Posts Tagged ‘Activism’

Resistance to Pipelines Across the East

Thursday, April 13th, 2017 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

Pipelines are spreading but residents are fighting back

By Elizabeth E. Payne

Deep beneath the soils of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York — in what is known as the Appalachian Basin — the Marcellus and Utica shale formations are home to much of the natural gas reshaping the United States’ energy sector.

In order to get to market, the gas is wrenched from the earth using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which a brew of pressurized chemicals, water and sand is shot into the earth, cracking the bedrock so the gas can be loosened for extraction.

Where fracking goes, earthquakes, poisoned wells and releases of the potent greenhouse gas methane have followed.

pipeline map

This map shows the network of pipelines existing as of August 2016. The proposed pipeline projects would be in addition to this tangled web. Map courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Administration

Once collected and processed, the natural gas is then pumped through a circulatory system of pipelines, beginning with capillary-like gathering lines that flow from the wellheads to collection sites and ending with a network of large arteries that channel the gas hundreds, even thousands, of miles to power plants and export facilities.

Where pipelines go, disrupted landscapes, explosions, spills and erosion have followed.

For nearly a decade, gas extraction in the Appalachian Basin has been booming. The proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina would become two new arteries in an already crowded, and growing, field. But up and down the Eastern Seaboard, community members have joined together to fight against this expanding fossil fuel industry.

In the Belly of the Beast

West Virginia lies at the heart of the natural gas expansion, and its residents bear a heavy burden in the rush to build pipelines.

“We’re facing a lot more than just the ACP and the MVP here in West Virginia,” says Autumn Leah Crowe, program director at West Virginia Rivers Coalition, an environmental nonprofit. “We also have the Leach, the Rover, the Mountaineer XPress, the WB XPress, and a new one, the Eastern Panhandle Connector.”

Crowe’s list includes seven proposed projects by four groups of energy partners. These projects would require at least $17 billion to build nearly 2,000 miles of pipe radiating out from the Appalachian Basin. And her list only includes those pipelines West Virginia Rivers Coalition is focused on. There are more.

Across the state, residents are standing up to resist the expansion of the pipelines. April Pierson-Keating is co-founder of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, an environmental advocacy group that promotes clean water through clean energy and a just, sustainable economy. She is also a native West Virginian who voices her opposition to the pipelines loudly.

Like Crowe, one of her primary concerns is water, and she’s frustrated that so little is being done to protect this resource.

“West Virginia is a water-producing state. We have the headwaters of 46 rivers. And 14 states get their water from us,” says Pierson-Keating. “So, we have a duty to protect the water for everyone downstream. And we don’t even take it seriously to protect the water for ourselves.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is also slated to run right by the high school in Pierson-Keating’s town. She’s written about it — including a letter to President Obama — and spoken with her local officials and the media, but still the school lies near the path of the proposed pipeline. (See map in center spread.)

Some in the state say they have felt negative pressure from their communities for speaking out about their concerns and now fight against the pipelines less publicly.

Because of such pressure, one farmer from Doddridge County, W.Va., asked to remain anonymous for this article. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is routed through neighboring property on one side of his house and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run nearby on the other. And a third, the Stonewall Gas Gathering Pipeline, has already caused damage to his property.


Bulldozers clear land for the Stonewall Gas Gathering Pipeline, which now channels natural gas from wellheads in West Virginia to a larger pipeline. Photo courtesy of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance

“When [the pipeline companies] first came here a few years ago, they promised us they were going to build all new roads, all new bridges,” he says. “And they didn’t do a thing. All they did was just tear up everything we got. Just tore the roads to pieces and then just went off and left them.”

Same with the promises about jobs. “They tell you all the jobs they’re gonna produce. But it never happens, cause they bring men with them from out of state,” he says. “But the politicians will tell you that it’s gonna make 30,000 jobs. But they don’t tell you that those jobs are just gonna last one year till the pipeline is ran.”

This farmer has seen a son move out of state and has lost a daughter to cancer, which he believes was caused by the chemicals used in a fracked well near her house. Despite this, he’s felt pushback from his community for his opposition to the pipelines. But he’s not staying silent, and his words carry the weight of wisdom hard won.

Because of the compressor station near his house, “when it snows, it snows black,” he says. “It used to be a very pretty state.”

Standing Against the Pipelines

In rural South Central Pennsylvania, resistance efforts are focused on the $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise project. It would allow the nearly 1,800 mile Transcontinental Pipeline, which currently runs from south Texas north to New York City, to run in the other direction as well. The pipeline, also known as Transco, would transport the natural gas pumped from the Appalachian Basin to the Gulf, presumably for export.

According to Tim Spiese, a member of the community action group Lancaster Against Pipelines, the project will also build what Transco describes as a nearly 200-mile “shortcut” between existing pipelines that “crosses every tributary that feeds the Susquehanna River.”

The Stand encampment

The Stand is a non-violent anti-pipeline encampment in Lancaster, Penn., along the proposed route of the Atlantic Sunrise expansion project. Photo by David Jones

On Feb. 3, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the new pipeline, now many residents of Lancaster County are preparing to take a stand.

“Our hope is that when they do start building the pipeline there will be such a huge groundswell of opposition to this that it’s going to create the energy we need to have industries pull away,” Spiese says. “That’s our hope.”

The group has established an encampment, called The Stand, on a piece of farmland in the path of the pipeline. About 10 people are currently living there, and dozens more come out for events and training.

“‘Non-violent mass action’ is what we’re calling it, and we are likening it to what happened in the Civil Rights era and even women’s suffrage,” says Malinda Clatterbuck, also a member of Lancaster Against Pipelines. “We really believe that the only way we will stop this is through the power of people coming out in mass numbers to help bring about an awareness and a change in how people are thinking about what’s happening here.”

“We’re doing this work to stop a pipeline,” says Clatterbuck, who has faced intimidation for her outspoken opposition to the project. “But I feel like the bigger picture here, what we’re really fighting against, is this unjust system that has allowed corporations to become personhoods and have more power over the destruction of communities than those communities have the power to protect themselves against it and protect their health and safety. And that’s what’s gotta change.”

Southern Exposure on the Pipelines

Further south, there is still more resistance to pipelines carrying natural gas from the Appalachian Basin into Georgia and Florida.

The Sabal Trail is a 515-mile pipeline stretching from the Transco line in Alabama, across Georgia and down to central Florida. The $3.2 billion project by Spectra Energy Partners, NextEra Energy, Inc., and Duke Energy is 78 percent complete, according to the Associated Press.

John Quarterman, the Suwannee Riverkeeper and president of the WWALS Watershed Coalition, has been pushing back against the Sabal Trail Pipeline in southern Georgia and northern Florida since 2013.

He has found that opposition to eminent domain — the taking of private property for public use — and the desire to protect streams and rivers cross party lines.

“You’d be surprised how many reclusive, right-wing, rural landowners really do not like this pipeline,” he says. “As one of them said to me, ‘You know, if caring about the wildlife and fishing and hunting and the waters means I’m an environmentalist, then I’m an environmentalist.’”

Quarterman is pushing for legislation to better protect water resources and is pursuing penalties against pipeline companies when violations are discovered. He also advocates for divesting from the companies that fund the pipeline and for expanding investments in solar energy and other renewables.

“Solar power doesn’t use any testing water, doesn’t use any cooling water and also doesn’t require any eminent domain,” he says.

Resistance in the Tarheel State

Along the banks of the Dan River in Rockingham County, N.C., an unproven power company wants to build a natural gas power plant.

According to the company’s website, NTE Energy is developing three projects in Ohio, Texas and in Cleveland County, N.C., and is in earlier stages with two other projects — one in Connecticut and this one in Rockingham County. None of the projects are complete.

Dan River

The outlet for the water used to cool a proposed gas-fired power plant would enter the Dan River about 250 feet upstream from the canoe access. Photo by Buck Purgason

Buck Purgason, a local resident and member of the advocacy group Good Stewards of Rockingham, is worried about this plant, particularly its impact on the beleaguered Dan River, which experienced a coal ash spill in 2014 and is now slated to provide the water needed to cool the proposed gas plant.

According to Purgason, cooling the plant will likely require between 1.7 and 5 million gallons of water from the river each day.

“This is water for a gas-fired plant that we don’t need,” he says. “That’s the main issue for me. And we’re trying to get more solar, renewable, and get off fossil fuels and [leave] them in the ground. And they’re building all these plants, and it’s gonna be fracked gas that they’re burning.”

As the plans to build the plant move forward, Purgason continues to participate in the public comment periods, speak with the press and organize community opposition. “It’s an uphill battle, but there’s a lot of people’s lives gonna be impacted for a little bit of peak power.”

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is also the focus of growing resistance to gas infrastructure in North Carolina.

Thousands of North Carolinians have submitted comments against the ACP and communities are reaching out to other states and one another to fight against the pipelines.

For two weeks in March this year, community members walked along the proposed 205-mile route across the Coastal Plain of the state traveling from the Virginia border south through the low income, minority and agricultural communities that would be impacted by the pipeline.

The “Walk To Protect Our People And The Places Where We Live” culminated in a spring equinox ceremony lead by members of the Lumbee tribe at the North Carolina Indian Cultural Center. (For more on the walk, see center spread.)

The pipeline would end in Robeson County, whose population is nearly 40 percent Native American, primarily members of the Lumbee tribe, according to N.C. Policy Watch, a news outlet of the N.C. Justice Center.

A Victory from the Bluegrass State

Citizen resistance to a natural gas project in Kentucky led to a victory against the industry.

Since 2004, Suzanne Tallichet has been a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, a community-based organization fighting for social justice, and has held several leadership positions with the group.

Neighborhood canvassing

Doug Doerrfeld is one of the community members who went door-to-door educating residents of a neighborhood along the route of a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline. Photo by Suzanne Tallichet

Three years ago, she heard about a dangerous project headed to her home of Rowan County. Energy giants MarkWest and Kinder Morgan planned to reverse the flow of nearly 1,000 miles along the Tennessee Gas Pipeline. This 70-year-old pipeline was designed to carry natural gas from the Gulf region to New York City and Boston, but under the new proposal it would transport natural gas liquids from the shale fields in Ohio towards the Gulf.

Natural gas liquids, such as ethane, propane and butane, are marketable byproducts produced when processing natural gas. They are used for making plastics and as heating and transportation fuels. They are also extremely flammable.

Tallichet contacted the local newspaper, The Morehead News, which ran a series of articles and editorials about the project. She also organized with other community members to participate in local government and go door-to-door in impacted neighborhoods to educate residents about the potential risks.

“I don’t know of a single person who has said, ‘I don’t know what you people are worried about. There’s nothing wrong. Hey, it might create jobs,’” Tallichet says. “As a matter of fact, that’s a huge problem, it doesn’t. If it created jobs, there might be a little contention. But there’s no contention because it creates no jobs for us.”

“And yet we take all the risks,” she adds. “No benefits, all the risks. And when people heard that, that did it.”

Rowan is one of six counties along the route that has passed a resolution against the pipeline. As of press time, the project was stalled, and many residents are breathing easier.

“I certainly hope that this pipeline stays dormant,” says Tallichet. “I mean, people talk about environmentalists being radical. That clean water and clean air is a radical notion … What’s radical is to take an old pipeline, reverse the flow of the material and then throw in the volatility [of natural gas liquids].”

The Fight Continues

As pipeline after pipeline moves closer to construction and completion, community members across the country continue to push back against them.

“Local people can make a difference, that’s energizing,” says Tallichet.

Malinda Clatterbuck, who is fighting the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Pennsylvania, agrees.

“We want to do what we can, with mass numbers of people, to say ‘we in the community say this isn’t right,’” she says. “The laws are against us. And the industry has so much power. And regulatory agencies are against us because they’ve been influenced by industry. But we the people, who are bearing the brunt of this damage, are saying it’s not okay.’”

Continue Following These Stories

For the latest updates, follow these groups on facebook or visit their websites at:

Good Stewards of Rockingham:

Kentuckians For The Commonwealth:

Lancaster Against Pipelines:

Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance:

Suwannee Riverkeeper and WWALS Watershed Coalition:

West Virginia Rivers Coalition:

Remembering Carol Judy

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 - posted by interns

By Willie Dodson and Bonnie Swinford

Carol Judy carries branches of flowers in Bell County, Ky. Photo by Joanne Golden Hill.

Carol Judy carries branches of flowers in Bell County, Ky. Photo by Joanne Golden Hill.

Carol Judy of Roses Creek, Tenn., passed away from cancer in the early morning hours of Feb. 24, 2017. She died at home, surrounded by the love of family and friends.

I’ve always been fond of explaining to folks who Carol Judy was by simply stating her email address, emphasizing every word in it: Forest Granny (at) Rise Up (.net). Carol Judy was an activist, an agitator, an educator and an organizer.

Carol was also a root digger, carefully tending scattered patches of ginseng and other medicinal herbs along the densely wooded hollers and hillsides surrounding her Tennessee home. Carol practiced and taught a slow, patient, stewardship-based approach to foraging and cultivating wild and wild-simulated medicinals. She taught plant identification and forest understory stewardship and management workshops across the region.

Carol was a mother, a grandmother and a dear friend to many. She cared deeply for her people, and stayed focused on involving others — especially young people — in the work of building community resilience.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, Carol traveled internationally as part of the Rural Development Leadership Network, the National Congress of Neighborhood Women and numerous other projects lifting up rural women and other disenfranchised populations. During the same time, she organized locally in Claiborne County, Tenn., with the Woodland Community Land Trust and the Clearfork Community Institute.

Carol Judy and Joanne Golden Hill collect a sample of water in eastern Kentucky to test for water quality. Photo courtesy of Joanne Golden Hill.

Carol Judy and Joanne Golden Hill collect a sample of water in eastern Kentucky to test for water quality. Photo courtesy of Joanne Golden Hill.

Over the past decade, Carol worked closely with Mountain Justice and other anti-mountaintop removal coal mining organizations in the region. She was a treasured and revered elder to a generation of young organizers, herbalists and righteous mischief-makers.

Hear Carol Judy share her thoughts in a video interview with Felix Bivens of Empyrean Research.

Anything Will Give Up Its Secrets if You Love It Enough

By Chris Smith and Asa Gardner Smith

For several years, Carol had heard stories of our family’s land in Rockcastle County, Ky. In May of 2016, she came for a visit.

Along the hike down our rutted out driveway, we pointed out patches of lady’s slipper, bird’s foot violet, showy orchis and hawkweed. Carol greeted them as friends. We stopped at the cave spring for a drink and to visit the sole ginseng plant the poachers had missed the year after we left. She started exploring the forest floor. “There’s one!” she said, and cradled it like a baby bird. “Well, there’s another,” she said, as a matter of fact. She kept going, counting in all about 15 plants that had, until that moment, been completely invisible to us.

Carol was known for connecting with youth and building strong intergenerational bonds. She stands with Asa Gardner Smith during a visit to the Smith family land. Photo by Chris Smith

Carol was known for connecting with youth and building strong intergenerational bonds. She stands with Asa Gardner Smith during a visit to the Smith family land. Photo by Chris Smith

We took her to the rock house waterfall and told her about an elusive patch of goldenseal. On the way back, she wandered off trail, turned around and said, ”What about this yellowroot patch here?” Again, she had made the invisible visible. She told us we’d better start harvesting that patch regularly, or it would start to disappear like that other one.

We remember how much Carol loved the mountains and the waters, the plants, and everything that lives here. We are so thankful for the time we had to learn from her how to grow that love within ourselves. And we will never forget that day when we got to experience that magic of silent communion with our land, with the life on it, and with our dear friend.

A Tribute to Carol Judy by Adam Hughes

I’ll never forget driving to Lexington, Ky., with Carol for a public hearing on the Stream Protection Rule in September 2015. The hearing was held in a gymnasium, and Carol signed up to testify later than the rest of our group.

By the time she was finished, we had gathered outside to debrief. I saw her hunting for us through a window, but by the time I navigated the heavy glass doors, she had already stepped on the descending escalator.

“Carol! We’re up here!” I called. She looked back, grinned, turned around, and started climbing up against the elevator’s descent! She was already about a third of the way downstairs; she had to hustle, but progress was still slow. She started laughing, tickled by the petty mischief of what she was doing.

The commotion alerted a security guard, who called on her to stop. “Just go to the bottom,” he barked. “Come on, act your age.” Naturally, this encouraged her to climb faster, and she shot him a naughty smile when she reached the top and rejoined our group.

That was one of the most wonderful things to know about Carol Judy. She’d never act the way a man in uniform would demand.

A Tribute to Carol Judy by Miranda Brown

This woman, Carol Judy, showed me so much that is to be the foundation of my future, perhaps all of our futures. She embodied love, sincerity, presence, generosity, passion and intention. She never took me for what I projected on the surface, but called me out of myself, reassured me of my own nature.

Carol always called me a singer and an herbalist, even when I had naught to show for it. I carry her spirit and will listen for her guidance as I fulfill my own life. Carol always probed down to the core of who and what was important to me, and reminded me. Tonight, she reminds me again.

What a blessing to have spent some time with this force of nature. Rest in peace, nestled in the love that so many of us have for you, like the roots that lie nestled in the soil.

A Tribute to Carol Judy by Tabitha Potter-Cornett

I grew up with Carol as so many of us have. When I was tiny and spent one summer selling brownies to mamaw’s friends. She was there and she supported my growth. When I was a teen I rebelled against my mamaw and wanted nothing to do with social justice. Carol invited me out anyway without judgment when I declined, knowing I’d get around to it. When I dropped out of college and moved back home. Carol gave me about a month to sit around then there she was pushing me to grow. I don’t remember everything I did with Carol, how could I? She taught me how to care about people. It truly never mattered what someone was up to, Carol knew there was more under the surface.

In this article it talks about a tree that fell hundreds of years prior. Normally the stump would have rotted away to nothing. But the trees around it supported it. Some of the stump did rot, but the roots were alive. Carol may be gone, but the roots she planted are still here in each and every one of us. It’s time for us to take care of what she left us. It’s not what we’re accustomed to of her, but it’s beautiful all the same.

Putting on My Carol Glasses

Dear Carol,

Though my path has taken me out of the forest and into the city, I think of you often – and sometimes I think of “putting on my Carol glasses” seeing the world through its inter-connectivity, the liveliness of wild things – from the rats that skitter in the subway here to the yarrow that grows up in cracks in the sidewalk, or eating a few blossoms of rose bud from decorative trees in the park when no one is looking.

I want you to know that I am bringing some new friends to Pine Mountain soon, friends for whom the forests, mountains of Appalachia, and human communities there are yet to be known. It’s part of a project of exchange between urban artists – the community I now spend most of my time in – and rural artists and communities. We will be there in early March, and then returning in May, around the time of year I met you on that ridge top. I hope to pass on a tendril of that love of place you shared with me and so many others. You will always be in my mind and heart as a guide for seeing, learning about, and becoming a part of a place and all the beings that inhabit it.

with love and love and love,
Andrew Munn

Using Art to Combat Environmental Destruction

Friday, February 10th, 2017 - posted by interns

Inside Looking Out

By Andrew Tarley

Monongalia Arts Center, the historic home for arts and culture in Morgantown, W.Va., is collaborating with local artist Betsy Jaeger to show the visible changes in the rural countryside caused by the fossil fuel industry in an exhibition titled “Inside Looking Out.”

The arts center provides a forum for activism through the arts. This time, the issue is one that affects residents throughout the county: fracking and strip mining.

Inside Looking Out: Southwest Windows (Betsy Jaeger)

Inside Looking Out: Southwest Windows (Betsy Jaeger)

Jaeger lives in rural Monongalia County, just west of Morgantown and outside of the commotion of the small city. She moved to Morgantown from Chicago in 1976 to earn a Master of the Arts from West Virginia University. While at WVU, she met her husband, a sculptor, and the two married and moved to a serene 12-acre plot of land in the countryside.

“Many of our neighbors, then, earned their living by raising cattle to send to the big feedlots. Our little community was beautiful, and we really enjoyed the quiet and night-time darkness to see the stars and planets,” Jaeger writes. “But inevitably, all things change, and our rural idyll was no exception.”

With the advent of modern mining equipment in the mid-2000s, surface coal mining in Monongalia County quickly grew in scale, and Jaeger perceived a seismic shift in her community. She refused to sell her rural home and mineral rights to a coal company, even though some of her neighbors had begun, one by one, to agree to sell their mineral rights. According to Jaeger, some also sold their entire properties.

Betsy Jaeger

Inside Looking Out: Southeast Windows (Betsy Jaeger)

“We watched what had been a charming farm community become an industrial wasteland in just two years,” she says. “There was not enough bond money to pay for adequate reclamation.”

In 2012, strip mining began directly in front of her home, adjacent to her property line. Jaeger tracked more than 200 blasts, which rattled the foundation of her home, and she monitored the water quality in her local stream, finding high levels of heavy metals near mining outfalls.

Fracking companies and their trucks also arrived to build drilling stations. “They caused much less damage to the physical landscape than the strip mines, but the air and water quality continued to degrade,” Jaeger says. Wastewater from the fracking sites caused a massive fish-kill on a creek north of her home.

Jaeger created “Inside Looking Out” to share the drastic changes that occurred. This exhibition recreates the views outside of her 12 windows, past and present, using mixed-media elements such as sculpture, photographs and paintings. She says she hopes that this exhibition will spark local discussion and energize the community.

Inside Looking Out: Power Line (Betsy Jaeger)

Inside Looking Out: Power Line (Betsy Jaeger)

“People in Morgantown need to be aware of what is happening to their air and water and landscape,” Jaeger says. “We need to be aware of what is going on outside of the city because it affects us all.”

The exhibition is free and will open with a public reception on Friday, March 3, 2017, at 6 p.m. Refreshments and snacks will be available. “Inside Looking Out” will be on display until April 1. Monongalia Arts Center is located at 107 High Street, Morgantown, W.Va. Inquiries should be directed to or 304-292-3325.

Andrew Tarley is the Media and Advertising Coordinator at Monongalia Arts Center and a former Appalachian Voices intern.

Spurring Civic Involvement for Clean Water, Mine Reclamation

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

If you’re on our email list, you know that in late July, several federal agencies held public comment periods regarding critical clean water and coal mining issues. Appalachian Voices submitted comments and called on mountain lovers to add their voices.

We urged the Department of the Interior to end the practice of self-bonding, which allows some coal companies to act as their own guarantor for the costs of mine reclamation instead of posting a bond or purchasing insurance. Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook to clean up abandoned mines if a self-bonded company goes bankrupt.

We also submitted comments in support of the EPA’s proposed updates to the permits that regulate water pollution from coal mines and power plants. Among other provisions, the changes would allow the EPA to step in when states fail to re-issue updated permits.

The Army Corps of Engineers is also renewing the nationwide permit that allows coal mining fill to be put in public waterways. This blanket permit applies to many mines across the country. We urged the Corps to strengthen the permit to better protect rivers and streams from destructive surface coal mining.

These comment periods are now closed, but to receive future email action alerts, sign up at

Remembering an Environmental Warrior

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - posted by interns

Lenny Kohm was an activist who inspired countless people from the Arctic to Appalachia to stand up and exercise their right to protect the land and communities they love. Below are just a fraction of the tributes already made to this hero known by many as “The Chief.” As renowned writer Terry Tempest Williams so eloquently stated:
“He was singular in his wit and wisdom for the wild. Passionate, smart, and humble, he touched all of us … His legacy is love.”


Lenny Kohm devoted nearly 30 years of his life to helping people find and use their voice for change. Talking to an attendee at a citizen lobby training in Washington, D.C.

Book of Lenny

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

An Advocate for the Wild Places

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


Lenny Kohm on a river in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, Yukon Territory.

Chief Lives On

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

Lenny Kohm’s Memorial Celebration


Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign (bottom) and Luci Beach (above), representative of the Gwich’in Nation, were among the speakers at the October memorial celebration, while friends in Negril, Jamaica, made buttons for the beach-side ceremony (top left).


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 ]


Mountain Justice Summer – 10 Years Strong!

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 - posted by Appalachian Voices
Dedicated advocates against mountaintop removal mining gathered in the shadow of the devastated remains of Black Mountain. Photo courtesy Mountain Justice

Dedicated advocates against mountaintop removal mining gathered in the shadow of the devastated remains of Black Mountain. Photo courtesy Mountain Justice

By Chloe Crabtree
Grassroots Organizing Assistant — Summer 2014

This summer marks the 10th anniversary of Mountain Justice Summer Camp, an event that brings together those fueled by the mutual desire to see an end to mountaintop removal coal mining and all of the environmental and social injustices embedded in its practice. The annual summer camp, this year held at Wiley’s Last Resort on Pine Mountain, is a week-long event dedicated to mountaintop removal education, workshops and trainings. The intention is to organize and act, strengthening solidarity amongst the Appalachian community and to helping to put an end to coal companies’ exploitation and influence.  

I am fortunate enough to intern with Appalachian Voices this summer and fall and attending camp has really afforded me the perspective and skills necessary for our work to protect Appalachia. Camp was located on part of the beautiful forested summit of Pine Mountain in Kentucky. The mountain was a constant reminder of the importance and purpose of Mountain Justice. Black Mountain was across the valley from us, defaced, barren, and exposed after years of being stripped for coal — the community below still feels the effects of its destruction.  

Appalachian Voices staff and interns working on biking trails near Norton, Va., with Shayne Fields.

Appalachian Voices staff and interns working on biking trails near Norton, VA with Shayne Fields.

In between the delicious meals prepared by the kitchen crew, the days at camp feature workshops, trainings, and panel discussions that illustrate the Appalachian Mountains’ history and culture, and threats posed by the coal industry.

The mountain mornings started by bringing the entire camp together to go over group norms, volunteer sign-ups, updates from the medic team, kitchen crew, and security, and a quick overview of the day’s schedule. It’s difficult to decide which workshops and trainings to attend between Appalachian culture and history, community organizing, building alternative economies, peacekeeping & de-escalation, 20 hour street medic training, climbing training, water testing, leadership development and team building, plus many more. Workshops and trainings are led by knowledgeable, experienced, and enthusiastic people and the participants seem to always leave with the excitement of having cultivated or enriched their abilities. It’s common to see faces elated in this newfound perspective or enraged at the injustices discussed.

In the afternoon there is free time to decompress, go swimming or paddling in the pond, visit a nearby waterfall, hike, throw a Frisbee, climb a tree, check out some good books and pamphlets, or talk with new friends. There were also volunteer opportunities to help local residents with projects – some of us got to help Shayne Fields who has been working on a network of mountain biking trails in Flag Rock State Recreational Area for the past few years to help attract tourism and improve the local economy.

After dinner every evening panel discussions were led by impacted citizens, experts, and enthusiasts to address topics such as Appalachian Women, Impacted Citizens, Youth in Appalachia, Disaster Relief, and Mountain Justice History. It is particularly moving to hear of fears, threats, and triumphs from those who have experienced the trials and tribulations brought about by the coal industry that has tried to silence them and their families for generations. The Mullins family, which is traveling this summer on the Breaking Clean Tour, were part of the Impacted Citizens panel and spoke passionately about their family’s experiences as former coal miners, affected locals, and as parents of the next generation.

While spending five amazing days surrounded by passionate people and beautiful mountains, I reflected on what it means to act. Most of us have the privilege to act; we have the agency to choose how to make a difference and the means and resources to do so. We forget that we have power and that we can use our agency to organize and act. Some must act because it is a battle forced upon their lives and there is no other option, some act out of empathy, sympathy ethics or morals, and some act because they can, because they have the privilege to while others do not.

Whether you join a picket line, write a representative, volunteer or plant a tree, we have the power to create change. All we need is to believe we can do so.

Adam Hall: A Defender of West Virginia

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by interns

By Kimber Ray

Adam Hall speaks to a group of environmental advocates about the diverse ecology at risk of destruction from mountaintop removal. Photo courtesy of Adam Hall

Adam Hall speaks to a group of environmental advocates about the diverse ecology at risk of destruction from mountaintop removal. Photo courtesy of Adam Hall

Depressed towns and waters laced with toxic chemicals have been handed down to West Virginia in the wake of mountaintop removal coal mining, yet many in the community leave these grievances unspoken. Adam Hall, the son of a strip miner in Glen Daniel, W.Va., was once among those who were voiceless on the subject: his father described his work as a paycheck and a roof, avoiding all other details.

But no roof could muffle the deadly reverberations of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in 2010, an explosion that left 29 miners dead. The event spurred Hall to break his silence and support efforts to restore communities damaged by coal.

Hall began volunteering with local nonprofit Coal River Mountain Watch. A dedicated member since, he contributes to several ongoing initiatives. One project involves cultivating a community garden to show how local farming can offer a viable economic alternative to mining. He also works on the Tadpole Project, promoting water quality through stream and roadside cleanups. By contributing directly to the community, he hopes residents will see that environmental advocates are not trying to take away jobs; they’re trying to create new ones.

Over time, Hall decided that his work with CRMW still “wasn’t enough,” and so, he says, “I took up direct action as a means of raising local awareness.”

An opportunity to expand his involvement arrived this past October when Hall was attending the Mountain Justice Fall Summit, a gathering where participants cultivate skills and strategies to resist mountaintop removal coal mining. He was leading a workshop on economic justice when members of Hands Off Appalachia — a campaign to end financial investment in companies supporting mountaintop removal — approached him to pitch an idea.

The goal was to hold a peaceful protest at the Stamford, Conn., headquarters of the largest funder of mountaintop removal: the Union Bank of Switzerland. Hall was not initially sure if he would take part in the protest, but after joining HOA members for an unproductive meeting with the UBS head of environmental risk management, he sensed that “they didn’t even care people were dying” and “their policies were just a shield to escape liability.”

On Nov. 25, nearly 30 people gathered at the UBS headquarters. Hall stood blocking the entrance to UBS while inside, other activists chained themselves to the stairs and hung a large banner: UBS Stop Funding Mountaintop Removal. Several others had climbed a nearby crane at dawn to unfurl another banner with the same message. Although Hall was not among the 14 protesters arrested, he has been encouraging others to donate to their legal defense fund.

He knows the fight is far from over, but the only thing he’s tired of is the injustice in his community. Given the entrenched clout of the coal industry, he says that “no change will come in a short amount of time.” Until then, he’s ready to “dig in deep and stay for the long haul.”

Teacher, Wife, Activist, Mother:

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

Wilma Lee Steele Turns Focus to Healing

By Molly Moore

Wilma Steele and her husband Terry at a Mountain Justice activist gathering. Photo by Andrea Steele Mounts

Wilma Steele and her husband Terry at a Mountain Justice activist gathering. Photo by Andrea Steele Mounts

For Wilma Lee Steele, the devastation wrought by mountaintop removal coal mining can’t be measured solely by polluted streams or transformed ridgelines. For someone as spiritually connected to the mountains of her West Virginia home as Steele is, blasting away mountaintops for the sake of coal is deeply offensive, and she has actively opposed the practice for decades.

Still, she doesn’t see the people behind the coal companies or state environmental agency as enemies, despite their offenses. “I believe in treating people like people and listening to what they have to say,” Steele says. She declares that the path to mending divided communities — and to healing the land and water itself — is based in right treatment of one another.

Steele has had a lot of practice putting these principles into action. When she taught kindergarten through 12th grade, with a focus on special needs students and art education, she tried to steer clear of coal subjects. But when students prompted her she always responded respectfully and truthfully.

That habit of speaking the truth is one of the best qualities of days gone by, Steele says. As a young woman, she was close with the older generations — together, they cut out quilt squares, picked cherries and baked pies. Though many of these bygone friends were coal miners, Steele is confident they would have opposed mountaintop removal. When youthful environmentalists began arriving in Mingo County in the ‘90s, Steele saw similarities between them and the older folks, and felt a kinship that extended beyond a mutual care for the Earth.

“They saw something that needed to change and they were willing to work to bring that change,” Steele says. “I never considered myself an activist, yet I realize now I always was, before the environmental movement,” she adds, “because no matter what age I was I would speak up for what was right or true.”

Through the years, Steele and her husband Terry have hosted more than 400 visitors at their home, showing them the contrast of destruction and beauty in the region and entertaining long conversations by the firepit. She feels that her greatest strength lies in connecting visitors to the place and people she loves. In addition, she joins a host of organizations in efforts such as attending permit hearings and documenting the abuses of coal companies and government agencies.

27 Visionaries


27 Visionaries

In Steele’s mind, companies bent on extracting West Virginia’s natural wealth have controlled the state’s narrative for too long. The key to the future, she says, is for residents to “quit letting someone else define us” and to listen to one another.

“You don’t have to call anyone a liar,” she says. “The only thing you have to do is speak the truth with love and understanding.”

Anna Behnke: A Seventh Grade Activist

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

By Sarah Kellogg

Photo courtesy of NBC

Photo courtesy of NBC

Seventh grader Anna Behnke loves to swim in Mountain Island Lake, but two years ago, she learned about the water pollution caused by Duke Energy’s Riverbend coal-fired power plant and began to worry about the impact the pollution could have on children’s health. So, for a sixth grade science project, Behnke tested the arsenic levels at Mountain Island Lake and found levels 20 times higher than Environmental Protection Agency standards.

“I wanted to show the people in my grade and school how the plant impacts the water,” says Behnke. “Not a lot of people think about it even though we pass the power plant on the way to school. They don’t realize that it can hurt our health.”

Although Duke is demolishing the Riverbend plant in 2014, Behnke worries about how the company will clean up the unlined coal ash ponds which store over 3 million gallons of toxic coal ash and discharge directly into Mountain Island Lake, the drinking water source for most of Mecklenburg and Gaston counties. “I want to write a letter to President Obama about this, just to inform him of everything that’s been happening where I live,” she says. Behnke also plans to teach her science class about mountaintop removal coal mining and the pollution caused by burning coal.

27 Visionaries


27 Visionaries

Behnke has heard Duke project that in 20 years, only 3 percent of North Carolina’s energy will be produced by renewables. “I want to fix that,” says Behnke. “Riverbend was the first plant to shut down in North Carolina and I’m really happy about that. I hope that other activists will start to realize that if we did it, then they can too.”

Diane Pitcock Connects Landowners to Fracking Researchers

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

By Molly Moore

When Diane Pitcock and her family retired to rural Doddridge County, W.Va., in 2005, she planned on canning garden vegetables, watching the stars and listening to the owls. Today, however, four Marcellus Shale gas rigs surround her land, and the ridge behind her home hosts an access road instead of a forest. On nights when the noise from a nearby rig keeps her awake, the light from the well pad is bright enough that she can step onto her bedroom porch and read a book.

John and Diane Pitcock (back right) and their youngest son Josh (back left) visit with participants in a Mountain Justice Spring Break activist program. Photo courtesy of Diane Pitcock

John and Diane Pitcock (back right) and their youngest son Josh (back left) visit with participants in a Mountain Justice Spring Break activist program. Photo courtesy of Diane Pitcock

Before settling in Doddridge County, the Pitcocks researched conventional gas drilling and decided they were comfortable with the practice — their new land came with a standard vertical gas well. Yet, after they moved, information began surfacing about the new hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling methods used to unlock natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, and the Pitcocks grew concerned.

When they learned that their immediate neighbor had leased much of his land for horizontal gas drilling, Diane Pitcock responded by forming West Virginia Host Farms, a grassroots network of concerned landowners who provide journalists and scientists with access to their land in order to further research and media coverage of Marcellus Shale fracking.

“[We] invite researchers, journalists, environmental groups, students, anybody interested in the impacts of shale gas drilling on the environment, and on the health and safety of people, and land rights issues,” she says.

Pitcock hopes their efforts will provide decision-makers and the public with information about Marcellus Shale drilling that will lead to stronger regulations and better oversight of an industry that she says is out of control. “It’s in my opinion too destructive, too unknown, and I am seeing it firsthand because I’m at ground zero.”

27 Visionaries


27 Visionaries

A self-described pro-business conservative, Pitcock believes environmental protection should not be a political issue. “You can be pro-hunting or anti, or pro- or anti-gun, but you’ve still got to drink water and you still need clean water and clean air to breathe,” she says.

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