Morgantown environmental group keeps on eye on the water
Evan Hansen is the founder and one of the owners of the research-based environmental consulting group Downstream Strategies, in Morgantown. They have a team of environmental experts who have an emphasis on protecting the environment. They offer a variety of environmental consulting services. They have clients like the EPA and the Department of Energy, and also smaller grassroots groups like the Friends of Cheat and the Coal River Mountain Watch.
DINA: Do you want to give us more information about the services your company provides?
EVAN: We have three different programs: water, energy and land. And we have two broad types of tools that we use in this program – GIS (Geographic Information Analysis) and the other we’re calling stakeholder participation and involvement. Most of the work that I do is related to water and energy. Our water projects range from planning projects where we write watershed management plans to more technical projects, and providing expert testimony on permit appeals or litigation support on legal actions related to protecting water resources. Also related to water, we do work related to the economic benefits of clean water, so we’ve done surveys and analysis to understand how clean water benefits the economy.
DINA: So what do you think the biggest environmental problem is in West Virginia now?
EVAN: In terms of water quality problems, the biggest problems are acid mine drainage from coal mines, bacteria from untreated or poorly treated human waste and sediment which comes from either construction sites or coal mines or surface coal mines or other types of earth disturbance activities. Those are the big three in terms of water. I guess one of the emerging issues has to to with natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. There are water quality impacts from that as well. Including erosion and sedimentation from the well pads that are often built in steep areas.
DINA: How do you think the drilling will affect the communities around those areas?
EVAN: I think it has different effects on different people. Some people are making a lot of money off of it, so they’re more secure than they were. To some extent it’s helping some people stay on the land that may not otherwise be able to. But what is also happening in terms of water and air quality, quality of life issues with all the trucks in the area, and impacts on the roads and things like that. So I think it depends on who you ask.
DINA: You guys have been on Al-Jazeera talking about the Coal Mines in West Virginia. That’s a big world news organization. You’ve also been on public radio and featured in the New York Times. Your company has a really good track record with the media already.
EVAN: We seem to have a knack for getting ourselves in the media
DINA: Do you think that’s due to being research-based?
EVAN: I think it’s due to the unique role that we play and we’re not afraid of controversial issues. But our approach is to base our analysis on science and policy analysis that we think is fair. But once we do an analysis and reach a final conclusion, we’re perfectly happy telling people what we found, and being out there, even if it’s a controversial issue. That’s been picked up on some of the projects we’ve worked on, like the one on Al-Jazeera. It was related to Coal River Mountain Watch project, where we looked at the economic benefits of building a wind farm versus mountaintop removal on Coal River Mountain. A lot of media picked up on that because it was sort of a microcosm for some of the debates going on at the national level in terms of whether our energy policy should support mountaintop removal and coal mining on one hand, or renewable energy like wind on the other hand. So this was coming together on one mountain in West Virginia, and people thought that was an interesting story to tell.
DINA: Are there any other companies like yours in the area, or are you the only one?
EVAN: There are lots of environmental consultants in West Virginia and across the country. We’re a little bit different than the other ones in West Virginia. Many of the other environmental consultants are engineering companies that do environmental work, and some of the others do work more related to issues like asbestos or mold issues or on the ground remediation of contaminated soil. I think we’re unique in the way we blend the science and policy, and the fact that we’re very interested in working with grassroots organizations and watershed groups. That’s really how we got our start, and even though we’re working for a wide variety of clients now we still work closely with grassroots groups.