Posts Tagged ‘Kentucky’

Going to court for clean water

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 - posted by eric
A satellite image on Google Earth, taken October 2013, of a mine in Breathitt County, Kentucky, owned by Frasure Creek Mining.

A satellite image on Google Earth, taken October 2013, of a mine in Breathitt County, Kentucky, owned by Frasure Creek Mining.

Last week, Appalachian Voices and our partners in Kentucky sued Frasure Creek Mining in federal court for more than 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act, amounting to nearly $700 million in potential fines. (Read the press release.)

In 2013 and 2014, Frasure Creek Mining submitted more than 100 reports to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet that contained false water monitoring data. These reports are supposed to be used to make sure companies are meeting the water pollution limits in their permits, but when companies turn in false reports, that task becomes impossible.

In the first quarter of 2014, nearly half of Frasure Creek’s water monitoring reports were false. Most contained data copied from previous reports.

But what if Frasure Creek copied a report that contained violations of their pollution limits? In a few cases where the first report contained violations, the entire report is copied except for the violations.

A few years ago, Frasure Creek was the top producer of coal from mountaintop removal mines in Kentucky. It recently emerged from bankruptcy and in 2014, the company didn’t produce any coal from its 60 Kentucky mines, a fact that doesn’t seem to have affected Frasure Creek’s parent company Essar, or its billionaire owners, Shashi and Ravi Ruia. Although Frasure Creek has stopped producing coal for the time being, its mines continue to produce toxic pollution and continue to wrack up numerous violations from the state for failing to properly reclaim the mines.

Friday’s lawsuit is the next step in what has been a long fight for clean water and proper oversight in Kentucky. We first uncovered similar false reports from Frasure Creek and two other coal companies 2010, and took legal action. Frasure Creek’s earlier violations have yet to be resolved. Late last year, inadequate settlements between Frasure Creek and the Cabinet were thrown out by a Kentucky judge, and that decision is now being appealed.

Appalachian Voices is joined in these efforts by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and the Waterkeeper Alliance. The citizens’ groups are represented by Mary Cromer of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, attorney Lauren Waterworth, and the Pace Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic.

Read past posts about our clean water lawsuits in Kentucky.

Groups Sue Kentucky Mining Company

Friday, March 13th, 2015 - posted by cat

Contacts:
Eric Chance, Appalachian Voices, 828-262-1500, eric@appvoices.org
Ted Withrow, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, 606-782-0998, tfwithrow@windstream.net
Pat Banks, Kentucky Riverkeeper, 859-200-7442, kyriverkeeper@eku.edu
Pete Harrison, Waterkeeper Alliance, 828-582-0422, pharrison@waterkeeper.org
Adam Beitman, Sierra Club, 202-675-2385, adam.beitman@sierraclub.org

Pikeville, Ky. – A coalition of citizens groups today filed a federal lawsuit against Frasure Creek Mining, LLC, for submitting to the state more than 100 false water pollution monitoring reports from its Kentucky coal mines. The false reports amount to nearly 20,000 violations of the federal Clean Water Act and carry a total maximum penalty of more than $700 million.

>> The lawsuit is available here.(pdf)

The violations occurred at Frasure Creek’s mountaintop removal coal mines in Floyd, Magoffin, Pike and Knott counties in Eastern Kentucky. Frasure Creek, formerly the state’s top producer of coal from mountain top removal mining, is a subsidiary of Essar Group, a multi-billion dollar international corporation based in India. In November, the groups sent Frasure Creek a “notice of intent” to sue after at least 60 day, as required by the Clean Water Act.

“By all indications, this case looks like the biggest criminal conspiracy to violate the federal Clean Water Act in the history of that law,” said Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison.

The pollution discharge monitoring reports are supposed to be used by state regulators to ensure companies stay within the permitted limits for pollutants. The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, however, failed for years to take action on Frasure Creek’s mounting violations.

The mining company has a history of similar false reporting. Almost five years ago, citizens’ groups uncovered falsified pollution reports, which led to two cases against Frasure Creek that have yet to be resolved. In both cases, the cabinet reached slap-on-the-wrist settlements with the company, preempting citizen involvement. In December, a Kentucky judge threw out those settlements. The cabinet is now appealing that ruling.

In January, 59 days after the groups revealed the company’s latest violations, the cabinet took administrative action against the company. The groups have filed to intervene in that action to try to ensure the state appropriately enforces the law.

“Frasure Creek is using false reports to mask serious pollution problems,” said Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist for Appalachian Voices. “And the cabinet is failing in its duty to enforce the law and protect the people of Eastern Kentucky from dangerous pollution, which is why citizens’ groups have had to step up and do the job through lawsuits like this one.”

“Our state officials have turned a blind eye to what is obviously serious problem,” said Ted Withrow, a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and retired Big Sandy River basin coordinator for the Kentucky Division of Water. “False reporting is widespread within the coal industry, but state regulators have little incentive to identify problems like these when there are false reports that make everything look great.”

“Coal jobs may be leaving the state, but the industry’s legacy of environmental damage is here to stay,” said Pat Banks, Kentucky Riverkeeper. “With declining coal production, we need to be more diligent than ever to make sure companies can’t cut corners at the expense of local residents and the environment. We need healthy people and a healthy environment for Eastern Kentucky to be able to flourish.”

“Self-reported data is the backbone of Clean Water Act enforcement,” said Alice Howell, of the Sierra Club’s Cumberland (Kentucky) Chapter. “When companies like Frasure Creek submit false data it completely undermines all the protections we have in place to make sure our water is safe.”

The citizens groups — Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance – are represented by Mary Cromer of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, attorney Lauren Waterworth, and the Pace Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic.

Groups Seek to Ensure Ky. Enforces Clean Water Law

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - posted by cat

Contacts:

  • Eric Chance, Appalachian Voices, 828-262-1500, eric@appvoices.org
  • Ted Withrow, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, 606-782-0998 (c), tfwithrow@windstream.net
  • Pat Banks, Kentucky Riverkeeper, 859-200-7442, kyriverkeeper@eku.edu
  • Pete Harrison, Waterkeeper Alliance, 828-582-0422, pharrison@waterkeeper.org
  • Adam Beitman, Sierra Club, 202-675-2385, adam.beitman@sierraclub.org

Frankfort – A coalition of citizens groups today filed a motion to intervene in a state enforcement action against Frasure Creek Mining for violating the Clean Water Act at its coal mining operations in eastern Kentucky. Last November, the groups identified thousands of instances where Frasure Creek had falsified water pollution discharge monitoring reports and sent the company a notice of their intent to sue. In response, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet filed a complaint against Frasure Creek for these violations in the agency’s administrative court.

The groups are seeking to intervene in the state’s enforcement action to ensure that Frasure Creek is held fully accountable for the violations, and that the state secures sufficient corrective action, which is particularly important because of the company’s past violations. In 2010, citizens’ groups had uncovered similarly falsified discharge monitoring reports by Frasure Creek, and sent the company a notice of intent to sue to enforce the Clean Water Act. The state stepped in, pre-empting the lawsuit, and reached a settlement with Frasure Creek that amounted to a slap on the wrist. The settlement was thrown out by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd in December, but the state has appealed.

“The cabinet’s previous enforcement actions were clearly too weak, because Frasure Creek has returned to its practice of covering up pollution violations by re-using old data,” said Eric Chance, Water Quality Specialist for Appalachian Voices. “We want to make sure enforcement is adequate this time.”

“The people of Kentucky deserve clean water, and companies need to know that they can’t hide behind an agency that accepts false reports,” said Ted Withrow, a former cabinet employee, now a volunteer for Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

“Frasure Creek is not the only company turning in false reports to the state, and the cabinet needs to make an example out of them,” said Kentucky Riverkeeper Pat Banks. “Without accurate information, how can we expect to have real enforcement, or know if our water is safe?”

Today’s motion to intervene was sent by Appalachian Voices, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Waterkeeper Alliance and the Sierra Club. The groups are represented by Mary Cromer of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, attorney Lauren Waterworth, and the Pace Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic.

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Déjà vu in Kentucky clean water cases

Monday, February 23rd, 2015 - posted by eric

frasure_creek

Appalachian Voices and our partners have filed a motion to intervene in a case between the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet and Frasure Creek Mining to ensure clean water laws are being enforced in Kentucky.

Late last year we filed a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue against Frasure Creek after we uncovered thousands of false water monitoring reports the company turned into the state.

The Kentucky cabinet was unaware of these false submissions and responded by filing an administrative complaint against Frasure Creek covering all of the false data we found, a common tactic for state agencies to prevent citizen involvement in this type of case. Now, we are filing a motion to become parties to the cabinet’s enforcement action.

To anyone following our lawsuits against Frasure Creek, these recent developments will sound familiar. This isn’t the first time we’ve caught the company turning in false water monitoring reports. Frasure Creek was one of three Kentucky coal companies we filed legal actions against in 2010 and 2011 for submitting falsified pollution reports that were concealing water quality violations.

In all of those cases the cabinet stepped in with slap-on-the-wrist settlements, compelling us to intervene in cases where we had brought the violations to light. The only difference in this case is that Frasure Creek and the cabinet have yet to reach a settlement, so we haven’t seen how lax the enforcement will be this time around.

Both of the cabinet’s previous settlements with Frasure Creek were thrown out by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd last December. In a scathing opinion, Shepherd stated that when “one company so systematically subverts the requirements of law, it not only jeopardizes environmental protection on the affected permits, it creates a regulatory climate in which the Cabinet sends the message that cheating pays.”

Judge Shepherd’s rulings are being appealed by the cabinet (think about that, the state agency, not Frasure Creek, is asking for an appeal). But we are hoping that this time around the cabinet will take us seriously, and won’t reach a weak settlement or resort to legal run-arounds to prevent citizen involvement. After all aren’t our state agencies supposed to be accountable to the people, not to the corporations they are supposed to regulate?

Appalachian Voices is joined in these efforts by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and the Waterkeeper Alliance. The citizens’ groups are represented by Mary Cromer of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, attorney Lauren Waterworth, and the Pace Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic.

Read past posts about our clean water lawsuits in Kentucky. Subscribe to the Front Porch Blog to receive regular updates.

The Kentucky Creative Industry Report

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Dac Collins

Arts advocates were thrilled when the Kentucky Arts Council released the Kentucky Creative Industry Report this winter, the first report of its kind to fully acknowledge the contribution of the creative industry to the state’s economy.

The creative industry accounts for $1.9 billion in annual state revenue and approximately 2.5 percent of all employment in the state, providing about 60,000 jobs. That is roughly equivalent to the amount of jobs created by the information technology and communications industry and it is significantly more than the estimated 12,000 workers directly employed by Kentucky’s coal mining industry.

This 2.5 percent includes traditional artists, such as painters, musicians and writers, as well as non-traditional artists, such as web designers, advertisers and architects.

Bob Stewart, secretary of the state Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet, says the report finally gives supporters of the arts “the data we need to prove the arts’ significance economically.”

Funding Cuts for Hazardous Waste Management

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By W. Spencer King

Starting this year, Kentucky’s hazardous waste management fund will have $1 million less to work with annually.

Some contaminated sites, such as old fuel refineries, will be abandoned due to the tight budget. Tim Hubbard, assistant director of Kentucky’s Division of Waste Management, told WDRB News that money being cut from the budget was set aside in case of an expensive hazardous waste emergency.

Officials say funding cuts will make it difficult for the state to coordinate cleanups and monitor hazardous sites that are not considered a federal priority.

The state legislature will vote to reauthorize the fund in June 2016.

The “Pinnacles” of Berea

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Nick Mullins

The winter sun breaks through the clouds over Baker Hollow, one of the many striking vistas found along the 9-mile Indian Fort Mountain trail system. Photo by Nick Mullins

The winter sun breaks through the clouds over Baker Hollow, one of the many striking vistas found along the 9-mile Indian Fort Mountain trail system. Photo by Nick Mullins

Journeying thirty miles south of Lexington on I-75, the low, undulating hills of Kentucky farmland transform into forested mountains rising to the meet the sky. Tucked against the edge of the Cumberland Plateau sits Berea, a small town that began as a settlement of abolitionists seeking to teach their message that “God has made of one blood all peoples of the Earth.” Berea is now known for the college of the same name founded in 1855 that provides a tuition-free liberal arts education to students of limited means, and for the town’s thriving arts and crafts industry.

Of the many extraordinary things Berea is known for, few realize too that Berea is home to Kentucky’s largest privately managed forest — more than 8,400 acres owned by the college and maintained by the wonderful folks in their forestry department. What’s more, the forest contains a variety of natural landmarks, many of which are accessible to the public through nearly 12 miles of trail networks, including 9 miles that traverse Indian Fort Mountain.

At 8 a.m., I’m the first one in the parking lot of the Indian Fort Theatre, which serves as the primary trailhead to the Indian Fort Mountain trail system and the scenic “Pinnacles.” The night brought with it a fresh snow that covers the trees. Small clumps fall to the ground as a slight breeze shuffles the leafless canopy of limbs and branches. My lungs are invigorated as I take a deep breath of the clean, crisp air and the foggy breath I exhale signals the beginning of my trip into solitude.

Tracks of squirrel and rabbit cross the path in front of me. The first half-mile of the trail begins with a gentle grade and a small creek crossing before climbing steeply up several switchbacks that cause my heart to pump harder and harder.

I pause to take my outer jacket off and listen to the near silence of the snow, interrupted only by a small creaking from the canopy above. I continue upward to the first split in the trail, one of the first choices that heighten the sense of adventure on the mountain. After only a short hesitation, I choose to go right, making the East Pinnacle my first destination.

The trail wraps around the mountainside and makes for a pleasant walk before climbing further to the next split. Small pines droop over the trail under the weight of ice and new snow, some bobbing up and down as I brush past them.

Halfway along the ridge, fox tracks join the trail and keep me company, stopping only once from their stride to perhaps observe a sound before continuing on. I emerge from the darkness of the pines onto the rocks that form the East Pinnacle. Cold wind from the valley rushes up to meet me as I stand exposed on the bluff. I look down upon the homes dotting a patchwork of farms below, watching thin blue lines of smoke rise from their chimneys.

The silent cold of winter sharply contrasts with the sounds of Mountain Day from years past, when dozens of Berea College students gather on the East Pinnacle to hear the college’s choir sing as the sun rises from beneath the distant mountains. I close my eyes to see the brilliant reds and yellows of fall and the bright smiles of people clapping and dancing to fiddle music after the choir has finished singing up the sun.

HH_Berea_woods

I trek the half-mile back to the last split in the trail, this time taking the Lookout Trail where another steep climb quickens my breath with a variety of switchbacks. Reaching the top of Robe Mountain I consider my choices of trails and destinations. The Eagle’s Nest or the Buzzard’s Roost? Perhaps the Devil’s Kitchen to see the icy cliffs and unique rock formations? Or I could make my way to the Indian Fort Overlook or the West Pinnacle to watch the town of Berea waking from beneath the blanket of snow. I choose just to make a choice, each trail beckoning me, each bend adding eager curiosity to my hastening steps crunching through the fresh snow.

A former coal miner, Nick Mullins attends Berea College and is a volunteer distributor of The Appalachian Voice. Together with his wife and their two children, the Mullins family spends their summers speaking out against mountaintop removal coal mining through the Breaking Clean Tour. Nick is also known for his blog The Thoughtful Coal Miner.

INDIAN FORT MOUNTAIN

Difficulty: Ranges from easy to difficult
Mileage: Trails total 9 miles with a variety of options and distances
Cost: Free and open to the public
Contact: (859) 985-3587

To protect or prosecute polluters?

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 - posted by eric
Water flowing from one of the discharge points in eastern Kentucky where Frasure Creek Mining was turning in false water monitoring reports.

Water flowing from one of the discharge points in eastern Kentucky where Frasure Creek Mining was turning in false water monitoring reports.

Last week the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet filed an administrative complaint against Frasure Creek Mining for hundreds of violations of the Clean Water Act at its mines in eastern Kentucky.

The filing comes just days before the end of the 60-day waiting period following an intent to sue letter sent by Appalachian Voices and our partners to Frasure Creek and the cabinet last November. Our notice letter described our discovery that the coal company had falsified pollution records over the course of 2013 and 2014, racking up almost 28,000 violations that state regulators failed to notice.

The cabinet’s filing includes all of the violations identified by Appalachian Voices and our partners. Under the Clean Water Act, the state’s action essentially preempts our ability to pursue a federal lawsuit.

Four years ago, when we first revealed that Frasure Creek had been falsifying records, the cabinet preempted our lawsuit by reaching a settlement with the company without our knowledge or participation. Later we were allowed to intervene in the settlement between the cabinet and Frasure Creek, a right which was upheld by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Because the cabinet only filed a complaint and not a settlement in the latest case, we do not know how vigorous its enforcement will be. But if past enforcement is any guide, then one could expect it will not be very strong. The cabinet’s earlier enforcement actions against Frasure Creek were so paltry that they were thrown out in a recent court ruling, and were clearly not strong enough to ensure that Frasure Creek was in compliance since the company returned to submitting false water monitoring reports.

We will have to wait and see if the cabinet is going to take its responsibility to protect the people and water of Kentucky from dangerous pollution seriously. In the meantime, Appalachian Voices and our partners will continue to do whatever we can to ensure that Frasure Creek and other polluters are held accountable for their actions.

Appalachian Voices is joined in these efforts by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and the Waterkeeper Alliance. The citizens’ groups are represented by Mary Cromer of Appalachian Citizens Law Center, attorney Lauren Waterworth, and the Pace Law School Environmental Litigation Clinic.

An interview with Christopher Scotton, author of “Secret Wisdom of the Earth”

Thursday, January 8th, 2015 - posted by brian
Christopher Scotton. Photo courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.

Christopher Scotton. Photo courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.

By Brian Sewell

“Secret Wisdom of the Earth,” the debut novel by Christopher Scotton released this week, is a coming-of-age story that takes familiar themes — tragedy and the quest to find healing — and explores them with the backdrop of a Central Appalachian community beset by mountaintop removal coal mining.

Set in 1985 in the fictional Medgar, Ky., a richly conceived town full of even richer characters, “Secret Wisdom of the Earth” traces the summer 14-year-old Kevin Gillooly spent at his mother’s childhood home in the mountains, as he comes to grips with the tragic death of his younger brother.

With Kevin as the narrator, Scotton weaves together stories spanning generations of Medgar residents, close friends and unabashed enemies, including many who are struggling with questions of identity and whether or not to abide by the bounds of tradition.

Mountaintop removal, at first, is depicted as a pervasive but rarely-seen evil encroaching on Medgar, with a prideful, blustering coal baron acquiring more and more land surrounding the town. Ultimately, however, it’s the friction created in the small community by mountaintop removal that precipitates a spellbinding story of family, friendship and overcoming the odds that will change Kevin’s life and the town of Medgar forever.

Released on Jan. 6, the ambitious novel is popping up on lists of new and noteworthy titles and editor’s picks. On Jan. 11, Scotton will start a 15-date reading tour, stopping in many cities in Appalachia and across the Southeast.

After reading an early release of the novel, we spoke with Scotton about its heartrending themes, its Appalachian setting and his enduring relationship to the region.

Brian Sewell: You started working on the novel more than a decade ago. Looking back, can you talk about how you initially conceived of the story and went about shaping it into the novel we get to enjoy today?

Christopher Scotton: The kernel of the idea came to me when I was in my twenties. I met a friend’s mother, who was this beautiful women that had this intrinsic sadness about her. I don’t know if you’ve met people like that that have a facade of happiness, but in their unguarded moments you can see that there’s something not quite right. I asked my friend about it and he told me the story of how his older brother died. This was before he was born and his older brother was three and died in the most horrific accident in their front yard that you could possibly imagine, and 30 years later the mom who witnessed it still hadn’t healed. I was so absolutely aghast by that and I knew I had to write a novel about it; how could you ever possibly heal from that?

Now that I’ve become a parent many years later I can understand exactly why she would often look through me when I was talking to her at some place in the past. And now I know why, because you can’t fully heal from something like that. That spurred the idea in my head to write a novel about that awful tragedy and its effect on a family. I wanted to write a coming of age novel so I thought that having Kevin as the narrator, having him recover from that tragedy I figured would make a good story. A parent could never really recover, but maybe a sibling could.

The next question was setting. Do I locate it in the suburbs, where I grew up? When I was in my twenties, I was doing a lot of backpacking, camping and backcountry survival stuff with my college friends and I just fell in love with Appalachia. As I visited the region, I just fell in love with the people and the mountains. It’s such a beautiful place. I went down to eastern Kentucky and realized the paradox of that particular part of Appalachia and thought it would make a good backdrop for Kevin’s story.

I really didn’t connect mountaintop removal to it right away. I had started writing a story centered in eastern Kentucky. The tragedy was there, I had developed the characters, but I hit a narrative logjam and nothing was connecting. I went down to eastern Kentucky for research again and saw my first mountaintop removal mine and could not believe that this practice was allowed to go on. Once I saw that, it all clicked in; the permanent loss of the mountains in eastern Kentucky became so obviously allegorical to the loss that the main characters feel. Once I connected those two together, the rest of the story flowed so easily.

BS: Tell us about some of the other characters such as Kevin’s grandfather Pops that we really get to know. Did they emanate from the setting itself or personal experiences?

CS: I spent a lot of time in eastern Kentucky just meeting folks and listening to their stories and getting to know them. In small towns throughout Appalachia, you just meet wonderful, quirky, interesting people who you want to write about because they’re so real and interesting. You also meet some awful people, just like everywhere else. You meet wonderful people and awful people in New York City too. There are pockets of beauty and pockets of evil absolutely everywhere. A lot of the town characters that I wrote about are just folks that I observed and met while in Kentucky.

“Secret Wisdom of the Earth”, the debut novel of Christopher Scotton, is out this week. Cover photo courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.

“Secret Wisdom of the Earth”, the debut novel of Christopher Scotton, is out this week. Cover photo courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.

I didn’t have a grandfather like Pops in my life when I was an adolescent. Pops is the grandfather I wish I had and the grandfather that I hope to become; a kind of amalgamation of those two people. Everyone needs a wise mentor in their life and I didn’t have one growing up. Kevin certainly requires it given the tragedy he’s gone through. Adolescence is hard enough, even in the best of circumstances. But when you’ve gone through something like he’s gone through and layer on the guilt from his father, you need someone who can ground you, and Pops definitely does that for him.

BS: Characters like Pops challenge the simplistic images of Appalachian prevalent in media and pop culture. Could you remark on the different brands of wisdom found in the book?

CS: You could argue that in the novel there are several stereotypical characters; Paul is a gay hairdresser and you can’t get much more stereotypical than that. But the reality is that there are elements of truth in stereotypes and you see that everywhere. One thing that my trips down to eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia really taught me is that, sure, there are stereotypical folks in that region but there are many folks that don’t fit that mold and they’re probably there in equal measure. There is wisdom in both.

Pops is someone who loves the land and has the capacity to listen to the earth. He goes off by himself into the woods and just is, existing in the woods by himself. At times in my life when I have done that, when I’m off camping by myself for a few days, I listen to the earth and appreciate the earth in ways that you can’t from an office or even camping with friends. You gain so much wisdom and appreciation for how complex and interconnected the earth is when you do that.

The people in Appalachia tend to be rich just in and of itself. If a capable writer can create good characters, they can do that in any setting and any plot. Appalachia gave me great material to work with and I’m very thankful for that.

BS: You introduce mountaintop removal from an almost innocent perspective. From Kevin’s perspective it’s this off-in-the-distance, over-a-couple-of-ridgelines thing going on. But as you get deeper into the book and Kevin grows into the community, you get closer and closer to the destruction.

CS: Kevin’s experience with mountaintop removal is very similar to mine. I visited the region, eastern Kentucky specifically, three or four times before I had seen a mountaintop removal mine. I had been camping and backpacking extensively but never come across it. You really don’t see it until you get off-trail. I had no sense of what was going on.

I was down in Williamson, W.Va., and heard an explosion and asked someone what’s going on and they described the blasting. That Sunday, I snuck through a fence and climbed through the woods and came to the edge of the operation and looked over two miles of moonscape. It disgusted me. So Kevin’s experience was very much my experience.

BS: Something the novel does well, considering when it takes place, is looking at mountaintop removal as a human issue and a little-understood emerging threat that’s dividing the communities where it’s taking place.

CS: After I saw the mountaintop removal mine, I probably asked someone, “Do you have any idea what they’re doing up there?” But you talk to someone whose family member works up there, they have a very different perspective. I was struck by how it divided the folks that I talked to. I thought that was a really sad and interesting aspect of it. Those that live near it and have the put up with the devastation often hate it, but some of them have relatives that work in the mines so it really is a sad paradox.

Now the pendulum has swung to where, in towns beset by large mining operations, there seems to be a majority of folks that really don’t want it there. It’s gotten so far out of control and the damage is so well documented by organizations like yours. Certainly in 1985, when the novel takes place, and even in 2000, when I was doing the bulk of the mountaintop removal site work, there was less understanding of the damage.

BS: What’s your relationship to the region after writing “Secret Wisdom of the Earth?”

CS: Calling it a second home wouldn’t be accurate because I don’t visit as much as I would like. But I feel a kinship with eastern Kentucky and with the people there because, without their help and support and endorsement, I couldn’t have created this world in my head to tell Kevin’s story. I feel a tremendous connection to that region and the people. I’m so looking forward to spending time in the region and getting to know it again.

BS: You’re heading back to the region to do a reading soon. Have you gotten a lot of positive feedback from readers in Appalachia?

CS: A lady from a major coal-mining county in Kentucky who told me, “You did this region proud.” That was the best praise I think I’ve gotten — from someone who is from the area and felt I did the region justice, dealing with the region with humanity and with truth.

Kentucky Town Earns Hiking Distinction

Friday, December 19th, 2014 - posted by allison

By Kimber Ray

State tourism maps will feature a new destination now that Olive Hill, located in Carter County, is Kentucky’s fourth official Trail Town. The honorary ceremony held this November marked more than two years of collaboration between citizen volunteers and city and state park officials on efforts to enhance the town’s outdoor and downtown assets, including a new 8.3-mile trail that joins Olive Hill to Carter Caves State Resort Park.

The Kentucky Trail Town Program, created in 2012, supports more diverse economies by encouraging towns to connect to state park trail systems. Designated towns qualify for grant assistance and are also promoted in highway signage, visitor guides and online.
Visit: kentuckytourism.com/outdoor-adventure/sites-services