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Jessee Wallace: Reclaiming Southwest Virginia to a cleaner environment for a better community | Columnists

Jessee Wallace: Reclaiming Southwest Virginia to a cleaner environment for a better community | Columnists

The beauty and ecological diversity of Southwest Virginia are remarkable. It also has a strong, tight-knit community. Southwest Virginia has much to offer, from the mountains to the streams and Clinch River (which the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources calls the crown of the mountain kingdom),

My family has called this beautiful land home for many generations. We are proud to have so. My ancestors gave their lives for the coal industry, which provided energy for the state and economic vitality to our region. After decades of hard work in coal mining, the beauty of Southwest Virginia’s environment has been covered in tons of toxic coal waste. This hazardous waste is also known as gob and must be removed in order to reclaim these sites.

Tons of gob have built up over the years, causing heavy metals and acids to seep into our streams and creeks, poisoning our water supply, and releasing gases like methane or carbon monoxide into our air. As a member of Russell County Board of Supervisors and Virginia Water Control Board, I take pride and ensure that my neighbors, friends and family have a beautiful, prosperous community to call their home.

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There are solutions for coal waste. We can clean up the environment and communities with new technology. We can convert gob into energy using strict air quality controls. Facilities like the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center can repurpose, recycle, and reclaim coal waste. The Appalachian School of Law also studies ways to clean up. Conversion of gob into electricity is improving our environment, creating local jobs, and building our economy. In fact, Southwest Virginia’s gob removal efforts support more than 500 local jobs, $8.5 million annually in local tax revenue, $25 million annually in economic impact. These are important contributions that help our region thrive. Other states have also had success with these.

Virginia’s cleanup efforts are actually following Pennsylvania’s successful restoration of 1,200 streams and reclamation on more than 7,200 acres abandoned mine lands using a comparable process.

Despite the tremendous progress made, there is still a lot of gob piles left in Southwest Virginia. We must keep making progress. I encourage fellow Virginians, as well our legislators, to join me in supporting gob elimination, reclaiming our environment and building up our economy.

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We have the opportunity to transform something that was once a pollution to our environment and community into something Virginians can be proud to call a quality of life.

For generations, Southwest Virginia has been home to me and my ancestors. It is crucial that we make it a home for future generations.

Lou Ann Jessee Wallace is a member of both the Russell County Board of Supervisors as well as the Virginia Water Control Board.

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