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Appalachian communities at growing risk from mountaintop removal

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

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.

Appalachian Love Stories Shows Appalachian Pride

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Art by Katie Hanna

The STAY Project (Stay Together Appalachian Youth) is a diverse regional network of young people throughout Central Appalachia who are working together to advocate for and actively participate in their home mountain communities. The group has created the #AppalachianLoveStory  Radio Stories to showcase the complicated relationship and Appalachian Pride youth have with Appalachia.

This article highlights one of the programs created for Appalachian Love Story, and more stories can be found in this episode of  Inside Appalachia below.

West Virginia Groups Sue the OSMRE

Friday, March 27th, 2015

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.

WV Groups Protest Health Impacts of MTR; State Responds

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Putting Their Foot Down: Hundreds Rally at WVDEP

Several hundred people gathered in Charleston, WV on Monday, March 16th for the People’s Foot rally at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. The event was hosted by a coalition of West Virginia groups demanding an end to mountaintop removal and working to highlight the devastating effects of mountaintop removal on the health of local residents. MTR and health issues.

In an exciting update, the day after the People’s Foot rally, state officials agreed to examine the science on the links between MTR and health issues. According to this Charleston Gazette article, Bureau for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Rahul Gupta said, “The analysis is something that is needed going forward. The bottom line here is to let science speak for itself. It’s time that we attempt to do that.”

Another powerful example of People Power in Appalachia!

Learn About the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund

Thursday, March 19th, 2015


The AML Policy Priorities Group is a multi-stakeholder group initially formed to inform the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund research project of two Appalachian Transition Fellows and their host organizations: Kendall Bilbrey, The Alliance for Appalachia and Eric Dixon, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.

Other recent work from this program includes an Ask the Director Meeting with the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) in Washington, DC. During the meeting, Director Joe Pizarchik and his staff answered questions from citizens about the agency’s work. Several Alliance for Appalachia members joined coalfields citizens across the country in person and by phone. This meeting was coordinated by Citizens’ Coal Council.

The group is launching a spring AML Educational Tour to share their research with communities across Appalachia. The goal of our research is to recommend policy change through our AML Whitepaper, and share the paper with communities and organizations so they can learn more about how the fund works, and what policy changes are necessary for leveraging these funds into our communities.

Updated AML Educational Tour Schedule

  • KFTC Land Reform Committee, Prestonsburg KY (Postponed from Weather, TBA)
  • AML Policy Priorities Group Conference Call: March 18th 11am
    • 760-569-6000, PIN: 465-754
  • Society for Applied Anthropology Conference, Pittsburgh PA– March 24th
  • Appalachian Studies Association Conference, Johnson City TN– March 27th-29th
  • AML Policy Priorities Group In-Person Meeting, Benham KY– April 2nd
  • SOCM Chapter Tour, East TN — April 6th-9th
  • Clearfork Community Institute, Eagan TN — April 9th
  • Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, Hazard KY– May 8th

Questions about the tour? Contact

If you’re interested in getting more involved in this work, you might join us for the AML In-Person Meeting, April 2nd at the Benham Schoolhouse Inn. Join us for our second in-person meeting in Benham, Kentucky as we discuss our work, present our paper, strategize for the future of the group, and have a collaborative space to learn and build networks.

Stop the Pollution: No More Mountaintop Removal Permits

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

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!

PNC Bank Divests from Mountaintop Removal!

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Great news! Quakers win a major victory in the fight against MTR!
After five years of action by Earth Quaker Action Team, PNC announced Monday a shift in its policy that will effectively cease its financing of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.

This successful campaign shifted the policy of the seventh largest U.S. bank! This marks a major turnaround for PNC, who for years refused to budge on this issue. After more than 125 actions, their desire to continue business as usual proved no match for EQAT and allies. Bowing to pressure from Quaker environmentalists, PNC Bank announced that it will be restricting financing of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. The shift outlined in its 2015 Corporate Responsibility Report means PNC Bank will effectively cease its investment in this controversial practice.

In 2012 PNC Bank financed Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, CONSOL Energy, and Patriot Coal, which together were responsible for nearly half (44.97%) of Appalachian mountaintop removal production. PNC’s total investment was $687.5 million for that year.

The grassroots group leading the charge for PNC’s new policy, Earth Quaker Action Team, hails the change as a major shift by the seventh largest US bank. “When we initiated our campaign in 2010, PNC attempted to placate us with a hollow policy. It’s good to see that PNC Bank is now taking meaningful steps,” says Matthew Armstead, staff coordinator for EQAT. “Since this shift happened because of external pressure, it should be a wake-up call for everyone that the power of change lies with regular citizen activists.”

Read more about this victory on EQAT’s website.

Appalachian Leaders: Introducing the new voices of iLoveMountains

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Late last year, you heard from Ann League in Tennessee about a great victory for our mountains. And earlier in the Fall, Kentucky’s Stanley Sturgill invited you to take action to protect Appalachian’s water.

These new voices are a part of a new effort here at to bring you stories and critical actions directly from Appalachian leaders themselves. This new year, we would like to introduce you to these new voices and invite you to welcome them!

Cradle to Grave: Making Connections From Appalachia to the Gulf Coast

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Cross-Posted fromDaile’s Blog
By Daile Boulis

Biloxi, MS

This past week I had the honor of attending theExtreme Energy Summitin Biloxi, Mississippi. From the event website:

The Summitwill bring together a wide variety of leaders representing groups across the country who are resisting all forms of energy extraction, from small grassroots community groups working in frontline communities to large national nonprofits and everything in between. In addition to meeting and strategizing, this diverse and dynamic group of organizers will have the opportunity to tour and see the heavily impacted Gulf Coast region as a coalition of local and regional groups have graciously agreed to host us and organize a tour of communities impacted by energy infrastructure in the Mobile area.

I was deeply affected by the tour that we took of the gulf region, from the Eastern Biloxi Mississippi Coalition of Vietnamese-American Fisher Folks and Families and how the BP Oil Disaster continues to affect their lives and livelihoods to the Wedgewood Community in Pensacola, Florida whose community is surrounded on three sides by seven (soon to be eight) landfills, with additional stops at the Chevron Refinery in Pascagoula, MS, the MacCaffie Coal Terminal in Mobile, Alabama and Africatown, Alabama.

There was a phrase I learned during the tour, From Cradle to Grave: the full journey of an extracted energy product extraction, processing, distribution (both raw and refined), and waste.

I am fairly educated and familiar with how coal is extracted, particularly here in West Virginia. I have seen the processing plants and the coal trains. But I never thought it completely through to the distribution of the coal and the dispersion of the associated waste. I never thought about where the coal goes, or that as it travels its toxic dust and other by-products are spread along the way.

I learned that the removal of the coal from my mine is the cradle. The coal is transported by truck to be processed, typically very near where it is extracted. Then it is transported, generally by train, for immediate use, or for sale around the globe.

Port Terminal, Mobile, Alabama

Port Terminal, Mobile, Alabama

The MacCaffie Coal Terminal, Port of Mobile, Alabama is huge. This is where much of our coal is transported to be shipped to countries around the world. In the shadow of this huge port isAfricatown. This small historic community deals on a daily basis with the toxic effects of coal dust, chemicals that leak from trains and barges transporting coal, tar sands, and oil, among other products.

2015-01-30 10.24.55The terminal houses tank farms, open coal cars and shipping containers storing toxic extractive energy products as far as the eye can see so many that if even the smallest percentage of them are leaking they have the potential to devastate not only Africatown, but the entire gulf region.

Which brings me to the Grave.

Where did the sludge from the BP Oil Disaster go? When there is an environmental clean-up, such as the MCHM from the Elk River spill in Charleston, WV, what is the final destination for the disposal of such waste?

Wedgewood Community, Pensacola, Florida

Wedgewood Community, Pensacola, Florida

Simple answer? Landfills. The final stop on our tour was a community in Pensacola, Florida known as Wedgewood. After listening to the presentation outlining the seven landfills and the hazardous waste they contain, I was genuinely concerned about breathing the air. I wish I were exaggerating. I was appalled that anyone had to live in these conditions. This was a nice neighborhood. A proud neighborhood whose property values are now so low that they cant move away from the stench and the health risks. I cant wrap my brain around the fact that someone, anyone, in their local, county or state government thought that it was appropriate, IS appropriate to locate these landfills on the very borders of this community.

Let me be clear: throughout the process, from extraction, to processing, transportation and disposal, people die. They die as a result of exposure to toxic by-products in their water, in their air. Our need to keep the lights on poisons our citizens, our neighbors, our families.

I wish I knew of a solution. Simply reducing our energy footprint would help, but not solve this issue. Requiring these industries to not only implement responsible practices for extraction, but holding them responsible for clean-up, repair and restitution would be a positive step. Renewable energy would go a long way towards being a solution. But even if new technology, clean technology, were implemented today, we would still have a toxic legacy that requires response.

Cradle to Grave. People, communities are dying. Dont doubt it. Dont minimize it. Own it. Do what you can about it.

Kentucky’s 10th annual I Love Mountains Day Feb. 13

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Join your voice with other Kentuckians at I Love Mountains Day 2015.

This year Kentuckians For The Commonwealth will celebrate the 10th year of this event, and would love for you to join in a march and rally for a just transition for Appalachian communities: clean air and water, and a healthy democracy.

As 11-year-old Chase Gladson of Harlan County told the crowd at last years I Love Mountains Day:

“Im only eleven years old, but I believe that all this is possible! My Papaw likes to say we can have a bright future here if we build it, and I believe it too. But it will take all of us ALL OF US working together.”

Ill be in Frankfort with Chase and 1,000 other Kentuckians For The Commonwealth members and friends for I Love Mountains Day. I hope youll be among that number!

For the mountains,
Teri Blanton
Proud Kentuckian

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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