The Front Porch Blog, with Updates from AppalachiaThe Front Porch Blog, with Updates from Appalachia

Don’t Depress, Divest — Reflections on’s Climate Change Roadshow

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 | Posted by Brian Sewell | No Comments

Executive director of The Sierra Club, Michael Brune, speaks at the "Do the Math" tour stop in Durham, N.C.

On Monday, author and environmentalist Bill McKibben and’s climate change roadshow, the “Do the Math” tour, packed the Page Auditorium at Duke University. The energy in the room was high, the crowd was diverse and full of familiar faces, and maybe I’m just biased, but my younger brother and I couldn’t help but recognize the strength of North Carolina’s environmental community. As we settled into our seats, the house lights dimmed and, anticipating McKibben’s speech, the fellow sitting behind us whispered, “If he gets too gloom and doom, I’m leaving.”

McKibben has become well-known for presenting the stark reality of climate change and the challenges we face in the simplest terms possible. By his own admission as he took the stage, his basic role in life “is to bum people out.” Fortunately, for the group behind me and any other eco-anxious attendees, the “Do the Math” tour isn’t about gloom and doom, it’s about getting down to brass tacks. It’s about going on the offensive, and after fossil fuel companies. Or as McKibben said, the “fossil fuel industry is wrecking the future, so we’re going to take away their money.”

That’s exactly the message of the “Do the Math” tour: If it is not OK to wreck the planet, it is not OK to profit from it. So we, especially universities and large institutions, should divest from them. McKibben put it more eloquently in his most recent column for Orion magazine when he wrote that “It’s completely nonsensical for [universities] to pay for educations with investments that will guarantee there’s no planet on which to make that learning count. Pension funds can’t sensibly safeguard people’s retirements by investing in companies that wreck the future.” (more…)

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Study Shows Extensive Downstream Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining

Friday, July 27th, 2012 | Posted by | 1 Comment

By Emily Yu
2012 Stanback intern

A new scientific study has confirmed what most Appalachians have known all along: the damaging impacts of mountaintop removal mining extend far beyond the destructive sites themselves.

Photo by Matt Wasson, Appalachian Voices, 2010

Polluted stream in Magoffin County, KY

Researchers from Duke and Baylor Universities have found that a decade of mountaintop removal mining has destroyed the aquatic biodiversity of over 1,700 miles of streams in southern West Virginia. Dr. Emily Bernhardt, the study’s lead author, explains that while previous research has analyzed the nature of mountaintop removal’s ecological impacts, this is the first to look into exactly how far-reaching these impacts may be. And the results are not pretty:

After analyzing ten years of maps of a 7,500 square mile area, researchers were able to conclude that when 5% of the land was converted to mountaintop removal mining sites, the resulting mineral and heavy metal pollution was enough to kill so many sensitive aquatic species that 22% of the area’s streams would be considered biologically impaired under West Virginia criteria.

The study also estimates that while valley fills in the area have buried 480 miles of streams, ultimately, the pollution runoff may stretch to around 4 to 6 times as far. Given that previous research has demonstrated the impacts of mountaintop mining pollution on human health, think about what this might also mean for the people living farther downstream.

This is only the latest of many peer-reviewed, published scientific studies that have concluded that mountaintop removal mining damages Appalachia. How much longer can the coal industry and our legislators continue to bury their heads in the sand and blatantly ignore the science?

Celebrating the Past, Working for the Future

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012 | Posted by Brian Sewell | No Comments

I have only seen a bald eagle in the wild once. It was during an otherwise uneventful excursion on Lake James near Morganton, N.C. It soared silently overhead, and in a matter of seconds I felt my stomach tighten, the hair on my arms stood up and tears welled up in my eyes. I considered it a gift.

The patriotic pin

That’s the first memory that came to mind when I began to write this post — how I once was lucky enough to see a bald eagle, our national bird and a symbol of our national pride, glide across a lake. The Fourth of July calls not only for the commemoration of our still young nation’s independence, but for the multitude of things that make America great. But before we light up the sky tonight, it seems appropriate to reflect on the nature of our national pride.

Surveying my desk, the lack of red, white and blue makes me self-conscious. Finally, I spot one of the “I Heart Mountains” pins so ubiquitous around the Appalachian Voices office. Its blue ridges and bright red heart bring the same emotions as that tried and true trio of colors. But it’s the simple phrase that evokes feelings of pride for the places and people we work to protect. After all, when we say we love America, we mean we love the people and places in America as much as the ideals on which the nation was founded. (more…)

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Nally & Hamilton Case Continues in State Court

Friday, December 9th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | 2 Comments

Yesterday Appalachian Voices along with our partners Kentucky Riverkeeper, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, and Waterkeeper Alliance challenged the recent settlement between Nally & Hamilton and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in state court.

Click here to see the press release with more information on this newest development.

Click here to see the how the case has developed.

Click here to view the state court petition.

Several Kentucky news outlets covered this development. Click the links below to see the news articles.
Ronnie Ellis for the Daily Independent
Erica Peterson for WFPL Public Radio
Bill Estep and Beth Musgrave for the Lexington Herald-Leader

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet cuts deal with Nally and Hamilton for Water Pollution Violations

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Last week the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet entered a settlement with Nally and Hamilton Enterprises to resolve tens of thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act. The pending agreed order, originally submitted in September, was signed by the Cabinet Secretary Len Peters, now making it official.

Nally and Hamilton is one of the largest producers of Mountain Top removal Coal in Kentucky. They are also being sued by a number of citizens over flooding caused by one of their mines, which lead to a great deal of property damage and killed two people. (more…)

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Tell Congress We Can’t Afford The Status Quo on Coal Ash!

Thursday, October 13th, 2011 | Posted by | No Comments

This Friday, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 2273, the Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, a bill that puts the profits of coal ash polluters above public health. H.R. 2273 subverts public support of the EPA’s proposed federal coal ash rules by leaving coal ash pollution in the hands of states with weak or non-existent regulations.

This bill is one of many designed to effectively weaken our clean water laws and allow Big Coal polluters to keep disregarding our waterways and public health.

Please tell your representatives in Congress to vote NO on H.R. 2273.

Coal ash is the nation’s second-largest waste stream after municipal garbage. Coal ash slurry — a by-product of coal-fired power plants — is highly toxic. People living near an unlined coal ash pond are at a 1-in-50 risk of cancer from arsenic, a rate that is 2,000 times greater than the acceptable level of risk!

As we approach the third anniversary of the Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash disaster that spilled over a billion gallons of toxic sludge into the Emory River in Harriman, Tenn. and cost over $1 billion to clean up, it’s clear that we’re overdue for basic health and environmental protections from coal ash.

Coal ash slurry buried 300 acres when a coal ash impoundment failed at Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston plant.

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to control hazardous waste from “cradle-to-grave” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Since beginning the process for coal ash nearly three years ago, the agency has received over 450,000 comments asking for strong protection for coal ash waste.

The EPA’s Subtitle C plan would classify coal ash as “hazardous waste” and provide the strong protection the public demands. The agency’s other proposal, the weaker Subtitle D, would rank coal ash as “non-hazardous waste” but still grant some federal oversight. Rep. David McKinley’s (R-W.Va.) bill, H.R. 2273, takes Subtitle D, the lesser plan, and dramatically weakens it by removing basic federal safeguards. See this chart for a breakdown of proposed coal ash regulations.

H.R. 2273 would leave coal ash disposal standards even weaker than the federal rules that govern household waste. Supposedly, municipal solid waste rules provided the model for this legislation. But household waste standards are centered around protecting public health and the environment — this bill makes no mention of either.

Clearly, a lagoon of toxic slurry laden with metals such as arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury is different than an town dump. Yet H.R. 2273 doesn’t require states to inspect ponds in order to ensure structural stability, detect groundwater leaks, or discover other threats to public health and safety. Municipal waste facilities are bound by federal law to clean up or close dumps that contaminate groundwater, but this bill would let coal ash polluters get away without groundwater cleanup standards. Check out this fact sheet for more information about H.R. 2273’s dangerous shortfalls.

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Great New Post about our Fight against Big Coal in Kentucky

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

We would like to thank Daily Kos and DWG for writing an awesome article about our ongoing legal battle with 3 coal companies and the state regulatory agency in Kentucky. Check out the article here.

Great News for Clean Water in Kentucky

Friday, February 11th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

In a precedent setting move today, Judge Phillip Shepherd granted limited intervention rights to Appalachian Voices, KFTC, the Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance in the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Case against International Coal Group (ICG) and Frasure Creek Mining.


Here is the full press release:


Judge grants environmental groups the right to
intervene in Kentucky Clean Water Act case

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Donna Lisenby…. 704-277-6055….
Sandra Diaz….407-739-6465….
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A Kentucky judge today granted environmental groups a motion to intervene in a legal case against two coal companies in violation of the Clean Water Act.

State Court Judge Phillip Shepherd set a precedent by issuing an order granting four environmental groups’ motion to intervene in a lawsuit between the State Energy and Environment Cabinet and defendants, ICG and Frasure Creek Mining, the two largest coal companies in Kentucky. The ruling marks the first time a third party intervention has been allowed in a state proceeding between a potential Clean Water Act violator and a state agency in Kentucky.

The plaintiffs in the case include Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance as well as four individual citizens.

Saying it would be “an abuse of discretion to deny those citizens and environmental groups the right to participate in this action,” Judge Shepherd ordered that the groups be allowed to fully participate in the legal proceedings leading up to a June 14th hearing on whether the proposed settlement between the Cabinet and the coal companies is “fair, adequate, and reasonable, as well as consistent with the public interest.”

“We look forward to working cooperatively with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to execute the Judge’s orders to conduct additional inquiry and get to the bottom of this case,” said Donna Lisenby, Director of Water Programs for Appalachian Voices.

The case was brought against the coal companies by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet in December, in response to a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue filed by the environmental groups in October 2010. The original notice alleged 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act, with potential fines of $740 million for the companies. The Cabinet’s proposed settlement attempted to fine the coal companies a combined total of only $660,000.

The environmental groups moved to intervene in the proposed settlement between the state and the coal companies, providing evidence that the state’s plan did not sufficiently address the alleged violations or deter future violations. The judge ordered the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to allow public comments on the case, eventually receiving many letters from citizens across the state.

Judge Phillips summed up the key reasons for granting the intervention in his order, stating “The Cabinet, by its own admission, has ignored these admitted violations for years. The citizens who brought these violations to light through their own efforts have the legal right to be heard when the Cabinet seeks judicial approval of a resolution of the environmental violations that were exposed through the efforts of these citizens. In these circumstances, it would be an abuse of discretion to deny those citizens and environmental groups the right to participate in this action, and to test whether the proposed consent decree is “fair, adequate, and reasonable, as well as consistent with the public interest.”

“We are very pleased with the decision, which will allow us to conduct depositions and other discovery,” said Peter Harrison, a third year law student with the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic who argued on behalf of the environmental organizations and citizens in court last month. “By allowing our intervention, the judge has ensured that the people’s interest in clean, healthy waters will be adequately represented as we move forward.”

“Enforcement of clean water laws, enacted to protect the public from harmful pollution, was intended to be a transparent process,” said Attorney Mary Cromer of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and counsel for the plantiffs. “By allowing intervention, the Court has made sure that will be the case. This is a major victory for the citizens of Kentucky.”

Community members like Ted Withrow, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, were encouraged by the decision. “For over 100 years the people of Kentucky have been blocked by King Coal and the government they control, from redress of wrongs inflicted upon them,” said Withrow. “Judge Shepherd is to be commended for his brave action in upholding the rights of the people. He has put his finger on the scales of justice today and attempted to bring balance.”


For interviews and images, please contact
Visit for details.
For video from the court room in January, please see: Kentucky Legal Action Update

Come Out and Fight for Clean Water

Friday, February 4th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Attention Boonies!

Come out this Monday night to support strong new regulations on coal tar based asphalt sealants, the source of the Hodges Creek fish kill last summer.

The Boone Town Council will be having a public hearing on Monday, February 7th at 7:00pm at the Boone Town Council Chambers (next to the police station on 321 and in front of K-mart). We need everyone to come out and speak in favor of a newly proposed ban on coal tar based asphalt sealants, in the town of Boone. If you don’t want to speak that’s ok too, just come out to show your support.

Here is the proposed new rule.

Help keep this from ever happening again:

Kentucky Legal Action Update

Monday, January 31st, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Last Thursday there was a hearing to decide if we would be allowed to intervene in the interest of clean water in a legal case between the state of Kentucky and ICG and Frasure Creek Mining. The Appalachian Water Watch team shot a short video in the court room prior to the start of the January 27th hearing. We provided a little background on the case and interviewed some of our most valued partners, people the Commonwealth of Kentucky calls “unwarranted burdens”. You can watch it here:

The case was brought about by our investigation that found 20,000 violations of the clean water act. The judge heard arguments from all parties and now we are just waiting to hear what he decides.

For a bit more information on the story check out these articles from:

The Huffington Post: Big Coal’s Watergate? Nation watches as Clean Water Act Scandal Rocks Kentucky Court Today

The Institute for Southern Studies: Showdown over King Coal’s Rule in Kentucky

The Daily Independent Court Hears Arguments in Coal Case

The Lexington Herald Leader: Judge Hears Arguments in Coal Case

Breaking News: Kentucky refuses to post the full record against ICG and Frasure Creek

Monday, January 3rd, 2011 | Posted by | 2 Comments

On Dec 17, 2010, Judge Shepherd ordered the Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet to post the proposed consent judgments with ICG and Frasure Creek to its website and provide for a 30 day public comment period. When the Appalachia Water Watch crew went to the state’s website to see if they followed the Judge’s order we found that they did not post all the documents incorporated by reference into the consent judgments. Because the public needs access to the whole record so that they can fully comment on the proposed Consent Judgments, we sent a letter to Judge Shepherd and asked him to clarify his order and require that the full Complaints and Exhibits be posted on the cabinet’s website.

The Energy and Environment Cabinet objected and complained to the judge that our request was “unreasonable” and “unduly burdensome” because they would have to post an additional 400 pages of material. While we wait to see if the Judge will clarify the order and make the state provide the full record for public comment, we thought we would show the Energy and Environment Cabinet how easy it is to post everything to a website. We didn’t find it unduly burdensome to provide the full record of Clean Water Act violations made by ICG and Frasure Creek. For your viewing and downloading pleasure here is the:

I guess the larger question is why doesn’t the Energy and Environment Cabinet want the public to see the full record? Perhaps a recent editorial in the Lexington Herald Leader newspaper explains why the Cabinet is so embarrassed:

“The environmental groups uncovered a massive failure by the industry to file accurate water discharge monitoring reports. They filed an intent to sue which triggered the investigation by the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet. Also revealed was the cabinet’s failure to oversee a credible water monitoring program by the coal industry.”

Persons wishing to comment upon or object to either or both Consent Judgments are invited to submit comments electronically to the Cabinet at or by U.S. mail to the Franklin Circuit Court, Division I, 669 Chamberlin Ave., Frankfort, KY 40601or to the cabinet at Division of Water, Attn: Public Information Officer, 200 Fair Oaks, 4th Floor, Frankfort, KY 40601.

Operation Medicine Cabinet-Drug Take Back Day Oct. 2

Monday, September 27th, 2010 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Do you have outdated or unused prescription drugs, over the counter medications, syringes or other medical supplies? Come drop them off at the sponsored take-back centers in Ashe and Watauga Counties on three different days this October. Any prescription or over the counter drugs will be accepted, no questions asked.

On Friday October 1 drugs will be collected at the Plemmons Student Union on the Appalachian State University campus from 10:00am to 2:00pm.

Across Watauga county drugs will be collected on Saturday October 2, from 10:00am to 2:00pm, in conjunction with Hazardous Household Waste Collection Day. Take-back locations will be available at the Foscoe Fire Department, and the three Food Lion stores in Watauga County: the Highway 321 store in Boone, the Highway 421 Deep Gap store, and the Blowing Rock store.

In Ashe County the collection will be held on October 16. Medications can be dropped from off from 10:00am to 2:00pm at the Jefferson Food Lion, the West Jefferson Life Store Bank at the Wal-Mart and at the former Northwest Foods in Warrensville.

Operation Medicine Cabinet has been a huge success in the high country and has continued to expand. The Operation Medicine Cabinet drug collection day in May collected over 188,000 pills and 20 gallons of liquid medication.

Drugs Collected at the May Operation Medicine Cabinet

For more information about the event please visit or to learn more about previous events visit the Watauga Riverkeeper Blog.