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.