The day we’ve been waiting for has finally come. Yes it’s Friday, but today was also the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s court-imposed deadline to release federal regulations for coal ash storage and disposal.
As expected, the rule it took the EPA five years to finalize is modest at best, falling short of what it takes to truly address the prevalent problems associated with coal ash such as contamination of waterways and drinking water supplies.
Rather than classifying coal ash as the hazardous waste it clearly is, the EPA rule places it under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the nation’s primary law for regulating solid waste. Other types of waste regulated under Subtitle D include household garbage — you know, banana peels, candy wrappers and the like.
“For the thousands of citizens whose groundwater is no longer safe for consumption due to leaching ponds or whose air is contaminated by fugitive dust, failing to regulate coal ash as hazardous is a slap in the face,” says Amy Adams, Appalachian Voices’ North Carolina campaign coordinator. “While we’re pleased that we finally have federal regulations, they are far from perfect and demand we continue fighting for cleanup of these toxic sites.”
U.S. coal plants produce around 140 million tons of coal ash each year. Much of that is stored near waterways in unlined pits held in place by earthen dams. Even years after coal plants have closed, ponds that have stored toxic coal ash for decades can continue to pollute water and put communities at risk.
In 2012, Appalachian Voices and several partner groups, represented by Earthjustice, sued the EPA in federal court to force the agency to issue a rule. Late last year our coalition reached a settlement holding the EPA to today’s deadline.
According to the EPA, the rule establishes safeguards to protect communities from catastrophic spills, like the Kingston, Tenn., spill in 2008. It was the disaster in Kingston that spurred the agency to act.
But more spills, like the one at Duke Energy’s retired Dan River plant in Eden, N.C., have happened in the time since, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental and economic costs.
To address the threat of another catastrophic failure, the EPA rule calls for the the closure of inactive sites that fail to meet engineering and structural standards, more frequent inspections and monitoring, and restrictions on where coal ash impoundments are located.
The rule also requires water quality monitoring and public disclosure of the results, which should help groups like Appalachian Voices and our community partners better track pollution and take companies to court that fail to stop it. More frequent reports and accurate information coming directly from utilities could be a big boost for efforts to protect clean water, as long as coal plant operators commit to transparency.
But while the regulations set a minimum federal criteria, states are not required to adopt them, develop a permitting program, or submit a program to the EPA for approval. That’s all more of a suggestion, really. So while the EPA says it expects states to be “active partners” in regulating coal ash, well, states unfriendly to the EPA may feel differently. And should states refuse to clean up coal ash pollution or fail meet the new standards, the EPA will not step in to enforce the rule. That job will still fall to citizens who identify the insidious pollution and file lawsuits to correct it.
According to Earthjustice, unsafe disposal of coal ash into the nation’s more than 1,400 coal ash dumps has contaminated more than 200 rivers, lakes, streams and sources of underground drinking water in 37 states. There are 331 high- and significant-hazard coal ash ponds in the country. Many of the highest hazard sites are concentrated in the eastern U.S.
Learn more about our work to clean up coal ash.]]>
As an assortment of pollutants leach into our lives, the harmful effects continue to surface in public health. Yet many questions about environmental contaminants remain difficult to study, such as long-term health effects of low-level exposure, and how these different chemicals interact in the environment.
At every stage in the life-cycle of fossil fuels — mining or drilling, transportation, processing and use — toxic waste contaminates land, air and water. And at the same time that pesticides have allowed food production to expand, these same poisonous chemicals may affect every life form on Earth, from bacteria to humans.
By Kimber Ray
|The last decade has seen a rapid expansion of the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Sand and chemicals — including known carcinogens — are mixed with water and injected deep underground to extract natural gas from shale rock formations. Yet many chemicals remain unknown because companies may claim them as trade secrets… [Full Story]|
|Whether in food, water or air, current research suggests that no corner of the global environment is spared from pesticide contamination — not even the bacteria and fungi needed to regenerate soil. Pesticides include popular products such as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and rodenticides. Many properties and impacts of these chemicals remain unstudied…[Full Story]|
|Nearly 650 mountaintop removal coal mining sites scar the landscape of central Appalachia. Neighboring communities experience greater levels of air and water pollution and suffer from higher rates of illness than similar communities located further away, says Dr. Michael Hendryx, a professor of applied health science at Indiana University who has contributed to more than 30 studies on the subject…[Full Story]|
|Much of Appalachia is predicted to experience increased temperatures and precipitation over the coming decades, with temperatures rising by four to nine degrees Fahrenheit and fewer — but more intense — storms interspersed with short droughts…[Full Story]|
|Coal is currently the largest source of global energy. When coal is burned, its carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, nitrogen and trace metals combine to form greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen oxides. Other emissions include sulfur dioxide gas, which can contribute to acid rain and respiratory diseases, particulate matter, which can cause lung and heart disease and mercury gas, a neurotoxin…[Full Story]|
Meet other Appalachian Voices > >
My name is Eric Chance. I spend my free time exploring Appalachia by kayak, so I’ve come to know the region from the rushing rivers and steep valleys that give rise to the iconic mountains towering above.
There was a time when it would have been hard for me to imagine that coal companies are not only tearing down the Appalachian Mountains, but they’re destroying once-pristine watersheds with their pollution, too.
After joining Appalachian Voices in 2009, I started looking deeper into how coal companies use their influence to get away with ignoring the Clean Water Act. Since then, we’ve been part of exposing some of the most contemptible efforts by coal companies to illegally pollute the very rivers that I love.
Just a few weeks ago, a Kentucky judge sided with Appalachian Voices and our partners in a case against Frasure Creek Mining, arguing that the company either schemed to defraud the public by falsifying pollution reports required by the Clean Water Act or demonstrated “incompetence so staggering as to defy belief.”
Appalachia is a playground for millions of people who love the outdoors like I do. I’m proud to work for an organization that shares my passion for clean water and has the tools and experience to protect it.
Please donate to Appalachian Voices today to help us ensure that coal companies don’t get away with ruining our rivers.
By Megan Northcote
An Avatar-blue, 42-inch doll with spiked, glitter-plastered hair stands erect amidst a colorful pile of trinkets. One outstretched arm defiantly wields a miniature sword as a snake coils tightly around the doll’s torso, its open mouth poised to attack.
So stands the “Pangean Youth,” a found-art sculpture commemorating Lexington, Ky. artist Robert Morgan’s troubled friend whose naked, blue-tinted body was found lying in a parking lot after a heroin overdose years ago.
Morgan helped save his friend’s life that night, which, years later, helped save his own.
Growing up in an impoverished part of eastern Kentucky, Morgan would spend hours “collecting little things” from trash piles and creating “something out of nothing” with the guidance of his mom, a self-taught artist.
After years of battling drug and alcohol addictions, Morgan, now sober and in his sixties, has returned to his childhood passion of collecting found objects to create art that tells humans’ stories. “I’m always looking for ways to package peoples’ stories that no one wants to hear,” he says. His pieces have reflected the historic Lexington cholera outbreak, the 1980s AIDS epidemic, addictions and suicides.
Morgan’s work blends the unusual — electronic parts, rusty springs, doll heads and gaudy carnival prizes — with special finds, such as discarded knickknacks.
No solid boundaries define the work of contemporary Appalachian artists like Morgan. Some artists are regional natives, others recent transplants. Some pull from the narratives and imagery embedded in the region’s landscape and culture, while others reject tradition and embrace globalized, innovative approaches to their work. Yet what unites all of these artists are the stories they each hold, waiting to be told.
Recycled art using found objects is an emerging trend in Appalachia and across the globe.
Mary Saylor, a 3-D mixed media artist and East Tennessee native, moved back to Knoxville three years ago. Working in an animal clinic inspired her to create papier-mache animal sculptures using primarily recycled materials, such as brown paper bags and toilet paper tubes, as well as found vintage objects.
“I’m big into recycling and wanted to reduce my carbon footprint through the work that I do,” says Saylor.
Making greener art can also happen in the literal sense — using found objects from nature.
Lowell Hayes, a native Tennessean now residing in Valle Crucis, N.C., has focused the latter half of his career on landscape art, specifically 3-D bas-relief construction paintings of Appalachia, using only natural materials gathered from his wooded backyard.
“People tell me that it feels like you can walk right into my work and that’s exactly what I work to achieve,” says Hayes, a retired art instructor from Appalachian State University.
Like many artists, moving back to Appalachia after an extended absence made him more fully appreciate the beauty of the mountains and advocate for them through his art. For example, one of his more recent series featured the Carolina Hemlock trees and helped raise awareness for this native species threatened by the woolly adelgid.
Exhibiting a representative sample of Appalachian artists living and working across the region is no small feat. Yet every other year, the William King Museum in Abingdon, Va., showcases a juried exhibition, From These Hills: Contemporary Art in the Southern Appalachian Highlands, which does just that.
The 2013 show included mixed media Abandoned House Quilts from Jeana Eve Klein, associate professor of fiber arts at Appalachian State University. Her pieces transform regional quilting traditions through a playful process that explores the forgotten human stories behind these houses; each quilt splices together manipulated digital images of self-discovered abandoned houses, which were then superimposed onto fabrics, sewn together and embellished with paint.
Likewise, Simone Paterson, associate professor of new media art at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, whose work was also showcased at the 2013 show, explores digital media art. Through her installations, she juxtaposes traditional craft, particularly sewing and textile arts, with computer technologies, including video projection and photography.
As an Australian native, Paterson’s recent exhibition, “The Nest,” commemorates her earning American citizenship. The installation is designed to provide audiences with an outsider’s aerial view of America, featuring large mural landscape prints and three woven nests, each containing projected images of dogs, cats and Paterson herself, narrated by the sounds of nature’s rhythmic breathing.
For 24 years, Blue Spiral 1, a prominent art gallery in Asheville, N.C., has showcased a sampling of regional artists’ work.
“The things that interest me and my gallery the most are those works that stem from traditions, but are a more modern take on those art forms,” says Jordan Ahlers, gallery director.
One of these artists is Michael Sherrill. Since moving to western North Carolina in 1974, Sherrill has blurred the lines between traditional mediums, creating a hybridization of clay, glass and metal in his 3-D sculptures.
Having cultivated his craft for years under Penland School of Crafts’ internationally recognized instructors, Sherrill feels compelled to support the region’s next generation of artisans.
He currently serves as board president for the Center for Craft, Creativity, and Design in Asheville, which annually awards the prestigious Windgate Fellowship to 15 collegiate art students nationwide.
“The creativity we have here [in Asheville and the Appalachian region] is our greatest commodity,” Sherrill says.
Photographer Megan King graduated from East Tennessee State University in 2013 with degrees in Spanish and photography. A native of Bristol, Tenn., her photography series, “Hispanic Appalachia,” was selected for the 2013 From These Hills exhibition.
Growing up in a more conservative Appalachian community, King wanted her images to raise awareness of the rapidly growing Hispanic populations in East Tennessee in the hopes of building acceptance and easing racial tensions.
Contemporary art in eastern Kentucky is often centered around the folk art of self-taught artists, says Matt Collinsworth, director of the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead.
“The hotbeds of self-taught artists tend to be found in economically depressed areas,” says Collinsworth. “Even though it’s stylistically primitive, folk art is very much contemporary art.”
John Haywood is one of these self-taught artists. A native of Risner, Ky., Haywood has turned to his work as a tattoo artist to reconnect with and commemorate his Appalachian roots, which he once shunned.
At 13 years old, Haywood allowed his friend’s untrained older brother to give him his first tattoo — a Misfits skull from the popular American punk-rock band. From that point forward, he was hooked.
By the summer of 2004, he worked in Radcliff, Ky., tattooing soldiers on leave from Fort Knox. After five years of filling non-stop tattoo requests, Haywood returned to Whitesburg and opened his own shop, The Parlor Room, in 2011.
Haywood esteems tattooing as a fine art, incorporating the painting principles he learned earning a master’s degree at the University of Louisville. Yet, he says he is most proud of those tattoos he creates that reflect a regional identity and confront Appalachian stereotypes. “Here [in Appalachia] I get to do tattoos that come from the minds of people who have a similar background as me. I don’t want my art to go over people’s heads.”
By Molly Moore
Some days people meet The Health Wagon at the Lee County airport in southwest Virginia. Other days, it’s the community center in Dickenson County, or a local church. No matter where the mobile clinic vehicle pulls up, local residents step into a small waiting area, where they are greeted by a local volunteer before heading to one of the clinic’s two exam rooms to meet with a nurse-practitioner for a donation-based or free medical appointment.
Nearly 25 years after Sister Bernie Kenny first traveled the mountain roads in a Volkswagen Beetle bringing healthcare to those in need, her ministry has grown into a full-fledged southwest Virginia nonprofit organization with two stationary facilities and two mobile units.
Today The Health Wagon is run by Dr. Teresa Gardner, a family nurse practitioner. She began working alongside Sister Kenny in 1993 and speaks about the region’s health needs with genuine passion and determination.
“I have never seen the need more dire in my 22 years that I have been here,” Gardner says. “The need is phenomenal. We have patients on a waiting list.”
In 2013, The Health Wagon saw 4,167 separate patients and provided $2.2. million in free medical care. The patients visiting The Health Wagon are likely at risk for the same ailments that saddle the region as a whole. Appalachians are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and specific cancers such as lung, colorectal and cervical, according to “Appalachian Health and Well-being,” published in 2012. Kidney disease, mental and oral health, traumatic injuries and substance abuse are also regional concerns.
Dr. Joseph Smiddy, medical director at both the Health Wagon in southwest Virginia as well as Body and Soul Ministries in Belize, says more people in the region are falling out of the healthcare system now than when he began charity work 15 years ago. In his experience, cancers are now being diagnosed later in life than they were several years ago, and dental work is now more expensive relative to the economy. People are not receiving mental health or preventative care, he says, and epidemics of lung disease, diabetes and obesity are worsening.
One of the chief barriers to healthcare access in Appalachia is the region’s shortage of medical providers. Read about efforts to combat this shortage at appvoices.org/thevoice.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation publishes annual county-level information about health outcomes and factors that influence health. Explore data about your area at countyhealthrankings.org.
The gap in healthcare coverage is evident at free clinic events that nonprofit organization Remote Area Medical hosts across the country, as hundreds of people wait in line overnight to receive medical care the following day.
Remote Area Medical, based in Rockford, Tenn., formed in 1985 to deliver airborne medical care in developing nations, but began operating in the United States in the early ‘90s. The organization has since hosted 742 events in 11 states. The nation’s largest annual event is held in partnership with The Health Wagon in Wise County, Va. At the RAM clinics, volunteers set up scores of dental chairs and examination facilities, and doctors arrive to donate their services. Some bring their own equipment too; Smiddy arrives with a 70-foot tractor-trailer rigged with two digital X-ray machines.
Most patients who make the early-morning journey to the temporary health clinics are motivated by a pressing need to see the dentist or eye doctor, but while waiting in line they are encouraged to also visit other medical specialists at the event. Through these visits, RAM providers have identified thousands of cases of previously undiagnosed diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
Similarly, every visitor to The Health Wagon is screened for diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and coronary artery disease. The organization also hosts regularly scheduled sessions to address specific issues, such as respiratory disease, wound care and endocrinology — sometimes in collaboration with specialists from the University of Virginia, who provide care remotely via sophisticated, secure video technology.
Gardner is frank about the Health Wagon’s financial limitations. The economic struggles in southwestern Virginia mean there is extraordinarily high demand for the organization’s services at a time when resources are especially tight. The nonprofit’s capacity is also taxed by the addition of new services such as monthly screenings in Wise to help diagnose cervical cancer and other women’s health issues. Despite this, she says, “We have to do something for these patients because there are patients that are dying here without care.”
Margaret Tomann, program manager at the Healthy Appalachia Institute — a collaborative effort at University of Virginia’s College at Wise — acknowledges the need in the region but believes it’s just as important to recognize local examples of success. Indeed, the Healthy Appalachia Institute’s stated goal is “to transform Central Appalachia into a leading model for rural community health throughout the world.”
That transformation can take place on a local level, says Dr. Sue Cantrell, director and acting director of Virginia’s LENOWISCO and Cumberland Plateau Health Districts. Social and environmental factors such as neighborhood crime and the ability to commute on safe roads are inextricably linked to health outcomes, she notes. For example, obesity leads to a host of health problems, but more kids will walk to school if sidewalks are available and the community is safe.
By examining barriers to positive health choices, these circumstances can be addressed, piece by piece. To encourage morning and early-evening walkers, a greenway trail system in Big Stone Gap now sports solar-powered lights, and Pennington Gap in Lee County, Va., recently received funding to install exercise stations along their walking trails. In addition to countering obesity and heart disease, establishing an active routine can also help people break the cycle of substance abuse.
This holistic approach is being employed across the region. In eight western North Carolina counties, an initiative called MountainWise is surveying the health impacts of a vast suite of community policies — such as transportation and park plans — in an effort to integrate health goals into county and town development.
The ambitious undertaking is the first of its kind in the United States, according to MountainWise, a project of the North Carolina Community Transformation Grant Project and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The results of the assessments will be used to facilitate access to healthy food, provide opportunities for physical activity and support tobacco-free areas.
Improvements in physical activity and nutrition are most achievable when there is a solid foundation of education and economic security, says Cantrell. Someone juggling multiple jobs is less likely to have the time and energy for physical activity, she says, and people who succeed in school are more likely to have health insurance — and are better positioned to navigate the healthcare system.
At the Healthy Appalachia Institute, Tomman adopts a like-minded view. After noticing similar patterns of poor health indicators in counties in East Tennessee and southwest Virginia, the Healthy Appalachia Institute hosted an event to build cross-state, regional awareness of the issue. Attendees included leaders in health, economic development and education, fields that Tomman says “are so closely intertwined you can’t really do one without the other.”
In one Virginia initiative, more than 20 regional collaborators are creating an outdoor recreation plan called “Health is Right Outside” that combines health and economic goals. The beauty of the Appalachian Mountains offers tourism and economic development opportunities, and Cantrell hopes that efforts to market area trails and rivers to visitors will also entice locals to nearby outdoor activities. “There’s a lot here that the average person living in this area can benefit from and enjoy,” she says.
Cantrell reflects that some actions to improve health must be taken on an individual level, but other changes, such as improving the high school graduation rate or building a trail network, can be accomplished together. “We can do it as a community and impact more people, and potentially their children and grandchildren.”
Two Appalachian communities were among the six nationwide recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health prize for 2014.
Buncombe County, N.C., home to Asheville and surrounding rural areas, received the award for addressing childhood poverty as a root cause of poor health and establishing a Public Health Advisory Council. The county’s noteworthy projects include reducing exposure to secondhand smoke by making multi-unit housing smoke-free, and creating handbooks to help families of children with special needs track medical information.
Williamson, W.Va., a town with exceptionally high rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes in a state that is already plagued with poor health, also earned the prize for launching health and wellness programs aimed at reversing the area’s health status. Community initiatives include support for health-oriented entrepreneurship, a booming community garden, monthly 5k races, and a free clinic — built with an energy-efficient design — that serves Pike and Mingo counties and includes a comprehensive diabetes outreach program.
Kevin Price says his company’s slogan is “coffee with a soul.” It could not be a better fit — most of all for the soul he puts into his small coffee business.
“Blue Smoke has always been about making a difference,” Kevin says. “It has given me a platform to promote and make people aware of different things I’m passionate about.”
Based in southern Appalachia, Blue Smoke Coffee comes from humble beginnings. About a decade ago, Kevin began roasting coffee beans in an iron skillet in a Smoky Mountains cabin. As he fine-tuned his process, he started sharing his roast with friends and discovered a passion for hand-roasted coffee along the way. Soon, that passion became a business philosophy, and Kevin created a community around quality coffee and important causes.
In addition to being a committed member, supporter and friend of Appalachian Voices, Kevin advertises in The Appalachian Voice and distributes 2,000 copies of the paper to Asheville, Chattanooga, Gatlinburg and everywhere else Blue Smoke Coffee goes. Order a bag of coffee online and you might find yourself perusing The Voice while you brew your first cup of Blue Smoke.
Many people recall the first time they learned about Appalachian Voices or flipped through a copy of The Voice — an experience that frequently occurs in a local coffeehouse. A longtime reader turned distributor, Kevin can’t quite remember when he first picked up the paper. That’s how far back his ties to Appalachian Voices go.
“Kevin has been one of our most stalwart supporters throughout the history of The Voice,” says Jamie Goodman, editor of the publication. “He is a person who really lives what he preaches — supporting organic and fair trade practices, speaking out against mountaintop removal, and advocating for so many other causes — and that is truly inspirational.”
Although no longer roasted in an iron skillet, each batch of Blue Smoke nevertheless has character and Kevin’s personal touch. He still hand-roasts Blue Smoke specialty blends by the pound, using solar-heated water and purchasing clean energy to power his roastery, before packing it up in biodegradable bags and recycled boxes and hopping on a bike or in his hybrid for delivery. And today, Kevin’s conscientious business philosophy has paid off for the organizations he supports while building a devoted, regionally concentrated customer base.
Kevin donates 10 percent of Blue Smoke’s sales — that’s sales, not just profits — to Appalachian Voices and other environmental and humanitarian nonprofits. The long list of testimonials on the Blue Smoke website is full of kind words praising Kevin and his coffee. One happy customer from Florida describes Kevin as “a master alchemist saving the world one-pound-of-the-best-coffee-you-have-ever-had at a time!” Another from Alabama calls Blue Smoke “a real American business model in action.”
Many half-jokingly claim coffee is something they cannot live without. But Kevin knows that for some Appalachian communities even truly vital resources like breathable air and drinkable water are at risk. And he believes businesses have a responsibility to encourage more conscious consumers.
“We know we have the ability to destroy this planet,” he says. “But to a lot of people it’s invisible. They don’t think about environmental problems impacting their lives.”
When distributing The Voice to coffee shops around southern Appalachia, Kevin notices the issues that leave the newsstands empty usually have beautiful covers featuring scenes of Appalachian wilderness and wildlife, even when stories of environmental destruction and injustice are covered prominently inside. Blue Smoke, he says, employs a similar strategy.
“I hook them with the coffee.”
Find Blue Smoke on Facebook or buy coffee online at bluesmokecoffee.com]]>
By Eliza Laubach
Dan Conant affectionately calls his first successes cutting solar installation costs “barn raisings.” After years of political organizing in college and shortly after, he wanted to use community organizing strategies for solar power.
Policies that have helped to nurture the solar industry, such as affordable leasing options, tax credits and requirements for utilities to purchase renewable energy credits aren’t offered in his home state of West Virginia.
“I was trying to move back home, but there weren’t any jobs available at that point,” says Conant. He instead worked in Virginia and Vermont, helping pioneer innovative neighborhood-scale methods for going solar. He found ways to lower prohibitive upfront costs, which he describes as an effort to “crack the code for personal financing.”
As he gained a deeper understanding of solar financing, Conant saw how difficult it is for nonprofits and municipal organizations to buy solar panels, especially in West Virginia. Nonprofits don’t receive a tax credit, government entities are unable to take out loans, and commercial buildings receive less compensation than homeowners do for surplus power generated by their solar panels. After researching how to bring solar to these community groups with a model that could be duplicated in any state, he created Solar Holler.
The solar financing project raises funds to place solar panels on nonprofit or municipal buildings. The process mirrors crowdfunding, which depends on donations from interested parties, usually solicited online. But crowdfunding is less practical among small communities and low-income residents, so Conant brainstormed an alternative revenue stream.
He partnered with Mosaic Power, a company that pays homeowners for their hot water heater to be hooked up to Mosaic’s remote system. Creating a smart grid, Mosaic can then turn the hot water heater on and off in response to electricity demand. The utility pays Mosaic Power for helping them use electricity more efficiently, and the profit is transferred back to the homeowner through a $100 yearly payment. Residents can sign up for Mosaic’s program through Solar Holler, pledging their return to help fund a solar installation on a community building.
An investor will buy the solar panels after enough residents of a community pledge their revenue to a Solar Holler project to guarantee the investor a return. The pledged hot water heater payments will cycle to other Solar Holler projects once the initial project is paid off. “We’re using energy efficiency to fund the solar,” Conant says.
Conant launched the pilot project in his hometown at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church. The congregation considered solar in the past but could not afford it. Than Hitt, church member and community organizer, spent three years working with the congregation and Shepherdstown community. He provided the initial investment in the solar panels. “Self-reliance is a big thing in West Virginia and we’re tapping into that,” says Hitt.
Pastor Randy Tremba set up a table by the church’s hot water heater for people to sign up for the Mosaic Power program in April. “A trusted community leader is a crucial ally,” he adds. Within three months, enough people signed up for the program to guarantee the solar installation.
With 100 people signing on to participate, plus the sale of renewable energy credits to various Pennsylvania utilities, the project quickly moved forward. Mountainview Solar, a local solar contractor, installed a 16.2-kilowatt solar array on the church this past August, providing about 40 percent of the church’s electricity. The Shepherdstown Elementary School principal brought the fourth and fifth grade classes to the ribbon-cutting ceremony and pledged to incorporate solar energy into the educational curriculums. “I think it’s the start of something big,” says Conant.
Solar Holler’s goal is to have a project in each of West Virginia’s 55 counties within the next five years. Two more projects are currently underway: the city hall in Lewisburg and the public library in Harpers Ferry, which achieved its quota for Mosaic Power sign-ups in mid-November.
Conant sees the importance in diversifying the economy of a state that has largely been powered by coal extraction. “We can still be an energy state, we just need to stop thinking of ourselves as a coal state,” he says. Ninety-six percent of West Virginia’s energy comes from coal, and mining has a continued legacy of destructive health, environmental and financial impacts. “Solar in West Virginia is more powerful than anywhere else in the country,” says Conant.
Visit SolarHoller.org to learn more.]]>
On Nov. 17, Appalachian Voices and our partners in Kentucky served Frasure Creek Mining with a sixty-day notice of our intent to sue for perpetrating almost 28,000 violations of federal law at its coal mines in eastern Kentucky. This is possibly the biggest conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Water Act in the history of the law.
Since 2013, the company has been turning in false water pollution reports for several of its coal mines in eastern Kentucky that feed into the Big Sandy, Licking and Kentucky rivers.
We initially took legal action four years ago against Frasure Creek and two other companies for duplicating data on water pollution reports. Unbelievably, Frasure Creek has begun doing the same thing again, only this time the problem appears even more extensive.
False reporting like this undermines the regulations that are supposed to protect American citizens and their waters from industrial pollution. Without valid reporting, there is no way to know if and when a coal mine is contaminating water, to what extent or for how long. Regulations then become useless and our safeguards are thrown out the window.
A week after we and our partners served Frasure Creek with the latest notice to sue, a Kentucky judge overturned two slap-on-the-wrist settlements that Kentucky regulators had reached with the mining company a few years ago.
The judge issued two rulings, one on each of the two cases against Frasure Creek that were before him. The first case was based on the false water monitoring reports that we uncovered in 2010. The cabinet entered a settlement with Frasure Creek with miniscule fines compared to what is allowed under the Clean Water Act. We then challenged that weak settlement in court. In last week’s ruling, the judge threw out the settlement because it is not “fair, reasonable or in the public interest.”
The second case was based on pollution problems that became evident once Frasure Creek’s false reporting subsided. Even though we were full parties to the case, state regulators and Frasure Creek reached another sweetheart settlement without our involvement. The judge found this had violated our due process rights and threw out the settlement, sending the case back to administrative court.
Both of these decisions could be appealed, and since previous settlements were simply thrown out, the actual violations are still unresolved. Nonetheless, this is a great step forward, and a great vindication of citizens’ right to protect their environment
In the meantime, we will continue to work hard at bringing justice to these polluters and holding regulators accountable for not doing their jobs. Appalachian Voices is joined in the latest notice to sue by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance. The groups are represented by Mary Cromer of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, attorney Lauren Waterworth and the Pace Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic.
Read the full story and latest updates on our Front Porch Blog.]]>
By Matt Wasson, program director, Appalachian Voices
“When you work for justice,” Lenny would say, “you have a kind of magic. Your job is to go out and give that magic away. You can’t try to hoard it or it disappears, but if you keep giving it away you never run out…” [Read More]
My favorite thing about Lenny was that he wasn’t just about the land, he was equally about the people. When asked what he did for a living, he would always respond, “I’m in the people empowerment business.”
~ Brian O’Donnell, executive director, Conservation Lands Foundation
By Brooks Yeager, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment and Development at U.S. Department of State
Most of all, he loved the way ordinary Americans respond when they see clearly what is at stake in a conservation struggle. He believed in the American people, in their judgment, in their fairness, and in their love for their land…” [Read More]
I am immensely grateful to have known and learned from this giant spirit of a human being and activist, and will always remember his mantra:
“We have to win, it’s not an option.”
~ Anna Jane Joyner, Here Now campaign consultant, Purpose
By Tom Cormons, executive director, Appalachian Voices
Armed with his belief in the power of ordinary people to change the world, Lenny inspired thousands across the country to take time in their lives as mothers, fathers, doctors, electricians, or teachers to stand up for our common natural heritage, from the Arctic to Appalachia. He was — and is — a legend among activists…” [Read More]
Lenny was an activist, a teacher, a philosopher, a warrior, a mentor, a friend. He changed the way I thought about activism and offered me guidance when I needed it over the years. He was always generous with his trustworthy wisdom, but perhaps the most enlightening thing Lenny ever said to me was during an interview we did with him back in 2008:
“If everyone woke up and said, ‘You’ll have to go through me, too’ then we’ve already won.”
I will miss you, Lenny. Thank you for helping me recognize and embrace my own personal power, for reminding me that it’s ok to laugh even when the battle is raging around us, and for inviting me to sit at the “grown-ups table” of environmental activism.
They will have to go through me, too.
~ Parson Brown, co-founder and director of Topless America
On a perfect, sunny Appalachian October day, friends and family gathered at the base of Grandfather Mountain, N.C., to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of “The Chief.” We came from all across the country — folks California and the Yukon came the furthest, while others traveled from West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee and just around the corner from his home in Todd. We spent the afternoon listening to loving tributes filled with lots of laughter (and not a few tears). The Jewish Kaddish was read, and a Luci Beach from the Gwich’in Nation played a quitter’s requiem. And after a good old-fashioned potluck, we sat around a bonfire deep into the crisp autumn night, sharing stories and raising a toast (or three) to The Chief we all loved and admired.
And on another lovely, sunny day in early December, a group of friends traveled to Negril, Jamaica, — a place that Lenny dearly loved and that had become his second home — to scatter his ashes into the clear, blue waters of the Caribbean sea and celebrate his life with his Jamaican friends. Affectionately known as Lennystock, the trip had originally been planned as a celebration for Lenny’s 75th birthday.
As the Chief would say, if you’re going to do something, “Do it in a good way.”
[ Stories, pictures and video from the Memorial Celebration ]
By Brian Sewell
Recently uncovered conspiracies to violate the Clean Water Act have heightened concerns about corruption in central Appalachia and the effectiveness of state agencies responsible for enforcing the law.
In September, charges were filed against John W. Shelton, a former employee of West Virginia-based Appalachian Laboratories Inc., for tampering with water quality samples collected at surface coal mines in West Virginia between 2008 and 2013 to conceal permit violations and keep customers satisfied. He faces up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
A federal investigation into Appalachian Labs is ongoing. But environmental watchdogs quickly noted that this is only the latest example of one of the Clean Water Act’s most important functions being compromised in Appalachia.
Under the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can regulate pollution discharged directly into surface waters. The agency has authorized 46 states across the U.S., including those in central Appalachia, to issue pollution discharge permits and take action when violations are discovered.
But the system’s success hinges on the honor code of environmental protection: self-reported data. States trust permit holders, who often hire private companies, to collect and test water samples and submit discharge monitoring reports to regulators for review. However flawed, this is the fundamental mechanism used to determine if coal companies and other polluting industries are obeying the law.
State action following John Shelton’s guilty plea has been relatively swift. On Oct. 21, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection revoked Appalachian Labs’ certification. The next week, the agency announced that “no permitting decisions will be made without verification of data submitted by Appalachian [Labs].”
The director of DEP’s Division of Mining and Reclamation, Harold Ward, said the decision affects a “wide array” of coal companies operating in West Virginia and all of their pending permits.
An analysis of West Virginia discharge monitoring reports by Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper, found that Appalachian Labs was responsible for nearly 25 percent of the reports submitted to the state between 2009 and 2014, more than any other company certified in West Virginia.
Appalachian Labs responded by suing the DEP, which they say stigmatized their business to the point customers cannot risk using it for their water monitoring needs. On Nov. 26, a judge overturned the DEP memo requiring additional data for sites using Appalachian Labs and told regulators they must treat the company “the same as any other laboratory.”
The story of Appalachian Labs is a striking example in an even more disturbing trend.
In 2010 and 2011, Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Waterkeeper Alliance and Kentucky Riverkeeper took legal action against three of the largest coal companies in Kentucky for routinely turning in false pollution reports to the state.
During the period they were submitting duplicated monitoring reports, the companies reported virtually no pollution violations. But the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet failed to identify or address the falsified reports. Accurate reports revealed thousands of violations — and patterns of pollution that the false data had obscured.
Two of the three companies entered settlements in 2011 and 2012. But the third, Frasure Creek Mining, said it could not afford to pay the penalties, prolonging the case over the past few years.
Frasure Creek has since entered and reemerged from bankruptcy, but new evidence suggests the company quickly returned to submitting falsified water monitoring reports.
On Nov. 17, Appalachian Voices and its partners in Kentucky announced their intention to sue Frasure Creek for nearly 28,000 reporting violations in 2013 and 2014 — three times the amount the groups discovered in 2010 — carrying a maximum combined penalty of more than $1 billion.
Eric Chance, water quality specialist with Appalachian Voices, called the failure of the state agency to stop the violations “disturbing,” and questioned whether state officials read the quarterly pollution reports.
A week after the notice to sue Frasure Creek was issued, a Kentucky judge issued orders rejecting the settlement agreed to by the company and the cabinet in the 2010 case and ruled that the cabinet had circumvented the rights of citizens to intervene under the Clean Water Act.
The settlement, Judge Phillip Shepherd wrote, was unlikely to change Frasure Creek’s behavior because the economic benefit the company obtains from cheating the law “far outweighs the costs of compliance, or the risk of any fines and penalties that the cabinet will impose.”
Petitions asking the EPA to withdraw states’ Clean Water Act authority and replace it with federal oversight are pending in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, among other states.]]>