Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

Supreme Court Rejects Spruce Mine Mountaintop Removal Case

Monday, March 24th, 2014 - posted by brian
The U.S. Supreme Court won't consider a case alleging the EPA overstepped its authority by retroactively vetoing mountaintop removal permits it deemed unacceptably harmful to water quality.

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t consider a case alleging the EPA overstepped its authority by retroactively vetoing mountaintop removal permits it deemed unacceptably harmful to water quality.

The U.S. Supreme Court says it won’t consider the case of Mingo Logan Coal v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s authority to veto mountaintop removal permits that would cause unacceptable harm to water quality and wildlife.

In this case, the permits in question are for Arch Coal’s Spruce Mine No. 1., which would span more than 2,000 acres and is the largest mountaintop removal mine ever proposed in West Virginia.

The court’s decisions comes almost a year after an appeals court sided with the EPA in the case, which dates back to the agency vetoed permits approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2011.

Appalachian Voices applauds this decision and urges the EPA and the Obama administration to hold strong in their ongoing efforts to protect clean water and Appalachia from mountaintop removal coal mining. As it becomes more difficult for large-scale mountaintop removal projects like the Spruce Mine to move forward, the coal industry will likely become more aggressive and desperate in their attacks.

“The EPA acted in accordance with the law when they vetoed this permit,” says Kate Rooth, Appalachian Voices’ campaign director. “Preserving its ability to do so in the future is critical for protecting vital watersheds and downstream communities threatened by mountaintop removal throughout Appalachia.”

Today’s news is also another indication that the effectiveness of the coal industry’s “war on coal” narrative is waning. Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. shared this statement on his Coal Tattoo post earlier from Jim Hecker of Public Justice — one of the lawyers who worked on the case that initially blocked the Spruce Mine:

“The coal industry has falsely painted the Spruce mine veto as an example of EPA overreach and a ‘war on coal,’ when in fact EPA’s authority to veto this permit is obvious from the face of the statute and EPA’s decision is based on clear scientific evidence of serious environmental harm from mining.”

The yearslong case will now continue in lower courts that have yet to rule on parts of the lawsuit.

The Deadline is Set for EPA Coal Ash Rule

Thursday, January 30th, 2014 - posted by amy
The EPA must finalize the first-ever federal regulation of coal ash by Dec. 19, 2014. The deadline is the result of a settlement between the EPA and a coalition of environmental groups.

The EPA must finalize federal rules regulating the disposal of coal ash by Dec. 19, 2014. The deadline is the result of a settlement between the EPA and a coalition of environmental groups.

By the end of this year, the EPA will finally publish the first-ever federal rule regulating the disposal of coal ash. The agency’s Dec. 19 deadline is the result of a settlement reached today in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice, representing a coalition of environmental groups including Appalachian Voices, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and others.

After five years of delays, multiple rounds of public comments, and mounting evidence of environmental cost and damage to human health from storing coal in unlined ponds and landfills, the rule needed to protect clean water and human health is now in sight. But we only have a date, the rules are yet to be written.

The coal ash spill at TVA’s Kingston plant in 2008 was the alarm bell that drew public, media, and the government’s attention to the very real dangers of this toxic byproduct of coal-fired power plants.

The constituents of coal ash include mercury, selenium, arsenic, lead and others. Storing coal ash in unlined ponds or landfills gives the toxic components the ability to infiltrate into ground waters and contaminate drinking water wells. Contaminated groundwater can also discharge into neighboring streams that may serve as drinking water sources as well as recreational areas for fishing and swimming.

The EPA, states including North Carolina, environmental groups and researchers have documented hundreds of cases of coal ash contamination. In 2010, the EPA considered regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste, the stronger of the two options the agency proposed. But after a lengthy review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), along with pushback from the powerful coal industry, the EPA was asked to consider regulations that would regulate coal ash as solid waste, but not as hazardous.

The interference from OIRA and industry pressured the EPA to modify its proposal based on politics and profit, not on sound science. This is a flawed process that shuts the public out of a black box process. The Center for Effective Government stated:

“It’s almost as though the process is designed to create less protective rules. An agency spends months, sometimes years, writing regulations consistent with statute and responsive to some public need, only to be second-guessed by those without the substantive or technical expertise possessed by the agency that proposed the rule. It’s like replacing all the plumbing in your brand-new house after the walls are painted and the carpets installed – and your plumber is actually an electrician!”

It seems logical that the regulations meant to protect human and environmental health would acknowledge this waste stream as hazardous and regulate it as such. Communities near coal plants have suffered years of increased rates of cancer, neurological disorders, respiratory ailments and other health concerns waiting on the EPA to regulate this threat.

Coal ash is the nation’s second largest industrial waste stream and the benefits of a strong rule regulating where and how it is stored would be immense. The law, strong science and good public policy all support regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste. Will the EPA stand up for environmental and public health?

Click here to learn more about coal ash and stay up-to-date with the rule-making process.

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

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 - posted by eric
Kelly Branch

Kelly Branch and several other tributaries of Callahan Creek, near the town of Appalachia Virginia are the subject of a new lawsuit for selenium pollution. (Photo: SAMS)

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

Callahan Creek flows south through a series of small communities and into the town of Appalachia in Wise County, Va. Along the way it passes a number of coal mines including the Kelly Branch Mine and the Stonega Slurry Impoundment. Last year, the same group of allies initiating this lawsuit filed legal actions for selenium pollution against the operators of both of those facilities. The operator of the Kelly Branch Mine, A&G Coal, submitted a report in response showing that much of the pollution in streams surrounding that mine was coming from old mines on Penn Virginia-owned property. That report is the primary basis of the lawsuit filed today.

Water monitoring by Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) has shown that there are major selenium problems in Callahan Creek and its tributaries including Kelly Branch. Selenium is extremely toxic to fish at very low levels. It causes reproductive failure, deformities and death.

This two headed trout was deformed by selenium pollution.

Pennsylvania-based Penn Virginia owns nearly one-quarter of the land in Wise County and is the county’s largest landholder. Essentially, landholding companies like Penn Virginia operate by leasing their land to mining, natural gas and timber companies and collecting royalties from those companies. Once mines are abandoned, many continue to pollute nearby streams. Currently in Virginia, these types of pollution discharges are not regulated, so there is no one treating or monitoring them. These legacy mining discharges are a major source of pollution in Southwest Virginia and throughout Appalachia, but no one wants to claim responsibility for them. Through this lawsuit we hope to force large landholding companies like Penn Virginia to take responsibility for the pollution coming from the lands they own.

As required by the Clean Water Act, before filing this lawsuit we filed a Notice of Intent to Sue letter in late 2013. The purpose of such letters is to give polluters and state agencies a chance to address the pollution problems before a lawsuit is filed. Rather than trying to fix their pollution problems, Penn Virginia instead chose to use bully tactics and threaten members of SAMS. The company sent cease and desist letters to several members of SAMS banning them from entering Penn Virginia land that includes a family cemetery and a church that several of them attend.

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.

>> Find out more from our press release here
>> Read the legal filing here

The West Virginia Chemical Spill: A Warning for North Carolina

Monday, January 20th, 2014 - posted by amy
The chemical spill in West Virginia should be a wake up call for North Carolinians to demand lawmakers put health and the state's resources ahead of profit-driven industry agendas. Photo by @iwasaround / Flickr

The chemical spill in West Virginia should be a wake up call for North Carolinians to demand lawmakers put health and the state’s resources ahead of profit-driven industry agendas. Photo by @iwasaround / Flickr

There is a lesson in West Virginia’s water crisis for North Carolina policymakers and regulatory agencies akin to the saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. If you look at the changes to and by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2013 and the road ahead, the General Assembly seems resolved to run headlong down a shortsighted path that will lead to the same inevitable consequences.

For years, West Virginia’s lawmakers and environmental regulators have been swayed by coal, chemical and other industries that helped give them influence and power in the first place. Motivated by profit, those industries influence how environmental regulations meant to protect the public are created and enforced. With that influence and a captive audience, they claim that strong environmental protections cost too much and burden the economy.

The North Carolina legislature and the top administrators in DENR are blazing down a similar path toward deregulation trail they call “progress.” But progress for who and toward what? This year, the Regulatory Rules Reform (HB 74) Act, enacted by the General Assembly and overseen through appointed committees, is poised to determine what DENR protections should be re-adopted, which will be changed, and which will expire altogether.

DENR’s regulatory divisions have been underfunded and agency’s staff has been reduced to a skeleton crew but is still expected to perform the monumental job of protecting our environment and public health. Secretary John Skvarla has even publicly mocked environmental groups for being critical of the administration and legislature’s and stated time and again their goal in growing the economy.

Skvarla’s description of DENR as a “customer friendly juggernaut” is actually quite accurate when you realize the “customer” no longer refers to the state’s environment and natural resources, but is now defined as the businesses and industries seeking permits. And since a juggernaut is defined as an “overwhelming, advancing force that crushes or seems to crush everything in its path” then yes, the description in Skvarla’s letter to the editor is accurate. DENR: an unstoppable business-friendly force, willing to crush everything in its path, including its state’s environmental resources and protections enacted to protect citizens right to clean air and water.

Most North Carolinians feel it is the government’s job to ensure safe, clean air and water resources for its citizens. Why do we not see that reflected in lawmakers and regulators’ actions? Maybe it’s because of political donations — in North Carolina, millionaire Art Pope and Duke Energy have used their pocketbooks to influence policy.

The spill in West Virginia should be a wake up call to North Carolinians. Are weaker regulations and fewer environmental protections what we want for our state? Do we want to be in the same position where our industries run roughshod over public health, go largely uninspected and unchecked for decades, and where regulations we do manage to keep fail to provide any meaningful enforceable provisions for accountability?

North Carolinians can change how this story ends. It’s time we demand our lawmakers put citizen’s health and the precious, limited resources of our state ahead of profit-driven industry agendas. As another saying goes, “It doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone down the wrong path, you can always turn around.”

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.

For Patriot Coal, Ending Mountaintop Removal is a “Win-Win”

Thursday, December 26th, 2013 - posted by brian
Having recently emerged from bankruptcy, Patriot Coal CEO Ben Hatfield said the 2012 settlement that forced the company to begin phasing out its mountaintop removal operations proved to be a "win-win."

Having recently emerged from bankruptcy, Patriot Coal CEO Ben Hatfield said the 2012 settlement that forced the company to begin phasing out its mountaintop removal operations proved to be a “win-win.”

A little more than a year ago, amid its bankruptcy proceedings and multiple lawsuits, Patriot Coal announced it would phase out its use of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia as part of a settlement with environmental groups over selenium pollution.

Taken at face value, statements made at that time by Patriot’s CEO Bennett Hatfield held promise that the movement against mountaintop removal, focused on exposing the poor economics as well as the irreversible environmental impacts of the destructive practice, had reached a pivotal turning point.

Hatfield told the court that Patriot recognizes that its mining operations “impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways,” and that ending mountaintop removal will reduce the company’s environmental footprint. But the position the company took on phasing out mountaintop removal was largely strategic and focused on the financial benefits of reducing the company’s risks as it worked through bankruptcy.

A Watched EPA Never Acts: 5 Years After the TVA Coal Ash Disaster

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013 - posted by amy
Graphic courtesy of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy,

Graphic courtesy of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy,

It has been five years since the TVA Coal Ash disaster in Tennessee, which sent 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash into Emory and Clinch rivers. While the nation has watched and petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the agency responsible for issuing federal standards for coal ash disposal, little action has been taken. Perhaps this is similar to the old adage that says “a watched pot never boils.”

On Dec. 22, 2008, the spill alerted many for the first time to the very real threat posed by coal ash impoundments, which can range from 100 to 1,700 acres. While the Kingston spill brought the issue to the forefront, there are also concerns that extend past the threat of a singular catastrophic spill. The slow leakage of contaminated waste into ground and surface waters from unlined coal ash impoundments and landfills has become a major issue across the country, and across the Southeast in particular. Coal ash toxics have leached from impoundments and landfills carrying heavy metals into streams, creeks, lakes and drinking water wells.

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

Friday, November 15th, 2013 - posted by guestbloggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appalachia’s Contested History

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 - posted by meredith

By Bill Kovarik

It has been 50 years since Harry Caudill wrote “Night Comes to the Cumberlands,” a landmark history that rejected stereotypes of Appalachian people as backward hillbillies and described the ruthless exploitation they suffered. The book spoke with eloquence to the American conscience and set off a firestorm of controversy. Within a year, Lyndon Johnson would launch his “war on poverty” from the front porch of an Appalachian cabin.

Labor historian Wess Harris, editor of "When Miners March"- a book about the 1921 battle over labor rights on Blair Mountain - points out flaws in the West Virginia state exhibit on the early 20th century mine wars in central Appalachia during one of his "truth tours" of the museum. Photo by Linda Burton

Labor historian Wess Harris, editor of “When Miners March”- a book about the 1921 battle over labor rights on Blair Mountain – points out flaws in the West Virginia state exhibit on the early 20th century mine wars in central Appalachia during one of his “truth tours” of the museum. Photo by Linda Burton

Coming in the middle of the civil rights movement, Caudill’s book also launched some serious soul-searching about poverty, national sacrifice zones and the worth of people who were in the way of corporations.

Since then, great books about Appalachian history and culture have filled library shelves with descriptions of the suffering poor, the arrogant rich, and the extraordinary cruelty of mining society in the early 20th century.

Not surprisingly, you also find people fighting back all throughout this history — from the Cabin Creek strike of 1912 to the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 to the wildcat 1969 black lung strike, and in the environmental protests of the past four decades against strip mining and then mountaintop removal coal mining. There is, in this, a complete and unbroken fabric of human spirit, fighting in support of mine safety, public health and environmental protection.

Why, then, do critics like Wess Harris say we have such poor public history in West Virginia’s state museum, and why does the state of West Virginia refuse to help protect the Blair Mountain Battlefield?

Perhaps the encouraging part is that history does still matter — for all of us. It matters to educators and to the coal industry and its friends. But it also matters to people in labor and environmental movements. There may be several interpretations of history, but very few people would disagree that basic documents and battlegrounds should be preserved. State institutions nearly always approach this obligation with at least some degree of neutrality – except West Virginia.

What’s different today is that the Rust Belt industries are no longer in a position to control their historical messages. The industry that once held the state of West Virginia tightly in its fist is now rapidly losing its grasp.

It’s a moment when history is needed.

Appalachia’s new historians

Labor historian Wess Harris begins his “truth tours” on the steps of the West Virginia State Museum by telling students: “Welcome to our house.” History belongs to the people, he says, not to the corporations. And he tells them to be wary — there are some squatters from the coal companies inside.

With this somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach, Harris has taken about a thousand students and scholars on his personalized truth tours through the museum in downtown Charleston, W.Va. Tours are free, and Harris has encouraged museum officials to join him. So far, none have.

“You know the idea that if you control people’s past, you can control their future? That’s what this is all about,” he says.

A labor historian and editor of two best-selling books about West Virginia — “When Miners March” and “Dead Ringers” — Harris has been particularly concerned about the company store and mine war exhibits.

The re-creation of the old coal company store involves a counter, a cash register and canned goods from the time, framed by a long description of the role of the company store in the center of a mine community’s life. The stores used to pay miners in “scrip,” which was money that could only be spent at the company store. A song about that by Tennessee Ernie Ford — “I owe my soul to the company store,” —is still widely known. Historians are working out just how deeply and dangerously a miner could go into debt, thanks to the recovery of company store records in Whipple, W.Va.

But at the West Virginia museum, the store is easy to explain: “Like credit cards, scrip allowed some families to fall deeply into debt. Others, however, enjoyed the freedom to purchase expensive items, like washing machines…”

When he learned of the museum’s altered history, Harris was outraged, and he wrote the head of the state museum, Randall Reid-Smith, in 2010. “The treatment of scrip as some sort of favor to the miners is an insult to the people of our state,” Harris wrote.

When the state museum responded by saying his criticism was inaccurate, the head of the United Mine Workers of America, Cecil Roberts, joined Harris in demanding a reconsideration of the exhibit.

“Your presentation makes it seem as if the scrip system was little different from a credit card, where miners and their families could pay off expensive purchases over time,” Roberts wrote. “Nowhere [in the exhibit] is it stated that miners had absolutely no choice as to whether they used scrip or not. Nowhere is it mentioned that going somewhere else instead of the company store to purchase goods and equipment was an offense frequently punishable by a beating from the company’s Baldwin-Felts thugs followed by dismissal from employment and eviction from the company house.”

Roberts was also ignored until he wrote West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who — in the middle of an election campaign in 2011 — ordered the state museum to review the exhibit. They did, and a few words were changed: “Company-issued scrip forced some families deep in debt and gave many companies strict economic control over the lives of their workers. In some communities, however, families were able to purchase expensive items, like washing machines…”

The changes in the exhibits did not pacify the UMWA. “They made some minor modifications to some of the exhibits,” said spokesman Phil Smith in September 2013. “But we still have concerns.”

Other critics also still have concerns. “I remember specific conversations about the need for [the West Virginia] museum to include more bottom-up history, more labor history, and more about the 1960s and the war on poverty,” says Ron Eller of the University of Kentucky. “I remember specifically pointing out that the museum should not just reflect the usual pro-coal, pro-development history of the state but that it should also reflect the history of labor struggles, resistance to environmental destruction, and efforts to address economic challenges, especially poverty, in the state.”

History wars and mine wars

A two-sided timeline of Appalachian history reveals an interesting contrast between events that are well-known and events that are sometimes forgotten.

A two-sided timeline of Appalachian history reveals an interesting contrast between events that are well-known and events that are sometimes forgotten.

It’s easy to see why labor historians are unhappy with the West Virginia State Museum, with exhibits like “U.S. Army Stops Armed Insurrection in West Virginia” and “The Failure of Violence.”

The first is presented in silent movie newsreel fashion in a small mock-up theater. Most of the visuals include miners with guns on one side and U.S. Army troops on the other.

Titles in the silent movie read:

“Over the last year, a near-constant state of war has existed between miners and coal companies. Armed troops have been dispatched repeatedly to quell the bloodshed. The recent flare-up has been sparked by the cold-blooded murder of Matewan police chief Smiling Sid Hatfield — a popular friend of the miner. They are stopped at Blair Mountain by Logan County sheriff Don Chafin and a small army of deputies. The miners and Chafin’s army shoot it out for three days along a 10-mile front. Sixteen men are killed. President Harding dispatches U.S. Army infantry …. The miners, many of them veterans of the Great War, surrender rather than confront their former comrades in arms. Some union leaders are placed under arrest for treason and murder. Most miners are allowed to board trains and return to their families. Thus ends the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest insurrection since the Civil War.”

According to Harris, the entire basis of the exhibit is inaccurate. The union actually tried to call off the march on Blair Mountain in 1921. The Army was called in to separate the miners from the mine guards. Nor does the exhibit present any context for the march, other than the cold-blooded murder by some unnamed individual. No one would know that the murderers were coal mine guards whose co-workers and bosses were on the other side at Blair Mountain. And if the museum is going to say that the union leaders were charged with treason, it ought to add that they were acquitted, Harris says.

There’s another panel about the Battle of Blair Mountain called: “The Failure of Violence.” The exhibit claimed — falsely — that in 1921, union organizers turned to violence so that they could get more union members.

“Ten thousand citizens take up arms (in 1921) to end the slave labor camps … and they call it a failure?” Harris says. “It was a serious challenge to the old system. It was no failure.”

But at the very least, the exhibit notes that the Battle of Blair Mountain was the “largest insurrection since the U.S. Civil War.” Given that, it’s hard to understand the role of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History in challenging historical protection for the Blair Mountain battlefield.

The Battle Over the Battle of Blair Mountain

Blair Mountain is the labor movement’s equivalent of the Gettysburg battlefield. The idea of preserving Blair Mountain has been around for decades, but an on-the-ground history of the battlefield in the 1990s and 2000s helped make the case.
Battle of Blair sign

Over the last 15 years, Harvard Ayers (one of the founders of Appalachian Voices), along with historian Barbara Rasmussen and Blair, W.Va., resident Kenny King, performed formal archaeological surveys of the battlefield and found tens of thousands of bullets and other artifacts. Through the pattern of discoveries, they were able to trace shifting battle lines and show where both mine guards and miners were located.

This evidence helped make the case for a National Historic Landmark designation that, they hoped, would preserve the mountain from mountaintop removal coal mining. Their evidence was impressive enough that the U.S. National Park Service granted the site historic register status in March 2009, a move supported by the UMWA and a variety of environmental and historical preservation groups.

But the listing immediately led to an unprecedented controversy. According to law, a state has to want the designation, and a few months after it was granted, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History wrote to the Park Service asking that the battlefield be de-listed. The state office said it found minor problems with the listing, such as a handful of landowners who had not voted for or against the listing.

Park Service officials then agreed to de-list the site in January of 2010, taking a step that is usually reserved for situations when historic buildings have burned down. No other de-listing has ever taken place for such political reasons, and no explanation was ever forthcoming from the Park Service, which has maintained a stony silence about the incident.

A lawsuit challenging the de-listing was filed by a coalition of environmental and preservation groups in 2010. A court ruled against the coalition in 2012 on a technicality having to do with questions of standing. In the summer of 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would review mining permit applications.

This could mean that the coal industry will be allowed to destroy Blair Mountain. Or, since the Corps of Engineers is supposed to consider the historic value of land to be mined, it could mean more time for Blair Mountain and preservationists who are seeking a reprieve.

Finding closure at the company store

Joy Lynn pictured with a display case of "scrip," a form of money paid to miners which could only be used in the store. Photo by Linda Burton

Joy Lynn pictured with a display case of “scrip,” a form of money paid to miners which could only be used in the store. Photo by Linda Burton

One of West Virginia’s innovative new historians is Joy Lynn, who grew up near the town of Whipple, W.Va. As a child, she was fascinated by an enormous, rambling old wood frame building that seemed to glow with history. “I’m going to own that someday,” she told her father back in the 1950s.

The dream came true in 2006, when she and husband Chuck bought the Whipple Company Store and prepared to open an antique shop. As neighbors dropped by and the word got out, people began touring the old company store, and they started telling stories. Lynn was hooked.

One of the most interesting people to show up at the company store was the former bookkeeper who explained, in detail, how the system of company money — called scrip — and indebtedness actually worked.

Over the years, dozens of others showed up with very human and often harrowing stories to tell. It was not possible to leave town, or to retrieve items from the mail, if you owed the coal company any money, Lynn learned from her visitors. On the other hand, if a husband died, it was not possible for the family to stay unless the mother remarried. She had four weeks, and then the mine guards would evict her and the children.

At the Whipple County Store and Appalachian Heritage Museum, Joy Lynn gathers stories from families with personal connections to the region's coal history.

At the Whipple County Store and Appalachian Heritage Museum, Joy Lynn gathers stories from families with personal connections to the region’s coal history.

The people who experienced this, or sometimes their children, show up almost every day. “Sometimes they just unglue,” Lynn says. One told her: “I realize what you’re doing. You’re letting people find closure in their life.”

Lynn will insist that she’s just a tour guide. But her visitors say something else. “When I came up on this porch you were just a tour guide,” said one. “Now I just want to know if I can hug you.”

Online Feature: Appalachian History Podcasts


Mountain history is alive and well, thanks to historians like Dave Tabler. His blog — — hosts more than 1,300 entries and hundreds of podcasts on topics ranging from mountain music to labor history to personal experiences. “I want to share with my readers and listeners the idea that history is a living thing, a deep reservoir from which to nourish today’s culture, a tool to shape our current notions of what our heritage is and therefore what to do next to preserve and extend it,” Tabler says. Read the full story at

Regional Mountain Photography Contest Seeks Entries for 2014

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 - posted by meredith

By Kimber Ray

"Towers" by Rob Travis won the 2013 Our Ecological Footprint Award

“Towers” by Rob Travis won the 2013 Our Ecological Footprint Award

The 11th annual Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition is now open for registration. competition invites both amateur and professional photographers to “showcase their interpretation of the unique character, people, places and pursuits that distinguish the Southern Appalachians.”

Competition categories include: Adventure, Best in Show, Blue Ridge Parkway: People on the Parkway, Culture, Our Ecological Footprint, Flora/Fauna, Landscape, and People’s Choice. The Our Ecological Footprint category, sponsored by Appalachian Voices and Mast General Store, is a chance for artists and the public to reflect on the human impact on the natural world.

The competition is supported by Virtual Blue Ridge, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Appalachian State University Outdoor Programs, the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, and Mast General Store, among others.

$4,000 in cash and prizes is available; winners will be announced at the end of March, 2014. Approximately 46 entries will be chosen for exhibition at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts in Boone, N.C., from April 4 to June 7. Submission deadline is Nov. 22. There is a $6 fee per image entered. Visit:

A Victory for Clean Water in Kentucky

This September marked a milestone success on the way to upholding the Clean Water Act, as a Kentucky court overruled a lax wastewater discharge permit at a coal-fired power plant in Trimble County. Under the original permit, Louisville Gas and Electric could release toxic coal ash — which contains pollutants such as mercury and arsenic — into the Ohio River.

The case was brought to court by several Kentucky-based environmental groups who asserted that the Kentucky Division of Water had issued a permit that was both unlawful and a threat to public health. The judge ruled that environmental regulators had failed to conduct proper analysis before issuing the permit, and sent it back to the agency for review and correction.

New River Land Trust Awarded Official Accreditation

After three years of rigorous assessment, The New River Land Trust will be joining the ranks of more than 200 of the nation’s most trusted conservation organizations. For its accomplishments in fostering public confidence while ensuring permanent land conservation, the organization has received official accreditation by the national Land Trust Alliance Accreditation Commission.

“By achieving accreditation, the NRLT has become an even more professional and capable land trust organization,” Board President Ann-Margaret Shortt declared in a recent press release. “Our permanence in, and dedication to, the New River region has been proven.”

The land trust has helped protect more than 22 miles of forests and farms along the New River. This year is shaping up to be both busy and fruitful as the group continues to educate landowners on the benefits of devoting their land to conservation.