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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 Appalachia’s 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 week’s 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 can’t wait!




Trust in the Land: A stepping-stone to sovereignty and sustainability

Guest blog by Laura Rigell with Keeper of the Mountain Foundation

 

The connection between healthy land and human life is easy to ignore in a concrete jungle such as Charleston. Even rural West Virginia has become speckled with Dollar Generals and One Stops, which can provide for all our basic needs. Nevertheless, many residents still grow backyard gardens and preserve produce to last until the next summer. Gardeners and farmers uphold the region’s legacy of living off the land.

Today, an obstacle to true self-sufficiency is the lack of local control over the way the land is used. Around the turn of the 20th century, logging and mining companies bought out much of this state’s natural resources. Tycoons often selectively purchased timber or mineral rights, undermining residents’ sovereignty. Doing so involved severing those rights to extraction from the right to use the surface. This has left most residents of southern West Virginia without ownership of the minerals under their property. To access those subsurface resources, the mineral owner can damage the surface as much as is “reasonably necessary.” Without a long-term interest in this region, extractive industries often pillage the surface, leaving behind eroding mountains that are unsuitable for growing crops or harvesting water.

In recent decades, some institutions have come to recognize the importance of healthy land. Though public protection is a common approach to conservation, one tool that has become popular is the conservation easement. A conservation easement is a uniquely private form of land use control. Through an easement, a landowner restricts the way his/her property can be used. Often, landowners forbid development or logging, to permanently preserve a farm or forest. These restrictions accompany his/her deed forever, and are enforced by a non-profit entity called a land trust. The land trust visits the property annually to assure that the current residents are abiding by the easement. If there is an easement violation, for example someone has clear-cut a forest, the land trust addresses this by negotiating with the resident or, if necessary, filing a lawsuit.
Currently, land protection through conservation easements is not an option for most Appalachians. The region’s conservation organizations have been accessible to only a minority of the population- those privileged with mineral ownership, large tracts of land, and disposable incomes. Existing conservation efforts, though valuable, do not actively confront the assault on people’s welfare by land speculation, unsustainable development, and mineral extraction.

I spent last summer as an intern with Coal River Mountain Watch. I researched the relationship between easements and mineral rights and decided that easements could play a protective legal role even for severed parcels. This discovery led me to propose the establishment of a new land trust, that aims to work with small, less economically-advantaged residents to protect their land. Keeper of the Mountains Foundation (KoTM) agreed to take on this role.

Keepers began by overseeing the easement for Sid and Dana Moye, which mandates that their 24-acre parcel remain farmland forever, with some of the forest permanently protected. The Moyes not own the minerals under most of their property, though this easement will likely dissuade extractive companies from mining on the Moyes’ land. Keepers will not limit the scope of its easements by requiring a minimum acreage or monetary contribution. Because of this, Keepers has the potential to make land protection accessible to all Appalachian residents.

By the end of 2014, Keepers aims to have 1000 acres of land protected in easements. Work towards this goal will begin this summer, with the support of CRMW interns. These interns, including myself, will be using the Moyes’ 30-page easement as a template to draft easements for four more residences.

My vision for this new land trust initiative is to re-situate Appalachians as authors of their own futures. I see the potential for these easements to draw the age-old connection between people and land health. As in the case of the Moye property, easements can promote uses that prioritize community and ecological welfare. By promoting responsible land uses, these easements can lift up the Appalachian heritage of self-sufficiency and local resilience.




Victory at Blair Mountain!

From the Friends of Blair Mountain (Website | Facebook ):

WVDEP has issued an order to Aracoma Coal that will prohibit any surface mining within 1,000 ft. of the Blair Battlefield until 2018 when the permit comes up for renewal.

More importantly, OSMRE, a federal agency, has confirmed and established the legal steps to take so that Governor Tomblin can issue an executive order giving WVDEP the power to enforce section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act on a 1,000 ft. boundary around the entire Blair Battlefield.

The 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain was fought along a number of fronts, the Battle for Blair Mountain has been no different. A pivotal front in the ongoing Battle for Blair Mountain is the Camp Branch Permit. Encompassing part of the southern area of the battlefield, the land on Camp Branch was where Sheriff Don Chafin kept his supply lines running and where defensive positions were stationed on the ridgeline at Blair. In the Battle for Blair Mountain, the Camp Branch Permit has been the most heated front. Just a few months after the 2011 protest march to save Blair Mountain there were rumors of activity around Camp Branch. A few months later, our board members withstood violent threats at the Camp Branch Permit hearing from hundreds of miners who had been told the approval of the permit would create coal jobs. On September 10, 2013, FOBM board members were physically threatened and intimidated with armed force when our organization attempted to conduct a citizen’s site inspection accompanied by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

Friends of Blair Mountain requested a site inspection because our organization found evidence that portions of the Blair Battlefield were being illegally destroyed on the Camp Branch Permit. Our first site inspection was forced to an early close and we were unable to document our findings. We appealed to the West Virginia Surface Mine Board and, on December 9, 2013 won a hearing which granted us the right to conduct a second site visit and film it. On March 11, 2014 we conducted this site visit and filmed areas where significant areas of the battlefield on the Camp Branch Permit were destroyed through logging and construction methods.

The late Larry Gibson (right) and others during the 2011 March on Blair Mountain The late Larry Gibson (right) and others during the 2011 March on Blair Mountain

Upon taking our evidence to the appropriate regulatory agencies and conducting a number of meetings, FOBM finally gathered all the relevant regulatory agencies, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the Army Corps of Engineers, and WVDEP together to discuss protecting the Camp Branch Permit and the Blair Battlefield on May 2, 2014.

We have stopped them at Camp Branch. Now Governor Tomblin must be convinced to issue an executive order to save the Blair Battlefield from all corporations. The legal apparatus is in place, all it takes is his action.

Furthermore, all of the regulatory agencies confirmed in our May 2, 2014 meeting that the destruction we have found and documented on the battlefield is not mining related nor can it be classified as pre-mining activity. In other words, parts of the battlefield have been destroyed and yet not one lump of coal has been extracted, not one coal mining job was created, and no mining is planned where the disturbances took place. This is all verified by inspections conducted by WVDEP and ACOE on April 16 and 29, 2014.

If Governor Tomblin will act, then what remains of the Blair Battlefield can be preserved. We can still preserve this ground, build a place where the public can celebrate and learn from this great history, and help diversify the local economy.

The Battle for Blair Mountain has many fronts. We have beat them back at Camp Branch. Now it is time to win the rest before they can launch another assault on our history.

Friends of Blair Mountain will be working for an URGENT CALL to ACTION to GOVERNOR TOMBLIN.




The government is shut down, but the work to end mountaintop removal continues

In a rare television interview, environmental legend and writer Wendell Berry spoke with Bill Moyers about activism and his love of Appalachia.

The federal government is shut down and Congress is failing to act on important issues as they battle over the budget. But across Appalachia, citizens have not quit. We are continuing the work to end mountaintop removal. 

In the last three weeks alone, groups in the region have held more than half a dozen gatherings to test water, petition state agencies for stronger enforcement and celebrate the communities we have come together to protect.

As groups continue to grow locally, the fight to end mountaintop removal is in the national spotlight. This weekend, impacted citizens will provide leadership at Powershift 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Also, renowned author and mountaintop removal activist, Wendell Berry, recently spoke with Bill Moyers about his activism and a no-compromise plan to protect our families and future. You can watch it here!

Thank you for fighting to end mountaintop removal.




West Virginia Coalition Launches Campaign for Better Enforcement of Mining Laws; Files Formal Petition for Federal Intervention


A group of West Virginia citizens gather in front of the Charleston, W.Va., location of the federal Office of Surface Mining, where they delivered a 100-page petition detailing a litany of problems with the state regulatory program before marching to the state Capitol to deliver a copy of the petition to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

 

Charleston, W. Va. – Today a coalition of 18 state and national organizations filed a formal administrative law petition with the Federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) alleging widespread problems with the state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) enforcement of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and demanding federal intervention. The nearly 100 page petition filed today details a litany of problems with the state regulatory program including granting and renewing mining permits illegally, systemic failures to properly assess the risks of flooding from mine sites, drastic understaffing, and failure to assess meaningful penalties for violations of the law. A group of West Virginia citizens gathered a press conference today in front of the Charleston Office of Surface Mining to deliver the petition and then marched to the state Capitol to deliver a copy to Governor Tomblin.

“The situation here couldn’t be more urgent. Every year there is another flood, another stream dies, another health study comes out showing the devastating effects of unenforced mining law on our communities. We need action and we need it now,” said Debbie Jarrell, Coal River Valley resident and Co-Director of Coal River Mountain Watch.

The filing of the petition represents the first step of the Citizen Action for Real Enforcement (CARE) Campaign, a new effort bringing together citizens and groups across the state to demand accountability from the state’s government and address what they say are decades of failures by state agencies. Currently, the state DEP has the authority and responsibility to enforce federal laws on mining. The petition was filed under a provision of SMCRA that allows citizens to ask the federal OSMRE totake over a state agency if they believe the agency is failing to enforce the law. The filing of this petition triggers an obligation on the part of OSMRE to investigate the citizens’ claims and, if they are deemed valid, to order changes in the state program or assume enforcement themselves.

“People who have lived in the coalfields for generations have reached out to our DEP for help. After many years of pleading our case, we have no confidence in our DEP, nor should we. Our only option is to seek federal intervention to assure that our communities get what everyone deserves – protection from the pollution and toxins that are directly impacting the health of the people that live within these communities,” said retired UWMA miner Chuck Nelson.

(more…)




Join our Letter to the Editor Campaign

Citizens across the United States are submitting letters to the editor to their local newspaper urging their congressional representatives to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1837).As constituents, it is our responsibility to ensure that our voice is heard by our representatives in Congress; when we make such requests publicly, our actions become extremely powerful.

Through our letter to the editor campaign, we are providing activists with a tool to educate their communities about the injustice of mountaintop removal and the valley fills that pollute water and bury Appalachian headwater streams.

To see one of this week’s letters click here.

Please contact jessie@appvoices.org to join the campaign and submit a letter to your local newspaper. The more letters we submit, the more support for the Clean Water Protection we will generate, bringing us closer to breaking our connection to dirty mountaintop removal coal mining.




UPDATE: Clean Water Protection Act Gains Support

The Clean Water Protection Act, HR 1837, was introduced last month with 45 original cosponsors.

Since then, more than two dozen additional members of Congress have recognized the need to protect our communities and rivers from pollution caused by mountaintop removal. The bill, which restores a key protection of the Clean Water Act, now has 71 cosponsors.

On the bill are returning cosponsors and first-time supporters, Democrats and Republicans, freshmen and senior representatives. 71 cosponsors is great progress, but it’s not enough. We need to keep up this momentum and beat our past record of 172 cosponsors.

Is your member of Congress a cosponsor? Write your Rep. now and urge them to cosponsor the Clean Water Protection Act!




Remember What We Can Accomplish Together

Remembering what we can accomplish together, we keep moving forward.

As I enjoyed Memorial Day with my family and friends, I was reminded that too often we don’t take time to celebrate the victories that we accomplish together. Our spring has been full of successes, and you helped to make them possible.

In April, a federal appeals court affirmed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to veto mountaintop removal permits even after they have been issued, a power the coal industry has challenged for years. This decision halted Spruce No. 1 Mine, the largest mountaintop removal mine ever proposed in Appalachia.

The day before the courts dealt that major blow to mountaintop removal, another ruling threw out the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 21, ending the streamlining of permits under the Clean Water Act. A few weeks later, with the support of allies across the county, we defeated attempts in Congress to roll back EPA regulations and gut the Clean Water Act.

You have kept the pressure on by contacting policymakers and supporting actions in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, including during the 8th annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington, when people from across the country joined in our nation’s capital and attended more than 80 meetings with federal agencies and congressional offices. Over this time, you’ve sent more than 30,000 emails to key decision-makers in the White House and Congress.

We are building new connections and stronger campaigns, and we are winning together. Thank you for your ongoing dedication in the fight to end mountaintop removal coal mining.




Clean Water Protection Act Introduced with 45 Cosponsors

Yesterday, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) introduced the Clean Water Protection Act in the 113th Congress with 45 original cosponsors.

The Clean Water Protection Act, H.R. 1837, is a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives which would sharply reduce mountaintop removal coal mining by making it illegal to dump mining waste into valleys and streams. To date, more than 2,000 miles of streams have been buried or severely polluted.

As the bill sponsors point out in their Dear Colleague letter to other members of Congress:

An EPA scientific study in 2008 shows that more than 63% of the streams sampled below mountaintop removal coal mining operations exhibited long-term impairments to aquatic organisms. In some large watersheds, more than half of the streams are impaired.

Last Congress, more than 130 representatives, from Kentucky to Hawaii, took a stand against mountaintop removal coal mining by cosponsoring the Clean Water Protection Act.

It is crucial that we carry over the momentum we built during the last Congress by having a large group of cosponsors. For your Representative to sign onto the bill, they need to hear from you.

Take action now and tell your Congressperson you expect their support of this important legislation.




Teri Blanton Recognized as Female Leader in Environmental Movement

Kentucky native Teri Blanton was recognized as a leader in the environmental movement at the second annual White House Women and the Environment Summit.

Teri Blanton, native of Harlan, Ky., was recently honored by the White House as one of 100 female leaders in the environmental movement during their second annual White House Women and the Environment Summit.

If you know Teri, it’s no surprise that she would be given such an honor. She has worked tirelessly to educate Kentuckians and mountain people across Appalachia about the adverse effects of living in communities impacted by coal mining.

As a Fellow for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and a representative of The Alliance For Appalachia, she concentrates her efforts on campaigns to protect the health of the people, the water and the air by putting an end to mountaintop removal mining in eastern Kentucky, programs to educate communities about contamination of local waterways with deadly heavy metals, and initiatives that will create a sustainable energy future for Appalachia.

Teri Blanton speaking at a rally led by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

She has spent countless hours in Washington, D.C., and Frankfort, Ky., educating lawmakers on the impacts of mountaintop removal and has traveled across the country raising awareness to new audiences. But one can only lobby the same office so many times before growing frustrated by the lack of progress.

In 2009, Teri traveled to D.C. and participated in the Capitol Climate Action alongside 5,000 others who were outraged at our countries continued reliance on coal and other fossil fuels. The next year she was arrested in front of the White House during Appalachia Rising, alongside 121 others to demand an end to mountaintop removal. She even moved into the Governor’s Mansion for a four-day occupation in 2011 with 13 other Kentuckians after being denied a meeting with Governor Beshear on the issue.

But for Teri, the injustices don’t stop within the hills and hollers of Appalachia, she is a vocal proponent of collaboration across all communities impacted by the extraction, transport, burning and disposal of dirty, polluting fossil fuels.

At the summit, Teri and other female leaders met with with senior White House and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials. The discussion focused on the importance of women and their role in protecting public health and the environment.

Teri will be returning to D.C. next week, along with people from across the country, for the 8th Annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington, and will be requesting meetings with many of the same top White House and EPA officials, we will see if they have taken her message to heart by then.





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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