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Not another “Sink-Sink” — Prisons shouldn’t be used to reclaim strip mines

Remember “Sink-Sink,” the federal prison in Martin County, Ky., that’s slowly sinking into the earth because it was built on a former strip mine? Another Appalachian community might soon be facing this same form of “reclamation,” and they need your help fighting it.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has proposed to build a $444 million maximum security prison on an old surface mine near Roxana, in Letcher County, Ky.

Tell the Bureau of Prisons that prisons are not good reclamation, and that the government should invest in communities, not incarceration.

After the government regulated strip mining in the early 1980s, this surface mine near Roxana was chosen by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife as a prime location for its deer restocking program.

Now, the Bureau of Prisons is proposing to build a maximum security prison on it. The Kentucky River will be impacted by sedimentation and excavated mine spoil, and up to 93 acres of endangered bat habitat will be cleared.

Tell the Bureau of Prisons: surface mines in Appalachia should not be used for building prisons.

In some communities, up to 25 percent of the land has been damaged by mountaintop removal coal mining. We need real reclamation, not boondoggle prisons that are unsafe for the community and unsafe for the people who would be incarcerated there.

As Letcher County resident Mitch Whitaker wrote in a recent op-ed, “This piece of property has already been imprisoned, and it’s just now getting back to the point of literal and figurative liberation. Why do it again?”

Submit your comments on the Stream Protection Rule

This is your chance to officially tell the Obama administration to protect Appalachian streams.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has released a draft version of the Stream Protection Rule, which could be the most significant action taken to reduce the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on the region’s waterways. But we need it to be stronger, and that will only happen if the administration hears from thousands of advocates like you.

Add your voice to strengthen protections for Appalachian communities.

The Stream Protection Rule is intended to limit the dumping of toxic mountaintop removal waste into streams. We’ve been demanding these protections for almost eight years and are glad the Obama administration is finally taking action. But we need this rule to be stronger!

Appalachia’s economic future depends on sustainable communities and a healthy environment, and we can’t afford to let the coal industry weaken this proposed protection for the region’s waterways. It is more important than ever for you to add your voice in the fight against mountaintop removal.

Tell the Obama administration to finalize a strong rule that protects Appalachian streams and communities.

Tell the EPA: Protect our streams from selenium pollution

We’ve been busy this month advocating for a strong Stream Protection Rule. Now we need you to speak up on another issue threatening Appalachia: toxic selenium pollution.

This element is leaching out of mountaintop removal valley fills in devastating amounts, causing deformities in fish and endangering the health of our streams and communities.

Take action now and tell the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it is unacceptable to weaken selenium standards and put clean water at risk.

The significance of the EPA’s decision on a new chronic selenium standard cannot be overstated. Selenium is toxic to fish and other wildlife at very low levels and is commonly found in wastewater from mountaintop removal mines. Once it is released into waterways, selenium enters the food chain and accumulates in fish, causing reproductive failure and deformities.

Officials in Kentucky have adopted, with the EPA’s approval, a standard with serious scientific flaws that does not sufficiently protect sensitive species. Without an enforceable federal limit, citizen monitoring and enforcement under the Clean Water Act will be seriously compromised.

The comment period ends on Oct. 10. Please take action today and tell the EPA to create a selenium standard that protects fish and people from the devastating impacts of mountaintop removal.

Speak up in Lexington for a strong Stream Protection Rule

The federal Office of Surface Mining has finally released a draft version of its long-awaited Stream Protection Rule, and is holding hearings across the region to hear from community members impacted by surface coal mining. We need your help to make sure this critical rule overcomes industry opposition.

Will you join us on Sept. 3 in Lexington to show the Office of Surface Mining that Kentucky supports clean water in the state and in central Appalachia?

The coal industry has spent years trying to stall the rulemaking process and prevent science-based protections for Appalachian streams. If it succeeds in weakening the rule, hundreds of more miles of streams would be threatened by mountaintop removal.

Appalachia’s economic future depends on sustainable communities and a healthy environment. It’s crucial that we demonstrate to the agency that we’re united in support of a strong Stream Protection Rule.

Join us on Sept. 3 to demand a rule that protects Appalachia’s land, streams and people.

Where: Lexington Civic Center
430 W Vine St. Lexington, KY 40507
When: 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Appalachian legislators give POWER+ the cold shoulder

Appalachia’s coal-bearing counties would directly benefit from the adoption of the POWER+ plan, a proposal in the Obama administration’s 2016 budget that would direct more than a billion dollars to Central Appalachia.

But last week, the U.S. Senate appropriations committee passed a budget bill the leaves out any mention of POWER+.

The U.S. House budget leaves Virginia entirely out of the forward-thinking Abandoned Mine Lands funding reforms that were spelled out in the POWER+ Plan. That component of the plan would send $30 million directly to the Virginia coalfields for economic development and put laid-off miners back to work cleaning up the messes left by coal companies.

Please contact your senators now to make sure they support a budget that includes a path forward for Appalachian communities.

For more background, we recommend this piece by Naveena Sadasivam for InsideClimate News, which details the curious quiet around POWER+ and how the plan has been pulled into the partisan bickering that’s embroiled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan and the 2016 budget process as a whole.

Under the federal Abandoned Mine Lands program, sites that pose a threat to safety are prioritized over sites that offer a potential economic benefit if cleaned up. While this program has reduced potential hazards in the coal-mining regions of Appalachia and the U.S., it has done little to positively impact local economies.

The POWER+ Plan, however, calls for funds to be used for projects that not only improve the environment and reduce hazards, but also create an economic benefit for local economies.

There’s still time for both House and Senate to include the meaningful funding proposals outlined in POWER+. But in order for that to happen, we need to the Senate to hear a clear message that Appalachia deserves this much-needed funding!

Please contact your senators now to make sure they support a budget that includes a path forward for Appalachian communities.

Appalachian communities at growing risk from mountaintop removal

Announcing a new tool to end the destruction of Appalachian mountains and streams

Coal is in the news a lot these days. The market forces and much-needed environmental and health protections cornering the dirty fuel are topics of endless interest as America’s energy landscape shifts toward cleaner sources. And yes, all signs point to coal’s continued decline.

In many ways though, the forces chipping away at coal’s historic dominance are overshadowing another big story — one that Appalachian citizens still need the public and policymakers to hear — about just how much the human and environmental costs of mountaintop removal coal mining persist in Central Appalachia.

That mountaintop removal is an extremely dirty and dangerous way to mine coal has never been better understood. The overwhelming body of evidence is built on a foundation of the countless personal stories found in communities near mines and bolstered by dozens of studies investigating disproportionate health problems in coal-producing counties compared to elsewhere in Appalachia. More recently, advocates have employed technological tools to visualize complex data and add another dimension to arguments against the practice.

Appalachian Voices is committed to both creating a forum for those personal stories and sharing the most up-to-date data available about the ongoing risks mountaintop removal poses to our region’s communities and environment. Today, we’re excited to share a web tool we developed to reveal how mining continues to close in on nearby communities and send a resounding message to President Obama that ending mountaintop removal is a must if we hope to foster economic and environmental health in Appalachia.

Explore Appalachian Communities at Risk from Mountaintop Removal on

The centerpiece of “Communities at Risk from Mountaintop Removal” is an interactive mapping tool on that allows anyone to explore mountaintop removal’s expansion over the past 30 years.

Created using Google Earth Engine, U.S. Geological Survey data, publicly available satellite imagery, and mapping data and consultation from the nonprofit SkyTruth, the tool gives users greater perspective into the decades-long scourge surface mining has had on the Appalachian landscape and generations of families that live in the region.

The Communities at Risk tool also concentrates on impacts at the community level, where the powerful personal stories that first brought mountaintop removal to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness and agenda for environmental change are found.

Fifty communities spread across Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia are identified by the tool as being the most at risk. By clicking on a community icon on the map, you can see the number of acres classified as active mining within a 1-mile radius of a particular place over time. In some communities, the number has fallen. In others, it has grown dramatically in recent years even as regional coal production has plummeted.

In the coming months, we’ll take a closer look at a handful of these communities, sharing local perspectives on how the proximity of mountaintop removal has affected local livelihoods. Our first “featured community” is Inman, Va., a small town in Wise County, where residents have successfully battled back a proposed massive mountaintop removal mine while experiencing the devastating impacts of another. You’ll also see stories about featured communities on and in upcoming issues of The Appalachian Voice newspaper.

Learn about Inman, Va., from local residents Matt Hepler and Ben Hooper

If you want a fuller picture of the data we used to create the mapping tool, check out the companion white paper, which describes the background, methods, results and implications of our initial research.

Over time, we’ll work with impacted citizens in communities near active and proposed mines to expand the use of the tool and update our maps with current, high-resolution satellite imagery we’ll obtain through a partnership with Google’s Skybox for Good project. We’ll use those images to improve interactions between citizens and regulators, share information with our allies and

Read our white paper for an in-depth look at the ways mountaintop removal continues to put Appalachian communities at risk.

The constant flow of news describing something close to the death of the Appalachian coal industry could leave outside observers with the impression that the problems of mountaintop removal have been resolved by the industry’s collapse. That impression, however, is at odds with the personal experience of many Appalachian citizens, the visible impacts of mining in communities across the region and the data that comprises Communities at Risk.

Visit to explore the mapping tool, learn more about the 50 most at-risk communities and tell President Obama that more must be done to protect Appalachian communities.

West Virginia Groups Sue the OSMRE

From the press release:

On March 17th, seven local, regional and national groups filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Office of Surface Mining for failing to intervene on West Virginia’s lax oversight of mountaintop-removal and other destructive surface coal mining — a state program that has, for decades, allowed the coal industry to ravage the environment, putting people at risk and destroying local communities.

The state’s chronically poor oversight has included a persistent failure to conduct inspections meant to protect people and the environment from coal companies that operate outside the law. Out-of-control mountaintop-removal coal mining is linked to epidemics of cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects in affected communities. West Virginia has also failed to undertake required assessments to ensure lakes, rivers and drinking-water wells aren’t harmed by mountaintop-removal mining and other destructive surface coal-mining practices.

Learn more about this important case at Coal River Mountain Watch’s website.

Stop the Pollution: No More Mountaintop Removal Permits

On Monday, March 16, those fed up with the toxic legacy of coal in West Virginia are gathering at the Department of Environmental Protection’s headquarters in Charleston to declare: “No More Mountaintop Removal Permits!”

A year after the coal chemical disaster that endangered the health and local economy for more than 300,000 people, and in the face of 25 peer-reviewed scientific studies showing the devastating connections between people’s health and mountaintop removal, a diverse coalition known as “The People’s Foot” is putting their foot down at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and demanding real change and real protections for West Virginia.

Come to the WVDEP headquarters at 601 57th Street Southeast, Charleston, WV 25304 from 11:00-1:00 on Monday, March 16 for “No More MTR Permits Day.” Let them know that we will not tolerate more threats to our people’s health. Get a free t-shirt if you’re one of the first 125 people to show up. Signs will be provided, so come on down and bring a friend!

To learn more about the event and RSVP, visit the facebook page!

Hope to see you in Charleston next Monday!

And so it begins … Senate launches first assault on Appalachia

The U.S. Senate has been in session for less than three weeks, and they have already begun an attack on the Appalachian mountains and surrounding communities.

Coal industry boosters have introduced a pro-mountaintop removal coal mining amendment and they are trying to attach it to the Keystone Pipeline bill, which is expected to be voted on this week.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, would block the Department of Interior from completing its ongoing rewrite of the Stream Protection Rule. The coal industry is afraid that a strong rule would make it harder for them to continue blowing up mountains and dumping the waste in streams.

Join us in fighting against this mountaintop removal amendment by writing to your senator.

We need the Department of Interior to introduce a strong Stream Protection Rule that would help us put an end to mountaintop removal once and for all. They have been writing the rule for several years, and are expected to release it this Spring.

Please contact your senator and ask them to oppose the Coats mountaintop removal amendment.

Movement to End Mountaintop Removal Wins Huge Court Victory

Great news! In a huge victory for our water and our future, a federal appeals court stated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are authorized to enforce laws on water pollution from mountaintop removal mines.

After years of effective organizing, our movement pressured the EPA to issue a water quality guidance in 2011 that used peer-reviewed science to show the devastating impacts that mountaintop removal coal mining has on Appalachias water. Unfortunately, a coalition including the National Mining Association and the state governments of Kentucky and West Virginia sued to prevent the EPA from protecting our water from dangerous coal pollution.

This important ruling says that the EPA was correct to enforce the law and follow the science to protect Appalachian waters and community health.

Tell the EPA it’s time to get to work!State politicians will continue to tie the hands of regulatory officials that would conduct meaningful water quality oversight. We need a federal rule that supersedes the corruption of state politicians and makes a real difference for Appalachian water and the future of our communities.

Last weeks important court ruling echoes what residents have said for years: we need strong standards from the EPA to protect the waters of Appalachia from the dangers of mountaintop removal and a coal industry run amok.

Send a letter to the EPA to tell them that water protection cant wait!

Appalachian Voices  •  Coal River Mountain Watch  •   Heartwood  •  Keeper of the MountainsKentuckians for the Commonwealth 

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition  •   Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowermentSierra Club Environmental Justice

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards  •   SouthWings  •  Stay Project  •   West Virginia Highlands Conservancy

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