Press Release: Can communities influence mine cleanup, create jobs, and diversify our economy?

A diverse group including policy experts, scientists and community members is meeting to discuss effective use of Abandoned Mine Land dollars to improve communities in Central Appalachia.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

October 27, 2014 – Breaks, VA – A diverse group of stakeholders, including impacted community members, non-profit organizations, scholars, policy experts, lobbyists and scientists are gathering at Breaks Interstate Park at the border of Virginia and Kentucky today to discuss the looming issue of Abandoned Mine Lands.

Meeting participants will share information about working with the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund, policy recommendations for reforming the troubled program, and discuss other reclamation needs in the region. The group will explore possibilities for regional collaboration on these issues.

“As coal production declines in the region and we transition towards a new economy, the Abandoned Mine Land fund can play an integral part in providing employment and creating healthier, safer communities in the region,” said Rob Goodwin, technical analyst with the WV CARE Campaign. “The fund was intended to be spent to clean up the highest priority risks to communities and the environment. Without people coming together to change the status quo, payments into the fund will expire in 2022, current funds will not be spent efficiently and large risks to Appalachian communities’ streams will not be addressed.”

The AML fund was created in 1977 as part of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The purpose of the fund is to reclaim pre-1977 abandoned mine lands, and it was born from the idea that the coal industry should bear the cost of the environmental and social damage wrought by mining coal. Millions of AML dollars are appropriated to coal states annually, though the allotment process has long been fraught with controversy. This group has hopes for making the process more useful to communities dealing with the toxic and dangerous legacy of abandoned mine lands and has noted that these monies could be used to fuel economic transition efforts in Appalachia.

The meeting is spearheaded by a regional coalition of The Alliance for Appalachia and the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. Through the Highlander Center’s Appalachian Transition Fellowship program, these organizations have been collaborating to create a whitepaper regarding AML fund opportunities in Central Appalachia and to bring together leaders and community members throughout the region who are working on the issue.

Long-term goals of the project include increasing employment opportunities by putting unemployed miners and others to work through reclamation and reforestation, and to begin to foster creative, community-led reclamation solutions that will benefit communities, such as Wise County, VA, that have seen up to 25% of their land damaged by mining.

“The AML money needs to come back to where it came from, and where the healing is needed,” said Jane Branham of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards in Wise, County, VA.  “We have all these people out of work from mine closures, and we can put people back to work healing the land – it’s not just good for the land, it’s good for the people, and would be a project our community could really take pride in.”

This event is co-hosted by the Alliance for Appalachia and the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center from Whitesburg, KY. The Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center is a nonprofit law firm that fights for justice in the coalfields by representing coal miners and their families on issues of black lung and mine safety and by working with grassroots groups and individuals to protect the land and people from misuse and degradation caused by extractive industries. The Center handles individual cases and engages in strategic litigation and policy work in the areas of mine safety and health, environmental protection and sustainable energy.

The Alliance for Appalachia is a coalition of groups across the Central Appalachian region working to end mountaintop removal and other destructive coal technologies, as well as 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.


September 2014 Newsletter

Thanks for helping make “Our Water, Our Future” such a huge success! 

The Alliance for Appalachia was honored to host dozens of Appalachian community leaders in DC this September, along with allies from across the country, to fight for our water and our future.

These mountain leaders, pictured below, were our delegates to an inter-agency meeting with the Obama Administration. While there, residents presented stories of impacts at home and as well as simple policy changes that would limit the destruction of mountaintop removal and go a long way towards protecting our communities.

While it was clear from our inter-agency meeting that the Obama Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality was unprepared to report its progress and defend its shortfalls since its 2009 commitments, we were blown away by the strength of  mountain leaders who traveled many hours from many states to share our own evaluation. It was great to see all the work of our different committees and different organizations come together.

Our organizing team assembled a great training that introduced emerging leaders to the policy recommendations that our Federal Strategy team has developed for the Obama Administration. These administrative changes include a Conductivity Rule and strong Selenium Standard from the US Environmental Protection Agency and a strong Stream Protection Rule and Mine Fill Rule from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation Enforcement.

We summarized the basic asks in a Report Card that graded the Obama Administration on their efforts to stop mountaintop removal, then printed out the reportcard to present to the CEQ following our big meeting. You can see that the Administration has much more to do in the next two years–they got an I for “Incomplete” in most areas.

In addition to sitting down with agency officials, groups met with Congressional Representatives, worked with EQAT to demand that PNC bank divest from mountaintop removal, celebrated with allies and friends at our Moonshine Mixer, and took small actions around DC.

Oh and did we mention the powerful day of action? More than 100 of us gathered outside the offices of the CEQ and the White House, demanding protections for our water and our future. Residents formed a bucket brigade to gather clean water DC officials have promised us and bring home to our Appalachian communities that don’t have clean water.

In addition, some residents chose to sit in on the front steps of the CEQ to deliver our report card, while others joined in a joyful square dance on the front walk of the office.

Our efforts only grow from here! We will continue to build power and design opportunities for action around these rulemakings in 2015, including releasing a “Grassroots Progress Report: The Obama Administration and Mountaintop Removal” that outlines our member groups’ evaluation of the Obama Administration’s progress to address strip-mining, and offers a two year workplan for action.

We’re grateful to all the volunteers who made this event happen on a shoestring budget and our many partners that donated to support scholarships for Appalachian leaders to attend. Beautiful photographs of the planning process can be found at this link  and here are pictures of the rally at the White House. We reached over 50,000 people on Facebook, over 130,000 on Twitter and nearly 2,000 people contacted the administration to support our action. If you haven’t sent an email, please do at this link! For more information, read our blog that summarizes the day’s activities and some great press coverage from Think ProgressBloomberg BNA, and Waging Nonviolence.

Updates from the Movement: 
Campaign Victory from Gainesville Loves Mountains!
The Florida based Gainesville Loves Mountains has been working for over three years to pass a an ordinance at the city commission that would ban the use of coal from MTR mines in regional utilities. This month, they won that campaign! This makes Gainesville the first community in the US to ban the use of MTR-mined coal for their electricity! Above, Gainesville Loves Mountains‘ key organizer Jason Fults and Appalachian Voices’ Ann League pose before the hearing. Members of Appalachian Voices traveled to Florida to educate the commission on the dangers of mountaintop removal coal mining and alternatives to using coal from this destructive practice.

Abandoned Mine Lands Research Project Progresses Towards a Campaign
Our Highlander Center AppFellow, who began working with us in June, is partnering with a fellow at the Appalachian Citizens Law Center (ACLC) to conduct primary research on the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Fund–a body of federal funds set aside to clean up pre-1977 abandoned mines sites. The fellows are working on a white paper with policy recommendations which will be presented at an AML regional gathering on October 27th at the Breaks Interstate Park. This meeting is a first step to influence the way in which AML funds are managed in the region, to put unemployed miners back to work through reclamation and reforestation efforts, and to begin to foster creative, community-led reclamation solutions that will benefit communities that have seen up to 25% of our land destroyed by mountaintop removal.

Go here to learn more about the gathering and to register if you’d like to attend!

People’s Climate March includes a strong contingent from across Appalachia
Mountain leaders joined 400,000 in New York City for the People’s Climate March. Those fighting mountaintop removal were among some of the frontline communities to lead this historic march for climate protections.

Appalachian Voices did a great write up and captured the photo above. Media resources across the world captured this event, including this Grist article that features several voices from Kentucky leaders. Through the Climate Justice Alliance, key representatives from frontline communities directly affected by climate change and the destructive practices that fuel climate change acted as media spokespeople for the march. Read Stanley Sturgill’s powerful statement on the march here.

In addition to the record breaking event, residents participated in a People’s Climate Summit and the Flood Wall Street action which made the link between climate chaos and the industries that are making massive profits off the destruction of our communities.

EQAT also hosted another action targeting PNC Bank’s funding of mountaintop removal while activists were gathered in New York.

These events were an important opportunity not only to raise the stakes for world leaders to finally act to fight climate change, but also a chance for community leaders from California to Appalachia to connect the dots on the challenges and opportunities facing our communities and discuss how we build power from the grassroots up.

Remembering Those We’ve Lost

It is with heavy hearts we say goodbye to our dear friend and mentor Lenny Kohm. Appalachian Voices has a beautiful tributeto the fun-loving, hard working chief. Please keep Lenny’s Appalachian Voices team, family and many friends in your thoughts. Details about a celebration of his life should be announced sometime this week, but in the meantime a memorial facebook page has been set up for folks to post their remembrances of Lenny.

Another hero, Jimmy Weekley, an early leader in the efforts to end mountaintop removal, has passed on. Jimmy fought since the late 90s against the Spruce #1 mountaintop removal site above his home in Pigeon Roost Hollow near Blair, WV. You can read more about his impact here and in this powerful NPR story here. Photo by Mark Schmerling.

This last week we also lost one of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards’ (SAMS) most beloved and valuable members, Judiana Stines. She has been on the board of SAMS since 2010 and was one of the groups most dedicated workers. She will be sorely missed.
News Updates:

Most coal mines, coal processing facilities and coal slurry impoundments in Kentucky are currently covered under a 5 year single general permit, which expired in at the end of July. Despite strong citizen testimony at a public hearing.the Beshear administration this week issued two new general permits for coal facilities that fail to fully address the ongoing and substantial harm to humans and aquatic life from polluted mine wastewater.

Banner Hung in Protest Of Jim Justice
Members of Mountain Justice, Rising Tide North America and RAMPS hung a banner in downtown Roanoke in support of community demands in Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee that billionaire coal baron Jim Justice stop poisoning water. The banner reads; “Jim Justice Profits, Appalachia Pays.” and “Jim Justice, Toxic Spill Billionaire”.

SOCM Plans Annual Meeting
On October 18th SOCM members will gather for a day of fun, fellowship and planning for the future of the organization.

Tennessee Moving Closer to Groundbreaking Energy Efficiency Projects
Appalachian Voices is advocating for on bill financing programs that show huge potential for energy efficiency programs in electricity co-ops in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Appalachia’s Bright Future 2.0 Huge Success
This event brought together a diverse group to dream and plan for the future of the region. ABF 2.0 was less a conference and more a tour of good things happening to build a strong local economy in the mountains. It included structured conversations and “choose your own adventure” tours of exciting economic transition projects across Eastern Kentucky.

Mountain Justice Celebrates 10 Years
Over 100 attended a recent event to celebrate 10 years of organizing and actions with Mountain Justice. Past and current volunteers gathered at the Appalachian Folk Life Center, pictured above.

Mountain Justice Fall Summit Planned
RAMPS and Keepers of the Mountains are hosting the 9th annual Mountain Justice Fall Summit on Kayford Mountain, October 24th-26th to show the problems of mountaintop removal first hand.

Blackwater River Fish Kill and Coal Mine Spills Show Need for Increased Enforcement
Recent water problems in Davis, WV and in Logan County, WV showed once again that our water is at risk to lack of regulations.

Black Lung Continues to Increase
Incredibly, basic protections for our miners do not exist to stop the spread of this preventable and devastating disease.

Continued Violations on Strip Mine Near Popular Park
Careful citizen monitoring has resulted 5 violations and one Cessation Order in 5 months on a surface mine near Charleston, WV. Community members are appalled by the irresponsible behavior of the company and the WV Department of Environmental Protection.

Federal Appeals Court Gives Environmental Groups Standing to Seek Added Historical Protections
Friends of Blair Mountain, The Sierra Club and other groups seeking to protect Blair Mountain, site of the 1921 battle between miners and coal companies, can now seek legal action to protect this historic treasure from mountaintop removal coal mining.