Archive for the ‘All Posts’ Category

Don’t drink the water

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 - posted by sarah
Dozens of North Carolinians living near Duke Energy's coal plants learned this week that that their well water is unsafe to drink or use for cooking.

Dozens of North Carolinians living near Duke Energy’s coal plants learned this week that that their well water is unsafe to drink or use for cooking.

Dozens of residents across North Carolina received notices this week telling them not to drink or cook with their well water due to recent tests which show unsafe levels of contaminants that may be associated with coal ash.

As part of North Carolina’s coal ash law enacted last year, Duke Energy is required to test the well water of residents living within 1000 feet of the massive coal ash ponds that dot the state.

For years, the demands of residents in communities next to coal ash ponds and environmental advocates were ignored by Duke and the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, despite independent water sampling that showed elevated levels of contaminants. Now, more than a year after the Dan River coal ash spill, water testing results are coming back, giving residents and regulators a clear picture of just how widespread the problem is.

Residents living near 9 of the 14 coal plants across the state have been notified of exceedances of the groundwater standard for concerning metals such as arsenic, chromium, and vanadium. According to DENR, 87 of the 117 wells Duke tested exceeded North Carolina’s groundwater standards for one or more toxic constituents. Some wells also had high levels of constituents that may be naturally occurring in North Carolina soil, such as iron, manganese and pH.

Duke has been quick to latch onto those exceedances as evidence that the contamination is not from their illegally leaking coal ash ponds. But residents who can see coal ash ponds from their yards and have watched Duke’s smokestacks for decades have little doubt why they are now being told “don’t drink the water.”

DENR officials say they will investigate the source of contamination and, if it is linked to coal ash pollution, Duke will be required to provide residents with clean water. But that reassurance is hardly recompense for North Carolinians who may have been unknowingly drinking contaminated water for an unknown amount of time. And until the source is determined, residents will have to foot the bill for bottled water.

Meet Tarence, the newest member of our team!

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - posted by jamie

tarence

Appalachian Voices would like to welcome Tarence Ray, the newest member of our team! Serving as our new Central Appalachian Field Coordinator, Tarence will be working in central Appalachia helping expand our Appalachian Water Watch project and working on federal policy to end mountaintop removal coal mining.

Tarence was born in Lubbock, Texas, and was raised in the rural oilfields of southeastern New Mexico. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Texas at Austin. Tarence’s interest in the socio-economic parallels between his home region and the coalfields of central Appalachia brought him to eastern Kentucky in 2012.

Since then, he has served two terms as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Letcher County, Ky., focusing on the connections between water quality, systemic poverty, mine safety, the black lung benefits system and the environmental impacts of coal mining.

Tarence is also a programmer and occasional radio producer at Appalshop’s WMMT-FM in Whitesburg, Ky., and is a contributor to the Center for Rural Strategy’s blog about rural issues, The Daily Yonder. He uses his spare time to research obscure topics, argue about the Civil War, and practice his hand at multiple musical instruments.

Please join us in extending a hearty welcome to Tarence!

POWER+ Plan deserves a warmer welcome

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - posted by Adam
The Clinch River Farmers Market

The Clinch River Farmers Market

While we here in Appalachia are working overtime to reinvent our economy with the fall of King Coal, you would think that our representatives in D.C. would be eager to pass measures that send much-needed and well-deserved federal aid to help our hard hit coal counties.

But most of the region’s congressmen and senators are staying silent, and those who are going on the record definitely are not stepping up to the plate.

When the POWER+ Plan was announced in February as part of the 2016 budget proposed by the Obama administration, Sen. Mitch McConnell labeled it as “cold comfort.” And Rep. Hal Rogers of Eastern Kentucky responded with a reluctant pledge to “bear it in mind” during upcoming budget deliberations.

POWER+ directs billions of dollars to Appalachia to help communities whose economies have been left hanging as the bottom drops out of the domestic coal market. Here’s a breakdown of where the money would go:

  • $25 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission for programs that support developing advanced manufacturing, energy efficiency, local food systems, tourism development, and health care.
  • $20 million to retrain workers who have been impacted by closures of coal mines or coal-burning power plants.
  • $6 million to the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) to coordinate and advance the federal government’s regional innovation efforts. EDA disburses grants to assist economically distressed communities by fostering an environment conducive to job creation and economic growth;
  • $5 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields and Land Revitalization program, specifically to increase funding for communities impacted by power plant closures;
  • $12 million in grants and $85 million in loans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program directed towards rural communities that have been impacted by coal’s decline (that’s most of Appalachia, by the way).
  • $1 billion over the next five years to the Abandoned Mine Lands program to clean up old, nasty coal mine sites with a focus on redeveloping the land for beneficial post-mine use.
  • $2 billion in tax credits for a technology known as “carbon capture.”

Wait a minute! $2 billion for carbon capture technology? That’s what I said, and just like my list here, it’s at the bottom of the fact sheet released by the White House.

Needless to say, Appalachian Voices and our allies aren’t happy about this last provision, but perhaps it’s needed in order to get the rest of POWER+ through Congress. Given all of the other impressive allocations to worthwhile causes, it might be worth focusing on promoting what’s good and ignoring the bad. Besides, the silver lining is that the plan has pretty tough requirements for power plants to qualify for the tax credits. Given the fact that this technology is still in its infancy (and might stay there forever), it’s uncertain if any of these credits will actually be deployed.

We’ve been talking about the need for a federal investment package like this in Appalachia for years, and it’s never been as critical as it is now. But our leaders have been slow to step up and support this forward-thinking plan.

Appalachian Voices is working with our regional allies right now to deploy a strategy that lifts up POWER+ as an economic jumpstart for the region and pressures our elected officials to stand up for the measure as the 2016 budget moves through Congress.

Live in Virginia? You can help by asking Senators Warner and Kaine to support POWER+.

“MVP” is not a most valued project

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Today’s guest to the Front Porch is Tina Badger, a resident of Elliston, Va. and an intern with Appalachian Voices. With a background ranging from water quality monitoring to feeding the hungry, Tina currently focuses on advocacy work in opposing the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Tina Badger

Tina Badger

It’s been nearly six months since the companies behind the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline pre-filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and residents are still unsure about the routes, full impact, and process.

Landowners and residents on and near the alternative routes released in February are just now learning of possible impacts of the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline if FERC approves the project, proposed by EQT Corp., NextEra Energy and partners under an entity called “MVP LLC.” The 300-mile pipeline, three-and-a-half feet in diameter, would carry natural gas under high pressure from the Marcellus fracking fields, starting in Wetzel County, W.Va., and ending in Pittsylvania County, Va, where it would tie in with another pipeline.

MVP LLC recently held open houses in Monroe County, W.Va. and Craig County, Va., where residents have quickly organized in opposition to the pipeline, joining a line of opposition all along the proposed route. The boards of supervisors in Giles, Craig, Montgomery, and Roanoke counties have all passed resolutions opposing the project, and Roanoke County created a Pipeline Advisory Committee to review the potential benefits and impacts. In W.Va., the Monroe County Board of Health has voiced its opposition as well.

Rally in Blacksburg against the MVP

Rally in Blacksburg against the MVP

All counties along the proposed route are preparing for FERC’s upcoming scoping meetings. At this time, there is no definitive date for these meetings.

Meanwhile, surveying continues along the proposed route and has started on the alternative routes, in spite of landowner opposition. EQT Corp. has brought a lawsuit against 103 landowners in West Virginia who have denied the company access to survey their land. Recently, a subcontractor on the project caused a small brush fire in Franklin County, Va., after discarding a cigarette, and residents are reporting survey stakes that are clearly marked “MVP” in areas that are not on the published corridor maps.

The latest proposed location for the Swann Compressor station, the only compressor station proposed for Virginia, would put it somewhere in or near the Catawba Valley, possibly in the North Fork Historic District. While there is no good location for a compressor station, an historic district in a pastoral rural valley seems especially inappropriate.

Everyone is encouraged to continue to submit comments to FERC and to join one of the many groups that have formed to oppose the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Now is the time to be involved. Stay up to speed with us and local organizers and take every opportunity to be heard.

Elk Make Slow Return to Appalachia

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Chris Robey

Herds of Eastern elk once roamed over a third of the North American continent, where they appeared some 120,000 years ago. From southern Canada to Georgia, and from the Carolinas to the Mississippi River, valleys echoed with the rutting males’ haunting calls. Known as wapiti by the Shawnee and other native tribes, these elk were massive — mature bulls reached 1,000 pounds and stood 50 to 60 inches at the shoulder, with antlers six feet long.

When European colonists arrived in the 1400s, Eastern elk were the most widespread hooved animal on the continent. By 1880, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had officially declared the subspecies extinct. Elk blithely stood by as hunters fired upon them, making them easy targets. Unregulated hunting and forest clear-cutting quickly ravaged the formerly abundant herds.

Place names such as Elk River and Elkhorn indicate the historical range of the Eastern elk. One day these places may once again live up to their namesake. Photo by John Brunjes.

Place names such as Elk River and Elkhorn indicate the historical range of the Eastern elk. One day these places may once again live up to their namesake. Photo by John Brunjes.

Yet today, thousands of visitors come every year to North Carolina’s Cataloochee Valley to witness the autumn rut. Thanks to numerous wildlife agencies and researchers over the past two decades, elk are slowly returning to Appalachia. But the elk who live here now are different from their Eastern predecessors. Of the six elk subspecies that once inhabited North America, four have survived. Two of them — the Rocky Mountain and the Manitoban elk — have been introduced to lands where Eastern elk once roamed.

In Kentucky, a herd of an estimated 10,000 Rocky Mountain elk has flourished. “Our restoration area is 16 counties,” says Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. “About 4.3 million acres, which is equivalent to the size of Yellowstone.”

Though smaller, these Western natives are nonetheless magnificent — Rocky Mountain elk boast the most impressive antlers of any subspecies. Unlike the extinct Eastern elk, which preferred dense woodlands, Rocky Mountain elk “use a lot of grassland — the majority of which is reclaimed mine land,” Jenkins explains. Reintroduced elk respond well to these former mining sites, as herd estimates show. Thinner soils and reduced biodiversity raise concerns as to the long-term resiliency of these areas, however.

Outside of historically strip-mined lands, artificial grasslands are not so widespread, and elk are fewer. The Cataloochee Valley hosts between 150 and 200 Manitoban elk from the prairies of southern Canada. In Tennessee, the population exceeds 400, a number Virginia officials hope to reach by 2018. Elk habitat is limited, however, as most suitable areas have long since been converted to farmland.

Antler Points

Though long extinct, Eastern elk bloodlines may still exist. In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt gifted 20 elk to New Zealand, 10 of which were possibly Eastern elk.

Elk typically reach full size around 4-5 years of age. Females, also called cows, average 500 pounds and four-and-a-half feet at the shoulder, while males average 700 pounds and five feet at the shoulder.

Cows typically birth one calf a year, usually in early summer. Like deer fawns, calves are born scentless. This helps disguise them from black bears, coyotes and other predators.

Elk herds display some social organization. Cows and calves form loose clusters, while bulls live alone or in small groups with other males. During rutting season, cows and calves form harems with one or two dominant males.

Rutting males bugle to announce themselves to females and warn rival males. Ensuing clashes between bulls are sometimes deadly.

Not everyone is happy to see elk returning. Landowners complain of 700-pound elk wandering into their fields and knocking down fences. Some state officials, biologists and hunters also warn of the possible spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal prion disease that affects North American deer, moose and elk. Identified in 1982 as misfolded, infectious proteins, prions are attributed to many neurological conditions fatal to animals and humans.

Similar to Mad Cow Disease, CWD riddles an elk’s brain with holes so that it appears sponge-like under a microscope. Afflicted elk are “thin, very thin,” and visibly lethargic and disoriented, says North Carolina wildlife biologist Justin McVey. According to him, the disease has yet to be detected in North Carolina. Elk in Kentucky are similarly fortunate. “Our herds are CWD free,” Jenkins says. Infected deer have been reported in Virginia and West Virginia, however, raising concerns about the disease’s possible spread to Virginia’s newly established elk herds.

Despite these challenges, elk restoration remains a priority for wildlife agencies across the region. Though elk have not yet been released in West Virginia, the state’s House of Delegates recently passed a bill establishing a framework for restoration in the near future. With time, elk may once again grace more of Appalachia’s mountains and valleys, their bugling calls echoing throughout.

To learn more about elk and current restoration efforts, visit the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s website here.

South Fork Sharestead

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

An Idea About What Is Possible

By Eliza Laubach

A brick house off Hwy. 58 just west of Damascus, Va., stands out in a curious way. Flowerbeds have replaced the blacktop driveway and small fruit trees dot the front yard. To the side, on top of a large shed, sit four blue barrels spray-painted with the letters L-O-V-E — a message easily seen from the busy road.

"Our goal this year is less grass," says Jonathan Towers. He already grows enough food to donate surplus to neighbors or a family in need.

“Our goal this year is less grass,” says Jonathan Towers. He already grows enough food to donate surplus to neighbors or a family in need.

Rarely does Jonathan Towers advertise his home as the South Fork Sharestead, although the name accurately describes his one and a half acres. “It was basically created to share with both the people who are here and the community,” says Towers. He and his wife Carol, both in their 60s, converted his two-car garage into a living space for themselves. The sharesteaders — up to four at a time — live in the house. Most of them are from the surrounding area and are at least a generation younger than the couple.

Courtney Rowle, 26, moved in 18 months ago after meeting the Towers at a restaurant where she worked in Damascus. The sharestead is the longest she has lived anywhere since leaving the Marine Corps. “I call this the refuge,” says Rowle. While exemplifying intergenerational living, those at the sharestead strive for resource conservation and a low-impact lifestyle.

He says his endeavors are a fearless preparation for an uncertain future affected by climate change. He hopes when people drive by and see the LOVE barrels, in the background at right, they will be reminded of the primary driver of his actions. Photos by Elize Laubach.

He says his endeavors are a fearless preparation for an uncertain future affected by climate change. He hopes when people drive by and see the LOVE barrels, in the background at right, they will be reminded of the primary driver of his actions. Photos by Eliza Laubach.

In the six years since he moved from Boone, N.C., Towers has transformed his average American home into an energy-efficient, food-abundant powerhouse. By retrofitting the house to be energy efficient and maintaining a strong commitment to energy conservation, their utility bill has dropped 75 percent. The Towers started with little things, such as line-drying clothes. Soon their next-door neighbors had a line out, too. “We realized it could be a demonstration house,” says Jonathan.

The couple models sustainable living on a budget. A wood stove, along with extra insulation in the attic and curtains made out of sleeping bags, replaced the central heating and air conditioning system. A water tank on the back of the woodstove and a solar shower have greatly reduced the use of their hot water heater, which, like the windows, is covered in a down Army-surplus sleeping bag.

Towers allows function to determine placement. He found that a chest freezer operating on a warmer setting uses a lot less energy than a refrigerator. To move hot air without a central heating system, he installed fans into the walls above many doors in the house.

Garden beds in his front yard follow pathway borders, and in the backyard are two round gardens that host intensive, small-scale vegetable cultivation. Towers devised these gardens as a system the average person, of any age, could easily tend. Their accessible shape allows a gardener to easily grow an abundance of food in a compact space, he says. Fencing encircles each plot and a drainage pipe snakes underground, emerging outside the fence, to be supplied with rainwater reserved from his roof. He remembers harvesting more than 500 pounds of tomatoes from the two 220-square-foot spaces one year.

A barn housing two horses and 11 chickens features a greenhouse on the south side. A passive solar design lights and ventilates the barn, a system that Towers also applied to his basement to make it comfortable without a dehumidifier.

“If there is something here that somebody is interested in doing, we do it,” says Towers. “We’ve let everything evolve here rather than coming in thinking we know everything.” He doesn’t invite people to live at the sharestead to learn from him and Carol, but to learn with them.

The Towers have espoused this belief since they first moved to Damascus with their friends, Steve and Ashley Ahn. Steve describes his family as quite typical before they met the Towers, but they wanted to do something different. The Ahns and their three young children moved into the brick house with the Towers in an exploration of extended-family living.

Eventually, the Ahns bought their own house nearby and cultivate a homestead there, and the two families have grown even closer. The Towers help the Ahns build on land in the backcountry of Grayson County, a purchase the Towers also helped finance. “They are like our adopted parents,” says Steve.

Jonathan’s mantra, “that we each need to take personal responsibility for our wellbeing,” empowers the sharesteaders’ reasoning. He thinks in terms of perpetual inner growth, a philosophy he and Carol promote among other residents in the home.

Rowle takes this seriously, as her educational experience at the sharestead is enriched by an apprenticeship with a local Native American medicine woman. She credits the grounding support she finds with Jonathan and Carol as an incubator for her projects. “When you have to share with other people you start to grow,” she says. “You start thinking about the other person, kind of like a family.”

Mountain protectors try again in N.C.

Friday, April 10th, 2015 - posted by sarah
Photo by Dot Griffith

Photo by Dot Griffith

North Carolina Rep. Pricey Harrison introduced a bill today to phase out North Carolina’s use of mountaintop removal coal. Though the bill is currently untitled, its language mirrors a bill that was introduced in 2007 and 2009 called the “Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act.”

In 2009, Appalachian Voices helped Rep. Harrison launch the bill in Raleigh. The legislation received bipartisan support, and 75 legislators signed onto a letter calling for an end to North Carolina’s use of mountaintop removal coal.

The bill (HB619) acknowledges the extensive cultural and natural value of the Appalachian mountains, and that “coal mining, whether conducted on the earth’s surface or underground, poses significant risks to human health, local communities, the environment, real property, personal property, and wildlife resources.”

North Carolina is still the number one user of mountaintop removal mined coal in the country, with nearly half of its coal coming from mountaintop removal mining operations.

The bill, which requires North Carolina utilities to stop purchasing coal from mountaintop removal sites, is a proactive approach to ending the incredibly destructive mining practice. It would also place a moratorium on building new coal-fired power plants in the state, “to provide economic relief to utility ratepayers during this period of economic recovery,” unless the plant is carbon neutral.

priceyIf you like this idea, please take a minute to write a quick letter-to-the-editor for your local paper and say so. We’ll need a loud chorus of voices supporting the bill.

You can also take a moment to help North Carolina make the switch from coal to clean energy — tell your legislators to support the Energy Freedom Act which would allow independent companies to generate solar electricity and sell it directly to consumers.

Updated 04-17-2015

Regional Report Details Victories, Challenges Over Poverty

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Lorelei Goff

A report released in February by the Appalachian Regional Commission, Appalachia Then and Now: Examining Changes to the Appalachian Region Since 1965, examines the impact of improved infrastructure, education and job opportunities across the region.

According to the report, Appalachia’s poverty rate dropped from 31 percent to 16.6 percent over the last five decades. The region also made significant economic gains while becoming less dependent on employment in resource-extraction industries, such as coal, and increasing employment in service-related sectors.

Since 1965, the federal economic development agency funded nearly 25,000 investments in professional and technical services, manufacturing, trade and construction industries, resulting in nearly 312,000 added jobs and $10 billion in added earnings in the region, the report found. Funding also included $9 billion in matching funds from other federal, state and local sources.

In education, high school graduation rates are now nearly equal to the nation as a whole. However, the area continues to lag behind in university graduation rates and apprenticeships.

Other improvements include infant mortality rates, availability of potable water and the development of nearly 3,000 miles of highways in the region.

Challenges remain, including the availability and affordability of high-speed internet, and a steady out-migration of young adults seeking employment and opportunities.

“The challenge going forward is to use the Region’s assets: a history of hard work, innovative solutions to complex problems, and strong families and communities to leverage today’s emerging economic opportunities into a diverse and vibrant economic future,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl in a press release.

A first for North Carolina, now open for fracking

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - posted by sarah
Fracking rig

In the face of widespread public opposition and demand for stronger rules, fracking permits can officially be applied for in North Carolina. Photo by Bob Warhover

March 17 marked the first day in history that North Carolina has been fully open to the oil and gas industry for the dangerous, environmentally destructive practice of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Despite widespread public opposition, Governor McCrory and state legislators rushed to open the state to drilling, ignoring hundreds of North Carolinians who spoke at public hearings across the state and thousands more that sent written comments requesting stronger rules.

Despite legislators’ promises that the rules would be the strongest in the country, the final package leaves much to be desired. The rules lack any provisions to control air pollution and they do not clarify legal confusion about forced pooling, the controversial process by which landowners are pooled into a drilling unit without their consent.

Adding insult to injury, on March 18, the North Carolina legislature passed its first bill since the session began in January, which declares that it is optional for the state Environmental Management Commission to create rules regulating air emissions from fracking operations. Previously, the Energy Modernization Act, which paved the way for fracking in the state, required that the EMC develop regulations to protect communities from air pollution.

North Carolina has very small shale deposits and it is unclear where they are located and how much they will actually produce. What is known is that the shale deposits in North Carolina are closer to groundwater sources than the shale deposits in other states that have already experienced groundwater contamination from failed fracking well cases. Additionally, there are no facilities in North Carolina that can treat the toxic wastewater produced by drilling and there are currently no pipelines to transport the fracked gas.

Combine North Carolina’s weak rules, unclear picture of gas reserves, and a lack of infrastructure to transport what little gas the state can produce, with dropping gas prices and drilling companies operating in the red, and you can be sure that the only drillers North Carolina is likely to attract are wildcatters.

When multi-billion dollar oil and gas companies can’t even drill safely, it seems unlikely that small-time prospectors will take every precaution to protect groundwater and neighboring communities from harm.

Though the moratorium on fracking has been lifted, communities and environmental organizations across the state are prepared to continue fighting. We’ll be watching the Department of Energy Mineral and Land Resources closely for any applications to create a drilling unit or for a drilling permit. If a permit is applied for, we’ll be ready to fight it.

Learn more about the risks of fracking and stay up to date by signing up for “Frack Updates” from Frack Free N.C.

Although industry gets fined, citizens still pay the price

Friday, March 20th, 2015 - posted by tom

Each month, Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons reflects on issues of importance to our supporters and to the region.

Belews Creek Power Plant by Avery Locklear

Belews Creek Power Plant, photo by Avery Locklear

The crimes of companies that mine and burn coal come with high costs that can’t always be measured in dollars and cents. But that doesn’t mean wrongdoers shouldn’t be held accountable or forced to pay the price.

Dan RiverMajor polluters in our region are starting to see the consequences of their crimes catch up to them. Last month, Duke Energy announced it reached a $102 million plea agreement with federal prosecutors to resolve charges stemming from its coal ash pollution in North Carolina. Those fines cannot be passed on to customers, meaning Duke and its shareholders will take the hit.

But, it’s the communities surrounding Duke’s leaking coal ash sites that have been paying for years, in undrinkable water, air pollution, worry and concern, and illness. The problem might have been avoided had North Carolina’s regulators taken seriously the coal ash pollution or citizens’ urgings to address it.

fc-mtrA similarly troubling story is unfolding in eastern Kentucky, where citizen groups have faced off with the coal industry and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. There, too, regulators for years ignored corporate misconduct — this time in the form of blatantly falsified water quality reports that covered up pollution from mountaintop removal sites — leading Appalachian Voices and our partners to file suit.

These stories and many others in our region point to the ways that pollution negatively impacts communities at every stage of coal’s life cycle. But more importantly, they underscore the exceedingly important role citizens play in environmental protection.

When regulators don’t enforce essential protections, it’s no surprise that profit-driven companies feel free to disregard the law, cutting corners while paying little attention to the people their actions put at risk. And ultimately, citizens are forced to pay with priceless commodities like their health and well-being.

Citizen efforts to hold polluters accountable may not always end in a guilty plea, when we can say that justice has been served. But, we know when looking at the coal ash-lined banks of the Dan River or a polluted stream beneath a mountaintop removal mine in Kentucky that crimes have been committed, and that someone will have to pay.