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.
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.”
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.”
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.