New Plan from U.S. Forest Service Will Allow Fracking in Virginia

According to The Washington Post, the U.S. Forest Service has backed away from a proposal that would ban fracking in the George Washington National Forest, a decision which undoubtedly  likely to upset conservationists opposed to the controversial practice.

The new plan will allow drilling on certain areas of land. The original plan proposed three years ago would have prohibited fracking for oil and gas inside of the national forest which encompassed 1.1 million acres in Virginia and West Virginia.

Tom Tidwell, chief of the Forest Service said, “The initial draft was one way to go at it, but our policy is we deal with surface issues and we do not get involved in how and what methodology is used to extract oil and gas.”

While the Forest service has not taken a position on fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, they have decided to stop leasing additional land for energy extration. About 10,000 acres within the forest are already leaded to oil and gas companies who own underground mineral rights for an additional 167,000 acres according to the Forest Service.

Virginia Congressmen to Appeal Redistricting Rule

According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia’s Republican congressman are looking to appeal a recent federal court ruling saying that state legislators packed too many African American voters into one district in order to make neighboring districts safer for Republicans.

An attorney for seven Republican congressman and the recently resigned Rep. Eric Cantor filed paperwork on Thursday saying that his clients are appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The panel of judges ruled 2-1 on oct. 7 that the state’s congressional districts could remain intact for the Nov. 4 election, but the General Assembly had to draw new boundaries by April 1 to correct the flaw.

The main issue is the number of black voters in the state’s 3rd district, which since 1991 has had a black majority. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, a Democrat currently represents the district.

Virginia Looks to Increase Their Ebola Response

Yesterday, Virginia health officials debuted a new Ebola response plan that will include increased monitoring of incoming travelers from high-risk regions in West Africa, reports The Richmond-Times Dispatch.

While the plan does not include a mandatory quarantine for health workers returning from the Ebola zone, Virginia Health Commissioner Marissa Levine said that she has the legal authority to issue involuntary orders of isolation or quarantine. She said in a media call, “I would not hesitate to issue this order if necessary to protect Virginian’s health.”

As of last week 53 travelers from the high-risk zones of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia had returned to Virginia. “Our goal is to contact all of them. It will be pretty quick in terms of turning that around,” said Levine.

Bill Hazel, the state’s secretary of health and human services said that most of these individuals were screened upon entering the airport and that they are known to officials. Adding, “There is no Ebola in Virginia today.”

The monitoring program will require that each traveler returning from one of the three West African states will go through an evaluation that will determine their risk of developing Ebola.

The screeners at the airports of entry will then provide the name and contact information for all travelers with destinations in Virginia. From there, officials will contact the travelers and give them specific instructions, which include an individual monitoring plan.


Poll Provides Indication of Upcoming Elections

A recent Roanoke College Poll released on July 24 revealed that Virginia voters favor Sen. Mark Warner (D) over Republican Ed Gillespie, but they are divided on Medicaid expansion.

Warner, the incumbent senator, holds a strong 25-point lead over Gillespie, who has yet to fully introduce himself to voters. Of those polled, 75 percent said that they did not know enough about the Republican candidate to form an opinion – a number that has not changed since January.

With regard to Medicaid, Virginia voters are divided, with 46 percent opposing and 42 percent favoring expansion of the healthcare program. Even in spite of the statewide split, 61 percent of those polled think that McAuliffe ought to work with the General Assembly rather than use his executive powers. Twenty-eight percent of those in favor of expansion agree that McAuliffe should not act on his own.

While McAuliffe’s approval ratings only improved by one percentage point since January, his disapproval ratings have jumped up 11 points in the same amount of time. The Roanoke College Poll reports that Virginia voters are more pessimistic than they have been in the past 18 months, with only 43 percent reporting that they feel the Commonwealth is on the right track.

The pollsters interviewed 556 registered voters in Virginia between July 14 and 19, and it has a margin of error of 4.2 percent. The sample included landlines and cell phones, with the latter forming 36 percent of the completed interviews.

Innovation and Technology Thrive in Blacksburg

Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones visited Blacksburg, Va. on July 22 to experience firsthand the burgeoning technology scene.

Blacksburg, located in southwest Virginia and home of the Hokies, used to be a prime area for coal but has since evolved into a haven for tech start-ups and incubators. Rural System Inc., for example, is a start-up based in Blacksburg that recently released “Bag ‘n’ Brag,” a smartphone app hailed as the Instagram for hunters.

“This kind of ecosystem for entrepreneurism, if it was here it was hidden when I was here last,” said Jones, who hasn’t been to the area in almost a decade, according to The Roanoke Times. “That’s definitely different.”

Jones, who oversees economic development for the state, toured local tech companies, visited incubators and spoke with the people driving the tech scene such as Modea CEO David Catalano and Heyo CEO Nathan Latka.

“This is the kind of asset that can really help change an economy,” Jones said. “It attracts young folks. It attracts talent from inside and outside the state and from all over the world. At the end of the day, innovation and growth and entrepreneurism, it’s about talent.

Clinton Allies, McAuliffe, Rally Against Comstock in 10th District

The Clinton wars of the 90s have resurfaced in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District

Barbara Comstock (R), who ruthlessly investigated the Clinton presidency, is running for a seat in the House against Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (D). Comstock, along with her colleague Barbara Olsen, was convinced that the Clinton’s were involved in something illicit during their time in the White House. Comstock had a sharp eye for patterns and an almost compulsive work ethic that made her “one of the premier opposition researchers of her generation,” according to Politico.

While Comstock’s allies claim that she has put her penchant for investigation behind her, Clinton’s allies, led by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), are gathering funds and support for Foust in an attempt to block Comstock from the seat. They fear that Comstock would re-focus her energies on investigating the White House if she won the seat in the House and if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election.

McAuliffe found himself in Comstock’s crosshairs in February 1997 when she found a memo from McAuliffe that “seemed to suggest that the president have donors over for WH sleepovers,” according to Politico. The governor is currently working on a fundraiser for Foust and has promised to do everything he can to support the Democratic candidate.

Coal Ash Continues to Plague Virginia

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The Southern Environmental Law Center is holding Duke Energy accountable for the 39,000 tons of coal ash contaminating the Dan River, according to the Times Dispatch.

On Feb. 2, a faulty Duke Energy pipe located at the bottom of the Dan River in North Carolina sprung a leak and spewed coal ash into the river contaminating the water sources of cities upstream such as Danville, Va. Coal ash, the leftover material after coal is burned, contains toxins such as mercury, lead and arsenic, according to Wunderground. When the coal ash mixed with the water in the river, it created a toxic sludge.

Last week, Duke Energy announced that it had cleaned up 2,500 tons of coal ash just upstream from the Schoolfield Dam in Danville. While Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks argues that the cleanup was an important milestone for the Dan River, the Southern Environmental Law Center says that it is far from enough.

“Where are the other 37,000 tons?” said Kathleen Sullivan, senior communications manager for the Southern Environmental Law Center, according to the Times Dispatch. “They have not accounted for 94 percent of the coal-ash waste spilled into the Dan River.”

Brooks said that removing all of the coal ash from the river “may not be the best option for the river.” The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that the Dan River has returned to normal. They said that chemical levels have returned to normal and that it is once again producing safe drinking water.

In spite of this, the Southern Environmental Law Center has vowed to continue pressuring Duke Energy to clean up all of the coal-ash sites along the Dan River. They are also determined to make sure that the Charlotte-based company is properly penalized by the North Carolina state legislature.

Appellate Court to Rule on Same Sex Marriage

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The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will most likely rule on a federal case concerning gay marriage by the end of the month, according to an article published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The Bostic v. Rainey case involves a gay couple who filed a complaint after being denied a marriage license by a local circuit court clerk in Norfolk. The court in Richmond heard oral arguments for the case on May 13, nearly two months ago. It is the fastest court of appeals in the U.S. with an average time interval from argument to opinion in nonexpedited appeals of 2.2 months, according to Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. In spite of this, the judges are struggling to reach a decision, particularly in light of the major ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 25 that struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban. The judges in Richmond must read through the majority and dissenting opinions of that case in order to create an informed ruling that will ultimately affect Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring supported the plaintiffs by urging the court to expedite the ruling “because every day the ban is in effect is another day when thousands of Virginians’ fundamental right to marry is denied,” said Herring’s spokesperson, Michael Kelly.

Virginian Del. Joseph Morrissey Under Scrutiny for Sexual Charges

Delegate Joseph Morrissey (D-Highland Springs) is accused of having an affair with a 17-year-old girl as well as the possession and distribution of child pornography. Despite his long history of scandalous outbursts, The Washington Post reports that Morrissey is passionately denying all allegations and is not interested in stepping down from his role in Virginia’s General Assembly.

The prosecutor in this case is Spotsylvania Commonwealth’s Attorney William F. Neely. Del. Morrissey, a former criminal defense lawyer and prosecutor himself, claims that Neely secretly has it out for him because of two cases that they tried against each other nearly 20 years ago. Neely disagrees maintaining that he is, “merely doing [his] best as a career prosecutor to follow Virginia law in this criminal investigation.”

Morrissey believes that this scandal is a part of a elaborate scheme to undermine his credibility by a third party participant pretending to be the victim via text message. Court documents suggest that Morrissey and the young girl were having an affair at his law office and his home, as well as exchanging text messages about the affair with each other and with friends. Again, Morrissey denies all claims and is confident that he will be acquitted.

Oddly, among the few people that are in Morrissey’s corner are the young girl who he is accused of having an affair with and her mother. The mother declares that the text messages are completely absurd and that her daughter did not send them. She holds that Morrissey was always a gentleman and very respectful.

Unfortunately, a number of Virginia’s delegates have been under increased scrutiny for alleged legal and ethical discrepancies.  Many delegates, including Mark L. Keam  (D-Fairfax) feel that legislators under such controversial examination should resign regardless of whether they are innocent or not.

July 1st Marks the Start to a Heap of New Legislation in Virginia

Hundreds of new laws are set to become effective in Virginia on July 1, 2014. From holiday festivities to bicycle lanes, the start of July signifies many important legislative changes. The Richmond Times Dispatch outlines some of these changes today. Listen up, some of these adjustments might be pertinent to you!

Just in time for Fourth of July, “Brendan’s Law,” will become active tomorrow. A tragic happening that occurred nearly a year ago, when 7-year-old Brendan Mackey was killed by a falling bullet from a celebratory gunshot inspired this law. Brendan’s Law makes a celebratory gunshot where someone is wounded a class 6 felony. Maybe Virginia’s 4th of July partiers will think twice before carelessly firing into the air this year.

Also starting tomorrow, voters will be required to present a photo ID if they wish to vote. Acceptable IDs are varied. Driver’s Licenses, passports, student IDs are all adequate and people without a photo ID can apply for a free, state-issued ID card with any local registrars.

New regulations regarding hunting on Sunday are to take place as well. Now, any landowner, his immediate family or a person with the landowner’s permission is allowed to hunt and kill any wild animals on the landowner’s property on Sunday. However, hunting within 200 yards of a house of worship is forbidden, as is using a dog for hunting purposes on Sunday.

Finally, a law that may be relief to many bike riders goes into effect tomorrow, too. Under Virginia law, motorists will be required to leave three feet, as opposed to two, of clearance between a car and a bicyclist for passing purposes.