geohazard: mining

      Mining operations account for bout half of human-triggered earthquakes, according to Klose's research.  Madrigal writes about the example of  Australia's only fatal earthquake in 1989 .  The quake killed 13 people, injured 160, and caused 3.5 billion U.S. dollars worth of damage.

      Klose tells me that's currently  equivalent currently to $5 billion--equal to 20% of the value of the produced coal  and  more than the the profit that was made on the coal extracted in the area.

      Australia had previously been a "stable area" --one with faults that did not produce earthquakes in the last 10,000 years.

      As for mountaintop removal, it's

       polluting, however, the question is whether a) there is a fault zone nearby that is large enough to produce an earthquake and greater than a magnitude of  4.5 and b) this fault zone is favorably oriented within the pre-existing tectonic stress field in the crust.
      And how about the proposed uranium mining in Virginia?  Klose tells  he needs more information, but that  it's

      possible but it depends on the geology in each specific mining area (50 km radius).

      When stable areas erupt

      Klose explained to me that even stable regions--those without earthquakes in the 500  to million year range--are still under stress.  That stress will  build up and be released during an earthquake at some point.
      A  "tiny" stress alteration... can set off an earthquake, because such faults are close to failure....

      What's tiny? According to Klose, a 1/10th of an atmosphere--which is the pressure equivalent to that exerted by 3'4" of water at 60 degrees F at sea level at the same latitude as Paris.The stress can have natural causes such as tectonic forces or changes on the the surface such as erosion or sedimentation of rivers.  But, if
      human activities are large enough, then they can...trigger earthquakes. [Thus]...stable regions have a higher chance to become active regions due to large-scale geoengineering....
      Klose adds that earthquakes in stable regions, for reasons not yet explained, tend to occur at half the depth of what national seismic networks estimate.  He adds,
      That's why they are so dangerous and can be easier triggered from...[alterations to]the surface of the earth's crust...

      Other geohazards:  dams, carbon sequestration and drilling

      Geoengineering can also include  dam reservoir construction (about one-third of human-triggered quakes); injecting liquids into the ground and drilling a gusher dry.

      Klose thinks carbon sequestration could generate earthquakes too and worries, according to Madrigal, that sequestration could occur near heavily populated regions.
      Unfortunately, coal-fired power plants are closer to cities.

      Klose told me more research needs to be done because
      There are no experiences and examples so far. Again, besides the used technology of mining, injection etc. it mainly depends on the geology in each specific area (50 km  [31 mile]radius.

      More information:
      USGS, FAQ on earthquakes caused by human activity
      Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources, earthquake information page, with useful links


      What Would Hal Willard Say About the North Anna Earthquake?

      Illustration is an adaptation of the Google satellite view of the North Anna plant, 11 miles as the crow flies from the August 23 5.8 earthquake's epicenter. (H/T to Sue Sturgis at the ISS whose post  alerted me to the 1970's WaPo coverage).

      Interesting that the The The Washington Post (WaPo)  writers didn't look in their own archives when writing about the August 23 earthquake, whose epicenter was 11 miles as the crow flies from Dominion Energy's North Anna nuclear power plant. As a result, no articles there about the 5.8 quake mention that officials of VEPCO  knew it was building on a fault line and got in trouble for concealing that from the NRC during the 70s. The paper started reporting on the story in 1973 when the Atomic Energy Commission began its investigation of  VEPCO. Hal Willard, the principle reporter on the story during that time, died in 2009. At the end of this post, you'll find a timeline compiled from the articles. More later when I can access the WaPo articles--anything before 1987 is not available for free online and the Roanoke County library doesn't have the the WaPo on microfilm.

      The North Anna Environmental Coalition,  with the late June Allen as president (d. 2010), fought construction and operating licenses for the plant  during that time. By 2005, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, fighting a third and fourth reactor at the North Anna site, issued a report from report on an earlier scandal regarding how the plant came to be constructed above a geological fault, which might be prone to earthquakes:
      The story begins in 1967, the year Vepco [Virginia Electric Power--Dominion Energy's former name for a portion of the current corporation] awarded the initial contract of $446 million for the North Anna Nuclear Station on the banks of the Pamunkey River in Louisa County. Vepco hired Dames & Moore, an environmental consulting firm, to do geology studies in support of the license application. Within a year evidence of seismic faults were found but Vepco resisted the findings. The truth would not remain hidden for long.
       I found this is the court documents (see paragraph 10).  Of course we know in hindsight that the conclusion was not accurate, but I'm wondering if it was even scientifically accurate at the time:

      the site was as stable as one without a fault and therefore it was determined that the presence of the fault did not require changes in design specifications for units one and two and also that the fault had no bearing on approval of the construction permits for units three and four.

      Renee Parsons (email) writes of June Allen:

      ...Allen’s investigative talents and ability to cut-through utility and NRC double-speak were apparent as she became an eloquent, hard-nosed intervener in 1972 pointing out what she saw as collusion between the NRC and Virginia Electric Power Company.  A classical pianist who wore pearls, Allen testified before Congress identifying the “nuclear-industrial complex” as an inherently unsafe technology and frequently attended VEPCO stockholder meetings. On one occasion, when spied in the audience, VEPCO’s Chairman stopped the meeting, extended an arm,  pointed a finger directly at June and announced with great indignation, “There is Mrs. Allen.”

      The Washington Post (35 articles):
      • August 28, 1973:  The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) begins its investigation of whether the Virginia Electric and Power Co. (VEPCO) withheld information about a geological fault beneath its nuclear power plant under construction on the North Anna River in Louisa County, VA.((North Anna) "AEC Probes Vepco on Site Data, Hal Willard, August 29, 1973, B1)
      • September 21, 1973:  VEPCO ordered to try immediately to find out if the lake itself could cause an earthquake. (" Quake Check Ordered At Nuclear Plant Site," Hal Willard, September,  22, 1973, C2)
      • September, 1973: WaPo reports on the geology and North Anna  in a 2,000+ word story ("A Geologic Fault Bedevils Reactor: The 'Devil' and the Reactor -- A Haunting Question,  Hal Willard, September 27, 1973, G1)
      • AEC Officials testify there will be a tightening up of plant requiremenets and inspection procedures to avoid "surprises" like discovery of a geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("AEC Acts to Avoid 'Surprises,'"Hal Willard Washington Post Staff Writer, October 4, 1973, H1)
      • October 17, 1973:  AEC orders VEPCO to show why it should be allowed to continue construction of North Anna. ("Vepco Told To Defend A-Plant Site, Hal Willard, October 18, 1973, C1)
      • November, 1973: VEPCO tells AEC that North Anna construction should continue because of "probability that the site will ultimately be found perfectly safe" -- and it would cost $127 million to stop work for six months .("Continue A-Plant, Firm Asks," Hal Willard, November 12, 1973, C1)
      • March 2, 1974: AEC's regulatory staff reports regarding geological faults, that North Anna site is safe, ("AEC Staff Finds Site Of Va. A-Plant Is Safe," March 3, 1974; D4)
      • March 20, 1974: Citizens fighting construction of the North Anna charge that the federal government is withholding geological evidence in the case. "Secrecy Charged on Vepco A-Plant Plan Study" Hal Willard, March 21, 1974, C8)
      • April, 1974: AEC panel concludes that the partially North Anna plant is not on an active earthquake site and that work on it should continue.("AEC Finds In Favor of Va. A-Plant, April 17, 1974, B4)
      • August, 1974:  Environmentalists have been unable to block construction of North Anna, but economic and labor problems bring work there to a virtual standstill. ("Work Halts At Nuclear Power Unit, Hal Willard, August 3, 1974, A7)
      • February 5, 1975:   A piece on Dr. John W. Funkhouser, who discovered the geologic fault beneath North Anna ("Legalities Swirl Over Nuclear Plant:  What Was in Deleted Deposition?" Hal Willard, February 6, 1975,  F1)
      • November 7, 1974: Earthquake recorded about 30 miles southwest of North Anna.  Both AEC and VEPCO say such a tremor would have no impact on a completed plant. (" Quake Felt in Va. In A-Plant Vicinity," Ron Shaffer, November 16, 1974, E3)
      • February, 1975: The drinking habits of  the murdered Funkhouser brought up in hearing to determine whether VEPCO officials made false or misleading statements to the NRC. ("Geologist's Drinking Habits Unearthed," Hal Willard,  February 20, 1975, F1)
      • March, 1975: Post prints piece on rising electric rates (" Electric Companies Stub Toes in the Dark," Hal Willard,  March 20, 1975,  D1)
      • May 28, 1975:  NRC staff recommends that VEPCO pay the largest fine in the history of the peacetime atom for making false statements about the geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("Nuclear Panel Urged To Fine Vepco Heavily, Hal Willard,  May 29, 1975, B3)May 29, 1975:  A VEPCO VP testifies that customers, not stockholders, should have to pay any fines levied for the company managements accused errors in judgement. ("Vepco: Let Users Pay," Hal Willard May 30, 1975, C1)
      • June, 1975: Justice Department asks Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to say whether criminal action should be taken against VEPCO because of "material false statements" the utility allegedly made concerning the geologic fault underlying North Anna. (no byline, "Vepco Criminal Action Is Left to Atomic Unit,"  June 21, 1975, B7)
      • June, 1975:  NRC informs Justice Department that it has found no evidence of criminal intent on the part of VEPCO executives responsible for material false statements about the geological fault beneath North Anna ("No Criminal Intent Seen in Vepco Reply," June 24, 1975, C3)
      • September 11, 1975:  The $60,000 penalties levied against VEPCO for North Anna are the "strongest ever imposed on the industry" ("Vepco Fined $60,000 for A-Plant Fault, Hal Willard, September 12, 1975,  A1)
      • January, 1976: According to new findings by NRC staff, the $60,000 fine levied the previous September against VEPCO by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, should be raised to $90,000("Vepco's Fine Said Too Low, William H. Jones, January 25, 1976, B1)
      • January 1976: Justice Department investigates  VEPCO's alleged material false statements in the early 1970s ("North Anna Statements Are Probed," January 30, 1976, C7)
      • June, 1976:  NRC stays an appeals board ruling that reduced a record $60,000 fine against VEPCO for making "material false statements" about a geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("Nuclear Unit Alters Vepco Fine," Hal Willard, June 5, 1976, D5)
      • November 12, 1976: The NRC fines VEPCO $32,500 for making seven "material false statements" about the presence of a geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("Nuclear Agency Fines Vepco," Hal Willard,  November 13, 1976, D4)
      • February 23,1977: VEPCO pays $31,900 fine imposed by NRC for 30 violations discovered in an investigation of construction practices at North Anna. ("Vepco Pays $31,900 Fine For A-Faults," Hal Willard,  February 24, 1977, B4)
      • September 30, 1977:  Justice Department says high-level NRC officials covered up for almost three months knowledge that a geologic fault existed under North Anna"U.S. Cover-Up Seen on Fault At Vepco Site," Joanne Omang, October 1, 1977, A1)
      • October 3, 1977, It is disclosed that NRC reprimanded its staff last November for covering up knowledge of the geological fault underneath North Anna, but only in a footnote in its ruling.("Nuclear Agency Staff Criticized in Footnote," Joanne Omang, October 4, 1977, C4)
      • October 6, 1977: Federal Energy Administration chief John O'Leary dismissed categorically any implication that he or NRC were involved in concealing the existence of a geological fault under North Anna in 1973. ("O'Leary Denies Concealing Fault," Joanne Omang,  October 7, 1977, B2)
      • February 1978: VEPCO, saying costs are rising faster than revenues, requests a 12.2 percent rate increase plus another 8 percent later in the year."Vepco Asks Rate Rise Of 12.2 Pct.,"Thomas Grubisich,  February 16, 1978, A1)
      • March 1, 1978:   4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds $32,500 fine on VEPCO for making false statements. ("Appeals Court Upholds $32,500 Fine on Vepco," Mar 2, 1978, C6)
      • June 1978: NRC investigates why staff gave contradictory dates on when it discovered that North Anna was being built on a geologic fault. ("Nuclear Agency Probes Vepco Plant Date Conflict," Thomas Grubisich,  June 15, 1978, C14)
      • September 7, 1978:  A witness charges that workers building North Anna are making up to $20,000 a month in unmonitored personal phone calls on VEPCO company phones. ("Witness Charges Waste at Vepco Plant," Phil McCombs,  September 8, 1978, B1)
      • October, 1978:  A thousand gallons of radioactive water accidentally flows out of a pipe on to a basement floor at North Anna, "slightly" contaminating 13 employes and causing a 12-hour  shutdown.(" Radioactive Water Spills At Va. Plant," Phil McCombs, October 28, 1978, C1)
      • March 1979:  In the wake of Three Mile Island Disaster, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors looks into construction of fallout shelters for county residents due to the location there of North Anna. ("Fallout Shelters Eyed For Residents in Louisa,"  March 22, 1979, C3)
      • May 1, 1979:  Critics talk about North Anna in wake of Three Mile Island ("Nuclear Critics Decry Vepco Safety Conditions, Karlyn Barker, May 1, 1979,C1)
      • September 25, 1979: A  series of malfunctions triggered a shutdown of  North Anna and a "small amount" of radio active gas is released. ("Radioactive Gas Emitted By Va. Plant: Malfunctions Shut Vepco North Anna Nuclear Facility Plant Emits Radioactive Gas," Stephen J. Lynton and Thomas Grubisich,  September 26, 1979, C1)
      • April 10, 1980:  NRC votes to let VEPCO begin trial operations of its second nuclear unit at North Anna.("NRC Lets Vepco Start Trial of 2nd North Anna Unit," Stephen J. Lynton,  Apr 11, 1980, A1)

      See also one article in The New York Times

      • October,  1977: The Justice Department charges that high-ranking officials at the NRC covered up information the geological fault under North Anna. ("U.S. Panel Accused Of Secrecy on Fault Under Nuclear Unit," David Burnham, October 2, 1977)


      Peter Galuszka (email, bio) has a great piece for September 2 in Bacon's Rebellion, "The Ghost of June Allen."
      Tammy Purcell, correspondent for The Fluvanna Review had a detailed piece including history of the opposition on October 26, 2011, "Shake up: Quake sparks concerns over North Anna’s past and future."


      Style over Substance: Jay Rosen on why political coverage is broken

      Jay Rosen (with whom I got to work on a project when I was at Newstrust) is in Australia today giving the keynote address at New News 2011, part of the Melbourne Writers Festival, co-sponsored by the Public Interest Journalism Foundation at Swinburne University of Technology. He's posted "Why Political Coverage is Broken" and I'm looking forward to reading this closely and commenting in detail.  (Right now I'm on deadline on a North Anna piece).

      In politics, our journalists believe, it is better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It's better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere, thoughtful or humane. Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.)

      One of his examples is Texas Governor and presidential aspirant Rick Perry's assertion that climate change is a hoax (a story that's been leading Memeorandum, which is why I find that site less than helpful for identifying good reading (v.s. trendy reading.)

      Rosen calls this  “verification in reverse” and asks about this whole thing of capitalizing on the creation of a political controversy over established facts.

      How should political journalists stand toward this technique?...As savvy insiders who know how the game is played and need to maintain their innocence? If they do that, and verification in reverse grows and succeeds, it will be the equivalent of running over the press with a truck. Journalism will become superfluous.

      See also:


      The Earthquake and North Anna

      Illustration adapted from Google Maps.  

      Author's note: the date stamp reflects when I first posted this piece, it is being  updated as other sources of information become available.

      I already knew that nuclear power presented problems with waste disposal and potential terrorism. Now I know about earthquakes.

      Some pundits on the right used the quake as an opportunity to take a dig at a vacationing Obama or Paul Krugman, for his alleged statement on quakes being an economic stimulus on a faked google+ page. Some on the the left, such as Media Matters and Washington Monthly  took it as an opportunity to take a dig at the right.

      I'm more concerned, though, with what Victor Gilinsky, an NRC commissioner at the time of Three Mile Island told Reuters,
      It is important to review the seismic design of the plant in terms of current knowledge... "Instead, the NRC has been relicensing plants without any real safety review - they do not question any of the original licensing conditions, they only check to see whether the plant has a program to deal with old equipment. It's an irresponsible approach.
      37.936°N, 77.933°W.  That's Tuesday's 5.8  earthquake epicenter and only  eleven miles as the crow flies,  from Dominion Energy's North Anna nuclear plant in Virginia.

      The Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRC) tells us Dominion's reactors lost external power and had to switch to four diesel generators.  According to Bloomberg, the NRC's David McIntyre one of those four diesel generators stopped working after startup.  Chris Gadomski, a nuclear analyst for Bloomberg explained why that's problematic:
      If we lose the backup diesel generators at North Anna, you can have a similar situation as Fukushima developing there. Virginia Power should try to restore offsite power as soon as possible.

      Just this spring, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had rated North Anna as the seventh most vulnerable plant. in the U.S., based on plant design and probability of earthquakes. Virginia's central seismic zone, where Tuesday's quake occurred, is one of the areas in the state where quakes are more common.

      After the  quake, former Department of Energy official Bob Alvarez told the watchdog group POGO, 

      The spent fuel pools at North Anna contain 4-5 times more than their original designs intended. As in Japan, all U.S. power nuclear power plant spent fuel pools do not have steel lined, concrete barriers that cover reactor vessels to prevent the escape of radioactivity. They are not required to have back-up generators to keep used fuel rods cool, if offsite power is lost. Even though they contain these very large amount of radioactivity, spent reactor fuel pools in the U.S. are mostly contained in ordinary industrial structures designed to protect them against the elements.
      Alvarez's complete blog post is here.  In it he discusses a concern beyond core damage, presented by earthquakes:  what would happen to the water-filled pools used to store spent fuel at most U.S. nuclear plants.

      On April 25,Reed Williams (email) at the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported 

      Tuesday's earthquake apparently shook small protective devices at the North Anna Power Station enough to shut down the plant's two nuclear reactors....Dominion Virginia Power would not say exactly when it expects the reactors — representing nearly 13 percent of the state's electric generating capacity — will start producing power again, but it will likely take days....

      Data journalist David Kroodsma (email) put together interactive maps of earthquake risks to U.S. nuclear power plants.  I've asked him for specifics on North Anna after the August 23 quake.  He wrote back that he's on vacation, but I hope to get some answers upon his return to work.

      In Blacksburg, Virginia  Tech  evacuated the library because the sixth floor was shaking. On the second floor, where I was sitting,  the floor merely  jiggled, as if the person in the next computer carrel was rocking in his chair. According to the University's Department of Geosciences, a magnitude 5.5 eastern U.S. earthquake usually can be felt as far away as 300 miles and sometimes causes damage as far away as 25 mi.  The Department has a page dedicated to the August 23 quake here.

      With dense surface rock and and an origin only 3.7 miles deep, Callan Bentley of Northern Virginia Community College and Alexis Madrigal over at The Atlantic explain why  the Virginia quake spread to 22 states and Washington, D.C.  In Washington, three pinnacles on the National Cathedral crumbled, the Washington Monument cracked  and National Mall monuments closed. NBC's Jim MiklaszewskiI says that he, like many other people in the Pentagon,  thought they'd been hit again, as they had been on 9-11.  In New York City, the police ordered the evacuation of City Hall.

      Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle said the plant was designed to withstand an earthquake of this size. But Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists told Reuters,
      It was uncomfortably close to design basis...If Fukushima wasn't a wake-up call, this really needs to be to get the NRC and industry moving to do seismic reviews of all the nuclear power plants in the country.

      As recently as August 1, his group had questioned why the NRC wasn't implementing its own task force recommendations on safety:
      If the Commissioners delay action on the grounds that they do not yet have enough information about what happened at Fukushima to move forward with the recommendations, then it means the NRC also does not have enough information to move forward with relicensing existing reactors or licensing new reactors. In this case, the NRC should institute a moratorium on such business dealings until enough information about Fukushima is available to move ahead on both safety and business issues
      It's not like problems at North Anna are new, As Sue Sturgis at the Institute for Southern Studies Studies pointed out :

      The risks of a quake at North Anna were known as far back as 1970. In 1975, then-owner Vepco was fined $60,000 -- the maximum allowed by law -- for building the plant over a known geologic fault, the Washington Post reported at the time. Vepco was convicted of making 12 false statements to the NRC about the fault's existence.

      So, despite the assurances from the utility and its supposed regulators, I'll continue to wonder about the wisdom of our nuclear renaissance, especially in the wake of Fukushima.  Despite the campaign by the purveyors of nuclear power and fossil fuels, there are better ways to meet our needs for electricity.


      More earthquake coverage: 

      East Coast earthquake: How does a 5.9 temblor happen in Virginia?: Fault lines in the East are not as apparent or as active as in the West, but certain stresses can lead to a rupture. Tuesday's East Coast Earthquake was the biggest in 100 years.