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WISE — Bristol, Virginia’s, landfill, West Virginia’s governor and a shifting energy economy’s impact on Southwest Virginia were at the top of a list of concerns area residents and activists brought before a state advisory council Monday.

The Virginia Council on Environmental Justice, which advises Gov. Ralph Northam on environmental issues affecting communities, came to The University of Virginia’s College at Wise for its October meeting.

While state Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Ann Jennings opened the meeting with several references to the state’s progress in improving conditions in the Chesapeake Bay, the Rev. Sam Weddington of Bristol, Tennessee’s, First Presbyterian Church said the Bristol, Virginia, landfill was overwhelming Twin Cities residents with toxic gases.

Weddington said one family in his congregation had to leave their house at 10 p.m. on Wednesday because of gases from the landfill.

“That’s the reality people in Bristol face on a nightly basis,” Weddington said, adding that various engineers and experts have said the gases include benzene and toluene compounds. Nighttime temperature inversions often contain the gases from the 27-acre landfill over a 20-square-mile area on both sides of the state line.

“The design of the landfill is flawed,” Weddington said of the former quarry’s combination of collected water and accumulated garbage. Water containing toxic compounds flows into the cities’ sewer systems, he said, and temperatures taken at test wellheads around the landfill have shown temperatures as high as 195 degrees Fahrenheit — indicators of possible underground fires.

Conditions at the landfill include five of six Federal Emergency Management Agency criteria for an underground blaze, Weddington said. Bristol, Virginia, has seen fiscal problems from economic development issues in recent years, he added, and the city depends on out-of-state contracts for the landfill for part of its revenue.

Weddington told the council he wanted state agencies to hold a public hearing on the landfill with a review of the landfill’s operating permit.

A combination of a declining coal economy and bankrupt coal companies often leaves Southwest Virginia communities facing the costs of reclaiming abandoned mines sites, said Adam Malle of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.

Malle said state and federal regulatory agencies need to hold coal companies accountable for mine reclamation. He cited the Looney Ridge mine operation near Appalachia, which was run by a company controlled by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, as an example of how the state Department of Energy — Virginia Energy — has had to get mine companies to comply with their bond requirements for site cleanup.

Matt Hepler, also of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, said about 50 mine companies in the region declared bankruptcy between 2012 and 2018 and forfeited their bonds — inadequate to cover full site reclamation.

Randy Moore, director of coal programs at Virginia Energy, said that Justice-controlled companies took over three Wise County mines in 2009. With a declining coal market after the takeover, Moore said the agency began enforcing a compliance agreement with Justice in 2014. Since then, Justice has been fined $3.46 million and had paid about $2 million while working on site reclamation.

“We will push the Justice companies and other operators to complete reclamation,” Moore said.

Robert Kell of Appalachian Voices’ New Economy Network program said Virginia needs to consider the impact on communities as fossil fuel power plants are decommissioned in coming years. The state will see 40 plants — coal, biomass, natural gas and oil-fired — shut down and affect about 10,000 related jobs.

Kell said Dominion Energy’s Virginia City hybrid power plant in Wise County is slated to stay open until 2045.

The plant does not supply electricity locally but to power grids in the North during high-demand periods, he added. That demand is dropping, he added.

“We don’t believe it will stay open that long,” Kell said, adding that Virginia government has a responsibility to help communities impacted by the loss of coal and related energy jobs. That help should include help with diversification, replacing lost jobs and revenue and repairing environmental damage.

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