Posts Tagged ‘Mountaintop Removal’

Communities at Risk from Mountaintop Removal

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

comm-at-risk

Even as Appalachian coal production declines, mountaintop removal coal mining is encroaching on many communities in the region, according to an analysis and interactive mapping tool developed by Appalachian Voices, the publisher of The Appalachian Voice.

Appalachian Voices staff identified 50 regional communities that they deemed most at-risk based on proximity to mountaintop removal mining and the rate at which mining activity has been increasing. Krypton, Ky., Bishop, W.Va., and Roaring Fork, Va. were identified as the top three communities at risk, while the three counties that contain the highest number of at-risk communities are Pike County, Ky., Wise County, Va., and Boone County, W.Va.

Among the findings:

• Communities where mountaintop removal mine encroachment is increasing suffer higher rates of poverty and are losing population more than twice as fast as nearby rural communities with no mining in the immediate vicinity;

• Southwest Virginia had a disproportionate concentration of at-risk communities on the list (20 percent), but accounted for only eight percent of Central Appalachia’s surface mine coal production in 2014; and

• Communities that face the greatest threat are in areas where high-quality metallurgical coal is mined using mountaintop removal, particularly far southern West Virginia. Sixty percent of all central Appalachian surface mining occurred in 11 West Virginia counties in 2014, and the state contained nearly half of the 50 at-risk communities.

Much of the expanding surface mining is for metallurgical coal used to make steel, as opposed to thermal coal used in power plants. Metallurgical coal is usually exported overseas, says Appalachian Voices Program Director Matt Wasson, who developed the methodology for the web tool.

“The human suffering and environmental destruction from mountaintop removal mining won’t just disappear as America’s aging power plants retire,” he says. “It’s incumbent on the Obama administration to help revive this region that has powered the nation’s economic ascendancy for generations, starting with ending mountaintop removal mining.”

Major national news about the Appalachian coal mining region has focused on coal company bankruptcies, mine layoffs and steep declines in coal production since 2012 — the year that production from the Marcellus Shale made natural gas a more economically viable source of energy than Appalachian coal.

Prior to 2012, however, the dominant news story out of the region was the environmental and human impact of mountaintop removal coal mining and the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the impact of the practice.

Mountaintop removal is a controversial form of large-scale surface coal mining that involves using explosives to blast the tops off of mountains to access thin seams of coal. Over the past six years, dozens of scientific papers have linked mountaintop removal to human and environmental impacts that range from increased rates of cancer and birth defects among people living near these mines, to high levels of pollutants in downstream water supplies and the disappearance of entire orders of aquatic organisms from mine-impacted streams.

Appalachian Voices developed the map and identified the 50 communities most at risk using Google Earth Engine, U.S. Geological Survey data, publicly available satellite imagery, mining permit databases and mapping data and consultation from Skytruth. The mapping tool was developed for iLoveMountains.org on behalf of The Alliance for Appalachia. Explore the map at CommunitiesAtRisk.org

On the Front Lines

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion
Inman Park was built by local residents and “never cost the town a penny,” says Ben Hooper of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Photo by Erin Savage

Inman Park was built by local residents and “never cost the town a penny,” says Ben Hooper of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Photo by Erin Savage

When mountaintop removal threatened to surround the tiny town of Inman, Va., residents pushed back

By Molly Moore

At the top of Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky, Highway 160 crosses into Virginia and winds between Looney Ridge and Ison Rock Ridge. When it reaches a narrow valley, the road follows Looney Creek through the quiet mountain community of Inman, Va.

Inman consists of a tidy park, a well-kept Baptist chapel, several brick public housing apartments, and a collection of about 50 modest homes. A forested slope rises steeply on each side of the narrow valley.

Yet behind this “beauty strip” sprawls a 3,000-acre mountaintop removal coal mine that runs the length of Inman and beyond, carving the top off of Black Mountain.

“Strip mining was controversial in the ‘70s here, but it was in no way as destructive as taking the entire top off of mountains,” says Ben Hooper, president of the community organization Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. He was born in an Inman coal camp house — the community was owned by a coal company until 1976. When he was a child, Looney Creek was still full of fish. Kids would gather minnows to sell as bait to the coal miners traveling to and from the mines. But there are no fish now, and the creek is on the federal list of impaired waterways.

The onset of mountaintop removal mining on Looney Ridge in the early 2000s changed life in Inman. Blasting damaged homes and shook pictures off the walls, and toxic dust from the mining operations coated cars and buildings. And then, on an August night in 2004, mine operators widening an access road without a permit dislodged a half-ton boulder that crashed 649 feet down the mountainside and into the home of three-year-old Jeremy Davidson, killing him in his sleep before stopping at the base of his brother’s bed.

The tragedy rallied opponents of mountaintop removal, and spurred the formation of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, based in the nearby town of Appalachia, Va.

Ben Hooper of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Photo by Erin Savage

Ben Hooper of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. Photo by Erin Savage

In 2007, A&G Coal Corp., which owns the Looney Ridge operation, applied for a permit to mine 1,230 acres on Ison Rock Ridge, located on the other side of Inman. The mine would come as close as 100 yards from the backyards of many Inman residents, and perilously close to four other communities.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards led opposition to the permit, and for eight years community members spoke out against the proposal.

SAMS member Judy Needham lives on the other side of Ison Rock Ridge from Inman, in Andover, a place she describes as “a community where families congregate together.” She and her husband have cousins, siblings, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the surrounding towns. Her great-grandchildren live in the town of Appalachia, at the foot of Ison Rock Ridge. “If [mountaintop removal] continues, they will never know of the mountains,” she says.

For years, Needham participated in community meetings and events opposing the permit. She recalls driving around the area to notify residents of an upcoming rally at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality office, and the successful effort to bring the area’s congressman, Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., to Wise County to show him the proximity of the proposed mine to surrounding communities.

Local activists, with the support of allies from around the region, also visited congressional representatives and federal agencies in Washington, D.C., to talk about their experience with mountaintop removal — the blasting, the dust, the lost landscapes — and voice their opposition to the Ison Rock permit.

“You have to do what’s right, and I feel that the mountains are sacred,” says Needham. “If you look how many times mountains are in the Bible, they’re sacred. They’re refuge, they’re habitat.”

comm-at-risk

A new interactive map shows that, even as Appalachian coal production declines, mountaintop removal coal mining is encroaching on many communities in the region.

She notes that while some area residents are unwilling to speak out against mountaintop removal publicly because they have relatives whose livelihoods are linked to coal, she has received many private words of thanks for her activism. Nobody has ever disturbed the “Save Ison Rock Ridge” sign that has hung on her fence for years, she says with community pride evident in her voice.

The state initially approved the Ison Rock permit in 2010, but A&G Coal ran into trouble for water quality violations and bond issues at some of their existing mine operations, including Looney Ridge, that needed to be resolved before the state would let the Ison Rock Ridge permit move forward.

According to Matt Hepler, an Inman resident who works with SAMS, water quality concerns and poor reclamation of mined lands are commonplace at operations owned by Jim Justice, the West Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate who owns Southern Coal, the parent company of A&G Coal.

“In the past two years [Justice] has amassed countless violations in every single state … West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia,” Hepler says. In 2014, three Justice-owned companies in Tennessee received 39 federal cessation orders for various environmental and road maintenance violations, and a 2014 investigation by NPR and Mine and Safety Health News found that Justice owed more than $2 million in unpaid safety fines.

View the interactive map of other communities at risk from mountaintop removal here.

The 3,000-acre mountaintop removal coal mine on Looney Ridge stops just 300 feet from the yards of Inman residents. Photo by Erin Savage

The 3,000-acre mountaintop removal coal mine on Looney Ridge stops just 300 feet from the yards of Inman residents. Photo by Erin Savage

In Inman and nearby communities, Justice’s poor track record has contributed to the pollution in Looney Creek, and has residents such as Hepler questioning whether the company will properly reclaim Looney Ridge. But that same poor record also helped halt the threat of mining on Ison Rock Ridge.

In 2013, the state of Virginia denied the permit for Ison Rock after A&G Coal failed to address their outstanding issues. Due in part to pressure from local citizens and from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the state made a final decision to deny the permit in March 2015. A&G Coal exhausted its appeal options in April 2015.

“It is such a relief, to know that, for right now, that we’re not going to have to fight this battle,” Needham says. “I don’t think A&G will ever apply [for a permit here] again because of the way the conditions are for coal right now.”

Yet if demand for coal rises, coal companies could apply for new mining permits on Ison Rock Ridge.

“A huge percentage of the land in Wise County is not held by private citizens but actually large landholding companies, and many of them will lease this land out to the coal companies,” says Hepler. “The fight’s never going to be completely over as long as [the outside companies are] owning this land.”

Ben Hooper says the group will stay vigilant. “We’re just not going to let another ridge — and one of the few that we have left — be destroyed like Looney Ridge was,” he says. “The community now would like to look at helping with the recovery on Looney Ridge.”

“Most people here grew up without [a] voice,” Hooper says of the effort to empower local residents “If you spoke against anything that the coal mine wanted to do you could be sat out in the street, you know, in the old coal camps. But even after that they had so much control that you didn’t speak against the coal mines. And it was just letting people know that you really do have a voice.”

He gestures around Inman Park, a welcoming space built by local residents, as an example of the area’s can-do attitude. “We can do good things,” he says, “but we need the opportunity.”

Lawsuit Defends Blackside Dace

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

A federal lawsuit filed in Knoxville, Tenn., alleges regulators failed to meet legal obligations to protect a threatened fish endemic to Appalachian streams. Four citizens groups, including the Sierra Club and Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment, claim the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about adverse impacts to the federally protected blackside dace before issuing a permit for a 1,088-acre mountaintop removal mine in Claiborne County. Under the Endangered Species Act, agencies must ensure their actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species.

Mountaintop Removal Reduces Nearby Songbird Populations

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

Forest-dependent songbird species appear in significantly smaller numbers in areas adjacent to reclaimed mountaintop removal mines, according to a study published this year in the journal Landscape Ecology. Evaluating bird populations in forested land next to reclaimed mine sites in Kentucky and West Virginia, researchers found declines in nearly two dozen types of songbirds, including species of conservation concern such as the cerulean warbler. A smaller amount of species, mostly shrubland birds, responded positively to increases in grassland. “If [forest] managers want to take actions that may benefit sensitive, forest-dependent species, they need to minimize the amount of forest lost in a landscape,” commented Doug Becker, the study’s senior author.

Another challenge facing coal: Cleaning up

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015 - posted by brian
As even some of the largest U.S. coal producers run the risk of caving under their debts, officials that oversee the federal surface mine bonding program are voicing urgent concerns about post-mine reclamation liabilities to state officials.

As even some of the largest U.S. coal producers run the risk of caving under their debts, officials that oversee the federal surface mine bonding program are voicing urgent concerns about companies’ ability to pay for post-mine reclamation.

After bankruptcies, legal fees, fines, plummeting share prices and years without a profit in sight, another aspect of the financial perils U.S. coal companies face is coming into full view.

Recently, regulators worried about the ability of coal companies to pay for post-mine reclamation have begun scrutinizing a practice known as “self-bonding,” which allows a company to insure the cost of restoring the land after mining without putting up collateral, provided it meets certain financial criteria.

Reuters reported last week that Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, is under the microscope and may be violating federal bonding regulations under the 1977 Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act.

Peabody, which reported a $787 million loss in 2014, had roughly $1.38 billion in clean-up liabilities insured by self-bonding at the end of March, according to the report. In fact, as its finances deteriorate, analysts say Peabody is warping the language of the law and pointing to the relative strength of its subsidiaries’ balance sheets to continue meeting self-bonding requirements.

Peabody is not alone. Arch Coal, which Reuters found has also failed the financial test to meet self-bonding requirements, is restructuring its multibillion-dollar debt. The company ended 2014 with $418 million in cleanup liabilities and hasn’t turned a profit since 2011.

On May 29, Alpha Natural Resources received word from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality that it is no longer eligible to self-bond in the state. The company now has less than 90 days to put up $411 million in anticipated mine cleanup costs. The nation’s second-largest producer by sales, Alpha told investors earlier this year that it had $640.5 million in reclamation liabilities at its mines in Appalachia and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

Watching as even some of the largest U.S. coal producers run the risk of caving under their debts, officials that oversee the federal bonding program are voicing urgent concerns to state officials.

In April, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement sent a letter to West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection urging that the state conduct a fuller analysis of future risks — not just rely on historic data — to calculate reclamation costs.

“Given the precarious financial situation” of companies operating in West Virginia, the letter states, regulators should closely examine the risk of failure for sites with markedly more expensive liabilities such as pollution treatment facilities.

From where we’re standing, it’s tough to see how the situation could improve. Taken together, the country’s four largest coal companies — Peabody, Alpha, Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy — have about $2.7 billion in anticipated reclamation costs covered by self bonding. Bloomberg News reported in March that nearly three quarters of Central Appalachian coal is mined at a loss.

As the problem grows, regulators and advocates for reform face their own predicament. Stricter self-bonding standards and enforcement push cash-strapped companies closer to bankruptcy. But inaction could leave taxpayers to pick up the bill if companies with unreclaimed mines eventually crumble.

Learn how mountaintop removal puts Appalachian communities at risk. Read the latest issue of
The Appalachian Voice.

One month, two hearings on mountaintop removal

Thursday, June 4th, 2015 - posted by thom
Dustin White, an organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, testifies before a House Subcommittee about mountaintop removal and its impacts on Appalachian communities.

Dustin White of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition testifies before a House Subcommittee about the impacts of mountaintop removal on Appalachian communities. The head peering over Dustin’s shoulder is that of the author.

It’s rare for Appalachians to have their voices heard in Congress.

Once every year or two, though, someone from the region gets the chance to publicly address a congressional committee about the ongoing problems mountaintop removal coal mining is causing in our region.

Coal industry advocates would probably like to eliminate those occasions all together, but so far they’ve only succeeded in making them uncommon.

In the past month alone, Appalachians have testified about mountaintop removal mining at two different U.S. House hearings. The coal industry lobbyists must be getting sloppy.

Dustin White, a community organizer with our allies the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and an 11th generation West Virginian, testified recently before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Subcommittee Chairman Louie Gohmert (TX-1) wanted the hearing to be about how the Obama administration has ignored states during the writing of the Stream Protection Rule. For him, the hearing was about that.

But for Dustin and for us, the hearing was about the need for the federal government to help put an end to mountaintop removal coal mining.

“We will continue to go to the federal agencies as long as the state agencies ignore us, and our lives and homes are threatened by mountaintop removal …”

How can state regulatory agencies honestly be expected to be part of a federal rulemaking process when they have proven time and time again that they cannot perform their jobs to protect citizens from mining pollution. People living in mountain communities are experts in their own lives, and know practices like mountaintop removal are harmful and want action taken.”

A week before Dustin was heard, Dr. Michael Hendryx testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. Dr. Hendryx is the foremost expert on the human health impacts related to mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia and he has led dozens of studies on the issue. He took full advantage of the opportunity (accidentally?) afforded to him and briefly explained his findings.

“Our research has shown that people who live near mountaintop removal are at higher risk, compared to people living farther away, for a wide set of health problems. We see, for example, that rates of lung cancer are higher in the mountaintop removal communities. We have also found higher death rates from heart disease, lung disease and kidney disease.

The increased mortality in mountaintop removal areas translates to approximately 1,460 excess deaths every year compared to death rates in other parts of Appalachia. In these estimates we have controlled statistically for other risks such as age, smoking, obesity, poverty and other variables; our results are not due to higher rates of smoking, for example, or higher poverty rates. We find that the most serious health problems are present where mountaintop removal is practiced relative to areas with other types of mining or no mining”

The Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee hearing was about H.R. 1644, or “The STREAM Act,” which would stop the Stream Protection Rule from being written, thus taking away one of the Obama administration’s greatest tools for ending mountaintop removal. Scientists shy away from commenting on policy and legislation, as it can be a bit of a risk for them personally. He continued:

“The Stream Act in my view is an unnecessary delay and a threat to human health. Instead, I call for the complete enforcement of existing stream buffer rules, or stronger rules that the [Office of Surface Mining] may put forth, to prevent the dumping of mining waste into streams.”

Lesson learned: never underestimate the courage of Michael Hendryx.

Dustin White did not change the mind of Rep. Louie Gohmert, who at one point went on a long “war on coal” tirade. Dr. Hendryx was the subject of entirely unprofessional and disparaging remarks from Rep. John Fleming (LA-4) during his appearance. But that’s to be expected. It only makes me admire Dustin White and Michael Hendryx more. Not just for putting up with it, but for handling themselves with strength and grace.

Congress does not want to help end mountaintop removal. They’d prefer not to hear about it. More importantly, though, they’d prefer it if you don’t hear about it.

Mountaintop removal is encroaching on communities across central Appalachia. They blasted mountains today, they blasted mountains yesterday, and they’ll blast mountains tomorrow. They won’t stop until they can’t make money off of it. Help us be heard.

Help yourself be heard. Let everyone know that mountaintop removal is still happening, it is wrong, and tell President Obama it must be stopped.

Silas House: A Remembrance of Jean Ritchie

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Silas House is an author, Kentuckian and activist, who also serves on Appalachian Voices’ board of directors. Silas shares this remembrance of Jean Ritchie, the Kentucky-born folk icon, who died yesterday. Last May, Appalachian Voices was graciously invited to participate in and benefit from “Dear Jean,” a tribute concert to Ritchie in Berea, Ky. Portions of this tribute are excerpted from the 2009 book Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal by Silas House and Jason Howard, University Press of Kentucky

Silas House (middle) with Jean Ritchie, and his partner Jason Howard, editor of literary magazine Appalachian Heritage.

Silas House (middle) with Jean Ritchie, and his partner Jason Howard, editor of the literary magazine Appalachian Heritage.

Above all, kindness always lit up the face of Jean Ritchie, who passed away June 1 at the age of 92. And she possessed the same kindness in her hands, in the slight, humble bend of her neck, in her beaming smile. And of course that kindness came through the clearest — the cleanest — in her voice.

It was there in her speaking voice, but also in her singing, the very thing that caused The New York Times to proclaim her “a national treasure” and the reason she became widely known as “The Mother of Folk.” But along with that kindness was a fierceness that led her to become one of the major voices in the fight for environmental justice.

I grew up in Southeastern Kentucky, two counties away from where Ritchie had been raised. She was a source of incredible pride for my people. Everyone I knew loved Jean Ritchie, and they especially loved the way she represented Appalachian people: with generosity and sweetness, yes. But also with defiance and strength. By the time I first met her in 2006, Jean was a true legend. Although I was in total awe of her, it didn’t take me long to feel right at home and we became fast friends.

I loved visiting with her and her wonderfully devoted husband, George Pickow, who passed away in 2010. Anytime I would comment on her legendary status, she’d brush it aside, embarrassed. But she was a true inspiration to so many of us. Her accolades are too many to list. In 2002 she was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest award given in the nation to traditional artists and musicians. Her original compositions have been performed by such artists as Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Judy Collins, Emmylou Harris, the Judds, Kathy Mattea, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and many others.

Jean Ritchie, 1922 - 2015

Jean Ritchie, 1922 – 2015

Born in 1922, she went to New York to work in a settlement school and was amazed to find that she eventually became well-known for her singing, playing, and songwriting. By the end of the 1960s Ritchie had recorded twenty albums, served on the board of and appeared at the first Newport Folk Festival (where her iconic performance of “Amazing Grace” is still talked about by anyone who was there), and was considered one of the leaders in the folk music revival.

She had also single-handedly popularized the mountain dulcimer. And steadily throughout her career she had become more and more concerned with the environmental injustices facing her homeland. She wrote her first environmental-minded songs under the pseudonym of Than Hall so her parents wouldn’t be harassed and because she felt using a man’s name might make them easier to become published. But eventually she embraced the fight for environmental justice and became a symbol of the movement.

In 1974 she recorded what many consider the first of her three true masterpieces (along with None But One and Mountain Born) out of her forty albums. Clear Waters Remembered contains three of the original compositions she is most often recognized for: “West Virginia Mine Disaster,” “Blue Diamond Mines,” and “Black Waters.” It would also be the album that would solidify Ritchie’s position as an environmentalist and activist.

“Black Waters” in particular became a rallying cry for an ever-growing outrage against the environmental devastation being caused by strip mining, a form of coal mining that became prominent in the 1960s. The practice was giving many Appalachians pause, especially since most of the coal companies were able to mine the coal with broad form deeds, many of which had been sold decades before. Ritchie became a part of this movement with “Black Waters,” which became its anthem.

After struggling with writing “Black Waters” for awhile, Ritchie finished the song after being invited to participate in a memorial concert for Woody Guthrie. She performed it for the first time during that show and introduced it as something Guthrie “might have written had he lived in Eastern Kentucky.” Besides being a powerful environmental song, it also resonated with Appalachians who might not have identified themselves as environmentalists but certainly had a love for the land in their very blood.

1977’s None But One is Ritchie’s most critically-lauded album; it was even awarded the prestigious Critics Award from Rolling Stone magazine. The album contained two more of Ritchie’s most famous songs of social consciousness, “None But One,” a treatise on racial harmony, and “The Cool of the Day,” an ancient-sounding spiritual which demands environmental stewardship and is now widely used as one of the major anthems in the fight against mountaintop removal. It is a song that has already achieved classic status by being included in the hymnal of the Society of Friends. Ritchie allowed Kentuckians For The Commonwealth to use the song on their popular compilation Songs for the Mountaintop, which raised money for the fight against mountaintop removal. In 2007 Ritchie performed the song at The Concert for the Mountains, an event held in New York City with Robert Kennedy, Jr. in conjunction with a delegation of Appalachians who attended the United Nations Conference on Environmental Stability to speak out about the devastation caused by the form of mining.

“I never feel that I’m doing very much to help our poor mountains,” Ritchie modestly told me in 2008 after I told her she was one of the reasons I had become an environmentalist. “Beyond making up songs and singing them, I don’t know what else to do. It seems an accolade I don’t deserve.” I wanted to tell her that words and music were the main ways we had always fought back, and that her words and music had done more than she could ever imagine. But then I saw that there were tears on her eyes. Her face was turned to the white light of the window and she was lit as if beatific. I had always thought she was. In that moment, Jean was visibly upset. “Sometimes, when I think of how it’s all gone …” she began, but had to stop speaking.

Jean leaves behind a legacy of love and light. Of kindness and dignity and strength. She fought back with words and music, and she taught us to do the same. I can’t imagine a better way to be remembered than that.

Jean Ritchie’s “Black Waters” performed by John McCutcheon, Tim O’Brien, Suzy Bogguss, Kathy Mattea, Stuart Duncan and Bryn Davies.

Appalachian communities are still at risk

Friday, May 29th, 2015 - posted by tom

Mapping the encroaching threat from mountaintop removal

communities-at-risk-widget

One thing we at Appalachian Voices particularly pride ourselves on is our ability to work in the realm where technology, hard data and storytelling converge.

Over the years, we’ve applied these skills to develop tools on iLoveMountains.org like What’s My Connection? and The Human Cost of Coal to show in compelling and unmistakable fashion how mountaintop removal coal mining is ransacking Appalachia’s communities and natural heritage.

Last month, we unveiled our latest project, Communities at Risk, an mapping tool revealing how mountaintop removal has been expanding closer to people’s homes in Central Appalachia — even as coal is in decline — and posing increasing threats to residents’ health and the environment.

EXPLORE: The Communities At Risk From Mountaintop Removal Mapping Tool

We used Google Earth Engine, U.S. Geological Survey data, publicly available satellite imagery, mining permit databases and mapping data from SkyTruth to develop the interactive map and identify the 50 communities that are most at risk from mountaintop removal. The resulting map offers the first-ever time-lapse view of the destruction’s encroachment on Appalachian communities.

Behind all the data and coordinates, of course, are real people and communities, and that is what drives our work. The communities most at risk from mountaintop removal suffer higher rates of poverty and are losing population more than twice as fast as nearby rural communities with no mining in the immediate vicinity. The health statistics are equally troubling; a 2011 study found double the cancer rates in counties with mountaintop removal compared to nearby counties without it.

Our goal with Communities at Risk is to ramp up the pressure on the White House to end this practice, which remains the single-most overwhelming environmental threat in the region. In the early days of President Obama’s administration, promises were made that regulating mountaintop removal would be based on science. The science on the dire impacts is definitive, yet the administration has failed to act accordingly.

WATCH: Communities At Risk — End Mountaintop Removal Now

Appalachians are working hard to reinvent their economy and outlast the fall of King Coal. Much of that future rests on protecting the air, the water, and the region’s unparalleled natural beauty.

It’s incumbent on the Obama administration to help revive this region that has powered the nation’s economic ascendancy for generations. As citizens have argued for years, cracking down on the continuing devastation of mountaintop removal is critical to moving Appalachia forward.

For Appalachia,

Tom Cormons

Video Shows Rare View of Mountaintop Removal Mining

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - posted by cat

CONTACT:
Cat McCue, Communications Director, (434) 293-6373; cat@appvoices.org

A short video released today by Appalachian Voices with stunningly detailed drone footage provides a rare view of mountaintop removal coal mining and the increasing proximity of this destructive form of mining to people living in Appalachia. The video also includes interviews with local citizens who want to end mountaintop removal mining and transition their communities in a more just and sustainable way.

View the video here (4:30).

Trip Jennings, an award-winning videographer who has worked with National Geographic, produced the video in partnership with Appalachian Voices and with support from Patagonia. Using camera drones and time-lapse photography, Jennings weaves images of the region’s natural wonders, the destruction from mountaintop removal, and the resiliency of the Appalachian people into an unforgettable tableau.

You’ll hear from Norman, a former coal miner who would like to see more rooftop solar and other forms of clean energy in the region …. Kathy, a coal-miner’s daughter-turned activist who is witnessing it moving ever-closer to communities … and Carmen, a young person determined to stay and create positive change in her hometown.

Appalachian Voices, a nonprofit regional organization, released the video as part of its “Communities At Risk” project, a data-based, online mapping tool showing the increasing encroachment of mountaintop removal mining on communities even as coal is in decline in Appalachia. The group’s aim is to educate Americans about what’s at stake in Appalachia and urge President Obama to end mountaintop removal mining.

“This is no way to leave a legacy,” says Kate Rooth, campaign director the organization. “It’s incumbent on the Obama administration to help revive this region that has powered the nation’s economic ascendancy for generations, starting with ending mountaintop removal mining.”

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Reflections from the second SOAR Summit

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 - posted by Adam
SOAR is an outstanding example of regional, bipartisan collaboration on the biggest question facing central Appalachia. But the initiative must foster a more inclusive conversation if it hopes to create lasting change.

SOAR is an outstanding example of regional, bipartisan collaboration on the biggest question facing central Appalachia. But the initiative must foster a more inclusive conversation if it hopes to create lasting change.

I remembering hearing about the SOAR Initiative when it was first announced in 2013.

Like a lot of people working for a better Appalachia, I was excited to hear that the question of “what comes next?” was finally receiving some high-level attention.

Last week’s summit was the first time I had connected directly with the initiative and I had high hopes. Although SOAR focuses specifically on enhancing economic opportunities in eastern Kentucky, I was counting on bringing back ideas and inspiration that could be applied to Appalachian Voices’ economic development work in far southwest Virginia.

The event was well attended — an estimated 1,300 people showed up. But, even with so many who care deeply about transitioning the eastern Kentucky economy gathering in one place, there was disappointingly little time or space created for discussion amongst the people who are doing the lion’s share of the on-the-ground work in Appalachian communities. There was a lot of “talking at” and not nearly enough “talking with.”

MACED’s Ivy Brashear had a similar reaction and shared her thoughts in an eloquent post titled “SOAR still important, but second summit falls short of expectations.”

This is not to say that some of the “talking at” portions of the summit were not inspiring or worth hearing. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez was on the scene, and he gave a very enthusiastic and hopeful speech about the future of the region.

During his plenary address, Secretary Perez officially rolled out $35 million in federal implementation grants available through the POWER Initiative, a coordinated effort led by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to invest in communities negatively impacted by changes in the coal industry and power sector.

These grants were first announced back in March, and were described by the Obama administration as “a down payment” on the POWER+ Plan.

There was plenty of talk in the hallways among my colleagues about POWER+, and I heard a few related questions asked during Q&A section of multiple presentations. But I was surprised that no one on stage that I saw throughout the day mentioned it on their own. My most recent post was all about how POWER+ deserved a warmer welcome, and it seems like that’s still the case.

Even though POWER+ got the cold shoulder, there was a lot of attention given to other worthy issues such as broadband expansion, technology job creation, local foods, youth leadership development and the arts.

Taken as a whole, SOAR is an outstanding example of regional, bipartisan collaboration on the biggest question facing central Appalachia. When so many different players come to the table with varying backgrounds and interests, it’s naturally a delicate process to keep the boat afloat.

It was never a secret that the coal economy was headed for an eventual collapse. Regional production peaked in 1997, but a web of social and political forces have kept clinging to the past. Finally, we’ve reached a place where we see a robust regional discussion and federal programs focused on diversifying the central Appalachian economy.

The role of Appalachian Voices and our allies is, and will continue to be, ensuring that promising initiatives like SOAR include new ideas and ways of thinking are not stuck in that old and tired web that no longer serves the best interests of Appalachian communities.