Sarah Nealen shares her experiences:
Greetings from Charlottesville, VA! I have been working with the Air and Energy group at the Southern Environmental Law Center, almost exclusively on an effort to halt the construction of new coal-fired power plant in southwest Virginia. The plant, which is currently being built by Dominion Virginia Power, will emit a variety of pollutants into the environment around southwest Virginia, including the Clinch River and several federal wilderness areas. It will also lead to an increase in mountaintop removal mining, a form of strip mining in which the forest is cleared from a mountain and the top of the mountain is blown off with explosives. The resulting debris is dumped into a nearby stream, a practice known as “valley fill.” In Wise County, where the new plant will be located, 25% of the county has already succumbed to MTR, and another 8% is slated for destruction.
I began my summer a few weeks before a public hearing to finalize and vote on air permits for the facility, so there was plenty to do right out the gate. I was able to accompany my attorneys to the hearing and meet our clients, who have formed a grassroots coalition fighting to save their community and their way of life. We were able to get much stricter air permits than had been proposed, but they were still issued and the company was able to begin construction. SELC has now appealed both the State Corporation Commission’s decision to allow Dominion to recover the costs of the $1.8 billion plant through its ratepayers and the Air Pollution Control Board’s decision to issue air permits not in compliance with the Clean Air Act. The last few weeks of my internship have focused on writing initial drafts of the petitions for appeal of the air permits. This has been a fantastic learning experience, and I am grateful to the Equal Justice Foundation and its donors for making this summer possible.