Central Appalachian-focused James River Coal Company enters bankruptcy

Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Posted by Brian Sewell | No Comments

CAPPvulnerableThis week, James River Coal Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court. Like Patriot Coal, which reemerged from bankruptcy in December, the Richmond, Va.-based company’s operations are concentrated in Central Appalachia and are located in some of the counties most economically vulnerable to coal’s downturn. [ More ]

More than 75 Gather in Philadelphia to Demand Clean Water for Appalachia

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Kate Rooth | No Comments

Philly EPA Rally- Sue Last week, more than 75 people braved single-digit temperatures in Philadelphia, Penn., to call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take action to protect Appalachia from mountaintop removal coal mining. Until legally binding safeguards are set by the EPA, Appalachia's waters will continue to be polluted by mountaintop removal coal mining. [ More ]

Fighting for Clean Water in Virginia: Standing up to Coal Industry Bullies

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Chance | 2 Comments

944745_10100206520223687_1797773733_n Today, Appalachian Voices along with our allies in Virginia filed a lawsuit against Penn Virginia, for water polluted by selenium coming from abandoned mines on their land. This lawsuit is one in a series of suits aimed at cleaning up selenium pollution in Callahan Creek. [ More ]

Lost on the Road to Oblivion: Art Exhibit Focuses on the Vanishing Beauty of Coal Country

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 | Posted by Jamie Goodman | No Comments

Galie_8billion gallons_1 For the past 18 years, photographer Carl Galie has devoted his artistic talents to conservation work, and his latest exhibit is no exception. "Lost on the Road To Oblivion: The Vanishing Beauty of Coal Country," tackles the difficult and poignant subject of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. The exhibit is on display at Appalachian State University's Turchin Center for the Visual Arts through Feb. 7, 2014. [ More ]

Appalachia’s Economic Transition is Underway: Three Broad Strategies to Get Us There

Friday, November 15th, 2013 | Posted by Guest Contributor | 1 Comment

{ Editor’s Note } Anthony Flaccavento is a regional leader in sustainable agriculture, local foods and their overlap with economic development. This is the second part of a post on building a stronger regional economy in Appalachia. Click here to read the first part.

"What’s needed is not a dilution of our commitment to the environment or social justice, but an expansion of our strategy to include working folks and their needs and concerns as central to our efforts," Anthony Flaccavento writes about strategies to make real progress on strengthening Appalachia's economy. Photo by Jessica Kennedy

“What’s needed is not a dilution of our commitment to the environment or social justice, but an expansion of our strategy to include working folks, and their needs and concerns as central to our efforts,” Anthony Flaccavento writes about strategies to make real progress on strengthening Appalachia’s economy. Photo by Jessica Kennedy.

Last week, I briefly described three key questions to frame the discussion about economic transition in Appalachia and around the nation:

1. Is the economy for people, or are people for the economy?
2. What is the proper role of government, the right balance between the ‘public sector’ and ‘the market’?
3. How do we live within our means, cultivating more widely shared prosperity, with less energy, waste and dependency?

In this second part to last week’s post, I’ll suggest three strategies I believe to be essential to making real progress on economic transition that builds greater prosperity, self-reliance and ecological sustainability. As someone whose work focuses on the details of economic diversification and transition, my perspective here is deliberately broad in hopes of providing some guidance applicable across sectors, communities and regions.

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Choose Your Own [Historical] Adventure: An Appalachian Travel Guide

Thursday, November 14th, 2013 | Posted by Rachel Ellen Simon | No Comments

From left to right: The Lost Sea; Burke's Gardens; Pocahontas Exhibition Mine.

From L to R: The Lost Sea of Sweetwater, Tenn.; Burke’s Gardens; Pocahontas Exhibition Mine.

When my editor first asked me to compile a list of “Historical Hidden Treasures,” I imagined my words guiding readers to ancient, geological wonders; down fossil-riddled hiking trails through former sea basins; deep into old growth forests squirming with endemic salamanders and a host of yet-undiscovered species. My brave readers would venture into the unknown to chart the unseen, name the unnamed, describe the unsung – all while practicing “leave no trace” trail ethics!

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Anthony Flaccavento: Appalachia’s Economic Transition is Underway

Thursday, November 7th, 2013 | Posted by Guest Contributor | 2 Comments

{ Editor’s Note } Appalachian Voices is pulling up another chair to the Front Porch. Through our new guest blog feature, we’ll regularly invite influential voices to reflect on issues you care about — mountaintop removal, clean water, and promoting a strong, healthy economy and environment for communities in Appalachia and the Southeast. To kick things off, we invited Anthony Flaccavento, a regional leader in sustainable agriculture, local foods and their overlap with economic development, to share how Appalachia’s economic transition is already underway.

Organic farmer and one-time congressional candidate Anthony Flaccavento. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl, courtesy of Bread for the World

Organic farmer and one-time congressional candidate Anthony Flaccavento works to build a “bottom-up” economy in Appalachia. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl, courtesy of Bread for the World

In the mid-1980s, more than 60,000 people worked in Central Appalachia’s coal industry. During that same period, more than 75,000 tobacco farms dotted the region, helping small farmers make a decent livelihood. By 2008, the year before Barack Obama became president, employment in the region’s coal industry had fallen by more than half, and today the number of tobacco farmers in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee is barely a tenth of what it had been.

The economy of Central Appalachia is in the midst of a long term “transition” away from tobacco, away from coal, away from relying on a handful of industries for the bulk of its jobs. Without a doubt, it’s moving away from that. The question is, what will it move towards, and how will we get there?

As more and more people grapple with this question – from coal miners and entrepreneurs to activists and elected officials – it is good to remind ourselves of this: Appalachia’s economic transition is part of a larger national, even global, transition with many of the same root causes. To be clear, with so many people laid off from the mines, our region’s problems are particularly acute, and the solutions we seek are both urgent and specific to our place. But the essence of the shift we must make goes far beyond our mountains.

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Appalachian Coal Losing Another Customer: Eastern Kentucky as a Case Study

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | No Comments

TVA's Paradise coal plant in Muhlenberg County, Ky., relies entirely on coal from the Illinois Basin, which includes mines in western Kentucky.

TVA’s Paradise coal plant in Muhlenberg County, Ky., relies entirely on coal from the Illinois Basin, which includes mines in western Kentucky. Recently, utilities in the Southeast have looked beyond Central Appalachia, even to reserves within a day’s drive, to purchase cheaper coal.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise Fossil Plant sits on the banks of western Kentucky’s Green River. The largest coal plant in the state, Paradise consumes approximately 7.3 million tons per year — none of which comes from Central Appalachian coal mines.

Although TVA recently announced it was cutting almost all of its use of Central Appalachian coal, a spokesperson for the utility pointed out that Paradise will still receive coal mined in Kentucky. But that portion of TVA’s coal purchases will be from mines in Kentucky’s western coalfields, just a few hundred miles from most of the state’s Appalachian coal-producing counties. Even just a day’s drive apart, the two reserves have dramatically different outlooks.

According to the most recent Kentucky Quarterly Coal Report, between April and June of this year, western and Eastern Kentucky coal mines each produced around 10 million tons of coal. But on a longer timeline, production and employment in Kentucky’s western counties have steadily increased while the state’s Central Appalachian mines have suffered.

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Appalachian Coal Losing Another Customer: High Prices Push Utilities to Competing Reserves

Thursday, October 10th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 2 Comments

TVA's Kingston Fossil plant is one of the many coal-burning facilities in Central Appalachia's front yard. Yet, fewer and fewer plants in the Southeast are purchasing coal from Appalachia. Instead, utilities are looking to the cheaper Powder River and Illinois basins. Photo from tva.com


TVA’s Kingston Fossil plant is one of the many coal-burning facilities in Central Appalachia’s front yard. Yet, fewer and fewer plants in the Southeast are purchasing coal from Appalachia. Instead, utilities are looking to the cheaper Powder River and Illinois basins. Photo from tva.com

We posted a piece yesterday about the retirement plans for Brayton Point Power Station in Massachusetts – the most modern coal-fired power plant in New England – and how some are calling its eventual closure a death knell for coal in the Northeast.

Or, as Jonathan Peress of the Conservation Law Foundation said in a press statement, “if [Brayton Point] can’t make a go of it, none of them can.”

Unsurprisingly, the owners of Brayton Point, like most other utilities that are retiring plants or converting them to burn other fuels, cited the surplus of low cost natural gas and the ongoing market transformation it has caused as major factors in coal plant closures nationwide.

The fact that the nation’s natural gas boom is hastening the decline of Central Appalachian coal is no secret. But it leaves out any mention of the challenge from cheaper coal and competing reserves. In turn, inescapable aspects of the forces shaping coal’s future in the region rarely see the light.

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Energy Efficiency’s Role in Growing Rural Economies

Thursday, August 29th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 1 Comment

Only a sliver of the USDA Energy Investment Pie goes to energy efficiency projects. Rural communities nationwide could benefit from even a slightly more balanced approach.

Only a sliver of the USDA Energy Investment Pie goes to energy efficiency project. Rural communities nationwide could benefit from even a slightly more balanced approach.

Over the summer we watched closely and shared our take on the importance of energy programs in the 2013 Farm Bill. You may remember that the Senate ultimately passed a version that included budget cuts but was in line with previous bills and budget constraints.

Not one to be outdone, the House went on to narrowly pass a version that completely eliminated the section on funding for food stamps — the first time it had been left out of the bill since 1973.

Fortunately, there is a bright spot. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy believes that energy efficiency programs in the farm bill are something that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on. Despite major and perhaps irreconcilable differences, several key energy programs have remained intact and have bipartisan support.

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A Great Day for Virginia Streams

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Two headed trout, a result of selenium pollution. Courtesy of USFWS.

Yesterday, advocates for clean water won a major court victory in Virginia. Under a court order, A&G Coal will be the first coal company in Virginia required to get a permit for their discharges of toxic selenium. U.S. District Judge James P. Jones ruled that because the company did not tell regulators that they might discharge selenium, their permit does not allow them to.

Selenium is a common pollutant at many Appalachian coal mines and is toxic to fish at very low levels, causing deformities, reproductive failure and death.

The case was brought by the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

>> Read the press release to find out more
>> Read the judge’s ruling here

Court Victory for Clean Water in Kentucky: The Battle Continues

Friday, July 19th, 2013 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Acidic mine water being discharged from one of Frasure Creek’s Kentucky coal mines

Last week, an attempt by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to toss concerned citizens out of court failed.

Judge Phillip Shepherd denied a motion to dismiss our challenge of a settlement between Frasure Creek Mining and the cabinet. Appalachian Voices and our partners KFTC, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance, will now be allowed to proceed with our argument that the settlement should be vacated.

In October of 2010, we filed a Notice of Intent to Sue Frasure Creek for submitting false water monitoring data. Frasure Creek and the cabinet reached a settlement for those violations, but it has not been approved by the court. Before that, the data Frasure Creek submitted to the state never showed any violations. After our legal action, they switched labs and began showing hundreds of water quality violations every month.

We attempted to sue Frasure Creek for these subsequent violations, but the cabinet filed a complaint in state administrative court for the same violations. We intervened and became full parties to that case, but then a slap on the wrist settlement was entered between Frasure Creek and the cabinet completely without our consent. Our current challenge to this settlement is based on the fact that we are full parties in the case yet we had no say in the settlement’s creation.

The cabinet attempted to get our challenge thrown out because they claimed that we did not follow proper procedures when we filed it, but the judge dismissed their arguments. Now, the cabinet must respond to the substance of our challenge.

>> Click here to read the ruling
>> Click here to read more about this challenge
>> Click here for more information on our Kentucky Litigation

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