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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.

Tadpole Project Grows Youth Leadership

Friday, April 25th, 2014

While the Coal River Valley may be better known for the mountaintop removal coal mining that has created health and economic issues there for years, there are a lot of exciting community development efforts that show the spirit of the community and the potential for positive change. The community successfully organized to build a new school in their community, when Marsh Fork Elementary was threatened by a sludge dam and nearby prep plant.

The Tadpole Project,  which is run by internationally known group Coal River Mountain Watch, has been working with youth in the Coal River Valley for several years now. The group organizes clean-ups along the river, and have one planned for tomorrow, April 26th.  The long term goals are to work together as a community to address all the pollution in the Big Coal River and it’s tributaries.

Along the way, the project is getting kids out of the house, cleaning up the rivers and swimming holes, and teaching some lessons to parents as well.

“One of our kids said to his dad, ‘Daddy, don’t throw trash out the window of the truck or we’re going to have to pick that up later!’” said Peggy Bone, who works with the program through Coal River Mountain Watch.  ”If you teach them when they’re young to not throw out trash, then they grow up knowing that.”


The Tadpole Project has adopted a stretch of highway in one of the most heavily strip-mined communities in Appalachia. This small but powerful effort showcases community pride and celebrates some of the greatest things about growing up in Appalachia.

“Our teenagers get excited about cleaning up our rivers, because that’s where they play. Teenagers, including my son, are mainly interested in video games, he says so himself. It’s hard to get them outside and interested in picking up trash and volunteering on a Saturday. But they all want to help clean up their favorite swimming holes, because they all swim there,” added Bone.

The group has collected over 800 tires and provided community dumpsters to help people who don’t have access to bulk garbage clean-up.

 The Tadpole Project is developing youth leadership and direction through its youth advisory board. The group has leased a popular park in the area and have plans to create trails and fix it up for the entire community to enjoy. According to Bone, “A lot of groups doing similar work focus on teenagers, but we’re also working with even younger kids, who aren’t as influenced by the coal industry propaganda and have a lot of ideas about what they want to see in their community and in our park.”
For more information, check out the Tadpole Website:

The Tadpole Project works to protect and restore the Marsh Fork of the Big Coal River.  The 28-mile Marsh Fork tributary of the Big Coal River flows in the valley between Coal River Mountain and Cherry Pond Mountain in western Raleigh County.  The Marsh Fork, and the numerous creeks running into it, suffer from years of neglect and build-up of garbage and scrap metal.  Our goal is to foster community pride by getting community members involved in the restoration of our river and bringing awareness to the natural beauty of our area.  We are organizing clean-up days along the river and its creeks, going door-to-door talking to people who live along the river, and engaging local high school students to help with the clean up.

Ultimately, the Tadpole Project hopes to expand to involve the community in other aspects of watershed protection.  Coal mines, coal processing plants, mountaintop removal sites, gas wells, timbering, and personal waste waters all affect the health of our waterway.  These concerns all need to be addressed in order to have a healthy Marsh Fork watershed.   Our goal is to map out a watershed plan which would address all the sources and causes of stream impairment in the Marsh Fork tributary and to engage local residents in stream monitoring and water testing to involve them in protecting the health of our river.






Apples for Appalachia

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Members of Southern Appalachia Mountain Stewards (SAMS) recently hosted an exciting workshop, Wise County Apple Day, about the potential for bringing back the once thriving apple orchard economy in Wise County, VA. The workshop was part of a new effort called AppalCEED (Appalachia Communities Encouraging Economic Diversification)

Wise County, Virginia, was the nation’s top producer of apples until surface coal mining  destroyed the majority of the orchards.  AppalCEED organizers are looking to rebuild this industry. The workshop brought together heirloom apple growers to give demonstrations on apple grafting and growing, and have out free root stock for participants to take home and plant themselves.

Long time Appalachian activist Helen Lewis (find her great books at the Highlander Center) spoke about the history of apples in Wise County and her long work in the apple economy in the area, which she began in 1955.

According to Lewis, many of Wise Counties orchards were lost to strip mining, but she has hopes that reclamation projects can create apple orchards, as well as local wineries, and other economic development in the area.

Local growers were realistic about the challenges to growing in the area – threats include bears, deer as well as a lack of trained workers and out of date policies that don’t protect growers.

However, members of SAMS are excited about growing the potential for apples in Wise County – starting with the delicious apple crisp with ice cream they enjoyed at the meeting.


Help Support Appalachian Communities to Get a Seat at the Table in DC

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Earlier this month, citizens from Appalachia joined with the Citizens Coal Council and leaders from coal-impacted regions across the country for an unprecedented meeting with the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, in Washington, DC.

Community members made the journey because this year, Secretary Jewell will make major decisions that impact the water and future of Central Appalachia. This important meeting is just one step in our work to ensure that Appalachians have a seat at the table during this critical time.

You can help. Support our work to protect our water and our future.

Over 1.2 million acres – 10% of Central Appalachia – have been surface mined for coal.  Lackluster enforcement and rampant mining pollution have deprived Appalachian communities of the clean water that most Americans take for granted.

It’s a critical time for Appalachian communities. Your support is key to ensuring important protections are made and that we have the funds to ramp up for the Our Water, Our Future Action thisSeptember 8th and 9th in Washington, DC.

You can support this work by donating to the Our Water, Our Future effort, our grassroots campaign to get real federal enforcement to protect mountain communities from the ravages of the coal industry.

Divestment from Fossil Fuels Can Mean Reinvestment in Appalachian Economic Resiliency

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

The Fossil Fuel Student Divestment Network has spread to over 500 campuses internationally.  These students and alumni are working to get their universities and colleges to divest from fossil fuels. A recent victory at Harvard University shows the power of the movement – just six months ago, Harvard officials had told students and alumni there was no way the school would divest their $33bn endowment from fossil fuels. However, Harvard is the 9th college so far to show movement in the direction of divestment by setting aside a fund to reinvest.  Pitzer University recently won the most comprehensive divestment victory yet.

Photo by Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network

Recently, organizers hosted a convergence, gathering 300 students from dozens of universities in San Francisco along with leaders from across the environmental justice and climate change movements to learn new skills and make plans.

Paul Corbit Brown from the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation and Christine Gyovai spoke to the impacts of coal on communities in Appalachia, as well as the powerful work for economic resiliency that they are a part of in Central Appalachia.

“I discussed how to support projects where community members  are developing local economies, especially in Southwest Virginia,” said Christine Gyovai. “We are looking at how to sustain this project over the long haul – how do we translate our ideas and visions into concrete, sustainable action. It was great to see ways that other communities are doing this work.  It’s important to have a place to come together and hear people’s stories.”

“I appreciated all the different people’s perspectives gathered at the convergence – different perspectives with a unified theme. It was inspirational, but also hands on with concrete ideas and tools to bring back home.”

As students look to divest from fossil fuels, it’s  important to explore what reinvestment in the communities most impacted by fossil fuels can look like. To hear interviews with some of the students who organized the convergence, check out this article.  Go here to sign a petition calling for divestment of fossil fuels and to find out about local campaigns in your area.

Activism and Academia Meet for the Mountains at Annual Conference

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Thanks to Dan Taylor with OVEC for this great write up of the recent Appalachian Studies Association Conference in Huntington, WV. Read on for an update about the conference and the important work:

It was great to have the Appalachian Studies Association conference back at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, where I live.  I had a great weekend, meeting lots of interesting new people and hearing lots of interesting new ideas.  The best thing about this conference is always the variety, as many disciplines and fields touch on the “Appalachian” experience. You can hear great academic lectures, talks on activism, music and art; it runs the whole gamut of cultural experience in an overloaded weekend.

A highlight was watching my co-workers here at OVEC, who is also based in Huntington, present on Cemetery Preservation issues, as it related to mountain top removal coal mining and gas extraction that threatens our states’ history. This session included Boone County residents and activists Maria Gunoe, Dustin White and Danny Cook, currently working on access issues with the Cook family cemetery, and OVEC organizer Robin Blakeman, who has dealt with these issues in the past.

There were also great sessions on Appalachian labor history, economic transition in Wales after coal mining left the region, prison expansion in Central Appalachia and the Highlander Center’s new Appalachian Transition Fellowship Program.  This fellowship is a particularly interesting and fantastic opportunity to build capacity for economic transition in our region.  The Alliance for Appalachia and OVEC have recently been accepted as hosts for fellows.  I very much look forward to working with the fellows and seeing the great projects that they can accomplish in the next year.

The Alliance for Appalachia hosted sessions on the work of the economic transition team.  We had a great crowd, great discussion and enthusiasm for our past work and our work moving forward to create a better and more just economy for our region.

Participating in events like the Appalachian Studies Association is just one way that communities are building the regional conversation for a just transition for a cleaner, brighter Appalachian future.  Topics discussed at the panel hosted by The Alliance for Appalachian included the need for land reform, energy efficiency initiatives, and tax reform. Events like these are an exciting way for those working on these important issues to share information and keep moving the region forward. Stay tuned for more updates as this exciting work grows.

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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