Moving Forward Together: February Newsletter from The Alliance for Appalachia

Abandoned Mine Land Project Moving Forward

A few weeks ago, President Obama announced the POWER+ Plan for the FY 2016 budget that prioritizes opportunities for economic diversification and development in coalfield communities, creating a large buzz (see News Updates below). This budget proposal is a step toward recognition for the potential for new and just economies to thrive in Central Appalachia, but it is far from the beginning of the conversation. Workers, state officials, community groups, political heads–people across Central Appalachia have been asking for years: “What’s next for our region as the coal economy declines?”

That question will be explored in an upcoming whitepaper from our Economic Transition team that looks at the Abandoned Mine Lands fund’s potential to help revitalize local economies while mitigating dangerous environmental conditions left behind from old coal mines.

This timely project is a culmination of research led by Eric Dixon and Kendall Bilbrey, AppFellows working with The Alliance for Appalachia’s Economic Transition team, Appalachian Citizen’s Law Center and the Highlander Center.

On April 2nd, The Alliance for Appalachia and Appalachian Citizens Law Center will co-host an Abandoned Mine Lands Summit and training–to work with community leaders from Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia to learn about the Fund, the findings of the whitepaper, and to explore how we as a region can begin to advocate for these important changes.

To support this important work, or to help us provide scholarships to community members who wish to attend the spring summit to learn more about these issues, donate here!

Upcoming Strategy Meetings 

Now is the time for us to work together to push the Obama administration for urgent action to protect mountain communities from the impacts of mountaintop removal and to begin planning for a sustainable future for Appalachia.

In the next month, The Alliance will be hosting several strategy meetings as we map out the course of our year. On March 11th, we’ll be hosting a national strategy meeting in Washington, DC. We invite representatives from our member groups, other regional stakeholders and national allies to join us in aligning our efforts.

March 31st-April 1st will be our Spring Steering Meeting; it is an opportunity for our member groups to gather to share work updates, set strategy and build our regional work. For more information about any of these upcoming meetings, contact Samantha@TheAllianceforAppalachia.org

Updates from the Movement: 

Appalachian Leaders Travel to Extreme Energy Extraction Summit

Leaders working to end mountaintop removal attended the Extreme Energy Extraction Summit, an opportunity to network and learn from environmental justice leaders from across the US and across many issues.  Daile Boulis, a volunteer with OVEC and the Kanawha Forest coalition who took the photo above, has written up the event here, if you’d like to learn more about the powerful toxic tour participants took that showed the continuing devastation of the BP OIl Disaster and other severe environmental justice issues experienced in the Gulf South – as well as the inspiring local leaders who are working to stop these poisonous industries.

Upcoming Mountain Justice Camps
Mark your calendars for these engaging camps which provide information on mountaintop removal and a variety of ways to take action against it.

March 7-14th will be Mountain Justice Spring Break, at Natural Tunnel State Park in Southwest Virginia hosted by the RRENEW Collective and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.

The 2015 Mountain Justice Summer Convergence will be held in beautiful Kanawha State Forest, just south of Charleston WV, from Saturday May 30 through Sunday, June 7.  The Convergence is held in conjunction with the Kanawha Forest Coalition, a citizens’ group which is opposing a mining permit for a new mine adjacent to Kanawha State Forest.
The Mountain Justice Summer Convergence will have a variety of workshops, site tours and hikes during the day, based on an “Unconference” model, which will allow the camp to be flexible and more spontaneous.  The camp will evolve throughout the week based on the input and feedback of the camp participants.   Evening activities will include speakers, a panel discussion with members of the Kanawha Forest Coalition, live music and dancing.  Tent camping is available and all meals will be cooked on site by a kitchen collective.The event is low-cost and accessible to most budgets.  The 2015 Mountain Justice Summer Convergence is intended to be meeting of minds, broad-based, a regional gathering open to everyone in the coal, climate and energy movement. For more information and to register, go to  www.mountainjustice.org

Kentucky Celebrates Ten Years of I Love Mountains Day!
Hundreds braved the frigid weather for an inspiring day in Frankfort, KY.  The day focused on building New Power in the region for a just transition. As Teri Blanton said during the event, “We understand that there can’t be a climate movement over here, a racial justice movement over there, and a just economy movement somewhere else. We get the connections. We live in those intersections. We know that we are all in this together.” Read more on the KFTC Blog! 

ACHE Act Introduced into US House of Representatives
Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-25) reintroduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, legislation that would require the first comprehensive federal study of the health dangers of mountaintop removal coal mining. The ACHE Act, H.R. 912, would place a moratorium on all new mountaintop removal mining permits while federal officials examine health consequences to surrounding communities.  Learn more about the bill and the campaign here.

SOCM Members Fight a Coal Ash Landfill
SOCM Members rallied against dangerous proposed changes to the TVA Kingston Coal Ash landfill. This area is still experiencing toxic after effects of the 2008 coal ash disaster. The ground beneath the proposed Kingston coal ash landfill features sinkholes, cavernous bedrock, and rapid groundwater flow. All the groundwater beneath the landfill eventually flows into the Clinch River, according to a geologic study of the proposal! Learn more about the community’s work on SOCM’s blog and in thisnews article. One community event was the documentary showing pictured below.

Support Our Work!
Donate to The Alliance for Appalachia

News Updates:

Inside Appalachia Covers Reactions to the POWER+ Plan Across the Region – and interviews Betsy Taylor, a member of our Economic Transition Team. Details of the plan are covered here 

Federal Court Finds Fola Violated the Clean Water Act Thanks to a lawsuit led by citizen groups West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Sierra Club and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition represented byPublic Justice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Fola’s water violations have been noted, despite the lack of enforcement from state agencies.

Citizens Fight WV Legislature Efforts to Rollback Water Regulations
Despite the 2014 Water Crisis, when a coal chemical spill crippled the Charleston economy and left 300,000 people without access to clean water, the WV Legislature is looking to reduce water protections.

Decision allows Kentucky to use flawed “General Permit” to shield polluters from responsibility
The Sixth Circuit Court declined to hold ICG Hazard’s Thunder Ridge Surface Mine in Leslie County, KY accountable for dangerous selenium pollution, though it did recognize that the mine is damaging area streams, and noted that state regulators had chosen not to limit the pollution.

W.Va. state school board moves back toward original climate change standards 
After massive criticism for trying to remove the science from science curriculum, a new version of the standards has been released.

Dirty Bakken Oil Train Derailment Causes Massive Explosion in West Virginia
This terrifying explosion is yet another example of the dangers our region faces from an out of control, unregulated fossil fuel industry.

Appalachian Regional Coalition Evaluates Progress. 
After 50 years of work in the region, this comprehensive report examines ongoing poverty and health issues.

Renewable Energy Bill Ended in West Virginia
The already weak renewable standard has been repealed by the new state legislature.

Appalachian Love Story Focuses on young people working to stay in the region. This series is part of the STAY Project.

Bid to pull permit at Kanawha State Forest Surface Mine Denied Groups will continue to fight the dangerous mine.

Take Action: Protect Our Streams!

Visit our partner site iLoveMountains to take action on this important issue!

In the wake of a devastating chemical spill in West Virginia and decades of damaged water from mountaintop removal mining and other coal industry abuses, citizens have won a huge victory for our water and our future.

A federal appeals court stated that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are authorized to do their jobs and protect Appalachian communities from mountaintop removal.

This decision gives EPA the opening they need to create a federal rule that supersedes the corruption of state politicians and that has enough teeth to make a real difference in Appalachian communities.

It�s time to seal the deal. Tell EPA to protect our water and our future!

Obama Offers POWER+ Plan to Expand Funds to Coalfields, Incentivize Community Led Economic Development

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boonecounty

Chatter about economic transition in the coalfields is growing, and Obama’s POWER+ Plan for FY16 has joined the conversation. The Alliance for Appalachia is excited to see a proposal in the administration’s budget for solid investment, reclamation and job creation in Central Appalachia. Coal mining communities have contributed so much to America’s prosperity, and today are continually faced with mounting health, environmental and economic costs.

 

The president’s plan calls for economic diversification, disbursement of additional funds, and incentives to pair reclamation with community wishes for economic development. This new plan begins to address many of the concerns that Appalachian communities have been advocating for years. Community leaders have been predicting the decline of coal for decades , and have been coming up with common sense solutions like many outlined in the POWER+ plan.

 

The Alliance for Appalachia is ,however, disappointed to see focus on carbon capture technology in the POWER+ Plan, which the Alliance and many leading scientists feel is a dead-end technology. Instead, the Alliance would like to see more investments in energy efficiency and renewable technologies that have real potential to transition our energy system while immediately benefiting low income families struggling to meet rising energy costs.

 

Appalachian communities must do their part to make sure that our congressional leaders side with the interests and needs of their constituents at this critical turning point in our region’s future, including supporting future legislative measures to make sure these funds enter our communities.

 

The AML Policy Priorities Group is a citizens’ group which originated from the efforts of Appalachian Transition Fellows working for 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 and policy recommendations in Central Appalachia and to bring together leaders and community members throughout the region who are working on the issue.

 

“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.”

 

The Alliance for Appalachia is a coalition of groups across the Central Appalachian region working to end mountaintop removal and other destructive extraction methods, as well as to create a just and sustainable future for Appalachia.


Questions? Contact the Alliance’s Appalachian Transition Fellow Kendall Bilbrey at kendall@theallianceforappalachia.org

January 2015 Newsletter

Welcome Samantha! 

This month, our long-time Coordinator Katey Lauer will be stepping into a mentoring role, and we’re so excited to welcome Samantha to our team as the new Coordinator!

Samantha is a Knoxville, TN native who has experience working with a number of advocacy organizations including Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, The Tennessee Heath Care Campaign and The Amputee Coalition of America. In her spare time, she enjoys playing with her two dogs, Fred and Chuck, knitting and traveling.

Says Samantha: “I don’t think the world faces a more important or pressing issue than protecting our people and our planet. That’s why I’m so honored and excited to be working with the wonderful folks of The Alliance for Appalachia who work hard everyday to support Appalachian people and stem the tide of environmental calamity throughout the great and beautiful Appalachian mountains.”‘

Welcome to the team, Samantha!

Anniversary of the #WVWaterCrisis

It has been one year since the terrible coal-chemical leak near Charleston, WV poisoned the water for over 300,000 people in the area. Below is a reminder of that time: just a bit of the many truckloads of the bottled water collected by volunteers with the West Virginia Water Hub and the many other organizations that joined together to deliver water.


Now, a year later, many people still don’t trust their taps, with recent revelations that the company knew there were problems at  Freedom Industries long before the spill and that federal officials ignored important issues like the air quality concerns caused by breathing in the powerfully smelling chemical MCHM.

This month there are a series of events focusing on the anniversary, the issues created by the spill, and the powerful organizing communities have been doing to hold the industry and the state government accountable. Mark January 17th on your calendar to attend the Charleston, WV leadership training, march and rally, and check out the rest of the events here.

Updates from the Movement: 

Anticipated Changes to the Stream Buffer Zone Rule Move Forward

Last February, a Bush-era change to the Stream Buffer Zone rule was overturned due to citizen-led litigation, and the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) is now reverting to the original 1983 Stream Buffer Zone rule. This rule aims to protect streams by creating a buffer zone around streams that coal companies can not dump waste into. Those living near mountaintop removal can tell you that this law was rarely enforced to fully protect streams, but the Bush era changes made it even weaker.

This spring, the OSM plans to initiate a process to create a new, potentially stronger rule that could go farther to protect our people and our water. A draft rule and an accompanying draft environmental impact statement are slated to be released sometime in the spring of 2015 – stay tuned, we’ll be actively participating in the comment period around this important rulemaking. Read more here.

New Tool Shows Mountaintop Removal is Still Happening
Using Google Maps, experts at Appalachian Voices tracked instances of mountaintop removal mines expanding since 2007. This tool is an important reminder of the urgency for the Obama administration to take action to end mountaintop removal. Check out the site to see some of the heartwrenching “before” and “after” images of the damage caused by mountaintop removal in just the past few years. Then followthis link to tell President Obama to take action today!

Tenth Annual I Love Mountains Day in Kentucky
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) will be hosting the tenth annual I Love Mountains Day on February 12th in Frankfort, KY. There will be a rally and lobby day at the capitol building. For more details, check out the KFTC website! The picture below, courtesy of KFTC, is from the powerful 2014 rally.

SOCM Gets a New Executive Director
Ann League – BBQ expert, long time supporter of SOCM, Appalachian Voices and an invaluable part of The Alliance for Appalachia since our foundation – has been named the new Executive Director of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. We’re so excited for this new era for SOCM and for Ann! Read more in the SOCM newsletter.

Regional groups file suit for federal takeover of coal oversight agencies.
A coalition of groups have filed lawsuits in federal court in Kentucky and West Virginia asking for a federal takeover from the EPA of state agencies currently responsible for enforcing federal clean water laws. Citizens have long dealt with lack of enforcement of federal laws that puts our health, our environment and our economy at serious risk. Unable to get protection from state government agencies, they are hoping for a court order that gives oversight to the federal EPA.  Read more about it in this article.

News and Updates:

Op Ed from ACLC Attorney Calls for AML Investment in the Mountains
Noting that the Appalachian coalfields helped build American into the country it is today, Evan Smith calls for reinvestment into the communities that are facing economic and environmental difficulties due the legacy of coal in the region.

SAMS leader Jane Branham call for Abandoned Mine Land funds to be used to employ out of work miners
“AML funds should be allocated to cleaning up abandoned mine lands and not used for political gain or profit. We have coal miners unemployed due to mine closures. What if we could put them back to work reclaiming these lands?”

This NYTIMES oped by Robert Kennedy highlights the impacts of coal operating as an outlaw industry and calls for taking coal money out of politics.

Blankenship Trial Postponed to April  
Five years ago, in April 2010, a tragic explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh county killed 29 miners. According to the article, former Massey CEO Don Blankenship “faces a four-count indictment that alleges he conspired to violate mine safety rules, hamper federal safety enforcement and lie to securities regulators and investors.” The trial has been set to begin in April 2015.

West Virginia Board of Education Approves Inaccurate and Misleading Climate Change Science be Taught
In December, the board changed the science standards to eliminate references to human causes of climate change, ignoring the content created by science experts and educators. You can sign a petition against this ridiculous move here and learn more in this article.

This Op Ed in the Kentucky Herald Leader highlights the dangerous and hypocritical discrepancies of federal agencies regarding the Broad Form Deed, which should protect property owners from mining on their property without consent.

Kanawha State Forest and Area Community Still Under Threat from the mining operations. The Kanawha Forest Coalition continues to fight this permit that puts the popular forest and area community members at risk. The mine has already been cited for numerous violations.

Almost Done! One more way you can help in 2014!

We couldn’t do what we do without you — it’s as simple as that.

All year long, you have lent your voice to the fight against mountaintop removal. In June, you backed a delegation of Appalachian leaders in Washington, fighting off bad bills and gathering important information about upcoming rulemakings from the Obama Administration. In September, you supported dozens of movement leaders in DC at a critical interagency meeting and an amazing Our Water, Our Future day of action. And earlier this month, you helped spread the word about Appalachian Leaders’ new Grassroots Progress Report, outlining a plan of action for the last two years of the Obama Administration to protect Our Water and Our Future.

Now we are asking you to be a part of one more thing this year: making our work in 2015 possible.

As we close in on the 2015 public comment periods of critical water-related rulemakings, it’s crucial that we begin the year on strong footing–and we can do it with you help. Click here to make a tax-deductible contribution today.

Whether you’re able to contribute $10, $25, $50 or more, every dollar of your holiday contribution goes directly to groups working to end mountaintop removal coal mining.

Help us end 2014 by donating to end mountaintop removal.

Thank you for such an incredible year!

Join Us: Measure Obama’s Legacy and Build Grassroots Power

 

Grassroots Progress Report Evaluates Obama’s Legacy in Appalachia

As we near the end of 2014, it seems yet another year has passed without significant action from The Obama Administration to end the worst abuses of mountaintop removal.

Five years ago, in June, 2009, the Obama administration created a Memorandum of Understanding(MOU) among federal agencies responsible for protecting Appalachian communities from the extreme damage of mountaintop removal coal mining. Last week, The Alliance for Appalachia released a report evaluating the progress that the Obama Administration has and has not made in the last 5 years regarding the MOU and other big promises to protect Appalachian communities.

Much work is needed to complete the MOU process, to ensure effective regulatory enforcement in our region, to create sound rule-makings, to strengthen citizen engagement and to invest in a bright future for Central Appalachia. Our coalition of organizations represents thousands of citizens who are ready to work. This report is an invitation for the Obama Administration to do the same.

“This is about the long term health of our people; it’s about the future of our economy. It’s not just this generation, but future generations. Inaction should not be the legacy of the Obama Administration,” says Davie Randsdell, Kentucky native and contributor to the report.

You can find coverage of the report on Louisville Public Radio, SNL Financial, Eco-watch, Huffington Post and the Lexington Herald and you help turn this report into action by lending your voice here.

You can also check out great quotes from our recent press conference on our Facebook page – share them with your friends! 

The Alliance for Appalachia attends the Building Equity and Alignment Gathering

Over 50% of “environmental” funding and resources go to 2% of “environmental” organizations; the other 50% of funding and resources go to the other 98% of organizations, mostly base-building groups. This fact was the seed from which a new national project called the Building Equity and Alignment for Impact initiative grew!.

Building Equity and Alignment for Impact (BEAI) is a unique, movement-building initiative involving representatives of the environmental justice grassroots organizing sector, national environmental organizations and the philanthropic sector who have come together because we know that in order for our organizations to have impact, we must lift up the leadership, achievements, and importance of grassroots organizations; the value of principled collaboration between grassroots and big green groups; and, the reality that in order to build a powerful movement that can effectively address the most critical environmental crises of our times, we need to significantly increase resources to the grassroots organizing sector.

We are honored to be a part of this visionary work and to have attended the BEAI strategy meeting this November. We see this effort as an important piece of building the sort of power we need to strengthen our environmental justice movement.

AppFellows Gather to Map the Sustainable Energy Landscape in our Region
The AppFellows Program hosted it’s second regional gathering December 4-5, Strengthening Sustainable Energy, at the historic Benham Schoolhouse Inn in Harlan County, KY. This gathering focused on conversations around sustainable energy, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and legacy costs of energy production with an eye towards economic transition. AppFellow Joshua Outsey working with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, MACED, the City of Benham and COAP (Christian Outreach with Appalachian People) highlighted the exciting Benham Energy Project, where one former coal camp has the opportunity to weatherize homes and choose responsible energy sources after discovering their contract with Kentucky Utilities will expire soon.

Other AppFellows who presented their work at the gathering were: Kendall Bilbrey and Eric Dixon’s AML Project (The Alliance for Appalachia and ACLC), Tyler Cannon (OVEC), Carol Davey (ACEnet), Tom Torres (University of Tennessee), and their host communities. Topics moved from basics of the abandoned mine lands fund to highlighting savings and success after West Virginia businesses make the switch to being energy efficient. Aside from the fellows, there was a large representation from Central Appalachian organizations, agencies, and businesses working towards a sustainable energy climate here in our mountains.

Updates from the Movement: 

We Won’t Stand for Corruption! Our member groups are taking action against falsified water pollution reports. 

As the New York Times recently reported, Alliance member groups Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Appalachian Voices and other allies are threatening to sue coal company Frasure Creek unless the state of Kentucky acts on the tens of thousands of violations the coal company has racked up.

“Frasure Creek’s actions — and the Cabinet’s failures to act — undermine the regulatory framework that safeguards the people and waters of Kentucky” says the letter threatening the lawsuit. Appalachian citizen groups have given the state 60 days to act.

Proposed Expansion of Largest Mountaintop Removal Mine in the Country


photo courtesy of OVEC’s Vivan Stockman and Southwings

The Hobet Mine near Spurlockville, W.Va., is the largest mountaintop removal mine in the country — and the coal company is trying to expand it further! Now is your chance tosend a letter to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in defense of the mountains, streams, and people that would be harmed by this expansion proposal.

For 29 years, some of the most destructive coal mining has occurred in the Mud River watershed. The new permit could allow for the destruction of 470 acres and include 30 waste water discharges. The permit further encroaches on the Big Ugly Wildlife Management Area. Thirty three homes will be within a half mile of blasting, dumping and water pollution discharge if this site is allowed to move forward.

Mountain Leader and Family Featured in New Video


We are storytellers and last month, the story of one of our movements leaders, Donna Branham of Mingo County, WV was captured in a new short film.

“We are somebody. My family is somebody. We deserve to be treated with respect and honor,” says Donna.See the story of Donna and her family here.


Photo credit: The New Yorker
News Updates:
Massey CEO Don Blankenship Finally Indicted

Four years after the Upper Big Branch explosion, longtime Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been indicted on charges that he violated federal mine safety laws, creating the dangerous conditions that led to the deaths of 29 miners.

Coal River Mountain Watch Hopes to Open New Judy Bonds Center

Judy Bonds helped to found Coal River Mountain Watch in 1998. From that point on she dedicated her life to protecting her community from the destruction brought on by the coal industry. Today, CRMW occupies a historic two-story building in Naoma, West Virginia, just a few miles from her old house and on the front lines of the resistance against mountaintop removal. That building has come up for sale and CRMW is working to purchase and preserve this wonderful space which has played such an important role in this community and this struggle. You can donate to help make it a reality.
Photo credit: Earth Quaker Action Team

EQAT take action to Push PNC to Divest from MTR
On Saturday, December 6, approximately 300 people participated in over 30 actions in 12 states and the District of Columbia to demand that PNC Bank stop financing companies engaged in mountaintop removal coal mining.

Coal Costs Keep Adding Up
This op-ed in Kentucky catalogs the great costs of the coal industry, from miners safety and health to environmental tolls.

Photo credit: Kentuckians for the Commonwealth

Judge Rejects Deals Between Kentucky Officials and Coal Company
As Kentuckians for the Commonwealth reports: “The Franklin Circuit Court on Monday issued two long-awaited orders rejecting settlement deals between the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet and Frasure Creek Mining arising from the coal company’s thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act from 2008 through 2011.”

Yet Another Study Shows the Dangerous Impacts of MTR
Michigan State University confirms, yet again, that mountaintop removal can damage waterways downstream of mine sites.

Grassroots Report Released

As we near the end of 2014, it seems yet another year has passed without significant action from The Obama Administration to end the worst abuses of mountaintop removal.

hillbillies deserve clean water

Members of The Alliance for Appalachia prepare to meet with White House Staff to discuss the need to end mountaintop removal and clean up the toxic legacy coal has left behind.

Despite the disastrous coal cleaning chemical spill in January that left 300,000 without access to clean water in West Virginia, despite a new study that links mountaintop removal to lung cancer, and despite recent accusations from local groups that a Kentucky mining company has violated the Clean Water Act nearly 28,000 times without meaningful repercussion, the Obama administration continues to drag their heels on desperately needed rule-making processes and has even cut off funding for a USGS study on the health impacts of mountaintop removal.

That’s why citizen groups are releasing a Grassroots Citizen’s Report on Mountaintop Removal today that lays out the stakes for the administration and tells them that the time for action is now. Read our press release about the report here.

Support these groups by contacting the administration and demanding action today!

ceq meeting by elaine tanner

Members of The Alliance for Appalachia meet with Obama administration staff to discuss the issues facing Appalachia.

The  grassroots citizen’s report  assesses the work the Obama administration has done in the region and provides recommendations for the final two years of Obama’s tenure.  You can check out a one page summary of the report and access the full report here.

A quick summary of the report is this: We need urgent action from the Obama administration to protect mountain communities from the impacts of mountaintop removal and to begin planning for a sustainable future for Appalachia.

While we have successfully pressured this administration in the last five years to take actions that will help protect Appalachian communities from mountaintop removal, there is much more to be done.

In fact, there are four key actions the administration can take this year that will greatly impact the future health of our Appalachian communities and allow the Administration to follow through on its promises.

Add your voice to ensure that the Obama administration takes action!

Grassroots Progress Report Evaluates Obama’s Legacy in Appalachia

The report discusses the Obama Administration’s successes and shortfalls in addressing the impacts of mountaintop removal and investing in a just and sustainable economy in Appalachia

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CONTACT

Katey Lauer, (304) 546-8473 Katey.Lauer@theallianceforappalachia.org

Invitation to Teleconference:

On Wednesday, December 3rd at 11 am EST The Alliance for Appalachia will be hosting a press conference via teleconference to discuss the report, the history of the Obama administration’s progress regarding mountaintop removal, as well as recommendations and next steps. For call-in information, contact Dana@Theallianceforappalachia.org

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Following a tumultuous year for the coal industry, including the disastrous coal-chemical spill that left 300,000 without access to clean water in West Virginia, and increasing layoffs as coal mining continues to decline, a coalition of Appalachian citizen groups are demanding increased action from the Obama Administration.

The Alliance for Appalachia is releasing a Grassroots Progress Report (linked here) that assesses the work the Obama administration has done in the region and provides recommendations for the final two years of Obama’s tenure. The coalition feels it is a critical time for the administration to seriously engage in the extensive health and environmental costs of coal in the region, as well as address the urgent need for economic transition.

In addition to presenting suggested actions for the administration, the report outlines repeated failures by state agencies to enforce the law. This report comes on the heels of accusations from local groups that a Kentucky mining company has violated the Clean Water Act nearly 28,000 times, likely the largest non-compliance of the law in its 42-year history, while state regulators continue to give only slaps on the wrists.  The lack of accountability for rampant violations of the Clean Water Act and other laws are one reason that citizen groups are calling for urgent federal attention to the issue.

The quiet cut-off of funding for a USGS Study on the health impacts of mountaintop removal and continued delayed in rule-making processes, indicate that the administration is ignoring the issue, despite new studies linking mountaintop removal to increased rates of cancer and growing national concerns over climate change and water shortages.  Groups want the administration to address serious lapses in regulation, enforcement, and oversight of mountaintop removal mining operations, and to engage in collaborative dialogue around solutions and mitigation for adverse impacts caused by mountaintop removal mining operations, as well as to discuss what’s next for the region.

“The coal industry is never going to be like it was in the 30s. The jobs have been on a decline since the beginning.  We need to realistically think of the future of Appalachia, and fix this mess,” said Teri Blanton, a volunteer with The Alliance for Appalachia and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.  “We could employ ten times the number of workers just fixing the toxic pollution mountaintop removal has left behind. We need reinvestment in Appalachia – not just clean energy, but cleaning up the messes left behind by dirty energy.”

In addition to planning for an Appalachian future with fewer and fewer coal jobs, the coalition is seeking more permanent protections and concrete commitments for what the agencies can accomplish by the end of 2016.  In September, leaders from mountain communities attended an interagency meeting with representatives of the Obama administration.  The goal of this meeting was to address this progress of the administration towards promises made in a 2009 memorandum. In June, 2009, the Obama administration created a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among federal agencies responsible for protecting Appalachian communities from the extreme damage of mountaintop removal coal mining.  Groups were disappointed with the lack of initiative shown by agency representatives in the five years since the memo was created.

“The meeting we thought we were going to have wasn’t what happened at all. The administration representatives said they wanted to ‘start a dialogue,’ but we thought the dialogue had started years ago in 2009.  This meeting should have been the culmination of years of work, not the beginning,” said Davie Ransdell, a former coal reclamation technician who now volunteers with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Alliance for Appalachia.

The grassroots report is one way community groups are following up with meeting attendees. Suggested 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.

“Now is the time to get these policies on the books so future administrations can have something to work with,” said Ann League of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment.

Mountaintop removal and other coal industry abuses have long compromised the waters of Central Appalachia. Over 2,000 miles of stream have been buried by mountaintop removal alone and mountaintop removal has destroyed 10% of the land in central Appalachia – more than 500 mountains. The severe impacts of mountaintop removal show the urgent need to end this practice as well as to begin building towards reclaiming the land and water for a healthier future.

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, 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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What Comes Next? Communities Gather to Discuss Abandoned Mine Lands


Abandoned Mine Lands Meeting a Success!

At the end of October, our Economic Transition Committee, in conjunction with our AppFellow Kendall Bilbrey and Eric Dixon, AppFellow with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, hosted a summit for folks across Central Appalachia to discuss and learn about the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund and other potential strategies for cleaning up some of the toxic legacy left behind by the coal industry.

A diverse group of stakeholders, including impacted community members, non-profit organizations, scholars, policy experts, lobbyists and scientists gathered for a packed day at Breaks Interstate Park at the border of Virginia and Kentucky to discuss the looming issue of Abandoned Mine Lands.

Our hope is to create pathways for communities to influence mine cleanup, create jobs, and diversify our economy. What are the problems we are facing with the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund? What successes have communities had working with this fund? We’re excited to get these conversations moving in the region! Learn more in our press release or in the PowerPoint introduction to the project.

“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 and chair of The Alliance for Appalachia Coordinating Committee. “We have all these people out of work from mine closures. 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 communities could really take pride in.”

Next steps are for an informative whitepaper to be released in early winter, highlighting the findings of this summit, research by AppFellows Kendall and Eric, and recommendations for the AML fund–all to be followed by campaign and project conversations.

October 2014 Newsletter: Mending the Past, Protecting Our Future


Abandoned Mine Lands Meeting a Success!

At the end of October, our Economic Transition Committee, in conjunction with our AppFellow Kendall Bilbrey and Eric Dixon, AppFellow with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, hosted a summit for folks across Central Appalachia to discuss and learn about the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund and other potential strategies for cleaning up some of the toxic legacy left behind by the coal industry.

A diverse group of stakeholders, including impacted community members, non-profit organizations, scholars, policy experts, lobbyists and scientists gathered for a packed day at Breaks Interstate Park at the border of Virginia and Kentucky to discuss the looming issue of Abandoned Mine Lands.

Our hope is to create pathways for communities to influence mine cleanup, create jobs, and diversify our economy. What are the problems we are facing with the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund? What successes have communities had working with this fund? We’re excited to get these conversations moving in the region! Learn more in our press release or in the PowerPoint introduction to the project.

“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 and chair of The Alliance for Appalachia Coordinating Committee. “We have all these people out of work from mine closures. 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 communities could really take pride in.”

Next steps are for an informative whitepaper to be released in early winter, highlighting the findings of this summit, research by AppFellows Kendall and Eric, and recommendations for the AML fund–all to be followed by campaign and project conversations.

The Alliance for Appalachia Hosts Steering Meeting to Plan for 2015
Following the AML Meeting, members of the Alliance Steering Committee gathered to reflect on 2014 and create strategy for moving forward in 2015. We’re excited to begin planning what’s next for The Our Water, Our Future Campaign in particular–as we continue to push for strong federal rule- and standard-makings on conductivity, selenium, stream protection and mine fill.

Updates from the Movement: 

Appalachian Transition Fellowship hosts Regional Gatherings
The Alliance for Appalachia is honored to be a part of the ambitious Appalachian Transition Project hosted by our friends at the Highlander Center. One aspect of this innovative programis a series of regional gatherings on important trends in Appalachian organizing.

Last week the group hosted a Local Food gathering, and the first week of  December will be the gathering focusing on energy, titled “Strengthening Sustainable Energy in Appalachia,” December 4-5, 2014 in beautiful Benham, KY. Registration is now open! Deadline to apply is Nov. 24, 2014.

Regional Strategic Gatherings connect the work of the Appalachian Transition Fellowship to a wider participant base around opportunities in important economic sectors. These sessions provide a space for people from non-profits, business, philanthropy, and educational groups throughout the region to share their work and identify challenges and strategies to move the sector forward in Central Appalachia.

Many Successful Fall Gatherings

Photo Courtesy of MountainJustice.org

October was busy with opportunities for people to gather and learn about the issues affecting our communities. Over 100 people attended Mountain Justice Fall Summit at Kayford Mountain for a powerful weekend of witnessing mountaintop removal first hand and learning from community members about the issues.

Heartwood hosted their annual Reunion for newcomers and old-timers alike to learn about the many campaigns their network is waging to protect our forests and our communities, as well as to relax and celebrate.

OVEC hosted Wellness and Water III. For the third year in a row, people concerned about health issues in communities adversely affected by water pollution in West Virginia gathered to share experiences and knowledge and to explore solutions. This year, the summit was in Charleston, WV and focused on chemical manufacturing and storage, which has been on the minds of many since the MCHM chemical leak in January that contaminated drinking water for some 300,000 people hooked into WV American Water’s water distribution system.

KFTC’s Letcher County Chapter paired with Appalshop in Whitesburg, KY and the After Coalproject of Appalachian State University, to host a public community forum on economic transition, and a local candidate meet and greet reception. The event included local politicians and candidates, as well as a representative from Wales who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to share policies for sustainable development that helped Wales recover from the collapse of the coal industry.

More Studies Show That Mountaintop Removal is Dangerous

News sources have been abuzz with the findings of a new study that shows that dust from mountaintop removal promotes the growth of lung tumors. Of course, communities have long known about the increased cancer they are facing, but this study was the first to prove the link through lab experiments on human lung cells.

This study and other overwhelming proof of the devastation caused by mountaintop removalprompted a high profile Editorial  in the Washington Post.

A new study out of the University of Kentucky demonstrates that conductivity pollution from mountaintop removal mines hurts ecosystems’ ability to support wildlife and healthy streams. The study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, links mountaintop removal to low salamander populations. It reiterates once again what we already knew: that conductivity pollution threatens the health and diversity of Appalachian streams.

John Grisham’s New Novel Features Mountaintop Removal 

John Grisham is world famous for his best-selling legal thrillers. He must have been inspired by some of the powerful attorneys fighting mountaintop removal for his new novel, “Gray Mountain.” The book is set in Southwest Virginia, not far from our friends at Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.

This novel is getting good reviews and will bring the issue of mountaintop removal mining to new audiences around the country and the world. As part of the book promotion, Grisham is sharing some of the facts about MTR with his 1.5 million Facebook fans if you’d like to follow along.

If you’ve read the book, let us know what you think!

Perspective on the Mid-term Elections
Many member groups of The Alliance for Appalachia worked long, hard hours to educate voters on the issues affecting our region, and there are a lot of complex feelings about the results of the recent election. Appalachian Voices’ Thom Kay offered this blog post analyzing what the impacts of the election might really have on our work to end mountaintop removal. As Thom says, “We will keep fighting for a better future for Appalachia, and push every decision-maker, regardless of their political leanings, to stand with us. We will fight to end to mountaintop removal and for a just economic transition away from fossil fuels. We will fight because no one else is going to do it for us, and we will need you there by our side.”At The Alliance for Appalachia, we know that there is no group of people we’d rather be working alongside, no matter the ups and downs we face.

Photo of failed reclamation courtesy of Appalachian VoicesNews Updates:
The Myth of Reclamation is Still Happening

This article debunks the myth that you can put a mountain back together again after blowing it up. The coal industry is blowing up mountains in Appalachia. They are not putting them back together again. The industry is polluting and burying streams, and they are not finding a way to fix them.

Lab official admits faking coal water quality reports

A lab has been caught and charged with faking water quality reports. This outlaw behavior seriously undermines communities’ ability to protect themselves from the dangerous impacts of mountaintop removal and highlights the level of corruption standing in the way of proper enforcement of the law.MSNBC Features Alliance Members for All In America: Coal Country
This high profile, week-long series travels through Central Appalachia and features many of our friends in the region speaking about the ways that coal impacts their community, the elections, and the future.

Book Featuring Appalachian Women Wins Awards and Raises Money
UK professor Shannon Bell’s powerful book, Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice, has one several awards recently. If you want to be inspired too, consider buying the book through OVEC, which helps raise money to continue the work.

Google Satellite Offers Groups Birds-Eye View of MTR
Are there any MTR sites you need a picture of? Google and Skybox are launching the Skybox for Good program, which will offer access to up-to-date satellite imagery to organizations and programs that are fighting environmental problems like mountaintop removal.

Market Forces Continue to Cause Coal’s Decline
This article highlights several market forces causing coal to continue decline as an economic driver in the region.

EQAT Hosts Fall Regional Trainings to Push PNC to Divest from MTR
EQAT has successfully held 15 simultaneous actions in 4 states, but on December 6th they aim to hold simultaneous actions in 10 states with multiple locations within each state! These regional trainings will introduce new activists to a growing campaign that represents the edgy and spiritual sensibility of Earth Quaker Action Team.

4th Extreme Energy Extraction Summit
The 4th Extreme Extraction Summit is fast approaching. This January 30th-February 2nd, activists fighting extreme extraction across North America will gather in Biloxi, MS to tour the gulf coast region and build relationships and strategy for the national movement.