Press Release: Appalachian Leaders Invite U.S. Interior Secretary Jewell to Tour Mountaintop Removal Impacted Communities

A coalition of groups has invited the Secretary to tour communities impacted by mountaintop removal

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Numerous citizen groups, including the regional coalition The Alliance for Appalachia, have recently sent invitations for U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to visit Appalachia and see mountaintop removal from the perspective of those living near the destructive mining practice. In addition, groups wish to showcase initiatives working towards healing the land, communities and economies that have been impacted by over a century of mining activity.

“It is vital for Secretary Jewell to hear from citizens from each state where mountaintop removal is happening. Our hope is that she can visit more than one site, and hear from more than just a few impacted residents,” said Mary Love, the Land Reform Committee co-chair for Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC).

Earlier this month, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Joe Pizarchik, Director of the Federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, visited West Virginia to meet with state agencies and coal company officials. While in Appalachia, Secretary Jewell mentioned an interest in returning to hear the concerns of citizens who are living near mountaintop removal mines, if those groups invited her to the region.

“We were curious when Secretary Jewell mentioned she would like to be invited by citizen groups, since we have invited the Secretary multiple times. I invited her personally during a meeting in 2014, shortly after she took her position,” said Ann League, executive director of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), who was forced to leave her home after a nearby mountaintop removal mine ruined her well water.

The Alliance for Appalachia has invited Secretary Jewell to tour the region on several occasions, most recently during a meeting with the agency this past March.  In an open letter to the Secretary last week, The Alliance for Appalachia mentioned a need to engage in creative dialogue around key issues, including lack of oversight over current mining operations and the need to protect public health and strengthen the regional economy.

“We’re pleased to once again invite Secretary Jewell to visit our communities and see these issues from the perspective of people who have lost their health and their community to mountaintop removal coal mining. We want her to see that there is a sustainable future in Appalachia beyond this devastating practice, and explore the ways her agency can be a part of building that future,” said Jane Branham, chair of The Alliance for Appalachia and a board member of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.

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.
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Open Invitation to Secretary Jewell to Visit Appalachia

The Honorable Sally Jewell
Secretary
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Jewell:

On behalf of our 15 grassroots groups throughout Central Appalachia, the Alliance for Appalachia invites you to visit Appalachia to meet with community-based organizations and impacted citizens that face the direct consequences of mountaintop removal coal mining.

We understand that you recently met with coal industry representatives in West Virginia. They  represent only one perspective on the communities where they operate. They fail to acknowledge the broad and harmful impacts mountaintop removal has on the communities near mines and on the region as a whole. We invite you to visit Appalachia to see firsthand the ongoing challenges caused by mountaintop removal mining operations and allow us to showcase concrete examples of initiatives that could benefit Appalachian communities now and build a more resilient future.

Communities across much of Central Appalachia have for decades been under persistent and increasing threat from adverse impacts to our health, our environment, and our economic opportunity as a direct result of mountaintop removal and related coal industry practices. It is critical that you understand the personal toll that lax regulations and poor enforcement have placed upon many members of communities across the Appalachian region.

The Alliance for Appalachia can be a catalyst to help your agency develop sensible solutions that will protect public health and promote and strengthen the regional economy. We want to facilitate a constructive dialogue to address the impacts of mountaintop removal in a manner that closes serious gaps in oversight and works toward more effective policymaking. We look forward to working with you to solidify a date for this visit, specific locations, and determining any resources you need to make your trip as productive as possible.  Please let us know how we might move forward with assisting you with the execution of this visit with citizens of the region.

Sincerely,

Jane Branham,
Coordinating Committee Chair

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth ● West Virginia Highlands Conservancy ● Ohio Valley Environmental Council ● Coal River Mountain Watch ● Appalachian Voices ● Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards ● Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment ● Keepers of the Mountains ●  The STAY Project ● Heartwood ● Sierra Club Environmental Justice ● Southwings ● Highlander Educations and Research Center ● Gainesville Loves Mountains ● Hands Off Appalachia

 

Spring Updates

We’re hiring!

We’re so grateful for our funders large and small who’ve allowed us to expand our staff! We’re excited to announce that we’re hiring an economic transition coordinator to continue the work of our amazing AppFellow Kendall Bilbrey.

Applications are due June 29th. Please share this job description with your networks and be sure to share it to your Facebook page!

Abandoned Mine Lands Discussion Continues

Our Economic Transition team has been busy with a tour to discuss our plans to work with the AML fund and to learn from our local leaders about what’s needed. Our whitepaper on the AML fund, co-written by our AppFellow Kendall Bilbrey and Eric Dixon with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, along with other leaders in our AML Policy Priorities group, is coming out later this summer. The release has been delayed a bit as the whitepaper has grown to a comprehensive guide to the complicated fund – the current draft is over 140 pages long! We’re excited to reveal this important new resource to the community.

In addition, the AML Policy Priorities Group hosted an educational tour across the region to share the information gathered through a participatory research process about the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund. The tour included a variety of presentations and discussions with community members, conference presentations, organizational presentations, and an in-person summit, totaling to ten presentations across the region both in-person and virtually.

The number of attendees varied from a large in-person summit to a handful of community leaders at other stops. Through our tour we were able to reach well over 150 people, and put tools and resources in their hands to learn more about Abandoned Mine Lands issues in their communities and beyond.

Updates from the Movement: 

Two Hearings in DC
Appalachian advocates traveled to DC twice last month to discuss the need to end mountaintop removal. Dustin White (pictured below with Thom Kay behind him on CSpan) testified at a hearing on the hotly anticipated Stream Protection Rule (SPR)  we expect to see from the Obama administration later this month.

Dustin explained the need for federal action to protect Appalachia:

“Most of the Appalachian states with mountaintop removal have their own regulatory agencies that are supposed to be the first line of defense for communities when coal companies violate the law.  These agencies exist in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. In West Virginia we know them as the DEP or Department of Environmental Protection. But many in WV say DEP stands for something else… ‘Don’t Expect Protection’ as citizens often find themselves doing the job of the DEP to monitor the impacts of mining.”

And our friend Michael Hendryx testified at another hearing also regarding the SPR – and a bill called “The Stream Act” that would block the Obama administration from writing the Stream Protection Rule, and thus take away one of the administration’s avenues for limiting mountaintop removal. Dr. Hendryx was frank, at one point telling The Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee:

“The Stream Act in my view is an unnecessary delay and a threat to human health. Instead, I call for the complete enforcement of existing stream buffer rules, or stronger rules that the [Office of Surface Mining] may put forth, to prevent the dumping of mining waste into streams.”

Read more about the hearings here.

Victory! Mining Operations Halted Near Kanawha State Forest
Our friends at the Kanawha State Forest (KSF) Coalition have been working hard the past few years to stop a mountaintop removal mine from destroying this beautiful forest near Charleston, WV. The mine has had more than 20 violations in the last years, putting the area community at risk.


In great news, the WV Department of Environmental Protection finally took action, ordering the mine to cease operations until the company can show the DEP that they fully abate the violations and eventually reclaim the site. Quoted in this Charleston Gazette article, local resident Chad Caldwell pointed out, “If [the] DEP had listened to our concerns, they never would have issued this permit in the first place. We sent a petition to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin with 5,000 signatures. He ignored it.”

We’re certain this victory is due to the constant vigilance and fearless organizing of KSF members. Congratulations!


Outlaw Coal Baron Billionaire Sets His Sights on WV Governor’s Mansion
Jim Justice – target of the regional Justice to Justice campaign, recently expressed interest in becoming governor, much to the dismay of the thousands who have been cheated out of wages by Justice bad business practice, or had their communities damaged by outlaw mines he owns.

As Tom Torres, an activist with the Justice to Justice campaign and the group Hands Off Appalachia, says in this Grist article, “He has this public persona as a down-home charitable member of the community, and at the same time he owes millions of dollars to unpaid contractors and all these state and federal agencies for labor violations and environmental violations and safety violations.”

Sign this petition against Jim Justice‘s bad actions here to join the campaigning for him to clean up his mess and pay off his debts.

Frasure Creek Continues to Pollute Kentucky Communities
Under the Clean Water Act, polluting industries monitor their own water pollution and submit quarterly reports to the state environmental agency.

Five years ago, KFTC, Appalachian Voices and other groups found evidence that many large coal companies – including Frasure Creek – had submitted thousands of false water pollution records.

Five years later, they are still at it – a look at Frasure Creek’s recent reports shows that 25% of the reports submitted by The company appear to contain false data, hiding actual findings of water pollution violations.  Read more about this ongoing problem and the work activists are doing to stop this reckless behavior in this article.

Appalachian Regional Commission Hosts Listening Sessions On Economic Transition
Last week, citizens from across Appalachia attended a listening session hosted by the Appalachian Regional Commission in Morehead, KY.

Organizers are still curious to see what the outcome of these listening sessions will be, given the checkered history of the ARC’s work in the region, but are showing up to join the conversation. The focus of member groups of The Alliance for Appalachia and our allies include the inclusion of youth and grassroots wisdom, as well as a frank discussion about the economic future of our region as coal reserves dwindle. As Sierra Club Beyond Coal Organizer Gabby Gillespie says in this article:

“We have seen a lot of progress on this front in Central Appalachia over the past five years. It seems that more and more citizens every day are willing to let the “coal is our future” rhetoric fall to the wayside and are far more open to talk about new economic opportunities in the region. Many folks in the groups I engaged in at the event wanted to see more spaces for sharing intergenerational knowledge and skills, as well as seeing much more youth engagement.”To learn more about these listening sessions, visit the ARC website.

We’re Hiring!

 

Job Title: Economic Transition Coordinator

Hours: 30 Hours per week
Salary: Commensurate with Experience
Location: Appalachia

Background:

The Alliance for Appalachia is a regional grassroots coalition with the goals of ending mountaintop removal coal mining, putting a halt to destructive coal technologies and supporting a just and sustainable transition in Appalachia. The Alliance for Appalachia began in 2006 and consists of 15 organizations across four states, as well as regional organizations and allied groups.

The Alliance for Appalachia is governed by a Steering Committee made up of one representative and an alternate from each of the member organizations. We have Coordinating Committee and Work Teams on federal strategy, and economic transition, as well as other ad-hoc teams working on special projects.

Duration:

The position is 30 hours a week

Reports to:    

The Economic Transition Coordinator reports to the Economic Transition Team of The Alliance for Appalachia, with direct oversight by the Coordinating Committee.

Scope:

The Economic Transition Coordinator will be responsible for the facilitation of participant lead groups focusing on federal programs that support a sustainable economic transition in Appalachia. This position will also be required to research federal policies, share information, organize meetings and events, and serve as an educator.

  1. Facilitating Appalachian participation in Power+ advocacy
    1. role of this group focusing on federal and supporting state based strategy
  2. Facilitating Appalachian participation in national Abandoned Mine Land (AML) reauthorization campaign
  3. Conducting and sharing/distributing findings of research on Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfield redevelopment opportunities
  4. Organizing and facilitating Alliance/stakeholder events and meetings, including:
    1. Alliance and Economic Transition Team meetings
    2. Engaging with federal, state and local leaders and government bodies
    3. Stakeholder meetings with ARC, EPA, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), US Department of Labor (DOL), state AML offices, and other appropriate state and federal agencies
  5. Serving as an educational resource for Alliance partners and other stakeholders
    1. strategy within focus areas
    2. educational outreach as base building

Qualifications:

  • Have an understanding of the Appalachian region and communities impacted by lack of  economic diversification issues
  • Dedicated to a sustainable and just transition in Appalachia
  • Experience working with multiple stakeholders in a fast-moving and collaborative environment
  • Organizing and facilitation of large group events (e.g. lobby days, stakeholder meetings, etc)
  • Ability to support working in a team environment
  • Experience in research methodology
  • Exceptional analytic and writing skills
  • Ability to break down and communicate complicated public policy
  • Reliable and self starter
  • Flexibility to travel frequently

Compensation:

Compensation is commensurate with experience. A pro-rated benefits package, meaning that a half-time employee will receive half of a standard benefits package, is available. We provide annual cost of living adjustments and annual salary bumps to credit experience. Staff will earn vacation days, holidays, sick days and personal days. We also have a compensation time policy.

Location:

This Coordinator must be located in the Central or Southern Appalachian area, specifically near the coalfield areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, or West Virginia

Please submit a cover letter, resume, a short writing sample and three references with emphasis on research and organizing/facilitation-related experience to A4Ahiring@gmail.com with Economic Transition Coordinator in the subject line.  

For a description of The Alliance for Appalachia member groups go to: TheAllianceForAppalachia.org.

The Alliance for Appalachia is an equal opportunity employer. Women and people of color are strongly encouraged to apply.