Posts Tagged ‘Appalachian Voices’

Citizens Deliver Coal Ash Petition to Duke Energy

Friday, February 28th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Kellogg
Amy Adams of Appalachian Voices smiles as the crowd echoes her call for “No More Coal Ash!”

Amy Adams of Appalachian Voices smiles as the crowd echoes her call for “No More Coal Ash!”

Tuesday afternoon, more than 150 concerned citizens gathered at Duke Energy’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., to demand that the company take action to clean up its toxic coal ash. Coal ash, which is the byproduct of burning coal for electricity, is currently stored by Duke Energy in unlined, dangerous dams, next to vital waterways across the state.

The diverse crowd came together to deliver more than 9,000 petition signatures to Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good. The petition asks that Duke take full financial responsibility for cleaning up the devastating coal ash spill into the Dan River, and that the company agree to move the rest of its coal ash, stored in 31 ponds at 14 sites across the state, to dry,lined storage facilities away from rivers and lakes.

The event was the result of an amazing collaboration between a variety of environmental and social justice groups from the states affected by the Dan River spill — North Carolina and Virginia — as well as national interest groups. Appalachian Voices, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club collected petition signatures and planned the event along with Charlotte Environmental Action, Keeper of the Mountains, and NC Conservation Network. The official sponsors of the event also included We Love Mountain Island Lake, Democracy NC, Action NC, and NC WARN.

Chants about the importance of clean water and the dangers of coal ash opened the event. Citizens held signs with images of the massive coal ash ponds that plague North Carolina, some wore t-shirts describing the health effects of the different heavy metals found in coal ash, others carried banners and pickets, and a few drummers backed the chants.

The Green Grannies, a group of concerned women from Asheville, sang a few songs about coal ash and water, and the Reverend Nancy Hardy, from North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light said a prayer about peace and hope for change.

Amy Adams, the N.C. Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, gave a rousing speech emphasizing that the spill into the Dan River was completely preventable, and that Duke must be held accountable for the damage they have caused. Adams’ speech was received with cheers from the crowd, who eagerly echoed her call for “No More! No more coal ash in unlined ponds! No more leaks and seeps into our drinking water! No more stalling and no more excuses!”

Over 9,000 petition signatures collected by Appalachian Voices, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club asking Duke to clean up its coal ash.

Over 9,000 petition signatures collected by Appalachian Voices, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club asking Duke to clean up its coal ash.

Sara Behnke, a mother, cancer survivor, and founder of We Love Mountain Island Lake, followed Adams with a wonderful speech about her family’s experience living next to Duke’s coal ash ponds at the Riverbend Steam Station. Behnke expressed outrage that Duke’s coal ash ponds are leaking arsenic-laden water into Mountain Island Lake which supplies the drinking water for 860,000 people. Behnke drew connections between the recent chemical spill in West Virginia and the similar threat that coal ash poses to drinking water.

Following Behnke’s speech, Elise Keaton from the West Virginia Keeper of the Mountains expressed solidarity for the need for clean water in both states. Luis Rodriguez from Action NC followed by calling on Duke to pay for the Dan River cleanup without raising customers rates. Rodriguez was joined by Cora Little, a senior member of Action NC who has spoken out against Duke’s recent rate hikes.

The final event speaker was Mary Anne Hitt, the director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Hitt reiterated the need to protect North Carolina’s waterways from further coal ash pollution. She was joined by Amy and Cora to present two thick binders full of thousands of petition signatures to Duke security guards.

Although a Duke Energy representative had previously given the group permission to send three representatives into the building, a few minutes before Hitt’s speech concluded, security notified the crowd that Duke would not accept the petitions and that no one was allowed inside the company’s office.

In response, the crowd began circling in front of Duke Energy’s headquarters, chanting “Hear the voice of the people, accept the petitions now!” After about twenty minutes, as the group was beginning to disband, Hitt was about to leave the petition notebooks on the public side of the sidewalk in front of the company building, when a Duke Energy representative ran out and took the petitions inside.

While Duke Energy may have accepted the complaints of more than 9,000 people, concerned citizens, environmental groups, and social justice groups promise to be back with the same message: Duke Energy — clean up your toxic coal ash!

Bringing New Power to the Old Dominion in 2014

Friday, February 14th, 2014 - posted by hannah

By making energy efficiency a priority and investing in renewable energy sources we can bring New Power to the Old Dominion.

By making energy efficiency a priority and investing in renewable energy sources we can bring New Power to the Old Dominion.


New Power for the Old Dominion has kicked off 2014 in a strong way, hitting the road to illuminate the path toward clean energy development and engage Virginians from across the state in the movement to turn the commonwealth to cleaner energy.

In recent weeks, our New Power tour visited Front Royal, Staunton, and Christiansburg, and found overwhelming community support for safe, reliable, affordable electricity. To those who attended recent presentations, thank you for engaging in our discussion with your honest reactions and probing questions! If you belong to an organization you think would like to hear about the New Power campaign, however large or small your group is, get in touch with Hannah at hannah@appvoices.org and set up a date!

For someone like me who follows Virginia’s energy sources day in and day out, it’s exciting to unwrap and reveal the surprising truth of where Virginia gets its energy. Around Virginia, folks seem to share a belief in making electricity safer, more reliable, and more price-stable, and they want to hear more about renewable energy sources. Most people we talk with are already aware of our utilities’ current reliance on coal, but they’re often dismayed to learn that Dominion Virginia Power would keep solar and wind development at a marginal scale in Virginia for another 15 years. What I enjoy the most is painting a picture of the abundant clean energy resource potential we have in wind, solar, and energy efficiency and how local residents, businesses, universities, and counties are already proving that clean energy works here in Virginia.

Our presentations have taken place against the backdrop of recent disasters related to the fossil fuel industry — a chemical spill in West Virginia followed by a coal slurry spill and the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history in North Carolina. These calamitous events bring home the risks associated with our reliance on burning coal for electricity — from mining, to processing, transporting, burning and lastly the disposal of coal ash. Imagine if we relied as much on wind and solar as we do on coal what the worst-case scenarios might be: whoever heard of a city’s water supply polluted by a sunshine spill?

Looking ahead for the New Power for the Old Dominion campaign, we have stops in Roanoke, Winchester, Price’s Fork, and back to Front Royal, and we’re constantly adding more visits to civic groups, as well as presentations at area campuses, and discussions with church groups.

Request a presentation by emailing hannah@appvoices.org and we’ll keep the New Power tour rolling your way!

Common Sense, Nonsense, and a Climate Fight in the Making in Richmond

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 - posted by hannah
Every year, a handful of pro-coal bills are introduced that perpetuate the coal industry's “war on coal” mantra. Of particular concern this year is SB 615, which seeks to undermine the EPA's authority to set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia.

Days into the legislative session, a slew of pro-coal bills have been introduced to the Virginia General Assembly, including SB 615, a bill to undermine the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia.

The 2014 session of the Virginia General Assembly is underway, and state lawmakers are wasting no time! We are tracking their activities and want to make sure you have all the information you need on several important bills coming up this session. Check back for regular updates and watch your inbox, we will be sending rapid response email alerts when important votes are coming up.

Legislation this session falls into two categories: the bright ideas that bring Virginia closer to a future of safe and reliable clean energy, and the downright crazy bills that do the opposite and must be stopped. Here is the breakdown, with a debt to the blog Power for the People for many of the details.

In Virginia, we have a voluntary goal for increasing our state’s investments in renewable energy. Increasing the state’s investment in carbon-free fuels depends on clarifying and reforming this renewable energy goal, but unfortunately that isn’t going to happen overnight. One big focus this year is the concept of “banking renewable energy certificates (RECs).” Virginia utilities purchase these certificates and apply them toward their contribution to the renewable energy goal.

Currently, the rules around this matter are lax, allowing utilities to save up their RECs indefinitely and purchase them only rarely, which defeats the program’s purpose of spurring new renewable energy development. HB 822 and SB 498 would address this problem by essentially stamping a “use by” date on RECs so that utilities have to use RECs within five years. This change would result in utilities purchasing RECs in the market more regularly, incentivizing emissions-free sources.

Energy efficiency is the cheapest way Virginia can reduce its dependence on carbon-emitting fuels. Yet electricity providers in the commonwealth offer little to no opportunity for their customers to invest in energy efficiency measures for their homes. Instead, customers are left having to do it on their own. HB 1001 would require power companies and cooperatives to adopt such programs — particularly benefiting folks with low or fixed incomes.

In addition, several proposals are being considered this session that would break down longstanding obstacles to clean energy installation. Some homeowners associations still have neighborhood rules against residents putting up solar panels, and as long as individual rules was in place before 2008, they are valid and legal. SB 222 would remove such a ban, although restrictions on size and placement would still be allowed.

Two innovative approaches to clean energy project funding are also in the works. HB 880 and SB 351 make it easier for a larger number of Virginians to put up money to crowdfund any community endeavor, including a community-owned solar project. Excitingly, HB 1158 would facilitate a grassroots approach to sharing the cost and benefits of a solar installation by allowing “virtual net metering” so the clean energy generated can be divided among participating residents, similar to a server splitting a check evenly between members of a large party.

Then there are the bad bills. Every year, a handful of pro-coal bills are introduced that perpetuate the coal industry’s “war on coal” mantra. Of particular concern is SB 615 which would cripple the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants in Virginia. We are starting to see similar bills pop up around the country as part of a national effort to thwart the EPA’s plans to regulate carbon pollution. To voice our concerns about the bill, Virginians gathered in Richmond on Monday and marched for action on climate change. The march was coordinated with Virginia Conservation Network’s Annual Lobby Day, which brings citizens together to meet with their representatives on a whole host of legislation that impacts conservation, transportation and environmental issues in the commonwealth. SB 615 could come up in committee as early as this week.

Yesterday, citizen champions for clean energy and environmental protection assembled to hold briefings on the issues, visit legislator’s offices, and finally marching on Capital Square for climate solutions. Our fight isn’t confined to one day, but continues through the end of this legislative session and beyond, so keep an eye on this blog (and on your email inbox) and stay involved!

Penn Virginia Faces Legal Challenge for Toxic Water Pollution

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 - posted by eric

Community Groups Protest Coal Mining Pollution and “Bully Tactics”

Contacts:
Eric Chance, Appalachian Voices, eric@appvoices.org, 828-262-1500
Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, oliver.bernstein@sierraclub.org, 512-289-8618
Glen Besa, Virginia Sierra Club, glen.besa@sierraclub.org, 804 225-9113
Matt Hepler, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, mhepler24@gmail.com, 540 871-1564

ROANOKE, VA – Today, a coalition of citizen and environmental groups filed a legal action with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia claiming that Penn Virginia Operating Company is violating Clean Water Act protections on property that it owns that includes former coal mining sites near the town of Appalachia in Wise County, Virginia. The groups have found through their own research including open records requests that Penn Virginia is violating Clean Water Act protections by dumping toxic selenium into streams at seven locations on its property.

Penn Virginia responded to the initial notice informing the company of the coalition’s intent to sue by serving members of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) with cease and desist orders. These orders bar SAMS members from entering any Penn Virginia owned land, including land that contains members’ family cemeteries.

“This is a bully tactic and a serious insult to me and my family,” said Sam Broach, President of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “Penn Virginia is using its corporate power to deny me the basic right to visit my family graveyard.”

“For too long the coal industry – including the out of state corporations that own the land and coal – has been able to get away with violating pollution standards,” said Glen Besa, Virginia Director of the Sierra Club. “This lawsuit is a message to Penn Virginia that they must obey the pollution laws or citizens will take action.”

Penn Virginia Operating Company, based out of Radnor, Pennsylvania, owns land in six states that it leases to third parties, including coal mining interests. Penn Virginia is a subsidiary of Penn Virginia Resource Partners, which is the largest single landowner in Wise County.

“Far too often, coal impacted communities are left with toxic water and depressed economies while large out of state companies make millions,” said Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist for Appalachian Voices. “Penn Virginia’s failure to address these longstanding sources of pollution shows a disregard for the health of the people, land and water of Appalachia.”

Pollution from coal mines is not limited to active surface mines. Because the ultimate source of the pollution comes from materials exposed through mining that remain on site, abandoned, and even reclaimed, mined sites continue to pollute. In many cases the owners of former mine sites do not have Clean Water Act discharge permits for these sites. Typically, these owners are large land holding companies who also own active mountaintop removal coal mining sites. Federal and state regulators typically do not monitor the discharges from these former mine sites.

The Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards are represented in this matter by Joe Lovett and Isak Howell of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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Hannah Wiegard: Binge-watching “Doctor Who” and Bettering Virginia’s Energy Options

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 - posted by hannah
Hannah invites you to travel in time and help rewrite clean energy history

Appalachian Voices’ new Virginia campaign coordinator, Hannah Wiegard, invites you to travel in time and help rewrite clean energy history.

In my college years, I discovered activism and cultivated a belief that we could generally solve the world’s problems. I’ve kept my optimism, yet over time I began to worry as I learned that Virginia, my home state, is in trouble, with mountaintop removal coal mining destroying our mountains and fossil fuel energy doing damage to our air quality and the climate.

I joined Appalachian Voices to help steer Appalachian Power and Dominion Virginia Power toward clean energy. Over the recent winter break, I got a jump on this massive undertaking in what may seem an unusual way: by becoming utterly engrossed in a Doctor Who marathon. I maintain that it was time well-spent in the fight for clean energy sources and efficiency for the Old Dominion.

For non-Whovians, suffice it to say that nearly every episode of the sci-fi show is based on the premise that events happening now shape the world decades into the future. And I got to thinking, what if executives at Virginia’s electric utilities truly realized their power to affect Virginia’s energy landscape for years to come?

Over the next few years, Virginia will commit itself to one of two paths where our energy sources are concerned and, as the Doctor might say, create one of two possible future versions of Virginia. The future we must avoid is one in which Virginians are robbed twice; first, when they pay more to heat and cool their energy-inefficient homes and businesses, and again when utilities put an extra charge on their monthly bills to build costly, dirty fossil fuel plants. The health care costs and environmental losses from continued over-reliance on fossil fuel in that scenario are tragic, and the carbon footprint of the new power plants that would be built is frighteningly enormous.

But that doesn’t have to happen. With skilled leadership and diligent citizen involvement, we can write a better ending to the story of Virginia’s energy choices. By increasing access to energy efficient home improvement programs, for example, we can use Virginia’s talented and well-trained workforce to reduce energy demand and electricity bills. In addition, Virginia can meet its future energy needs by bringing clean, renewable energy projects online, like offshore wind and rooftop solar installments. The fossil fuels that would have been needed for conventional power plants stay in the ground where they won’t pollute the air and water.

That’s what I call an alternate future where lives are saved Doctor Who-style. And it brings us closer to the big-picture ultimate goal for humanity: sustaining a livable, stable climate for planet Earth.

It doesn’t take a time traveler to understand how cause and effect work. Every citizen in Virginia has the potential to rethink the course we’re on and act in favor of the greater good over the long term. We have a narrow window of opportunity to address this future catastrophe. Like the Doctor, we won’t accept injustice and irresponsibility. That’s the lesson I draw from binge-watching the BBC, and to my companions in the struggle for New Power for the Old Dominion, ‘Allons-y,’ ‘Geronimo,’ and let’s fight on.

The Gap Between Environmental Protection and DENR’s Skewed Self-perception

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014 - posted by brian
Vacant responses to public criticism do nothing to lessen the disappointment of a vocal public demanding a safe environment. Above, a Moral Monday protest. Photo courtesy Yash Mori via Flickr/Creative Commons

Vacant responses to public criticism do nothing to lessen the disappointment of a vocal public demanding a safe environment. Above, a Moral Monday protest. Photo courtesy Yash Mori via Flickr/Creative Commons

On Dec. 20, a press release from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources arrived in my inbox. Intended to “help journalists with year-end stories” the release celebrated the agency’s “new mission, customer service improvements and coal ash lawsuits” as being North Carolina’s big environmental stories in 2013.

Among the self-promoted stories of DENR’s accomplishments in the past 12 months is the legal action it took against Duke Energy to address the threat of coal ash contamination from leaky ponds at 14 coal-fired power plants.

Not included, however, is the role that citizens first had in making North Carolina a poster child for the poor regulation of coal ash. And absent is any mention of the questionable settlement proposed by DENR in July that came with a fine of just $99,000 and the requirement that Duke assess the extent of contamination, or other examples where it has failed to put the public before polluters since.

Beyond that, the release – which celebrates the consolidation of barely related divisions and the streamlining of administrative functions with a significantly smaller staff – is an example of how those in charge at DENR have taken to peddling a dangerous misrepresentation of the year the agency has had and the challenges that lie ahead.

With DENR management’s penchant for self-praise, the future must seem pretty bright. But beyond the narrative contrived in media releases, public criticism and displays of distrust in the agency’s direction have become commonplace in North Carolina’s largest newspapers and media outlets. And it’s making the state’s environmental community stronger.
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Appalachian Voices and Partners Challenge Kentucky’s Weakening of Water Pollution Standards for Selenium

Friday, December 13th, 2013 - posted by eric

This two headed trout was deformed by selenium pollution. Today, we have taken action to keep EPA and Kentucky from allowing pollution like this to get worse.

Earlier today Appalachian Voices and a number of partner organizations sued the EPA over their approval of Kentucky’s new, weaker standard for selenium pollution.

Selenium is extremely toxic to fish, and causes deformities and reproductive failure at extremely low levels. The pollutant is commonly discharged from coal mines and coal ash ponds, but currently Kentucky does not regulate its discharge from these facilities.

These new standards were proposed at the behest of coal industry groups, likely motivated by citizen groups’ success at requiring companies in other states to clean up their selenium pollution. We have also seen the state governments of Virginia and West Virginia take steps towards making similar rollbacks to their own standards, making the EPA’s approval of Kentucky’s weakened standards even more alarming.
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Groups Challenge EPA Decision to Gut Clean Water Protections in Kentucky

Friday, December 13th, 2013 - posted by eric

New Guidelines for Coal Mining Pollutant Fail to Protect Waterways and Wildlife

Contacts:
Eric Chance, Appalachian Voices 828-262-1500 eric@appvoices.org
Sean Sarah, Sierra Club 330 338-3740 sean.sarah@sierraclub.org
Doug Doerrfeld, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth 606-784-9226 dartherdoer@gmail.com|
Judy Petersen, Kentucky Waterways Alliance 502 589-8008 Judy@kwalliance.org

Louisville, KY – Today, community and environmental groups took action against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a recent decision allowing Kentucky to weaken its water quality protections for selenium, a pollutant common to mountaintop removal coal mines. This new standard, which tests selenium levels in fish tissue instead of in rivers and streams where mine wastewater is discharged, is strikingly similar to one the Bush Administration rejected as too weak to protect sensitive aquatic species. The lawsuit alleges that the standard fails to meet protections in the Clean Water Act.

“There’s simply no scientific or legal justification for this EPA to approve a standard worse than one rejected by the Bush administration,” said Alice Howell, Chair of the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club. “In doing so, EPA has made a bad situation much worse. The new selenium standard endangers the health of Kentucky’s already compromised waterways while opening the door for other states to do the same.”

In mid-November, the EPA allowed Kentucky to change the way it monitors selenium pollution from surface mines, a change suggested by coal industry lobbyists, who appear to be motivated by citizen groups’ successful enforcement of the existing protections elsewhere in the region.

Selenium pollution is known to accumulate in fish and aquatic wildlife over time, causing deformities and reproductive failures. When a coal company destroys a mountain to get at the coal underneath, much of what’s left is dumped into nearby valleys and streams. This pollutes the local waterways with selenium, among other substances that pose a threat to fish and humans. Valley fills are a major source of the selenium pollution found at mountaintop removal mines.

“We repeatedly urged both EPA and the Commonwealth to have the US Geological Survey and US Fish and Wildlife Service look at the science behind the new standard. Both federal agencies were instrumental in the rejection of the prior Bush administration proposals. Ignoring our pleas, they moved to finalize the new criteria. We felt we had no other option to protect our waterways than to go forward with our legal challenge,” Judy Petersen, executive director of Kentucky Waterways Alliance stated.

In their lawsuit, the groups argue that the EPA decision was arbitrary and capricious. First, EPA violated the Clean Water Act by allowing Kentucky to institute a scientifically indefensible standard that fails to protect sensitive wildlife. Second, both citizens and EPA raised concerns about the difficulty of implementing a fish tissue based standard, yet EPA approved this standard based on a vague letter from Kentucky officials about how the new standard would be enforced. Kentucky’s assurances are not part of Kentucky state law and are thus unenforceable; therefore, EPA is not entitled to rely upon these assurances in approving the new standard.

“This new fish tissue based standard is just a novel way of letting polluters off the hook for poisoning our fish and waterways,” said Eric Chance, water quality specialist for Appalachian Voices. “The main point of this standard is to protect fish, but testing fish tissue can never tell you how many fish the selenium pollution already killed. A fish tissue based standard creates many more problems than just the ones mentioned in the letter EPA relied on to make this decision; I don’t think EPA or Kentucky have seriously thought through how this rule would work in the real world.”

Doug Doerrfeld of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth added, “KFTC and our allies have worked for years to make EPA fully aware of the systemic failures of Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet to protect our commonwealth’s people, waters and environment. In light of this history it is disgraceful that EPA would approve a weakened selenium standard that will not only leave aquatic life at risk but will make citizen enforcement all but impossible.”

This action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Sierra Club, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Appalachian Voices, and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance are represented in this case by Ben Luckett and Joe Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.

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On Heels of USDA Energy Efficiency Loan Program, Appalachian Voices Launches the Energy Savings Action Center

Thursday, December 12th, 2013 - posted by rory
The Energy Savings Action Center is an easy-to-use tool designed to help save money and energy by promoting energy efficiency loan programs through your electric utility.

The Energy Savings Action Center is an easy-to-use tool designed to help save money and energy by promoting energy efficiency loan programs through your electric utility.

On Dec. 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program (EECLP), a new loan program that will provide at least $250 million to rural electric cooperatives each year to develop or expand energy efficiency loan programs for residential and business customers.

To encourage rural electric cooperatives across Appalachia take advantage of the new program, and help the region’s residents save money on their energy bills, Appalachian Voices created the Energy Savings Action Center.

Stephen Johnson of the online publication Electric Co-op Today stressed the importance of the EECLP, stating that “Although energy efficiency measures can reduce home energy use considerably, many consumers and businesses do not invest in them because they lack the capital or financing to do so.”
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Matt Hepler: Charting a Path to Clean Water

Monday, December 9th, 2013 - posted by meredith

By Molly Moore

Photo by Reanna Edwards

Photo by Reanna Edwards

After studying geologic features and data, Matt Hepler maps out a handful of locations in the coal-bearing mountains of southwest Virginia. With a cooler full of empty water bottles, a scientific probe and a pair of waders — just in case — he heads out to monitor water quality in areas impacted by coal mining.

Hepler is the water and enforcement organizer with the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, a Wise County, Va.-based community and environmental advocacy organization. Often accompanied by interns or area residents, he tests backyard creeks and headwaters of local waterways, looking for dangerous levels of heavy metals and other pollutants. When initial readings are troublesome, he sends a water sample to a lab to find out if the levels of toxicants pose a threat to aquatic or human health. If the waterway is contaminated, he educates area residents about potential dangers.

In the coming years, he hopes to see the base of citizens regularly testing waterways across the region grow. Hepler’s top goal, however, is to ensure that this data shapes sound federal and state environmental policies. If rules such as the Office of Surface Mining’s stream buffer zone are strengthened to protect water quality, he says, it will greatly reduce the destruction caused by surface mining.

27 Visionaries

Having grown up in the mountains of Bath County, Va., Hepler prizes the rural lifestyle and is also a member of the RReNEW Collective, a group that facilitates the placement of volunteers with justice-oriented organizations in coal-dependent Virginia counties.

When it comes to advice for the next crop of activists, Hepler speaks from his experiences with court cases and government agencies: “Learn to be very patient because change takes a really long time.” But Hepler is not idly waiting to see problems in his community improve — with each water sample or citizens’ rights workshop, he’s bringing that change a little closer to reality.

To learn about regional water monitoring, visit ACE-project.org. Find more information about Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards at samsva.org and the RReNEW Collective at rrenewcollective.org