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Successful Rally at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Today dozens of residents from Appalachia and allies from across the country rallied at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Those wishing to contact the CEQ to support residents can take action here.

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This office oversees the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Surface Mining and other agencies that are responsible for protecting Appalachian residents from the severe water and health impacts of mountaintop removal and other dangerous coal practices.

Appalachian leaders met with the agencies yesterday and were disappointed with the attitude the administration showed towards those that had traveled many hours to DC for the visit. The agency representatives asked for more time to work on the issue, but mountain leaders have been waiting five years since an Obama administration Memorandum of Understanding that promised action against the destructive practice as well as reinvestment in the economy of the region.

#ourwaterourfuture #stopmtr

The tragic and unbelievable series of toxic water spills in Appalachia in 2014 alone – from the 300,0000 people impacted by the spill in West Virginia to coal ash and coal slurry spills in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina – are just the most recent disasters to show the failures of the Obama Administration to follow through on its promises to protect Appalachian communities. There have been over 500 mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining and the region is ready for a just transition to a new economy beyond this destructive practice.

Our Water Our Future Bucket Brigade and sit in at CEQ
The group engaged in a sit-in on the front steps of the CEQ and waited several hours for an agency representative to come out to speak with them – as well as hosting a square dance with a live band playing traditional Appalachian music in front of the CEQ. In addition, residents organized a bucket brigade to collect clean water from DC to bring back home to their communities which do not have access to safe water to drink.

When no representative agreed to meet with residents after several hours of waiting, residents placed a reportcard on the steps which evaluated the progress so far of the CEQ on important areas such as protecting the health and water of Appalachia. Participants in the rally gave the administration a grade of “incomplete.”

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Take Action for Our Water and Our Future!

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014


Just yesterday, mountain leaders sat down with members of the Obama administration to demand that the administration follow through on its 2009 promises: to take measures to protect the people, waters and mountains of Appalachia from the dangerous impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining.

Let the administration know that these mountain leaders are not alone! 

While we have successfully pressured this administration to take large strides in the last five years–like the thorough review of 86 mountaintop removal permit applications that required individualized scrutiny under the Clean Water Act, and the elimination of an Army Corps permitting practice that rubber-stamped permit approvals–there is much more to be done. 

In fact, there are four key actions the administration can take this year that will greatly affect the future health of our Appalachian communities and allow the administration to follow through on its promises.

Join us today to ensure that the Obama administration takes action!




Press Release: Our Water, Our Future

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Appalachian Leaders Bring Message to Obama Administration to Keep Promises on Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Citizens to meet with agency officials and Congress, and hold “Our Water, Our Future” public rally

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CONTACT

Dana Kuhnline, The Alliance for Appalachia, (304) 825-3262      Dana@TheAllianceforAppalachia.org

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(Washington, D.C.) September 8, 2014 —Numerous Appalachian groups and citizens, in coordination with The Alliance for Appalachia, will gather in the nation’s capital September 8-9 to advocate for the protection of their communities from the severe environmental and community impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. One key topic will be a review of the Obama administration’s promises in regards to the destructive practice.

In June, 2009, the Obama administration created a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among federal agencies responsible for protecting Appalachian communities from the extreme damage of mountaintop removal coal mining. This MOU made a number of commitments to address major issues,  but the results so far have been mixed. At a scheduled interagency meeting with key officials, citizens will discuss concrete solutions and next steps federal agencies can take in cases where progress has fallen short of the MOU goals.

“Five years ago, the Obama administration made a promise to take measures to protect the people, waters, and mountains of Appalachia from the dangerous impacts of mountaintop removal mining,” said Patrick Morales of The Alliance for Appalachia and Tennessee group Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM). “But mountaintop removal coal mining is still happening, people are still living without clean water, and states are still flagrantly violating the law, and refusing to protect citizens from the impacts of water pollution from coal mining.”

Citizens will present the agencies with a two-year timeline showing their goals for the remainder of the Obama administration.  They will be seeking more permanent protections and concrete commitments for what the agencies can accomplish by the end of 2016.  The aim of the meeting is to work with the Obama administration to protect Appalachian residents’ health, access to clean and safe drinking water and air, and to encourage long-term economic sustainability that promotes rather than destroys the heritage and beauty of this important region.

In addition to the interagency meeting, mountain leaders will meet with members of Congress and host a rally, titled “Our Water, Our Future,” to demand an end to mountaintop removal coal mining.

The “Our Water, Our Future” campaign was launched in 2013 to highlight the severe impacts that mountaintop removal has on water, as well as to show that clean water is vital to building the economic transition needed in the region.

“The coal industry is never going to be like it was in the 30s. The jobs have been on a decline since the beginning.  We need to realistically think of the future of Appalachia, and fix this mess,” said Teri Blanton, a volunteer with The Alliance for Appalachia and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.  “We could employ ten times the number of workers just fixing the toxic pollution mountaintop removal has left behind. We need reinvestment in Appalachia – not just clean energy, but cleaning up the messes left behind by dirty energy.”

Recent spills, such as the West Virginia coal-washing chemical spill that left 300,000 people without access to safe water, have highlighted the economic impact of dirty water in the region.

Two of the Appalachian residents who will be in D.C. to meet with Obama administration officials and members of Congress, are Daile Boulis, of Loudendale, W.Va., and Ginger Halbert, of eastern Kentucky.

Boulis saw the impacts of the chemical spill firsthand. “Because I am lucky enough to still have safe well water, there was a constant stream of people coming to us for drinking water, showering and laundry during the crisis. Now they want to put a mountaintop removal mine by my house and put me on city water.”

Boulis lives near the Kanawha State Forest which is currently threatened by a mountaintop removal mine.Since the threats of the chemical spill and the mountaintop removal near her house, she has become active in the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and other groups. “I’d like to take Charleston city tap water to Washington, D.C. and see if they are willing to drink our city water. Because I still won’t.”

Halbert has already had her well in eastern Kentucky ruined by nearby mining activity. “We found out recently that our well water has toxic levels of beryllium, but state agencies have told us there is nothing they can do. We started getting rashes, my husband and daughter were treated for severe joint issues and other health problems, and we were told not to touch our well water. I had to forbid my son from washing his hands, and collect rain water just to mop the floor.  Water is a treasure you can’t appreciate until it’s gone – without water we have nothing to build a future with. The government needs to know they are just as responsible as the coal company for the complete lack of oversight on coal mining.”

Jane Branham is with Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards in Southwestern, Virginia. The group is currently campaigning to hold billionaire coal operator Jim Justice responsible for unpaid debts and pollution in their community. “The legacy of coal is that we are left with a broken economy and a polluted environment. We need federal oversight like never before as coal companies forfeit on bonds and leave their polluted mess behind.” said Branham, who will also be in D.C.. “The states have shown they aren’t going to do it. We need the federal agencies to step in.”

Mountaintop removal and other coal industry abuses have long compromised the waters of Central Appalachia. Over 2,000 miles of stream have been buried by mountaintop removal alone and mountaintop removal has destroyed 10% of the land in central Appalachia – more than 500 mountains. The severe impacts of mountaintop removal show the urgent need to end this practice as well as to begin building towards reclaiming the land and water for a healthier future.

The Alliance for Appalachia is a coalition of groups across the Central Appalachian region working to end mountaintop removal and other destructive coal industry practices, and to create a just and sustainable future for Appalachia. Members include Appalachian Voices, Coal River Mountain Watch, Gainesville Loves Mountains, Hands off Appalachia, Heartwood Forest Council, Highlander Research and Education Center, Keepers of the Mountains Foundation, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Sierra Club Environmental Justice, The Stay Together Appalachian Youth Project, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, SouthWings and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

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High-res photos and video available upon request (images from the event will be posted here).

Interviews available upon request.

Follow: #stopMTR, #AppRising, #OurWaterOurFuture




UBS Backs Away From Funding Mountaintop Removal

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

We’re happy to share an announcement from our friends at Hands Off Appalachia, who have been working hard on this campaign for three years. UBS, the world’s third top funder of mountaintop removal in 2011, has taken steps demonstrating its commitment to significantly reduce financing of the mining practice. Last month, the bank confirmed to environmental campaigners that it will continue backing away from mountaintop removal financing. Moreover, UBS has declined to participate in the most recent transactions with its former clients Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, which were among the top producers of mountaintop removal coal in 2013.

“UBS’ statement is a step in the right direction on mountaintop removal, but it’s the bank’s actions that show they’re following through,” said Ricki Draper of Hands off Appalachia. “We have seen that grassroots organizing can make a difference in stopping the financing of this deadly form of mining that poisons coalfield communities and contributes to the destruction of Appalachia’s culture and heritage.”

Read the full release here.




Justice to Justice Campaign Continues to Grow!

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

The Justice to Justice Campaign was launched by the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) in May 2014 and quickly drew regional and national attention to the reckless practices of West Virginia billionaire Jim Justice.

Jim Justice owns Southern Coal, based in Roanoke, VA, and a multitude of subsidiaries across Central Appalachia. SAMS is demanding that Justice commit to ending his mountaintop removal operations, ensure the best reclamation practices on existing strip mining operations, and that he settle all unpaid and outstanding debts, to both workers and agencies.

SAMS is joined in this effort by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KY), Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (TN), and Coal River Mountain Watch (WV) in their efforts to bring scrutiny and attention to the coal operator’s destructive practices, and to call on him to clean up his act. Justice operates mines in all four states, and has recently caught attention from federal and state agencies for failure to report discharges, bond forfeiture for failure to properly reclaim strip mine operations, and violations for dangerous fly rock in West Virginia.

So far there have been a string of victories and important media coverage due to this savvy campaign. To support the campaign, sign the petition here!

In Tennessee, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has recently issued 39 cessation orders against three Jim Justice owned companies in Tennessee.

In Virginia, The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is preparing to seize $9.9 million from A&G Coal through bond forfeiture in an attempt to restore idle mining land at company expense. Also in Virginia, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices, and The Sierra Club’s victory in their selenium enforcement suit last year against Jim Justice owned A&G and their Kelly Branch mine in Wise County, Virginia.

We can only expect more great things from this campaign fighting for justice in the mountains!




Movement to End Mountaintop Removal Wins Huge Court Victory

Monday, July 14th, 2014

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

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

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.




Appalachian Residents Tour Uranium Mining Sites

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Appalachian residents joined activists and community members from across the US and Canada for the Third Extreme Energy Summit in May 2014.  Learn more about some of the voices of this summit here.

As part of the trip, Appalachian residents facing the impacts of mountaintop removal toured sites impacted by uranium mining near Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The tour was hosted by the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE). MASE is a coalition of groups rooted in uranium-impacted communities across the southwest working to remediate environmental devastation and stop future harm. MASE arranged community tours of uranium impacted areas so that summit attendees from across North America could learn more about the disastrous impacts of uranium mining on the local community.

“It’s very important to continue to bring public awareness to the the local impacts from previous uranium  mining. We need to educate the next generation and bring solutions to clean up these areas that will otherwise be ignored,” said Jonathan Perry with the Eastern Navajo Diné  Against Uranium Mining a core group of MASE. “We want to connect with other people from across the country to address uranium mining issues as well as national issues to move forward as one people bringing solutions back to our communities.”

The sites toured included areas where faulty, irresponsible reclamation was exposing communities, livestock, farms and water to the toxic effects of uranium and radon gas emitted by the mining process. Residents shared powerful stories of the severe impacts they have faced, as well as the powerful community organizing that has enabled them to fight to protect their land and health. Faulty and dangerous reclamation sites included the site below, adjacent to a Diné (Navajo) Community where residents shared stories of dangerously high radiation levels at the bus stop where their kids wait to go to school.

The group also visited the former Jackpile Mine where Laguna Pueblo tribal leaders shared stories of the impacts they faced from the mines, as well as the struggle to reclaim the land and begin building back their community after the mine closed down, leaving high unemployment, destroyed homes and severe health issues.  The struggles of these communities have many parallels to the issues faced by Appalachian communities in the wake of the destruction of mountaintop removal coal mining, and hearing the inspiring organizing and community wisdom that achieved real progress and some powerful healing for these communities – as well as some frustrating setbacks and many ongoing struggles – offered a powerful opportunity to learn from these strategic movements for environmental justice.

In addition to dealing with the ongoing effects of former uranium mining, tribes are working together to fight proposed uranium mines on their land, like the beautiful area below, which members of the tour visited, as well as a proposed mine on Mount Taylor, an area sacred to the Pueblo and Navajo peoples.

Appalachian members of the tour are grateful to our hosts for sharing their wisdom and were eager to share an invitation to everyone to tour Appalachia to continue to allow grassroots leaders in environmental justice to learn from the wisdom of other movements.




Voices from the Extreme Energy Summit

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

In May, Appalachian residents fighting mountaintop removal coal mining  joined more than 80 leaders from 26 states and Canada to converge in Albuquerque in May 2014 for the third Extreme Energy Extraction Summit.

Attendees represented groups that are fighting against the toxic impacts of energy extraction happening in their home communities – including the mining of coal in Appalachia to Alaska, fracking for natural gas from New York to Texas, destructive Tar Sands mining, including pipelines, in Canada, mining for uranium in the Southwest and many other issues. The groups shared strategies for stopping the destruction as well as visions and plans for a more just energy future.

Residents toured a series of uranium mine sites and processing areas where residents have faced severe impacts from decades of uranium mining and faulty reclamation plans – seeing a lot of parallels to the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on the land and people of Appalachia.

This post shares some of the voices and faces of people who were there. Learn more about this work and share these powerful photos and messages at the Extreme Energy Collaborative Page.

Photo by David Braun

Thanks to photographer David Braun.




Victory at Blair Mountain!

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

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.





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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