Systemic and environmental injustices can be mitigated | Opinion

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Angie Rosser, Executive Director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Charleston, posted a public comment on the Environmental Protection Agency notice titled “Meetings: White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council”. The commentary was written on December 2 and posted on December 3.

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Whereas the WHEJAC (White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council) provides advice and recommendations on “issues of environmental justice and pollution reduction, energy, climate change mitigation and resilience, environmental health and racial inequality, ”1 WV Rivers would like to share concerns regarding regulatory, community and economic issues related to environmental justice in West Virginia. The issues we want to highlight in our state are areas of environmental sacrifice, inequitable energy resources, unsanitary drinking water, climate disasters, and gas pipelines as symptoms of systemic environmental injustices that can be alleviated through adoption. thoughtful, science-based policies.

● Areas of Environmental Sacrifice: Approximately 96,000 people live in an industrial cancer risk area around Charleston, West Virginia, where the highest estimated lifetime excess cancer risk from industrial sources is 36 times the acceptable risk by the EPA due to emissions from neighboring facilities. These areas of environmental sacrifice disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color. Notably, the highest risk toxic hotspot in West Virginia (1 in 280) has a high concentration of blacks and is home to the historically black college, West Virginia State University.

In communities close to mountain-top coal mining, residents living near surface mines face higher rates of death from cancer, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease.3

West Virginia has the highest risk of toxic exposure to selenium leaching into waterways from coal mining and industrial pollution in the country.4

Drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in low-income communities, once centered on coal companies and now bankrupt, also face disproportionate neglect, leading to boil water advisories. water over several years and water service interruptions.5, 6

Air and water pollution from coal has direct impacts on health and ecosystems, and the vestiges of the 20th century concept of the “corporate city” further lead to reduced life expectancy. life and emigration in these communities.7

With the second-lowest median household income among the 50 states, many communities in West Virginia are considered disadvantaged at the federal level. Additionally, a 150% increase in average monthly residential electricity bills for American Electric Power customers over the past 15 years has made energy less accessible to residents.8

Whereas the Justice initiative40 is committed to directing “40% of the overall benefits” of federal investments in the environment and energy to disadvantaged communities; 9 it is essential that the WHEJAC provide recommendations to combat the damages pollutants inflicted on communities located in the West Virginia sacrifice areas in the “Chemical Valley”.

● Climate disasters: In West Virginia, climate change is often expressed through water, especially flooding. West Virginia has one of the highest flood risk in the country, according to a recent report10 from the First Street Foundation, nearly one in four properties in the state is at high risk of flooding. Additionally, more than one in 10 properties in West Virginia are almost certainly at risk of flooding in the next 30 years. Dunbar, in particular located between two toxic hot spots mentioned above in “environmental sacrifice zones”, presents an extreme risk of flooding; this is the highest risk level in the state, with around 80% of residential properties at high risk.11

Historically, floods have devastated parts of the state. In 2016 and 1985, floods destroyed properties and businesses, killing 23 and 63 people respectively.12

Climate adaptation measures must be focused on environmental justice through sufficient investments in communities vulnerable to climate disasters, such as floods.

● Gas Pipelines: Completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) will directly harm communities along its route and affect all of West Virginia by damaging our mountains and water resources. The issuance of a permit for the realization of the MVP would be contrary to the public interest and would devastate the surrounding environment. Some worrying impacts of this pipeline are damage to the habitats of endangered species, degradation of water quality and contribution to the effects of climate change which have a disproportionate impact on underserved and minority populations. Specifically, “low-income communities, senior residents and Indigenous sites” are most at risk along the proposed 303-mile pipeline. 13

This project will permanently alter the soils and hydrology of approximately 10 acres of wetlands that are vital for habitat, flood reduction and water quality improvement. As a result, this creates the risk of flooding with increased scouring of unconsolidated material in the stream bed, potentially exposing the pipe during high flow rates. In addition to the many private wells and springs along the route, the MVP has the potential to impact the potable water supply of 8 public water utilities. Already, development has degraded water quality with only a small fraction of water crossings completed. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection have cited the MVP approximately 300 times for violating water quality standards. Ultimately, the pipeline will bring significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere, accelerating the impacts of climate change.14

Environmental injustice in West Virginia can be seen as cyclical. The direct damage imposed by polluting and extractive industries through air pollution or water contamination in sacrificed areas creates long-term health and ecological consequences, often for vulnerable populations. The emissions produced by these industries contribute more to global warming and exacerbate more frequent and intense climate disasters. As WHEJAC reviews draft recommendations for the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the White House Interagency Council on Environmental Justice of the Justice40 Working Group, the Tool Working Group Climate and Economic Justice Review and Scorecard Task Force, we urge board members to consider West Virginia communities in the discussion.

Footnotes :

1 / https://www.regulations.gov/document/EPA-HQ-OA-2021-0683-0001

2 / https://projects.propublica.org/toxmap/

3 / https://appvoices.org/end-mountaintop-removal/health-impacts/

4 / https://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/energy_and_environment/west-virginia-under-toxic-threat-from-hig hest-industrial-selenium-pollution-levels-in-the-country / article_5a99d49c-3362-5273 -87ab-c6235827a164.html

5 / https://www.wvpublic.org/news/2020-03-02/clean-water-wanted-contaminated-wells-and-the-legacy-of-fossil-fuel-extraction

6 / https://www.wvpublic.org/news/2017-02-17/drinking-water-from-an-abandoned-mine-really

7 / https://marshallcop26.files.wordpress.com/2021/10/just_energy_transtions_long.pdf

8 / https://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/energy_and_environment/wv-advocates-urge-state-leaders-to-capi talize-on-federal-environmental-justice-push-by-embracing-clean / article_42153091-6bd6 -56d3-b5a2-6bd8 ef8594e6.html

9 / https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/M-21-28.pdf

10 / https://assets.firststreet.org/uploads/2021/09/The-3rd-National-Risk-Assessment-Infrastructure-on-the-B rink.pdf

11 / https://floodfactor.com/city/dunbar-westvirginia/5422564_fsid

12 / https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/

13 / https://appvoices.org/fracking/mountain-valley-pipeline/

14 / https://wvrivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/ACOE-MVP-Public-Hearing-Factsheet.pdf


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