Archive for the ‘2009 – Issue 6 (Dec/January)’ Category

ASHEVILLE GO: Green Opportunities

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 - posted by interns

By Maureen Halsema

Young adults get training in the green industry. Photos by Dan Leroy, co-founder of Asheville GO.

There is much ado about green collar jobs, but who is qualified to work them?
An Asheville-based program called Asheville Green Opportunities (Asheville GO) is ready to fit the bill, training unemployed young adults to launch careers in this growing industry.

Asheville GO provides training, education and services to help enhance and restore the environment through lowered greenhouse gas emissions, increased efficiency, ecological restoration, and sustainable agricultural methods.

“We’ve worked on a great diversity of projects including community gardens, habitat
restoration, invasive species control, storm water management, weatherization and green construction,” said Dan Leroy, co-founder of Asheville GO.

According to the United States Department of Labor, as of August, 17,500 people in Asheville are unemployed.

Asheville GO teaches technical job skills through hands-on experience. Students work directly in their own communities, positively impacting the environment and the quality of life. This semester the program has 12 members learning the skills necessary to thrive in a green economy.

“We have a really solid group of members this cycle,” Leroy said. “All of the members came to us during recruitment really needing an opportunity and they are all taking the program very seriously.”

The program began in 2008 with a successful pilot year, placing six of the eight apprentices in green jobs in the Asheville community.

Asheville GO is divided into two semesters—a four-month pre-apprenticeship phase followed by a five-month apprenticeship with local businesses, government agencies or nonprofits in the green economy. Participants are prepared for jobs in the green economy while earning a stipend during the training cycle.

“Members will apply to businesses according to their interest,” Leroy said. “…We try to ensure that the members are motivated and excited about their placements.” Some participating groups include the Bountiful Cities Project, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Conservation Pros.

In addition to job skills, apprentices learn life skills such as team building, money management, effective communication and leadership training. Asheville GO participants can also work with tutors to prepare for the GED or to assist with college coursework.

GO members’ service work is supplemented by classroom work at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. The program works with members to design a course plan that suits each of their specific goals. Members are also certified in Occupational Safety and Health Administration Construction Safety.

As a supplement to the apprenticeship program, they have created the GO Energy Team. “The GO Energy Team is a microenterprise we started to provide low-cost energy audits and weatherization services to the community, while providing hands-on training opportunities,” Leroy said. “This allows us to hire Asheville GO members directly as apprentices rather than relying on local businesses to do all of it. It serves a critical need in this community.”

Energy Efficiency Jobs: Hope for the Appalachian Economy

By Maureen Halsema

Energy efficiency policies have an enormous potential for creating jobs in the Appalachian region, stated a report commissioned by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

In November, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute held a briefing to discuss “The Energy Efficiency in Appalachia: How Much More is Available, at What Cost, and by When,” a report which studied the economical impacts their energy efficiency policies and programs could have on the Appalachian region.

“We are interested in energy not for energy’s sake, but for its potential for economic development,” said Anne Pope, federal co-chair of the ARC.

According to the report, increased energy efficiency policies and programs can potentially create more than 77,000 jobs by 2030 in the 13-state Appalachian Region. In addition, the policies would facilitate a $27 billion reduction of energy use to the consumer. Within the first year, consumers could save a collective sum of $800 million in energy costs.

The report was prepared by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA), in partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and the Alliance to Save Energy.

The researchers designed 15 efficiency policies for the study.

“Many of these policies are not overreaching, they are pretty realistic and they can actually be relatively achieved at a pretty easy level,” said Ben Taube, executive director of SEEA.

The top five policies that had the highest impact on the region were: efficient commercial HVAC and light and retrofit incentives; expanding industrial assessment centers; commissioning existing buildings; raising fuel efficiency standards for vehicles; and doing residential retrofit incentives on the resale of properties.

A Vision of Virginia’s Energy Future

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 - posted by interns

Commentary by Tom Cormons
Special to The Voice

My 21-month-old daughter seems to know no greater joy than that of splashing in the cool, clear waters of our mountain creeks, or walking along a rocky trail beneath the lush hardwood canopy, happily chewing on a birch twig.

A favorite destination is the Blue Ridge’s Humpback Rocks. From there—on a good day—you can clearly see our town, nestled in the foothills 25 miles to the east. Too often, however, the view is obscured by smog caused mainly by emissions from coal-fired power plants—plants fed by coal obtained by blowing up mountains not unlike the one we stand on, and not far away. Southwest Virginia’s Wise County, a half-day’s drive away, is the second most strip-mined county in all of Appalachia.
The smog is a reminder that the air my daughter breathes is polluted, and that emissions of CO2 from power plants are causing a climate crisis with untold implications for her entire generation.

Virginians pay a steep price for our electricity. According to a study released by the Clean Air Task Force, in Virginia alone fine airborne particles from coal-fired power plants cause nearly 1,000 deaths, over 1,400 non-fatal heart attacks, and 24,000 asthma attacks each year. Coal plant emissions also make Shenandoah National Park the second most polluted of our national parks. Many of the state’s rivers bear fish consumption advisories due to contamination with mercury deposited from coal plant emissions. And mountaintop removal has already destroyed 67 mountains in Virginia; a total of 156,000 acres of mountainous terrain have been destroyed in the state.

Fortunately, the state has alternatives to its current approach to energy. According to the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium, the state can meet 20 percent of its electricity demand with offshore wind turbines covering an area just the size of Virginia Beach, at a cost that is competitive with coal and insulated from the prices of fossil fuels. Virginia also has significant onshore wind potential, which is even more economical.

The lowest-hanging fruit is Virginia’s vast energy efficiency potential. A report by the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) shows that 27 percent of the state’s projected electricity demand can be met through cost-effective energy efficiency measures by 2025.

Energy efficiency means getting more use out of less energy, through more efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems, and better windows and insulation. Efficiency measures are much cheaper than electricity generation—about three cents per kilowatt-hour for efficiency versus upwards of 10 cents for power from a new coal plant—so they can dramatically lower consumer electric bills. In Austin, Texas, for example, the city’s utility scrapped plans to build a large 500 megawatt power plant and invested instead in efficiency measures, saving as much electricity as the plant would have generated—avoiding a new pollution source and saving consumers money.
Efficiency also employs more people per kilowatt-hour than coal. According to ACEEE, even relatively modest efficiency investments would directly create nearly 10,000 net jobs in Virginia by 2025. And a report by the Appalachian Regional Commission shows that efficiency measures in Appalachia could produce 77,000 jobs in the region by 2030.

During 2009, Virginia citizens weighed in with their legislators on the subject of energy efficiency. As a result, Virginia’s largest electricity provider is now proposing the state’s first major investment in efficiency by a utility. While the proposal would capture only a portion of the state’s untapped efficiency potential, it demonstrates the extent to which citizens have already influenced energy policy in the state.

As corporate interests compete with citizen voices for attention on energy issues, the struggle to change energy policy will require continued diligence. But one look at my toddler daughter bounding through the woods makes me sure the fight is worth it.

To learn more about Wise Energy for Virginia’s campaign against coal-fired power plants and mountaintop removal, and for energy efficiency, please visit their website at or call Appalachian Voices’ Virginia office at 434-293-6373.

Negawatts – Make Electricity By Saving It

Energy efficiency is one of the most effective methods of curbing our carbon footprint, and it can happen one negawatt at a time.

Coined by Amory Lovins, “negawatt” describes conservation as a means of actually generating electricity through the act of saving it. For instance, if your power consumption is lowered, for every Megawatt you save, a negawatt of energy is made available to the rest of the grid. If a person uses 60 megawatts of electricity less during a month thanks to energy efficiency measures—installing better appliances, applying window and wall weatherization, using compact fluorescent bulbs—they have actually made 60 negawatts of electricity available for their neighbors to use.
Science-minded individuals may want to read Lovins’ original discourse of negawatts at the 1989 Montreal Green Energy Conference, available online at Everyone else can be content to know that through reducing consumption via energy efficiency, they are actually adding to the energy grid.

Saving North Carolina, One Watt At A Time

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 - posted by interns

By Austin Hall

Amid the growing discussion of energy use, global climate change and how to implement renewable energy, North Carolina state legislators and a coalition of grassroots organizations have proposed a measure that directly tackles the issue of using electricity efficiently in state.

North Carolina SAVE$ Energy is an initiative to create a statewide, independent energy efficiency program. The program’s goal is to lower electricity bills and keep the savings in the pockets of residential customers, especially those that fall into lower income categories.

Energy efficiency is widely accepted to be the most effective way to reduce energy usage and cut the cost of utility bills. Customers can ultimately save money on their utility bills and lower their demand for energy by auditing individual energy usage, weatherizing existing homes and businesses, and replacing inefficient appliances and incandescent light bulbs. In addition to saving the customers money, energy efficiency also significantly reduces the demand for the construction of costly coal-fired power plants.

“By using electricity efficiently and retrofitting our homes and businesses, we can lower utility bills, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels including mountaintop removal coal, create ‘green jobs,’ and combat global climate change—all the while saving money for North Carolina ratepayers,” said state Representative Pricey Harrison from Greensboro, co-sponsor of the initiative.

A critical element of the N.C. SAVE$ initiative is that the entire program will be administered by an independent non-profit organization rather than utility corporations such as Duke and Progress Energy. Because utility companies earn profit in the sale of electricity—the more they sell, the more they make—members of the N.C. SAVE$ coalition see a conflict of interest in utility companies becoming directly involved in the program.

The N.C. SAVE$ coalition is working with state legislators to pass the N.C. SAVE$ ENERGY bill (H.B. 1050) through the General Assembly this year. When passed, the bill will create North Carolina’s first independently run energy efficiency program. Currently the bill is before the committee on Energy and Energy Efficiency and will be heard in the legislative short session, which begins in May 2010.

Blasting Begins on Coal River Mountain

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 - posted by interns

By Julie Johnson

On Oct. 24, Massey Energy began blasting on Coal River Mountain, a ridgeline that has become symbolic in the nationwide campaign to end mountaintop removal coal mining.
This West Virginia mountain is home to the highest peaks ever slated for mountaintop removal in the state. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection has stated that the mining operation on the mountain is “actively moving coal.”

Since 2007, residents of the Coal River Valley have rallied behind plans to replace mountaintop removal operations with a 328-megawatt, utility-scale wind farm on the mountain. Coal River Mountain Watch’s Coal River Wind campaign has focused on asking West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to rescind the mining permits for Coal River Mountain.

Massey Energy owns permits that if completed would strip close to 6,600 acres of the mountain. So far, Gov. Manchin has denied the Coal River Mountain Watch’s request.
According to the Coal Wind campaign, a potential wind farm could “employ over 200 local residents during the 2 year construction phase, and create 40-50 permanent maintenance jobs afterwards.” A study commissioned by the group revealed that wind potential on the mountain would provide electricity for over 85,000 homes and would pump $20 million per year into the economy during construction and $2 million per year thereafter.

“Coal River Mountain, the last standing mountain in the valley, should remain intact as a symbol for a new day in the Appalachian coalfields,” said Lorelei Scarbro, organizer for Coal River Mountain Watch.

The blasting also threatens the Brushy Fork slurry impoundment, an earthen dam holding 8.2 billion gallons of wet toxic coal waste. The impoundment lies within 100 yards from the current blasting site. According to—maintained by Wheeling Jesuit University—the Brushy Fork impoundment is a Class C dam, in which “failure would cause possible loss of human life.” The impoundment is uphill from the communities of Pettus and Whitesville where residents would have 12-18 minutes to evacuate if the dam were to burst.

In 2008, Massey Energy, one of the largest coal mining companies in central Appalachia, paid $20 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the largest settlement to date for violating the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times in seven years.

“My community is already being forced to endure silica blasting dust, boulders, mudslides and floods from a mountaintop removal operation on Cherry Pond Mountain,” said Bo Webb, a resident who lives directly downhill from an existing mountaintop removal operation near Coal River. “The annihilation of Coal River Mountain will leave us trapped in the middle beneath both mountains of destruction.”

Other News From Coal Country

Marsh Fork: The School Board in Raleigh County, W.Va., has asked for funding from the state to move Marsh Fork Elementary School, a facility which sits immediately below a 2.8 billion gallon coal sludge impoundment and a mountaintop removal mining site, and within a few hundred feet of a coal processing plant. Some local residents have been campaigning for years to move the school due to the dangers of the dam breaking and the toxic coal dust that falls on the school.

OSMRE Director: Joe Pizarchik’s nomination for director of the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement was unanimously confirmed in the Senate after being held up for several months. Coalfield citizen groups had opposed his confirmation, stating issues with his leadership as director of the Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation.

New Resources— Plundering Appalachia, a coffee table book published by Earth Aware and edited by Tom Butler, shows both the beauty and the destruction of Appalachia through large-format photography. Includes essays from Wendell Berry, Judy Bonds, Denise Giardina, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others.

Still Moving Mountains: The Journey Home— Produced by Aurora Lights, this CD is a sequel to Moving Mountains, and is a combination of music and interviews with residents living with mountaintop removal. It is interactive with the website, an interactive mapping project that combines music, audio, photography and the written word to tell the story of the Coal River Valley, W.Va.

Hazardous or Not?— The EPA is considering delaying the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) rules for regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste because of concerns in the Department of the Interior (DOI). The EPA’s proposal is to consider coal ash hazardous except for when it is reused such as in ingredients for concrete or drywall.

Let’s Learn About Coal— Friends of Coal (FOC) targeted a youthful audience in a recent public relations blitz, handing out a coloring book called “Let’s Learn About Coal” to school children through West Virginia’s “Coal in the Classroom” campaign.

Senator and the Mayfly— “I don’t think so much about mayflies, but I do think about those people [who live downstream]. There will have to be adjustments,” said West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller in a discussion regarding whether increased regulation of mountaintop removal is necessary.

ACCCE Foots The Bill— Congressional investigators uncover internal documents revealing that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) paid over $7 million in 2009 to the Hawthorn Group, the same company that hired Bonner & Associates, the astroturf lobbying firm that was responsible for forging letters from nonprofit groups to Congress regarding the climate change bill.

Tensions Continue to Grow Over Mountaintop Removal Mining

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 - posted by interns

By Sandra Diaz

This banner ad depicting mountaintop removal mining protestors as terrorists appeared briefly on the website of industry front group FACES of COAL.

From civil disobedience with ever-increasing fines to public-hearings-turned-shouting-matches, the tension between mountaintop removal factions has turned explosive.

Fines for acts of civil disobedience in actions opposing mountaintop removal have been increasing, but the additional costs have not stopped the protests.
On Sept. 9, four protesters, along with a journalist covering the event, were arrested for blocking the road to Massey Energy’s Regional Headquarters in Boone County, W.Va. Bail was set for $5,000 each, $3,000 for the journalist.

On Oct. 22, four protesters blocked a road leading into a mine site in Kanawha County, W.Va. Bail was set at $2,000 each, but was eventually reduced to $200. And a protestor in the Climate Ground Zero campaign received the campaign’s first jail sentence—twenty days—for participating in a five-person road blockade at Massey Energy Regional Headquarters in Boone County, W.Va.

Protests continue to grow outside of the coalfields as well. A crowd gathered outside of J.P. Morgan Chase offices on Oct. 30 to protest the company’s funding of mountaintop removal mining and new coal plants; the same day, more people gathered at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional offices and EPA headquarters, calling on the Obama administration to do more to end it. Fourteen activists conducted a peaceful sit-in at the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., while others recreated a funeral procession outside.

One of the more non-confrontational protests was a Senior’s March Against Mountaintop Removal that started in Charleston on Oct. 8. The 25-mile march—consisting of over 28 seniors—was punctuated by talks given by Larry Gibson of Mountain Keepers and others.

On March 3, two teenagers hung a banner off of the Walker Cat building in Belle, W.Va., that read “Yes, Coal Is Killing West Virginia Communities”as the march passed by. The West Virginia Metro News reported that Walker Machinery CEO Steven Walker equated the two youths to suicide bombers in the Middle East.

In October, coal industry representatives distributed an image across the internet that characterized protests as the work of terrorists. The image—also posted as a banner ad on the coal industry front group FACES of COAL website—depicted protesters as terrorists with bandannas covering their faces with the phrase, “If they win, we lose.”

Tensions are also flaring at public hearings as the Obama Administration looks at various options to regulate mountaintop removal. During the fall, the Army Corps of Engineers held hearings near the Appalachian coalfields in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia on a proposal to end the streamlined “Nationwide 21” permitting process for valley fill permits—a process used in about one-third of mountaintop removal projects.

At a hearing in West Virginia, coal supporters verbally and physically threatened environmental advocates. Some environmental advocates were removed before the hearing by police for “security reasons.”

At other hearings, those in favor for ending the Nationwide permits were shouted down by mobs as soon as they tried to speak. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did little to control the disruptive crowds.

The move to regulate mountaintop removal mining on a federal level has been met with great resistance from the coal industry and government officials in West Virginia.
During a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the Clean Water Act, West Virginia representatives Nick Rahall and Shelley Moore Capito questioned Lisa Jackson, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about the agency’s position on mountaintop removal coal mining.

Jackson was “happy to clarify that to say unequivocally neither EPA nor I personally have any desire to end coal mining.”

But Jackson also stated that, “what we are seeing with the science here is that as these watersheds have more and more valley fills in them, frankly, we see water quality impacts … and we believe that over time that’s going to be a larger problem and not a smaller one.”

A new review process created in June between the EPA, the Department of Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers allows for closer scrutiny of the permits for their impact on water quality. Seventy-nine mountaintop removal valley fill permits are currently going through that review process. Over 2000 miles of streams have already been buried or polluted by mountaintop removal mining waste.

Back in West Virginia, Governor Joe Manchin convened a closed door meeting with local, state and federal officials as well as representatives from the coal industry in order to speak “with one voice” to the Obama Administration about concerns over the tougher permit review process instituted by the EPA.

Last month, employees at A&G Coal Company in Virginia received notice of impending layoffs, with the company claiming that “a minority group of people against mining…[who] along with several of the regulatory agencies have partially succeeded at this time in slowing down our permitting process.”

Coal industry officials, however, have acknowledged that the extended reviews of the mountaintop removal valley fill permits will not affect mining operations for at least a year.

Wise Energy Hosts “Coal Country” Screening

The Wise Energy for Virginia coalition is holding special screenings in Charlottesville, Va. of the movie “Coal Country,” a new film that tells of the dramatic struggle around the use of coal in America. The screenings will begin at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9 and 10 at the Vinegar Hill Theatre at 220 W. Market St. There will also be a wine-and-hors d’oeuvres reception and benefit before the showing on Dec. 10 at 5 p.m. at Siips Resturant, 212 E. Main St., with musical entertainment and special guests Kathy Selvage and Larry Gibson, who are featured in the film.
Tickets for either screening are $5 or $40 for the reception plus screening. To purchase tickets call Kayti Wingfield at 540-470-0643 or visit

AIRE and MOTM: Combining Music With Renewable Energy

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 - posted by interns

By Jeff Deal

Music on the Mountaintop Festival creator and Executive Director Jimmy Hunt hands a $5000 check to Steve Owen from the Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy. AIRE was the featured non-profit at this year’s festival

The 4,200 folks who turned out for this year’s Music on the Mountaintop (MOTM)raised $5,000 for community driven renewable energy.

The August festival in Boone, N.C. hosted stellar performances by four-time Grammy Award winner Sam Bush and music favorites Acoustic Syndicate and Kellar Williams.
The Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy (AIRE)—an organization that promotes and cultivates community-developed renewable energy in Appalachia— received the contribution as part of its recognition as the “Featured Non-Profit” by this year’s Music on the Mountaintop Festival.

“AIRE’s mission inspires us,” said Music on the Mountaintop creator and Executive Director Jimmy Hunt. “We look up to their progressive attitude and we’re proud to be a part of Appalachia’s Green Business Future and Community.”

In addition to its generous support of renewable energy in Appalachia, this year’s 2nd Annual Music on the Mountaintop—voted the Greenest Music Festival for 2009 by Blue Ridge Outdoor Magazine—also:
• recycled 1,900 lbs of alumunium cans – 75% of the festival’s total waste
• showcased over 25 non-profit organizations, specializing in environmental stewardship, renewable energy and social justice
• attracted tourists from 35 U.S. States and Canada to the N.C. mountains
• partnered with River and Earth, a local outdoor adventure business, to offer free public transportation from Boone, N.C. to the festival
• supported local businesses by contracting and partnering with neighborhood and regional enterprises whenever possible for services and goods required to produce the festival

“This year’s festival was a huge success!” said 25 year old entrepreneur Hunt. “After the first [festival], we wanted to step up our green initiatives- recycling, proper composting, and lowering our carbon footprint—and luckily for us, the town … really supported our efforts.”

“Our goal is not to be the biggest or most well known event; rather we strive to have the most well produced and sustainable festival in the country.”
If you missed this year’s Music on the Mountaintop – don’t worry! The folks at MOTM invite you to the 3rd Annual Music on the Mountaintop Festival in August 2010 for more good times and good works!

For more info, visit or

iLoveMountains Is In GOOD Company, a website dedicated to the issue of mountaintop removal, was named one of the “Good 100,” a list sponsored by GOOD magazine to acknowledge organizations, projects and individuals who are striving to improve the planet.
The website was created by Appalachian Voices for the Alliance for Appalachia—an umbrella organization of 13 groups working to end mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. The site features a number of Google Maps and Google Earth tools including the My Connection tool, which allows visitors to determine if they are using mountaintop removal by typing in their zip code.

According to GOOD, “The website is providing people with the resources to fight mountaintop-removal mining in Appalachia…[it] shows how the energy we use is connected to mountaintop removal, and connects people with their lawmakers to lobby for change.”

GOOD, launched in September 2006, produces a website, videos, live events and a print magazine with a mission to “provide content, experiences, and utilities to serve [the people, businesses, and NGO’s moving the world forward].” GOOD has collected praise for its unique editorial perspective and fresh visual aesthetic.

Students Protest Naming Dorm After Coal

Despite student and faculty protests, a new dorm at the University of Kentucky will bear the name “Wildcat Coal Lodge” per a request by funders from Alliance Coal.
The request was part of Alliance Coal CEO Joseph Craft’s stipulation for a $7 million donation to build a new dorm for the men’s basketball team. In a 16-3 vote, the university’s board of trustees approved incorporating the word “coal” in the building’s name.

The three voters opposed to the decision included Robynn Pease, the representative for university staff, Ernie Yanarella, a faculty representative, and Ryan Smith, the student government president,

“There were a lot of students that were opposed to this for a variety of different reasons,” said Smith. “Some for the selling of tradition, some for the precedent that it sets, and some students and individuals were upset because of the stigma associated with coal in the state.”

“From my perspective, I am a representative of the student body and I needed to represent the people that I serve,” Smith said.

A Race for the Mountains

The High Country Conservancy’s 10th Annual Stick Boy Mayview Madness 5K Race on Nov. 7 was the biggest it has been in its decade-long history. In an effort to raise money and awareness for the Appalachian mountains, 190 runners took to the streets of downtown Blowing Rock, N.C., bringing in over $5,500.

The High Country Conservancy is a non-profit land trust that was founded in 1997 to protect Appalachia’s natural resources. The organization has worked with landowners to create 32 conservation easements, preserving 1,805 acres in Avery, Ashe and Watauga Counties in northwestern North Carolina. They group has also used funds to purchase 20 properties for conservation, including one covering 945 acres.

N.C. Residents Speak Out About Four-Lane Highway Proposal

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 - posted by interns

By Julie Johnson

Map of the proposed section of highway by Walter Smith, courtesy of

A proposal for a four-lane highway through the Stecoah Valley drew residents from Graham County, N.C. and surrounding areas to speak out at a packed community center on Oct. 28.

This ten mile, split-median road is being proposed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) at an estimated budget of $350 million and will fill a gap in “Corridor K,” a number of four and two-lane roads that connect Chattanooga, Tenn. to Asheville, N.C.

Ed Lewis, director of the Human Environment Unit at NCDOT, moderated the hearing. He explained the department’s reasons for proposing the highway, saying “[it] will improve safety and boost economic development for the county.”
The purpose of the hearing was not to decide if the highway should be built, but to determine which of the two routes Lewis presented the public preferred.

Of the 25 people who chose to speak, 23 preferred neither route, and strongly opposed construction of the four lane in favor of improvements to currently inadequate two-lane roads. Many argued that the highway would bypass their businesses, not bring people to them.

Aurelia Stone, general manager of a Best Western hotel in Murphy, N.C., spoke of her experience with a four-lane highway in her town.

“Interstate-style roads bring transient traffic, not people coming to stay and spend money,” Stone said. She added that her hotel has not seen an increase in business from the expansion.

Many who spoke agreed that Graham County’s economy was faltering, but did not see the highway as a viable solution.

“I don’t know if these roads will be built,” said County Commissioner Steve Odom, “but I see more immediate needs, and if the state and federal governments have $350 million to spend, they should look at those needs as well.”

Construction of the highway will displace 35 to 45 homes and business and under “Right-Of-Way” laws, NCDOT will pay for these residents’ moving expenses.

Randy Knight, whose home will lie on the fringe of the new highway, said that he worries his neighbors will be relocated and replaced with noise pollution. “I’m 64 and I don’t want to spend the rest of my days listening to jake brakes and
motorcycles,” Knight said.

Dr. Melanie Mayes, a geology professor at the University of Tennessee, said NCDOT’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) “does not include enough geologic study or investigation of hazards.” Mayes said that it contained neither the results of drilling studies in the area nor a geologic map, and expressed concern about this lack of transparency as well as about acid drainage and water pollution which will occur as a result of construction blasting.

Lamar Marshall is working with nonprofit organization WildSouth to map historical Cherokee trails in and around Stecoah Gap. “The EIS contains no archaeological study of the project area and construction could devastate historical artifacts,” Marshall said.

The EIS states “[past studies] and coordination with the USFS suggest that there is a strong probability for archaeological resources associated with the Trail of Tears along the proposed project.”

Hikers often visit the county, which incorporates part of the Nantahala National Forest, to hike the portion of the Appalachian Trail that passes through Stecoah Gap. If the highway is built, a 160 foot cutwall will be visible from the trail. The EIS claims that the wall will be incongruous with the natural terrain and that “at least five view points [from the Appalachian trail] would have unobstructed views of the project.”

The NCDOT will continue to take written public opinion on the proposed road until Dec. 4. Construction of the first half of the project is slated to begin in early 2012.

Photography Competition Deadline January 29

Untitled by Andrew Tau, 2006 Best in Show, Blue Ridge Parkway. Courtesy ASU Outdoor Programs

Amateur and professional photographers are encouraged to enter the 7th Annual Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition (AMPC), which focuses on images that portray various aspects of Appalachian life.

Sponsored by Outdoor Programs at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., the competition is divided into seven separate categories, and over $4,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded.

The show will be judged by regional photographers, and finalists will be shown in an exhibition at ASU’s Turchin Center for the Visual Arts Mar. 5 through Jun. 5, 2010.
Deadline for the competition is 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 29, 2010. Photographers must be 13 years of age or older to enter.

Please visit for details or to enter the competition. For more information, call ASU Outdoor Programs at 828-262-4954.

Competition Categories
• Adventure
• Blue Ridge Parkway Vistas
• Blue Ridge Parkway Share the Journey® (2010 Theme – Picnicking on the Blue Ridge Parkway)
• Culture
• Our Ecological Footprint
• Flora and Fauna
• Landscape

This year, The Appalachian Voice and Appalachian Voices will serve as the sponsoring supporter of the former environmental category, now known as “Our Ecological Footprint.” Entries to the category should document environmental injustices and detrimental practices that are damaging the rich eco-systems of the Appalachian mountains. Winner for this category will receive a $200 cash prize, a year membership to Appalachian Voices, and have their image published in a future issue of The Appalachian Voice.

The AMPC is a partnership between Appalachian State University’s Outdoor Programs, The Turchin Center for the Visual Arts and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, and is made possible through the sponsorship of: Virtual Blue Ridge; Appalachian Voices; Bistro Roca, Inventive American Cuisine; Footsloggers Outdoor and Travel Outfitters; Mast General Stores; and Peabody’s Wine and Beer Merchants.

Be a Locavore: Support your community and sustain yourself

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 - posted by interns

By Maureen Halsema

As you are savoring your roasted turkey, dumplings, cranberry sauce, and hot apple pie this holiday season, keep in mind the average item in the grocery store travels over 1,000 miles to your table.

Appalachia is rich in farmer’s markets and food co-operatives featuring locally grown and organic foods.

Besides being fresher and even healthier, buying local foods can be a boon to your community. As a locavore—a person who buys produce, meats and other food products from local sources—you encourage sustainable agricultural practices and support the rural heritage of Appalachia. Your purchase directly supports local farmers, giving them an
edge against the corporate competition in an already tough economy.

Many local farmers use organic farming methods, which also benefit you and your fellow locavores. Eating organically reduces your exposure to chemicals like growth hormones or antibiotics, because organically raised animals, fruits and veggies generally do not use these products. Pesticide-free farming methods keep water, soils, and air cleaner, and animals are raised on organic feed so that pesticides do not accumulate in the meat and get passed on to you. This is one of the many ways that buying locally benefits you and your community.

To find local places where you can acquire your holiday feast, visit This site is a database of farmer’s markets, restaurants, groceries, co-ops, and community supported agriculture where you can purchase local produce. Simply type in what you are looking for and where you are from and the site will compile a list of the places you can do your holiday shopping.

The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project also has a local food guide database at that allows you to search for farms, natural food stores, restaurants, and other businesses that sell local foods in southern Appalachia.
If the locavore lifestyle intrigues you, take on a challenge this holiday season—try the 100-mile diet. This growing social movement involves eating foods that come from a 100-mile radius of your home. Spend the holidays supporting your local community while enriching your diet with locally grown foods.

So cut the mileage out of the meals this holiday, lower your carbon footprint and support your local community. Visit to find links that will help you locate locally grown food for your holiday feast!

Pie Photo by William Hockaday

Green Gifts That Keep on Giving

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 - posted by interns

By Maureen Halsema

The holidays are upon us and as visions of sugarplums begin to dance through our heads, thoughts of presents for loved ones are not far behind.
Instead of searching the crowded stores for a gift that may get thrown in the back of the closet, this year give a gift that really means something—a gift that could make a difference.

Keeping it Fresh

Give the gift that keeps on giving all year, with a subscription to a local community supported agriculture (CSA) project. Purchasing this membership supports local farmers and in return your giftee is given a share of fresh seasonal produce each week for the entire course of the farming season. is one way to find a your local CSA.

Bottled Sunshine

Give a sun jar! This $40 present captures sunshine in its frosted glass during the day so that it can be reused at night. The energy efficient sun jar has a solar-powered cell and a rechargeable battery that offers five hours of LED light. So turn off the regular lights, because here comes the sun. Find your sun jar at

Seasonal Inspiration

Give a movie that gives back to the environment. “Four Seasons: Peak Escape,” directed by Justin Goff, shows the beautiful views of each season in Appalachia throughout North Carolina and Tennessee. The scenic vistas of Mount Mitchell, Roan Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, and Linville Falls among others are accompanied by music by Tom Middleton, Briza, and Secede. A percentage of all the proceeds from the sales of this stunning film will be used to support environmental causes in the Appalachian region. Find out more about “Four Season: Peak Escape” at

Share music that makes a difference. Aurora Light’s CD, “Still Moving Mountains: The Journey Home” is a collection of songs and stories that illustrate the devastation wrought by mountaintop removal coal mining. It sings of hope for the future of Appalachia and of the strength of those who stand up to protect their landscapes and communities. The album features 14 musical tracks by Appalachian artists, such as Kathy Mattea, Del McCoury, Blue Highway, and Andrew McKnight, and includes interviews by Mattea and Robert Kennedy, Jr. All of the funds raised by the sale of the CD will contribute to grants, education, and charities related to raising awareness about mountaintop removal coal mining. Pick up your copy of musical inspiration at

Saving Appalachia

You can be a Mountain Protector with a gift membership to Appalachian Voices. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to bringing people together to solve environmental problems that have the greatest impact on central and southern Appalachia. Your gift plays a critical role in helping to protect Appalachian heritage and environment. Right now, your gift donation of $50 or more comes with a Coal Country CD and/or DVD. Turn to page 3 for details.

The Great Outdoors

The National Park Service offers some truly unique gifts that have lasting impacts for the Appalachian region. A National Parks and Federal Lands Recreation Pass grants an all access passport to the nation’s treasured parklands. There are several categories of the park pass, including “America the Beautiful”, an $80 gift that permits the giftee plus up to three passengers free entrance into any of the parks all year long. To purchase your pass and support the national parks and federal lands visit

Sharing Wisdom

Give the gift of enlightenment with Tom Butler’s book, “Plundering Appalachia: The Tragedy of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining.” This book reveals the struggles Appalachia faces with a collection of photographs and essays giving insight to the truth about mountaintop removal. It is a graphic depiction of the ravaged environment and the effects that mountaintop removal has on Appalachia’s people. The book is a plea for the protection of these beautiful mountains that define Appalachia. Find out more at


If everyone lived as Americans do, several planets would be necessary to support the current global population. Help reduce your loved one’s personal carbon footprint with the Terra Pass. Your gift helps to fund projects that strive for considerable carbon reductions to curb climate change and protect natural habitats. Over 1 billion pounds of CO2 emissions have been curbed by the Terra Pass program. To make your loved one carbon neutral click to

These are but a few of the many ways to give a gift that keeps on giving. Choose a gift that best reflects where your loved ones would like to make a difference.

Chasing Copenhagen

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 - posted by interns

In search of climate consensus before the December 2009 summit

By Bill Kovarik

Erik Lundsgaard, manager of the biogas plant at Hashoj, Denmark. Photo by Bill Kovarik.

(In September, Appalachian Voice was invited by the governments of Germany and Denmark to see first hand the commitments and the costs of renewable energy development, as the world considers what might be done at the international climate summit planned for Copenhagen in December of 2009.)  
A sobering dinner with one of the worlds leading climate scientists — Stefan Rahmstorf of Pottsdam University in Berlin — sets a tone of urgency. As we watch the swans paddle out on a pristine German lake, I think about Rahmstorf’s prediction that at least six feet of sea level rise by 2100 is close to inevitable.  

He tells us that if the goal is to limit CO2 from fossil fuels to 750 billion tons over the next 40 years, then the “only fair and just principle here is to assign them on a per capita basis.”  He asks us to picture each person on earth with an allotment of only 110 tons of fossil CO2.  

How quickly are we spending up our allotment?  Americans are spending at the rate of 20 tons per year, while Europeans are spending it at the rate of 10 tons per year. But in developing nations containing most of human population, people are spending their allotment at the rate of one ton per year.  

The task at Copenhagen, Rahmstorf says, would be to find a way to get polluting nations to buy some of that CO2 budget from the developing nations, and the way for this to happen is to help them build their renewable energy economies.  

Germany is well on its way, we realize, as we pass through wind farms with thousands of slowly spinning blades. From a port whose docks are jammed with wind equipment, we head for Nysted, Denmark, home of one of the first offshore wind farms in Europe.  
As I sit up late with the old men in the town pub, drinking akvavit and vitamin juice, I ask them why Danish wind power companies have captured half of the world market.  

They answer with pride: “handverk” — craftsmanship.  

For more than a century, Danes have worked on wind power the same way that Americans worked on cars and computers:  ground-up crafts tradition. They became so good at it that even Danish college kids beat US aerospace engineers. The Tvind  two megawatt turbine, built in 1978 out of rebar and concrete at a cost of half a million dollars, is still running. In contrast, the MOD-1 of Boone, N.C., was the same size, built at the same time by NASA at 100 times the cost. It was scrapped as a failure after only a few years.  

There is craft along with the craftsmanship. In the late 1990s, the town of Nysted opposed the 166 megawatt wind demonstration project in the nearby Baltic Sea. They decided that rather than calling the project Roedsand, for the area offshore, the people of Nysted wanted the project named after them. And when it was finished in 2003, that’s what they called it: the Nysted wind project.    

It’s just one example of the commitment at all levels of life here in Denmark to replacing fossil fuels. And, as in other low-lying nations, climate change here is no political football or abstract scientific debate, but rather a life and death struggle for a future above water.    
Chasing Copenhagen has involved interviews with foreign ministry officials, business developers, green homebuilders, photovoltaic installation trainers, hydrogen car manufacturers, urban bicycle route planners and many others. Much of it will be posted on the Appalachian Voices and “Chasing Copenhagen” blogs in months to come.  
And yet the strongest impression I walk away with is from a simple farm co-operative and biogas plant at Hashoj, about 50 miles west of Copenhagen.  

Erik Lundsgaard, plant manager, tours us through a remarkable process.  

On one end is a closed off pit, where farm manure, slaughterhouse wastes and other noxious items are thrown into an anaerobic (airless) digester. The mixture produces a 600 btu per cubic foot gas, which is then cleaned up and sent to a 2 MW Rolls Royce electric generator. Along with hydropower from Sweden and Norway, 22 of these Danish gas plants fill in the power gaps when wind isn’t blowing.  

The extra heat from the electric generators is sent into a district steam system to warm the homes in the farming village. And the treated solids from the digester are disease free when they come out of the process, ready to be spread on farm fields as fertilizer.  

What’s impressive is this integration of farm-scale technology and crafts know-how into the larger renewable electricity grid. The biggest challenge, Lundsgaard says, is to get the right mix of raw materials so that you get the best production of gas.  
Even though the biogas plant is held up as a model — it’s been visted by dozens of delegations from around the world — Lundsgaard doesn’t have a lab or a standard manual. He regards the technology with a matter-of-fact attitude.  

It’s one more example of how a relatively modest nation, with an ethical commitment to technology and crafts know-how, is developing renewable energy, and in the process, changing  the world.    

Americans tried biogas technology and never had much success, in part because of the attitude of land grant universities and federal research agencies towards renewable energy in the past three decades.  

As these final lines are written, in November of 2009, the pathetic political stand-off in Washington over climate legislation may mean that the US will not lead the world at Copenhagen.  

We know the chase will never be in vain, and those who try never lose.  
But it now seems as if American engineering leadership is a lost dream, and high noon for America will be remembered as the moment we backed down and stopped chasing agreements like the one in the offing at Copenhagen.

Appalachian Voices To Make A Virtual Appearance at Copenhagen

By Maureen Halsema

Thanks to Google, Appalachian Voices and Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) will be one of 15 stories featured at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December.

Google Earth designed 3-dimensional interactive tours to help international representatives visualize climate change. The tours feature regions and groups that are devising localized solutions, such as the Coal River Wind Project.
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore leads the “tourists” through the main tour and introduces them to the other tours—some of the world’s best stories told about global warming through Google Earth technology.

“Google Earth revolutionized the way we tell people about mountaintop removal coal mining,” said Benji Burrell, Technologist for Appalachian Voices. “You used to have to fly in a small plane over the coalfields to see the extent, but now you can take a tour right from your home and get more than you ever would from a plane.”

Appalachian Voices and Coal River Mountain Watch produced the video tour. Lorelei Scarboro from Coal River narrated, with help from Bob Kincaid of Head On Radio Network.

Scarbro begins the tour explaining the threat of mountaintop removal coal mining by Massey Energy on Coal River Mountain. Scarbro talks about the wind potential on the mountain while viewers are able to interactively explore Coal River Mountain via Google Earth. A red overlay reveals the shocking extent of mining in the region.
The overlays then fade into visuals of the wind power potential of Coal River Mountain, as well as a high definition video of a typical explosion on a mountaintop removal coal mine – a stark contrast of the potential futures for the mountain.

As the tour progresses, an employment potential chart appears showing that the wind farm will produce more jobs in the long run than will a mountaintop removal coal mine. There are also charts that plot the energy potential of the wind farm against the energy potential of mining operations on Coal River Mountain.

After viewing the facts and figures, you meet the people-members of the community who share their stories and their support for the wind project.

Many communities that have been affected by mountaintop removal coal mining have health issues related to poor water quality as a result of the blasting. The video relays images of some of the health problems coalfield communities face.

An interesting feature of this innovative tour is that at any time you can pause it and move around Coal River Mountain to learn more about the area.

The conference, COP15, will be held Dec. 7 to Dec. 18 and the film will be available on and at