Pictured: Ison Rock Ridge, which was protected from mountaintop removal mining by people organizing their community and engaging in the regulatory and permitting process.
The Alliance for Appalachia is hosting a Grassroots Policy Training for our members and allies across the Appalachian region. The training will be hosted at the Highlander Center in New Market, TN on Saturday and Sunday April 9-10th and is designed to help people participate in regional and national policy setting.
Do you want a seat at the table shaping the policies and legislation that affect your everyday life? Do you want to learn “how the sausage gets made” and how to make better sausage?
From the POWER+ Plan to the Clean Power Plan, federal and state level policy conversations are shaping our lives and our communities. The Alliance for Appalachia envisions a world in which we, residents of mountain communities, are able to determine the futures of our communities; where political discourse is public, is welcomed, is impactful, and is free of corporate interests. We believe that Appalachian people are experts of their own lives and that all people should have a seat at the table in determining the future of their communities.
Scholarships to cover travel are available, childcare can be available upon request. Registration is coming soon. Contact Alannah@TheAllianceforAppalachia.org for more information.
“Knowing about policy helped me to feel confident when talking to members of Congress and Federal agencies about the issues we care about: ending MTR and building sustainable Appalachian communities. When you know your stuff, you are the expert and can get the folks in decision-making positions to listen.” – Laura Miller, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards
“When we are thinking about justice, liberation, and a new economy–there are a lot of obstacles that we have no control of or input to. Learning about public policy and how it works gives us a leg up, a way to provide our input and make change in our cities, counties, states, and nation.” – Kendall Bilbrey, Stay Together Appalachian Youth
Join us at our Grassroots Policy Training to learn or hone the skills that will help you shape the future of our region.
Two dozen local government entities in the heart of Central Appalachia’s coalfields have passed resolutions calling for major federal investment to revive the region’s economy, which is struggling in the midst of the coal industry decline. Most have referred specifically to the White House budget proposal called the “POWER+ Plan.” All passed unopposed.
Starting in July with the community of Norton, Va. —the first to pass such a resolution—a groundswell of support has spread across the region for the plan, a $10 billion proposal to help coal-impacted communities across the country, including more than $1 billion for a range of economic initiatives in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. President Obama announced the plan in February as part of his proposed 2016 budget, but congressional representatives from the coal region have been slow to warm up to the plan.
The resolutions, and a variety of other public and private efforts in recent years, show the huge disconnect between what local citizens see as a necessary way forward to bolster the region’s economy and the politically motivated “war on coal” rhetoric of industry leaders and their allies.
“The benefits of the POWER+ Plan to the people of Eastern Kentucky, both in the short-term creation of jobs and business opportunities, as well as the long-term economic development of the region, are essential to overcome the devastating effects of our current economic difficulties as we transition to a post-coal economy,” wrote Pike County Executive William Deskins in a letter to Rep. Hal Rogers, on September 28, which he included with a copy of the resolution passed by the Pike County Fiscal Court.
The POWER+ Plan would provide $1 billion over five years to coal states and tribal lands to clean up abandoned mines that continue to pollute waterways and pose health and safety hazards, including almost $68 million for the four states of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. It would also provide $25 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission to support local food systems, health care, energy efficiency and other sectors in the agency’s 13-state region. Additionally, the plan earmarks $128 million to support worker retraining and other economic development initiatives in coal-impacted communities, and would ensure the solvency of the United Mine Workers of America’s health care and pension plans.
“The POWER+ Plan will provide funding to put local people to work building the broadband and municipal water and sewer infrastructure that is urgently needed in our mountain communities. We urge our West Virginia congressional delegation to support this funding proposal,” says Carey Jo Grace, a member of the Alliance for Appalachia from Charleston.
At the August meeting of the Wise County Board of Supervisors in southwest Virginia, citizens told officials the plan would help develop the region’s tourism assets, retrain laid-off miners, and support health and pension plans for retired miners. In response, board member Ron Shortt said: “We’re behind you 100 percent on this. We realize how important it is to Southwest Virginia and Wise County.”
“There’s a strong sense of excitement and energy these days about the potential for the region, for expanding the opportunities for jobs and more sustainable businesses that are good for workers, communities and the environment,” says Adam Wells, in the Wise County office of Appalachian Voices. This fall, Wells led a project to host eight forums around southwest Virginia to get input from ordinary citizens about their vision for the future. More than 130 people attended, including many younger people who planned to stay involved, he said.
Andrianah Kilgore, 25, was one of them. “I want to see Wise County reach its full potential and I want to work for a better tomorrow, not only to benefit us now, but to benefit the future generations that love Wise and plan to reside here, just as I have chosen to do,” she says.
Last Chance to Comment for a Strong SPR
We know approximately 30,000 comments have been written for a strong Stream Protection Rule (SPR) – can we get to 50,000? Comments are due October 25th – click here to comment today!This is one of the best and last chances for the Obama Administration to protect Appalachia from the worst of mountaintop removal.
The Stream Protection Rule is intended to limit the dumping of toxic mountaintop removal waste into our endangered streams. We’ve been demanding these protections for almost eight years and, after a series of delay tactics from the coal industry, we are glad the Obama administration is finally taking action. But we need it to be strengthened, and we have only a few days left to make our voices heard.
Rallying for Clean Water at SPR Hearings
Last month, members of The Alliance for Appalachia were busy organizing members and allies to attend in-person hearings to speak up in favor of water protections.
Despite intimidation from the coal industry, hundreds of people traveled long distances to show up and speak up for a strong Stream Protection Rule in Lexington, KY, Big Stone Gap, VA, Charleston, WV and other cities nationwide.
Speaking up in the face of intimidation – including heckling and physical threats – takes true courage, and we’re so proud to work alongside these every day heroes who are fighting to protect their communities and families from water pollution
Meeting with Interior Secretary Jewell
Last month. members of The Alliance met with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. This was the first cabinet-level meeting our coalition of groups has secured. We discussed the Stream Protection Rule and the ongoing impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining.
The secretary was open to our comments on revisions that would strengthen the final rule, and clearly understands its importance to protecting the environment and fostering a positive, sustainable economic future for Appalachia.
Selenium Comments Submitted
One of our key policy asks from the Obama administration for 2015 was for a strong selenium ruling that would limit the pollution from this toxic chemical and allow citizens to have a role in monitoring streams.
Selenium, a chemical commonly found in wastewater from mountaintop removal coal mines and in coal ash ponds, is toxic to fish and other wildlife at very low levels, and it is toxic to humans at high levels. Once it is released into waterways, selenium enters the food chain and accumulates in fish, causing reproductive failure and deformities.
The comment period has now closed, and we’re hoping that the administration listens to the many who contributed comments on this important issue.
POWER+ Resolutions Continue to Pop Up Across the Region
Communities throughout Appalachia have been showing their support for the POWER+ campaign by passing resolutions in favor of the proposal from the Obama administration. So far resolutions have been passed in 23 communities throughout the region!
These actions are in stark contrast to the reactions of our state and federal leaders to the plan, which could bring could bring $1 billion in federal funding to the region to reclaim abandoned mine lands sites in ways that will create long term economic development.
The Alliance for Appalachia is working with our members and allies to support these community resolutions and other grassroots efforts to bring the benefits of the POWER+ Plan to our communities.
The Alliance for Appalachia Hosts a Productive Fall Meeting
The Alliance for Appalachia hosted our fall meeting at Breaks Interstate Park; it was a chance for our member groups and allies to get updates on work happening in the region and begin to plan what’s next for the region. Our final meeting for 2015 will be in December 2015.
Thanks to all who contributed to the meeting for making it another productive success – and thanks to Joanne Golden Hill for taking the pictures below!
Updates from the Movement:
Economic Development Community Forums Held in Southwestern Virginia:
Appalachian Voices has recently partnered with Virginia Organizing to convene eight visioning forums across Virginia’s coalfield counties. The purpose of these forums is to gather community-level input about the future of our economy. These forums are open to the public, and people of all beliefs and backgrounds have been attending and contributing fresh new ideas for the future of their communities.
Input gathered during the forums will be synthesized into a “Citizens’ Roadmap for a New Economy” report that will engage local governments and planning districts on economic development priorities. Learn more about this exciting project at their website!
White House POWER Initiative Grants Awarded
The White House has announced $14.5 million in grant awards for organizations and local governments across 12 states that are building a better economic future for their communities. A majority of the 36 awards, and most of the grant dollars, are going to plan or implement projects in Central Appalachia.
We are especially excited for our friends at Appalshop who received funding to build a one-year IT workforce certificate program targeted to communities affected by the reduction in coal employment. Learn more about the grant recipients here.
Clean Power Plan to Empower Kentucky
Empower Kentucky is an ambitious project to re-shape Kentucky’s energy future based on a vision “that works for everybody” announced recently by KFTC.
As explained in the webinar that launched the program: “Over the next year KFTC will invite thousands of people from all walks of life to share their vision and ideas for transforming Kentucky’s energy system,” said Sean Hardy of Louisville. “Then, together, we will write our own energy plan, one that works for everybody, all of us.”
We’ve been busy this month advocating for a strong Stream Protection Rule. Now we need you to speak up on another issue threatening Appalachia: toxic selenium pollution.
This element is leaching out of mountaintop removal valley fills in devastating amounts, causing deformities in fish and endangering the health of our streams and communities.
The significance of the EPA’s decision on a new chronic selenium standard cannot be overstated. Selenium is toxic to fish and other wildlife at very low levels and is commonly found in wastewater from mountaintop removal mines. Once it is released into waterways, selenium enters the food chain and accumulates in fish, causing reproductive failure and deformities.
Officials in Kentucky have adopted, with the EPA’s approval, a standard with serious scientific flaws that does not sufficiently protect sensitive species. Without an enforceable federal limit, citizen monitoring and enforcement under the Clean Water Act will be seriously compromised.
The federal Office of Surface Mining has finally released a draft version of its long-awaited Stream Protection Rule, and is holding hearings across the region to hear from community members impacted by surface coal mining. We need your help to make sure this critical rule overcomes industry opposition.
Thurs. Sept. 3, 2015
Big Stone Gap, Va.
Tues. Sept. 15, 2015
Thurs. Sept. 17, 2015
The coal industry has spent years trying to stall the rulemaking process and prevent science-based protections for Appalachian streams. If it succeeds in weakening the rule, hundreds of more miles of streams would be threatened by mountaintop removal.
Appalachia’s economic future depends on sustainable communities and a healthy environment. It’s crucial that we demonstrate to the agency that we’re united in support of a strong Stream Protection Rule.
Central Appalachian groups publish paper demonstrating economic potential of reclaiming abandoned mines
Kendall Bilbrey, The Alliance for Appalachia
Eric Dixon, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center
The AML Policies Priorities Group, a multi-stakeholder group examining the abandoned mine lands fund is releasing The Abandoned Mine Lands Program: A Policy Analysis for Central Appalachia and the Nation, an assessment of the opportunity for Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program. The paper provides recommendations for specific policy changes that would provide distribution of special funds to states based on criteria such as number of remaining abandoned mine lands sites, unemployment rates, and opportunity for economic development, rather than rates of coal production as the current law mandates.
The central aim of the research paper, which includes input from a broad range of stakeholders across the region, is to analyze the AML program and identify potential improvements.
As project advisor Betsy Taylor stated, “For this to work it’s really important that people in the community are able to help design what happens. You’ve got to have local creativity involved.” Taylor is a cultural anthropologist at Virginia Tech.
Some key findings of the paper include:
The AML program supported 1,317 jobs in Central Appalachian states, and delivered a value-added impact of $102 million in these states.
It will take at least $9.6 billion to remediate the remaining 6.2 million acres of lands and waters ravaged by abandoned mine problems.
Congress should initiate a five-year wholesale update of the federal inventory of AMLs so that complete, reliable data is available on the remaining size and geographical distribution of all coal AMLs—not just high priority AMLs—in the United States.
AML funding is not distributed according to need. Congress should enact legislation that replaces all AML sub-funds with a single distribution mechanism based on a state’s percentage of the updated federal AML inventory. This would distribute funding to states and tribes that have the largest AML problems and would simplify an unnecessarily complicated funding system.
This research paper comes on the tails of a major proposal to address the AML issue from the Obama Administration. In February, the POWER+ Plan was introduced as part of the FY 2016 budget. This plan would prioritize opportunity for economic diversification and development in coalfields communities.
“The POWER+ Plan 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,” noted Kendall Bilbrey, AppFellow for the Alliance for Appalachia and co-coordinator of the AML Policy Priorities Group. “In recent years, organizations across the region have begun campaigns that look at economic diversification needed to re-establish thriving economies in the coalfields, and address the legacy costs that industry has left behind. Leveraging the AML fund to support our community needs has been a key priority for grassroots groups.”
One recommendation of the white paper is for Congress to seriously reconsider how the AML program could operate more efficiently, and to enact policy changes necessary to use the funds for communities most in need.
Besides engaging community members, policy experts, and organizers, the AML Policy Priorities Group has been engaging state and federal AML officials since the beginning of the project. The group developed a survey for AML state officials in 28 state and tribal programs, and the data is included in the report.
The AML Policy Priorities Group is a multi-stakeholder group group formed in the fall of 2014 to inform the research released in The Abandoned Mine Lands Program: A Policy Analysis for Central Appalachia and the Nation . This group is co-coordinated by Kendall Bilbrey and Eric Dixon, working for The Alliance for Appalachia and The Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, respectively as a part of the Appalachian Transition Fellowship Program through the Highlander Research and Education Center. The group consists of over 200 members mostly from the Central Appalachian region representing impacted citizens, community organizers, activists, scholars, lawyers, civil society groups, and state officials.