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November 10, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Monday, November 10, 2008

By KIM BARTO - Bulletin Staff Writer

Helping the planet can be as simple as a trip to the hardware store, a speaker told attendees at the Garden Club of Virginia's 50th annual conservation forum Friday.

Jeff Barrie, filmmaker of the award-winning documentary "Kilowatt Ours," shared tips for saving energy and money with about 180 people Friday at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

"This could be one of the greatest energy solutions in America, and it's $12 a bucket," Barrie told the audience, holding up a small container of duct sealant.
Sealing leaky ducts around a house saves energy that is wasted during heating and cooling, he said, and it is one of many simple ways people can reduce their use of coal power.

It takes six tons of coal to power the average Virginia home each year, Barrie said.

"Imagine if every home in Virginia cut coal usage in half - we're talking millions of pounds of coal," he said.

The problem of global warming is real, Barrie said, but "the solutions are just as real and tangible."

Conservation is important because the mountains of Virginia and other Appalachian states literally are being destroyed to power American homes, speakers said during the forum, called "Mountaintop Removal and Coal-Fired Power: What Every Virginian Should Know."

One way to conserve is swapping regular light bulbs for compact fluorescents, which use 80 percent less electricity and last much longer than incandescent bulbs, Barrie said.

"It's simple, and it works," he said.

Some people are concerned about the mercury content of the bulbs, he said, but the amount is "tiny; enough to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen," whereas a new coal-fired power plant would emit 72 pounds of mercury a year.

Plugging appliances into power strips and turning the strips off when not in use can save the average home 500 pounds of energy a year, Barrie said.

"As long as electronics are plugged into the wall, they are drawing current 24 hours a day," whether they are on or off, he said. The power strips cut off these "phantom loads," he added.

One basic rule of thumb is, "When you leave a room, turn it off," he said.

Barrie's presentation wrapped up the forum after representatives from the Sierra Club and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards talked about mountaintop removal mining's harmful effects on people and the environment. They also spoke against a proposed coal-fired power plant in Wise County in southwestern Virginia.

Mountaintop removal is a mining method where "instead of taking the coal out of the mountain, they take the mountain off the coal," said Mary Ann Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's mountaintop removal campaign.

To extract the coal, mountains are systematically blown up, and valleys are filled in with tons of resulting spoil, including trees, rocks and plants.

So far, the process has obliterated 473 mountains, including 29 in Virginia, and more than 1,000 miles of streams have been buried, Hitt said.

There are a few jobs generated by mountaintop removal, but the economic benefits are short-term, she said.

"When the coal is gone, jobs are gone," she said, adding that the process leaves behind a polluted, decimated area that cannot attract new industry.

Of Dominion's proposed power plant in Wise County, she said, "We do not need it. Through energy efficiency, we could save enough energy equivalent to 10 Wise County power plants."

Mountaintop removal has affected more than 25 percent of Wise County. Hitt showed the audience satellite footage of the affected areas from the Web site

Three Wise County residents from the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards gave firsthand accounts of what it is like for people living near mountaintop removal sites.

Kathy Selvage said she was inspired to act when a mining company "decapitated" one of the mountains in her community.

Living next to such a mining site means that "dust invades your home, even though the windows are shut and locked," she said. "It's a ghastly sulfuric kind of smell ... It permeates your taste buds."

Sirens, explosions and truck traffic continue 24 hours a day, "which makes for many sleepless nights," she said.

Selvage said she hoped leaders would replace the "old 19th-century energy policy" with a "new, green Virginia economy with new green job opportunities from investments in wind and solar" power.

Former mine inspector Larry Bush called mountaintop removal "one of the most destructive, devastating practices I've ever seen."

Bush said he lives within a quarter-mile of a mine site, where "you can't even tell what color your vehicle is" and "people are held captive in their own homes" from all the dust and debris in the air.

"The people in these communities are suffering. We feel we've been abandoned by our legislature," he said.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards President Pete Ramey, a retired coal miner and mine foreman and the district chaplain for the VFW, also spoke.
Ramey said protecting the environment is a spiritual cause and means taking care of God's creation.

"What is done to the environment affects us all," he said. "The resources on Earth are here for us to use, but they are being misused."

Karen Jones of the Martinsville Garden Club, who co-chaired the forum, said she was "thrilled" with the event's attendance.

"I love the fact that we ended with some very practical information that we can use to save kilowatt hours as well as money," Jones said. "The museum did a beautiful job."

The event ended with the presentation of two Elizabeth Cabell Dugdale Awards for Conservation, given to Robert G. Burnley of Richmond and Stan Breakell of Roanoke.

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