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Councilman and Constituents Deliver Black Lung Resolutions to Congress

Monday, October 1st, 2018

From September 24 to 26, 10 residents of Southwest Virginia traveled with The Alliance for Appalachia, a regional coalition, to Washington, D.C., to speak with senators and representatives in support of miners suffering from black lung disease.

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund provides medical care and financial support for miners with black lung and their dependents, acting as a safety net when employer benefits are not available. The trust fund is financed by an excise tax on current coal production, but the tax rate is set to be cut in half at the end of 2018 unless Congress acts, placing the solvency of the fund in danger. This comes at a time when rates of black lung have spiked in recent years, and the disease is impacting younger miners than ever before.

Recently, the towns of Big Stone Gap, Pennington Gap, Haysi, and Dungannon passed resolutions in support of maintaining the excise tax at its current rate. While on Capitol Hill, Big Stone Gap City Councilman Tyler Hughes hand-delivered these resolutions to Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Morgan Griffith.

“It’s important for Congress to understand that this is more than just a healthcare issue. It’s also an economic issue,” said Councilman Hughes. “People who have sacrificed their health for our country depend on these black lung benefits, and residents of our region do not need another economic barrier.”

In August, Sen. Warner introduced a bipartisan bill to improve early detection of black lung disease. Currently, no legislation has been introduced to extend the excise tax that finances the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, but senators and representatives confirmed that the issue is on their radar.

“I’ve been listening to miners and their families about the outbreak of black lung that we’re seeing in Southwest Virginia and across coal country, and it was important to hear also from Councilman Hughes and the advocates from the Alliance for Appalachia,” said Sen. Warner. “This is a public health emergency, and Washington has got to wake up to what’s going on in Appalachia. With steps like my amendment to get more miners into treatment, which will soon become law, I’m hopeful that some of my colleagues are starting to listen, but meetings like this are a good reminder that we’ve got more work to do for our miners.”

The group also spoke with senators, representatives, and congressional staff about the importance of shoring up United Mine Workers of America pensions, as well as passing the RECLAIM Act, a bill which would distribute $1 billion from the existing federal Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund to states and tribes across the country to reclaim formerly mined lands in ways that spur new economic opportunities.

The Alliance for Appalachia is comprised of community and regional organizations in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Pennsylvania. Local participants in this trip included members of the Black Lung Association SWVA Chapter, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, the STAY Project and Appalachian Voices.

Big Stone Gap City Councilman Tyler Hughes, Peggy Brock from the SWVA chapter of the Black Lung Association and Bethel Brock, president of the SWVA chapter of the Black Lung Association and a former miner living with complicated black lung disease, met with Senator Mark Warner (second from left) to hand-deliver four local resolutions of support for extending the Black Lung Trust Fund.

Big Stone Gap City Councilman Tyler Hughes presents Virginia Rep. Morgan Griffith with four local resolutions of support for extending the Black Lung Trust Fund while representatives from the Alliance for Appalachia look on.

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Contacts:
Tyler Hughes, Big Stone Gap City Council – 276-220-2442
Willie Dodson, Appalachian Voices – 276-870-5843




Help us bring 40 Appalachians to D.C.

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

We know you haven’t heard from us in a while, but the Alliance for Appalachia’s efforts to support the health of mountain communities have continued behind the scenes. And now we your help to bring our message to Congress once more. Can you help us raise the funds by Sept. 15 to bring 40 representatives from our member organizations to Washington, D.C., this fall to tell their stories about mountaintop removal impacts, black lung, and the region’s efforts to create a sustainable economy?

Donate now

When Todd Waterman (pictured below right) came to Washington, D.C. with the Alliance for Appalachia two years ago, he probably didn’t know he would soon become a longstanding, go-to advocate for legislation in his state, and DJ Coker didn’t know he would soon join our Coordinating Committee and convene the Alliance’s regional Citizen’s Enforcement Team. What they did know was that they had a story to tell, that their communities matter, and that members of Congress have a duty to hear them out. Todd is pictured with (l-r):  Representative Diane Black’s aide, Vickie Terry, DJ Coker, Caitlin Myers and Adam Hughes.

By bringing local leaders to share their stories and advocate for community-led change, we’re demonstrating the reason this Alliance was established– to amplify local work with a regional voice while building leadership and capacity to implement a just transition. 

Your support will help us:

  • Build leadership and capacity among residents of Appalachia and members of the Alliance by providing scholarships and training so that they may meaningfully engage with elected representatives.

  • Meet with members of Congress to educate them on the health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining in our communities and advocate support for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. For decades, coal companies have pushed their costs onto people living near their operations and bailed on promises to provide healthcare to coal miners struggling with black lung. The rate of coal miners lung disease has doubled in less than a decade, creating an industrial epidemic across Appalachia. As we work for a just transition, we must stand up for our neighbors and hold the coal industry accountable to their debts and devastation.  

  • Urge members of Congress to invest in our region by passing the RECLAIM Act (HR 1731). This unique, bipartisan proposal would release $1 billion of existing funds to clean up toxic pollution on abandoned mine sites and promote community-led development. We see reclamation as a key component to achieving clean water, while also providing an opportunity to boost development and job creation.

  • Take action alongside allies in D.C. to reclaim the narratives and visions of people living in Appalachia by providing space for our members to tell their stories and experiences with confidence.


Grassroots support in 2016 made all the difference when we brought nearly 40 community leaders to DC. Together, we met with more than 35 congressional representatives and 8 federal agencies that have key roles in protecting our communities from environmental injustice, including 2 meetings at the White House with executive administration offices. The total cost of this upcoming trip is estimated to be over $27,000. 

“If I’d learned one thing as an activist, it’s that saying ‘yes’ to something I’ve never done before can be a tremendously empowering experience . . . If I had a lot to learn, that meant I’d learn a lot.” – John Todd Waterman, TN climate activist and member of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. Read all about his 2016 experience in the full article.

Help us build leadership and capacity and provide a platform for grassroots leaders to speak truth to power in Washington, D.C. Join our efforts by contributing $10, $50, $100 or more by September 15!

Donate now




Tell Gov. Haslam: Veto the Strip Mine Tennessee Act

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Earlier this month, the Tennessee legislature passed the “Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee” (the Strip Mine Tennessee Act). If signed by Gov. Haslam, this bill will create a new regulatory body to oversee strip mining in Tennessee — one that is expected to be far more lenient than the current authority: the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Take action today. Tell Governor Haslam to veto SB686/HB571, the “Strip Mine Tennessee Act!”

New coal mining permits are down in recent years and that trend is only expected to continue, but several counties of East Tennessee are left with contaminated water and vast scars on the land from the past impacts of this industry. In some communities, mountaintop removal mining is ongoing.

The regulatory body proposed in the Strip Mine Tennessee Act would likely make it easier for coal companies to acquire new permits and walk away from the environmental hazards and other liabilities associated with surface mines, leaving local residents and Tennessee taxpayers holding the bag.

The Strip Mine Tennessee Act puts our state’s natural heritage in peril and is projected to squander more than $1.5 million of taxpayer money in its first two years of implementation.

Gov. Haslam has until May 1 to veto this horrible legislation. Take action now to protect Tennessee’s natural heritage and taxpayers’ interests. Take the next step by calling Gov. Haslam at (615) 741-2001 to tell him to veto the Strip Mine Tennessee Act.

For the land and the people,

DJ Coker
Duff, Tenn.




Tell WVDEP: Coal River Mountain is not a dump

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

On Thursday, April 12, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will hold a public hearing on proposed revisions to the Collins Fork Permit in Raleigh County. These revisions would allow Republic Energy, LLC, to forgo reclamation efforts and instead use the area to dump tires, store fuel, stockpile coal and store equipment.

Please join Coal River Mountain Watch at the Clear Fork Elementary School, 4851 Clear Fork Rd, Artie, WV 25008 on April 12 at 6:00 p.m. to speak out against these proposed revisions. 

Even if you can’t attend in person, please add your name to tell WVDEP that Coal River Mountain is not a dump and that the permit revisions should be denied.

The Collins Fork Permit, S300208, is located at the head of Workman’s Creek and McDowell Branch on Coal River Mountain and is among 10 square miles of active and pending mining permits and sludge dams on Coal River Mountain.

The permit area is located within the Clearfork and Coal River watershed and was once forestland. Not only do the revisions endanger the community’s health and safety, they simply do not meet any reclamation standards set forth to restore ecosystems, forests or garner resources for the community.

Before it’s too late — tell WVDEP to deny the proposed Collins Fork permit revisions.

Your voice is important and appreciated.




Tell the Senate: Pass the RECLAIM Act

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Tell the Senate to pass the RECLAIM Act--call 202-816-6137Together, we have done the research. We have laid the groundwork. We have engaged our communities and built support. Together, we have affirmed that the RECLAIM Act is a good opportunity for our communities!

The RECLAIM Act would bring $1 billion — money that has already been collected from coal companies — back to these communities to repurpose abandoned mines while immediately creating jobs and supporting long-term economic development.

We need Congress to pass RECLAIM as part of the federal funding bill, and the deadline is this month. That’s why this week is extra critical! It’s an easy lift for the lawmakers, they just need to feel lots of public pressure to prioritize doing right by communities impacted by the coal industry. Your call will help make that happen.

It’s easy to make the call. 
Just dial 202-816-6137.

When you call this number, you will hear a recorded message that will give you instructions for what to say to your U.S. Senator and then you will be patched through to your Senator’s D.C. office. The message to leave with them is simple:

“Pass the House version of the RECLAIM Act now.”

Call now: 202-816-6137

IF YOU ARE IN KENTUCKY:

Call Mitch McConnell. Senator McConnell needs to feel lots of pressure from Kentuckians. He needs calls from grassroots folks — lots of them — and to feel public pressure in the media. In addition, we are calling him out in Lexington! Join us tomorrow outside the Senator’s office:

Wednesday, March 14 @ 1:00
771 Corporate Dr #108
Lexington, KY 40503

Please share this post to help us get the word out, especially about grassroots call-in days happening March 13-15.  Hashtag: #RECLAIMAct 

Learn more and share this link on Facebook with your friends: powerplusplan.org/senate-pass-reclaim-act




Oppose a new mountaintop removal mine in Daniel Boone National Forest

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

The Neely’s Creek Mine (permit 900-0047) in Pulaski County was issued in 2013, but mining still has not started. Now local citizens opposed to the mine have requested a hearing to stop the mine permit from being renewed.

Please attend the hearing to support community opposition to this mine.

The Neely’s Creek Mine threatens public land and water, as well as endangered wildlife. The mine is near the Sloans Valley and Neely’s Creek cave systems, which are home to the endangered Indiana grey bat. Blasting at the mine would endanger the structural integrity of the caves and threaten the bats that use the caves as their home.

This mine is also located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, less than 1 mile from the Cumberland River. Water pollution from the mine could easily enter the Cumberland River. Because of the mine’s location in the national forest and its proximity to recreational attractions, it also stands to adversely impact the area’s tourism economy.

Attend the public hearing on Wednesday, March 7 at 6 p.m. at Pulaski County High School. Tell the Kentucky Division of Mine Permits to deny this permit renewal.

You will be given a chance to speak if you choose, but you will not be required to speak. Members of The Alliance for Appalachia will be present at the hearing and can answer questions or concerns.




Take action: Protect communities from coal slurry impoundments

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

The federal Office of Management and Budget is seeking comment regarding the collection of annual reports and certifications for coal slurry impoundments and refuse piles. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has submitted an information collection request under the Paperwork Reduction Act, asking for a renewal of its reporting requirements without change.

Impoundments are used to contain waste produced during the processing of coal before it is shipped. The resulting coal slurry contains harmful heavy metals and chemicals used in coal processing. There are nearly 600 of these impoundments across 21 states. These impoundments pose very real threats to the communities living nearby. Poorly maintained impoundments have collapsed and caused the death of mine workers and nearby residents.

MSHA currently requires coal mine operators to submit annual reports and certifications on refuse piles and impoundments and to keep records of weekly monitoring. These requirements help to ensure the safety of workers and communities living below impoundments.

Tell the Office of Management and Budget to approve MSHA’s monitoring and reporting requirements. Comments are due by Wednesday, Nov. 22.




Massive Mountaintop Removal Mine Threatens Clearfork Valley

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

April Jarocki and Appalachian Voices' Matt Hepler stand next to mining equipment next to the Hatfield Cemetery near Cooper Ridge Mine.

April Jarocki and Appalachian Voices’ Matt Hepler stand next to mining equipment next to the Hatfield Cemetery near Cooper Ridge Mine.

RSVP to attend a public hearing on September 20 to voice your opposition to this mine.

The devastating practice of destroying entire mountains and disposing of mining-waste into headwater streams is still happening across the Appalachian region. For folks living beneath these mines, the assertion that mountaintop removal is over can feel like a slap in the face. Despite dynamics and shifts in energy markets, when there is a mountaintop removal mine above your community, the issue is as dire as ever.

The Clearfork Valley of Tennessee has been intensely surface-mined going back decades. As a result, the ridges and hillsides of Campbell and Claiborne counties display a patchwork of mining scars in various states of affliction and gradual healing. Some of these scars are pre-regulation Abandoned Mine Lands while others illustrate the failures of common reclamation standards. The area’s waterways are contaminated to varying degrees with metals, salts and sediment, and support far less aquatic life than they once did.

Now, Kopper Glo Mining is moving forward with a nearly 1,500-acre mountaintop removal mine on Cooper Ridge, dealing yet another massive blow to the ecology and communities of this beautiful and resilient area.

Agency missteps in the permitting process

Kopper Glo began operations on Cooper Ridge Mine this past spring, clearing initial, albeit insufficient, regulatory hurdles. Now the company is seeking a Phase II National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit required under the Clean Water Act for discharging pollutants into public waterways. The second phase allows the company to release higher levels of pollutants than allowable under the Phase I permit.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s (TDEC) issuance of water pollution permits in phases is a notable problem. This allows the agency — whose mission includes “protecting and improving the quality of Tennessee’s air, land, and water through a responsible regulatory system” — to ignore the true total impacts of a mining operation on adjacent waterways by only considering portions of the mine’s impacts at any one time.

Another issue is that Kopper Glo and regulatory agencies consider this operation a “re-mining” project, suggesting that the area is already impacted by mining and that the Cooper Ridge mountaintop removal mine will serve to reclaim and improve previously mined areas. The truth is that only around one-third of the permitted area has been impacted by older strip mines. Rather than repair old scars of mining, the Cooper Ridge permit will simply triple the footprint of mining on this mountain.

Finally, Kopper Glo has a long history of violations at other mines in the area. Regulatory agencies like TDEC and the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement should not be so quick to grant additional permits to a company that has consistently demonstrated either an inability or unwillingness to operate within the confines of the law.

What’s wrong with this mine?

Any surface mine of this size will have severe impacts on ecology and nearby communities. This is especially true in areas like East Tennessee, where headwater streams abound and where homes are crowded into narrow valleys often right at the toe of mining operations. Concerns include excessive runoff, sedimentation of streams, alterations to groundwater hydrology and the discharge of high levels of selenium and other harmful substances into waterways.

In addition to adverse impacts to ground and surface water, the Cooper Ridge mine threatens important local community and cultural assets. The permit boundary sits just a half-mile behind Clairfield Elementary School, presenting concerns for the health and safety of the students, teachers and community members engaged in activities at the school. The mine also surrounds the historic and still-in-use Hatfield Cemetery — an area where logging related to the mine has already occurred and where mine workers are now parking trucks and equipment.

Speak out against the Cooper Ridge mountaintop removal mine

You can support residents of the Clearfork Valley by attending a public hearing on September 20 to voice your opposition to this mine. The hearing will be held from 7:00-9:00 p.m. in the Recreation Building at Cove Lake State Park, 110 Cove Park Ln., Caryville, TN. Visit this page to RSVP, find a ride and connect with other people and resources if you’d like to attend this hearing. If you can’t make it to the hearing but want to make sure your voice is heard, you can submit a comment to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Whether you speak out at the public hearing or submit your comments online, preparation and clarity are key. Feel free to utilize any of the talking points below in developing your comments.

Talking Points

  • Permitting in Phases: TDEC must consider all of the discharges from the entire proposed mine in a single permit process. By issuing water pollution permits in at least two separate phases, TDEC has failed to account for the full impact to the receiving streams.
  • Impacts of Re-Mining: TDEC should not assume that re-mining will lead to an overall decrease in pollution from the site. In fact, evidence suggests that streams in the Clear Fork watershed have only recently begun to recover from the pollution impacts of historic mining and that recent mining has started to reverse that trend.
  • Compliance History: The agencies should not reward a chronic violator with permits for a new surface mine. The permit application lists at least 17 notices of violation from OSM to Kopper Glo for its other coal mining operations in less than three years, including many violations related to water quality.
  • Cumulative Impacts: Permitting authorities must address the cumulative impacts of water pollution discharged from all existing and proposed strip mines in the Clear Fork watershed before issuing any new permits.
  • Selenium: The draft permit violates the Clean Water Act because it fails to fully evaluate the reasonable potential of discharges from the mine to violate water quality standards for selenium. Given that selenium is known to be present in variable concentrations in coal seams in Tennessee, TDEC should require the applicant to conduct and report representative core sampling to determine whether selenium is likely to be present in the coal to be mined from the site.
  • Groundwater Impacts: This mine would affect groundwater because it will change the hydrology of the east side of Cooper Ridge and release pollutants now contained in the coal and the overburden at the site. Groundwater and surface water resources are closely connected in this area. There are at least seven households and two churches that use springs or wells for their water supply.
  • Impacts on Sensitive Species: The blackside dace, a freshwater fish, is protected as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, in part because of pollution from surface coal mining. The Cooper Ridge mine will discharge polluted runoff water to tributaries of the Clear Fork, an important corridor that blackside dace use seasonally to seek spawning habitat in smaller streams. Blackside dace are extremely intolerant of elevated conductivity levels caused by dissolved solids from polluted mining runoff. Any discharge permit for the mine must impose limits on conductivity to avoid further harm to blackside dace.
  • Community Cemetery: This mine will be near family cemeteries which must be protected. Community members must be able to access family cemeteries on Cooper Ridge, and we ask that the deep mine portal be moved further than 100 feet away from the Hatfield Cemetery.
  • Economics: Tourism is important to the current and future economy of Tennessee. The Tackett Creek Wildlife Management area surrounds the proposed Cooper Ridge mine. This area has great potential for increased ecotourism that can benefit Tennessee’s economy more than another strip mine.



Share your concerns about mountaintop removal health impacts

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

The National Academy of Sciences is undertaking a review of existing research on links between mountaintop removal coal mining and health risks. The review is funded by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in response to a request from the state of West Virginia. As part of the review, the NAS is hosting public meetings to gather information from impacted communities.

public comment meeting will be held on Monday, Aug. 21st from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Perry County Public Library in Hazard, Ky.

On Tuesday, Aug. 22, the NAS will host a panel of scientists and state regulators in Lexington, Ky. This session will be from 12:45 to 5:00 p.m. at the Griffin Gate Marriott and is open to the public.

You are welcome to join either session, but attending the public comment session on Monday will be most impactful. You are not required to speak, but we encourage you to do so. If you have been directly impacted by mining, consider sharing information you have, such as well water data, air pollution issues or personal health impacts.

Representatives from member groups of The Alliance for Appalachia and allies will be attending. We will be available on Monday at 5:30 p.m. to provide suggested talking points to those who want to speak during the town hall.

Can’t attend the meetings? Submit your comments online today!




The RECLAIM Act is under attack from corporate coal interests

Monday, June 26th, 2017

The darker the red, the greater the extend of remaining abandoned mines. Image: The Daily Yonder.

The darker the red, the greater the extend of remaining abandoned mines. Image: The Daily Yonder.

The RECLAIM Act is going to a vote before the House Natural Resources Committee TOMORROW. Despite having shown no interest in the legislation over past the past two years, corporate coal interests have launched an all-out assault to kill the bill in the past few days.
We can’t let corporate interests steal this opportunity from folks trying to build a bright future for their home. The RECLAIM Act would create thousands of jobs in communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry. RECLAIM is sponsored by Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and a bipartisan set of cosponsors.

The legislation would use $1 billion sitting idle in Washington to put people to work cleaning up abandoned coal mines.

It could also spur the reuse of reclaimed mines for development projects that would diversify local economies, like this agriculture project in West Virginia. But the current bill language needs to be strengthened in order to catalyze economic projects like these. Representative Don Beyer will offer an amendment on Tuesday to strengthen the bill.

RECLAIM would be funded through a $2.5 billion federal fund that has been financed by the coal industry over the past 40 years. The RECLAIMAct doesn’t use a cent of taxpayer money. It imposes no new fees or taxes, and has no impact on the coal industry. The RECLAIM Act uses existing funds to create jobs and clean up dangerous mines.

It’s a win-win-win. We know it. You know it. Now it’s time to let Congress know it, too.

Before it’s too late, call and show your support!

Call 1-347-269-4100

Tell your representative:

“The RECLAIM Act would create thousands of jobs in struggling communities. Vote yes on the RECLAIM Act– and the Beyer amendment– tomorrow. If you don’t serve on the Natural Resources Committee, share your support with Chairman Bishop.”





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