Saturday, November 17, 2012

Big Victory for Wildlands

Patriot coal announced this week that it was stepping away from mountaintop removal in Appalachia.  Although a far distance from America's southwestern deserts, industrial-scale energy development is a familiar threat to conservationists whether you live in West Virginia or California.
Mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. Photo from Sierra Club announcement on Patriot Coal settlement.
The Patriot Coal announcement is the result of sustained pressure from the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club, and West Virgnia Highlands Conservancy. Patriot is one of the three largest mountaintop coal mining companies, so its announcement is a reason to celebrate, although there is more work to be done to save the wildlands of Appalachia from other coal companies and industrial-scale wind.  The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, one of the groups involved in pressuring Patriot Coal, is also fighting to save the region's ridgelines from industrial-scale wind, which has destroyed viewsheds, fragmented habitat, and has begun to take a severe toll on the area's bird and bat population. 

According to its website, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (WVHC) is demanding higher standards from the wind energy industry.  WVHC and a host of other environmental groups -- including  Save Western Maryland, American Bird Conservancy, Friends of Blackwater, Allegheny Highlands Alliance, Friends of Beautiful Pendleton County, Laurel Mountain Preservation Association, Allegheny Front Alliance -- are focusing efforts on the Criterion Wind energy project in  western Maryland.   The Criterion Wind project consists of 28 turbines -- much smaller than some of the desert-based wind energy projects under consideration or construction -- but which threatens the endangered Indiana bat.

According to WVHC's website:

In response to a lawsuit brought by Save Western Maryland and other interested parties, Criterion agreed to seek an Incidental Take Permit for Indiana bats to comply with the ESA. During its first full year of operation (2011), Criterion conducted daily monitoring for bat and bird mortality between April 5 and November 15. Although no Indiana bat deaths were confirmed, Criterion estimates that the project killed approximately 1,093 other bats (39.03 bats per turbine) and 448 birds (16.01 birds per turbine). This rate is described in the draft Environmental Assessment as the highest per-turbine bird mortality ever estimated at a studied wind project in the United States, and as the highest per-turbine bird mortality ever documented in North America.
Wind turbines.  Photo from joint WVHC and American Bird Conservancy announcement. Photo by Mike Parr.
Folks in Appalachia, much like desert conservationists, are dealing with a double threat -- fossil fuels and industrial-scale renewable energy taking a toll on the landscapes we are trying to protect. The urgency to protect our wildlands and communities from climate change should not translate into an urgency to destroy what we treasure.  It's time for Washington to stop subsidizing industrial destruction of our beleaguered landscapes, and implement a feed-in-tariff that favors distributed generation, and the freedom for communities, homeowners, and businesses to finance local clean energy and energy efficiency improvements.

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