By Natalie Thiele
We all know West Virginia’s government is rigged to sacrifice regular people, but let me share the latest, horrific example: Governor Justice’s administration is jamming through the Antero Frackwaste dump in Ritchie and Doddridge counties, that will threaten so many families with the same sort of future that cancer-ridden Minden, WV, is experiencing right now. Let’s go over what the appeals process entails…
You may have seen our Call-To-Action asking people to submit comments opposing Antero’s proposed frackwaste dump that threatens the drinking water of about a third of Ritchie County, and everyone downstream, including Parkersburg and parts beyond.
If you’re unfamiliar with the proposed frack dump, we’ve talked about it before, and you can also read the West Virginia Rivers Coalition’s list of reasons the permit must be denied. The proposal is terrible for the people who live here: Antero doesn’t want to test for the right kind of radiation, it proposes to place substances with a potentially 1600 year half-life on 30 year landfill liners, there are no enforceable limits on the pollutants flowing out of the frack dump, it threatens the water supplies…
We’re a Sacrifice Zone
So WV DEP granted the permit. It was not unexpected—they seem to approve every stupid thing, no matter how many citizens beg them not to—but it is still a blow to a community already struggling with water issues.
Those of us at The Appalachian Oracle are working people, angry about the stupid way our state government prioritizes making money for corporate political donors over the needs of the people who actually live here. We’re unpaid volunteers who think that we need working class voices to be heard in the legislature.
That’s who we are. So let me tell you about the kind of effort it takes for working people to try to protect ourselves from corporate aggression.
Herculean Effort meets the Beat-Down Bureaucracy
We discovered almost too late that there was only a one-month period to appeal the permit to count toxic frackwaste outflow as stormwater that can flow into the Hughes River. Fortunately, we found another citizen group who had started earlier than we did (and who had experience working on appeals), and we were able to join them.
The petition is ongoing, and we hope to submit more signatures to the Environmental Quality Board later in the appeals process. SIGN THE PETITION.
But so you know how much our government is rigged to sacrifice regular people to the corporate bottom line, we want to share the steps you have to go through when you need to figure out how to stop a company from poisoning a community—and everyone downstream.
Take a look at this page: Filing an Appeal with the Environmental Quality Board. There are actually 13 pages of material about the appeals and hearing process. And the instructions are neither clear nor straightforward.
How many copies of the appeal should you make, you wonder? Ten. Seven for the Board, two for DEP departments, one for Antero. But the “Filing an Appeal” page only indicates seven, plus a hint that you’ll be serving some to “all parties of the appeal.”
No where are all the requirements set out in an easy-to-understand manner. They don’t want it to be easy to understand. One suspects they’d rather be able to deny the appeal on a technicality—whoops, not enough copies!—than have to go through the motion of denying on the merits.
The Tortuous Appeals Process
Getting the permit and all the required copies of the entire appeal packet really illustrate a lot of what is wrong with the process. Ask yourself: How much of a time burden should you be required to shoulder every day just trying to protect your drinking water? How much should you be required to pay to keep your drinking water safe? Isn’t that what we pay DEP employees for?
The answer to those questions, according to Governor Justice, is currently LOTS, LOTS, and NO.
So. Let’s pretend your full appeal totals three pages: a Notice of Appeal, a page of specific objections, and a Certificate of Service (in reality, the appeal we joined was much longer than this). That’s 30 pages, minimum, to print or copy. Okay, not bad. That’s also ten envelopes and close to $5.00 in stamps.
But remember, the Board wants one printed copy of the permit you are appealing. First you have to find it. Take a look at how to do that. Do you know the permit number? If not…
- Find “Permitting” and click “See More.”
- Click “Water Resources Permit Search” for a search form.
- You can try selecting an affected county—“Ritchie”—and start the search. For this frack dump, you’ll get 912 permits to dig through. Is that too many?
- You can try using the company name, “Antero,” in the “Identify permittee” field and search. That narrows it down! You ONLY have 121 permits to dig through.
- Assuming you’ve gone through all those permits and finally figure out that the permit has to be the “Antero Solid Waste Landfill, WV0117579,” click that permit.
But the page you are taken to if you click that number is not the permit. No, that’s just the permit number you need to find the permit.
And you need to print a copy of the actual permit in order to appeal. So WHERE is the permit?
You’ve got to go to this seemingly secret page to search. It is buried on their website. We would never have found this search page without someone else telling me about it.
In fact, try searching for an “ePermitting” link on the DEP’s main page by entering “ePermitting” into the “Search WV DEP” tool. Nope.
So if you’re “just” a citizen like we are, did you waste time going through the 900 or 100 permits? Did you go through a pile of old newspapers looking to see if there’s a legal notice or a permit number? How many hours should you be required to spend just trying to find the permit? Try fitting this in to your workday. Because most people probably can’t just take time off from their jobs, or their lives—getting the kids to school, doctor’s appointments, laundry and everything else—to fill an appeal.
So it’s a leap, but let’s skip forward, and just pretend you knew the secret ePermitting link all along, or that you had a friend who could tell you about it.
- Search using the permit number: WV0117579.
- Click the link from the search results; you’re in the right neighborhood now.
- Click “Print” in the left sidebar.
- Check the box that says “Select all the sections to print” and then “Generate Report.”
You should have a print-ready form, now.
The permit is about 322 pages long. And you’ve got to include one paper copy with your original appeal packet.
If you were hoping to print at home, that’s probably out the window. It might be 5 or 10 cents a copy at your library or a print shop. You’re spending $32, give or take, just to make sure your appeal doesn’t get rejected on a technicality. And if you’re sending your materials by mail, your total cost to appeal just increased significantly. How much does it cost for packaging and postage on more than half a ream of paper?
You can also drive down to Charleston to hand deliver the appeal, to save yourself shipping costs. But only if you have a reliable car, gas money, and free time during the workweek that coincides with the Environmental Quality Board’s office hours. And parts of this state, particularly in the eastern panhandle, aren’t really a day trip to Charleston.
How are we doing so far?
The Purposeful Burden of the Rigged System
They don’t want us to succeed, that’s the bottom line.
Do you know what the good folks at the EQB have? A computer and an internet connection (in Appalachia, by the way, not everyone is fortunate enough to have an Internet connection). I bet EQB has a printer, too. Extra toner cartridges, reams of paper, the works.
But they make it OUR burden.
Why can’t EQB advise us on how to find a permit? Why won’t they print it, if they need a printed copy? For that matter, why does it need printing out, when any party can access it online?
We didn’t ask for this: we didn’t ask for Antero to target our community with its toxic waste. But they have burdened us with it, nonetheless. Now we are bound to spend money, time, and effort… or just accept being sacrificed.
I’ve got a few guesses why this whole process requires so much of regular people like us: that’s how it’s designed.
It’s time consuming, stressful, and uncomfortably costly to appeal a DEP permit through the EQB. The person coordinating the Antero frackdump appeal, Tom Rhule, says he’s never known anyone who won their appeal. It’s important to do, he says, but it’s a ultimately a hoop we have to jump through if we want to be able to bring legal action to protect the drinking water of the residents of Ritchie County, of Parkersburg, and parts downstream.
Jack and the Giant
Imagine now that you don’t happen to luck into another group working on your appeal, like we did—a group with a smart, dedicated, experienced coordinator who lives in Charleston and who can hand-deliver the appeal on your side.
Imagine you’re the only one standing between corporate violence being visited on your family, your property, your neighbors, and you have to figure it out on your own. You have to get it right…
It’s all up to you.
You spend your time and resources researching how to appeal the dangerous permit, follow the fussy requirements, and with your own money, you print and deliver the hundreds and hundreds of required pages. You probably don’t have a lawyer helping you, but Antero is likely to bring their army of professional lawyers to the hearing… if you even get a hearing.
It’s you against the giants. And they have all the resources.
Remember, frackers purposefully locate facilities in places where people don’t have the money to fight back; that’s why poor marginalized communities bear disproportionate costs of fracking.
The process is rigged to sacrifice regular people like you and your family.
The company wants you to give up.
The state wants you to give up.
The Environmental Quality Board-–appointed by our Coal-Baron-in-Chief Governor
inJustice—wants you to give up, because MONEY.
They ALL want you to give up.
We have to HOLLER FROM THE HOLLERS and demand the right to refuse this risk.
Remember Minden. Because no community should be sacrificed like that just to line corporate pockets.