Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

Court sides with EPA on science-based mountaintop removal permitting

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - posted by brian
A federal appeals court reaffirmed EPA's authority to coordinate with other agencies to apply science throughout the mountaintop removal permitting process.

A federal appeals court sided with the EPA today on mountaintop removal permitting.

In a major victory for Appalachia and clean water advocates, a federal appeals court has reaffirmed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when reviewing Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal mines. The court also ruled that the EPA’s guidance on conductivity is not a final rule and therefore is not subject to legal challenge. Read the court’s decision here.

More on today’s decision and what it means for Appalachia.

The three-judge panel rejected a 2012 ruling that the EPA overstepped its authority by pursuing an enhanced permitting process for certain mountaintop removal proposals. Today’s ruling sends the lawsuit back to U.S. District Court.

A statement from Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons:

“The court’s ruling today is as clear as the science indicting mountaintop removal coal mining, and it affirms what advocates working to end the destruction of Appalachian mountains and streams have been saying for years.

“Overwhelming evidence of the toll mountaintop removal takes on water quality, wildlife and human health continues to emerge. Still, mountaintop removal permits are being approved with disregard for the basic science behind EPA’s conductivity guidance. The ruling should be a signal to states and the EPA to begin truly following that science. And it’s common sense that the agency coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make sure the science is applied throughout the permitting process.”

This month, yet another study pointing to the destructive impact mountaintop removal was released, adding to the body of science state and federal agencies should apply to the permitting process.

Learn more about Appalachian Voices’ work to end mountaintop removal.

One fish, two fish … Dead fish

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 - posted by matt

USGS Study: Mountaintop Removal Decimates Fish Populations in Appalachia


A study from researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) published this month provides strong new evidence that mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia is devastating downstream fish populations.

That’s hardly news for long-time followers of the controversy surrounding mountaintop removal, a coal mining practice that involves blowing off the tops of mountains to access thin seams of coal and dumping the waste into valleys below. In 2010, a group of 13 prestigious biologists published a paper in Science, the nation’s premier scientific journal, that found:

“Our analyses of current peer-reviewed studies and of new water-quality data from WV streams revealed serious environmental impacts that mitigation practices cannot successfully address… Clearly, current attempts to regulate [mountaintop removal mining] practices are inadequate.”

The authors of the study published last week found a 50 percent decline in the number of fish species and a two-thirds decline in the total number of fish in streams below mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia’s Guyandotte River drainage. They made this important contribution to the science by using rigorous methodology to isolate several types of water pollution most likely to have caused these staggering declines.

But a more important contribution of the study may be that it draws the focus of water pollution impacts away from mayflies and other aquatic insects and onto a far more popular and charismatic organism that not only is important to rural people’s way of life, but supports a multi-billion dollar sportfishing industry in Appalachia.

Tellingly, industry spokespeople contacted by local reporters did not dispute the science as they typically have in the past. Those that didn’t dodge reporters entirely were quick to change the subject to the purported benefits of mountaintop removal to create more flat land for industrial and commercial development (in a region where less than 10 percent of the more than 1 million acres of mountains that have already been flattened has been used for economic development).

This muted response is in stark contrast to the coal industry’s response to previous science linking mountaintop removal to the loss of aquatic insects downstream from mine sites. The “EPA puts mayflies ahead of jobs” or “pests over people” became the rallying cries of coal industry supporters when the EPA first began bringing science back into the permitting process in 2009.

One suspects that the coal industry knows it isn’t likely to win a “jobs vs. fish” debate with America’s 33 million anglers.

Widespread damage to fish populations could also be important from the pocketbook perspective that political leaders in Kentucky and West Virginia take seriously. According to data [PDF] from the American Sportfishing Association, recreational fishing creates a lot more jobs than mountaintop removal does in the states where it occurs:


In fact, sportfishing accounts for more than 12,000 jobs in Kentucky, which is more than the entire coal mining workforce in the state, including all underground and surface miners, coal preparation plant workers and industry office workers combined. Moreover, unlike coal, sportfishing is a growing industry in Appalachia — the number of jobs it created in West Virginia more than tripled between 2001 and 2011.

Of course, even if “jobs vs. fish” were a popular argument, it would be just as false a narrative as “pests over people.” Declines in populations of both fish and aquatic insects are important indicators of declining health of an ecosystem on which all organisms depend, including people. The “ecological indicator” theory is consistent with the dozens of scientific studies published in the last few years that show communities near mountaintop removal mines suffer poor health outcomes ranging from high rates of cancer, respiratory illness, heart disease and birth defects to low life expectancies that are comparable to those in developing nations like Iran, Syria, El Salvador and Vietnam.

Thus, the USGS study is an important contribution to the debate about mountaintop removal for anyone concerned about recreational fishing, human health or the economy of Appalachia. Hopefully that’s everybody.

It’s also a very timely contribution because it turns out that the EPA and other federal agencies are right now grappling with important rules to protect streams that will determine whether the pollution that leads to the kinds of declines in fish populations seen by the USGS researchers will be allowed to continue.

The study found that waters downstream from mountaintop removal mines contained elevated levels of two forms of pollution that the researchers believe could account for the declines in fish populations: conductivity and selenium. Conductivity is a measure of metals and salts in water, and elevated levels are toxic to aquatic life. Selenium has caused grotesque deformities in larval fish ranging from s-curved spines and double-headed larvae to fish with both eyes on the same side of their heads.

A two-headed trout deformed by selenium pollution. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A two-headed trout deformed by selenium pollution. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This study should serve as a wake-up call to federal regulators that have been steadily backsliding from the Obama administration’s initial commitment to put science first in agency decision-making and to rein in the widespread damage from mountaintop removal mining. That backsliding has been particularly evident at the EPA’s Region 4 headquarters in Atlanta, which oversees Clean Water Act permitting for a number of southeastern states including Kentucky.

Enforcement officials at Region 4 have not incorporated the science and recommendations developed by the EPA for the guidance on conductivity since it was announced by previous EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in 2010. At the time, Jackson predicted the new guidelines would allow “few, if any, valley fills” to be permitted. Since then, valley fills — debris piles composed of the soil and rock that formerly made up the mountaintops of Central Appalachia — have continued to be approved by Region 4, including a massive new mountaintop removal permit with six valley fills that was approved last year.

Region 4 officials also recently approved a weakening of Kentucky’s standards for chronic selenium levels in streams, allowing the state to permit levels high enough to cause reproductive failure in some fish. Worse, at the federal level, the EPA recently released a draft revision to its nationwide selenium rule that is likely to be all but impossible to enforce. That’s a particular problem in states like Kentucky that have proven time and again to be incapable of enforcing rules on the politically powerful coal industry without citizen groups intervening. Here’s what the Lexington Herald-Leader had to say about the state’s “failure to oversee a credible water monitoring program by the coal industry”:

“In some cases, state regulators allowed the companies to go for as long as three years without filing required quarterly water-monitoring reports. In other instances, the companies repeatedly filed the same highly detailed data, without even changing the dates. So complete was the lack of state oversight it’s impossible to say whether the mines were violating their water pollution permits or not.”

Fortunately, the administration has an opportunity to take meaningful action to protect Appalachian streams this winter, when the Office of Surface Mining is scheduled to release a draft Stream Protection Rule to replace the outdated Stream Buffer Zone rule promulgated more than 30 years ago.

The message for the Obama administration from all this is that they are doing nobody any favors by taking half-measures to protecting water quality in Appalachia. When important recreational fish populations, a growing sector of the Appalachian economy and the health of Appalachian people clearly depend on strong water quality protections, the president’s spirit of compromise should not extend to compromising on science.

Here’s what you can do: tell President Obama to instruct his agencies to draft a strong Stream Protection Rule that will prohibit mining near streams and protect the health of people, fish and the economy of Appalachia. Take action here.

Stories from South Central Regional Jail, WV

Friday, June 27th, 2014 - posted by kara

Poisoned Water Comic

As a volunteer with the WV Clean Water Hub and RAMPS, Chris Gang has been helping citizens who were impacted by the January chemical spill that poisoned the tap water for 300,000 people. As he and others are just recently learning, some of those citizens were the inmates at South Central Regional Jail.

“What started as a response to the water crisis has grown into a larger effort shedding light onto ongoing issues like denial of health care, inadequate food, and arbitrary disciplinary measures at South Central Regional Jail and other West Virginia prisons,” tells Chris Gang a volunteer with the WV Clean Water Hub and RAMPS. The crisis he’s referring to is the mistreatment of inmates during the MCHM chemical spill at the prison located in Charleston, WV.

The public health and safety crisis brought on by the chemical and coal industry has been going on for decades, as coal-impacted communities in Appalachia know full well. The MCHM spill into the Elk River brought this reality into the living rooms and conversations of the rest of America. Since February, inmates from the prison in Charleston have been communicating with Chris and other volunteers with WV Clean Water Hub and RAMPS Campaign. As their stories unfold, it’s becoming apparent that the jail staff gave inmates few or zero alternatives to drinking, cooking, and bathing with the contaminated water.

This abuse of basic human rights to clean water and personal safety are egregious and must be amended. The purpose of this story-sharing and grassroots campaign is to increase public awareness of the living conditions in West Virginia jails and to compel government agencies to respond to these abuses by the jail staff and administration.

These stories need to be shared beyond our circles to ensure the health and safety of these inmates is restored – please take a minute to sign this petition in support of:

  • An investigation into this crisis;
  • Adequate plans for similar future emergencies;
  • Universal medical care for inmates; and
  • Dismissal of charges against inmates who spoke up for clean water, and other changes called for by inmates.
  • You can read the full transcripts of these letters and the report “Negligence and Malice: A Preliminary Report on the Water Crisis at SCRJ” on the Stories from South Central, WV website. Here are a few excerpts exposing the abusive treatment by jail staff.

    “You can let them know that most of us are drinking as little water as possible and quite a few of us are sick from it and would greatly appreciate it if the jail were to flush the lines again – change the filters and provide us with bottled water. Why are the people in Charleston given free bottled water and we are not – I just thought about that. Just because we are convicted of a crime doesn’t mean that we rate different health standards than the general public.” – Anonymous 4/2/14

    “Also, this jail’s water system is an in-house recycled water system, meaning all of the water whether from sinks, toilets, showers, drinking fountains, etc. is recycled over and over here to cut down water cost. If the proper steps weren’t taken, filters changed, system flushes, etc. are we still using contaminated water? Potentially more contaminated than the public’s? And have there been any reports of joint problems? I’m still being prescribed ‘allergy meds’ for headaches, sneezing, chest cold like symptoms, respiratory problems brought on by ‘allergies!’ What a joke!” – Ray Legg 3/24/14

    Already this work has proven that the jail administrators had lied to the media about how they handled the water crisis in the jail.

    This will be an ongoing struggle and the volunteers with the Stories from South Central project need your help. For any of these volunteering options, please contact or 681 214 0884 to learn more:

  • Inmates expressed that having regular pen pals allows the time pass better and is helpful through this traumatic experience – consider joining their pen pal effort.
  • Since printed materials are not allowed to be sent into jail, the group needs help handwriting copies of articles and petitions to send to inmates- please contact Stories from South Central before sending any letters or articles.
  • You can donate online or by check to support this 100% volunteer effort.
  • O, to have the bully pulpit of Congress

    Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 - posted by thom

    rahallBeing a member of Congress has its perks.

    If I were a congressman, I think my favorite thing to do would be to have lobbyists buy me expensive lunches. My second favorite thing would be to introduce unreasonable legislation that had zero chance of ever passing. You see, our elected reps get to stand up for whatever industry they prefer, or whichever issue is closest to their heart. This Congress has only passed about 1% of the bills that have been introduced, so if a bill fails, it’s no big deal.

    For example, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) prefers to introduce bills dealing with issues he cares a lot about. And Rahall really, really wants coal companies to be allowed to dump their mountaintop removal waste into West Virginia’s streams. See, the Environmental Protection Agency has been issuing fewer permits for valley fills, and without those, it’s harder for mountaintop removal mines to span thousands of acres.

    What’s worse, in Rahall’s eyes, is that the EPA once used its power afforded by the Clean Water Act to veto the permit for Spruce mine, a planned 2,200-acre mine in West Virginia. The plan was to bury six miles of high quality streams with more than 100 million cubic yards of coal mine waste. But then the EPA came in and determined that the mine would pose an unacceptable risk to water quality, wildlife and Appalachian communities. After years in court, the EPA’s veto authority has been upheld, and the mine has been stopped.

    In response, Rahall just introduced the “Regulatory Certainty Act of 2014” to confront the EPA’s “increasing aggression against West Virginia coal mining,” and to check the agency’s “ideological zeal.” In more technical terms, the legislation would change the Clean Water Act to take away the EPA’s ability to veto a valley fill permit after an absurdly short 30-day window.

    Rahall seems to believe that the EPA is running wild with these vetoes, destroying the U.S. economy in the process. But consider the following: the EPA has had veto power over 404 permits since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. In the past 42 years,it has used this veto power exactly 13 times. There are hundreds of permit applications filed with the EPA every year for purposes ranging from mining to road construction, and the agency has issued a veto less than once every three years. The Obama administration has actually only used its veto authority once. Once!

    It doesn’t seem to matter to Rahall that the EPA’s veto authority is a rarely used tool designated for extreme cases. The very possibility that the EPA could stop the biggest, baddest, most destructive mines from plundering Appalachia is apparently too much for him to stomach.

    So. instead of standing idly by, Rep. Nick Rahall is wielding his power as a veteran United States congressman by introducing a bill to strip the EPA of its preemptive and retroactive veto power under the Clean Water Act.

    The result? Another sheet of paper in a stack of hopeless bills written for political points.

    Science-backed lawsuits protect clean water in Central Appalachia

    Tuesday, June 10th, 2014 - posted by Sarah Caldwell

    A citizen’s photo of sediment from George’s Fork entering the South Fork Pound River

    On Thursday, June 5, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia ruled that high levels of conductivity in water discharged from mountaintop removal mines are harmful to West Virginia streams.

    The Sierra Club issued a press release that calls the ruling a “landmark decision” and quotes the district court’s decision that, “Losing diversity in aquatic life, as sensitive species are extirpated and only pollution-tolerant species survive, is akin to the canary in a coal mine. These West Virginia streams … were once thriving aquatic ecosystems.”

    The ruling comes at a pivotal time for citizen action groups engaging in litigation under the Clean Water Act. The same day of the court’s ruling on conductivity, citizen groups including Appalachian Voices filed a suit in Virginia arguing that four mines owned by Red River Coal Company had failed to comply with a state-imposed Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan for the South Fork Pound River.

    The South Fork Pound TMDL stipulates the level of total dissolved solids (TDS) and total suspended solids (TSS) the river can tolerate, while still protecting aquatic life. Mines that discharge into the South Fork Pound watershed are given waste load allocations (WLAs) for their contribution of TDS and TSS. Our case against Red River Coal argues that data from company water monitoring indicates that they have exceeded WLAs for the South Fork Pound River.

    At a first glance, these two cases seem to be only distantly related, but with a closer look and some basic science, it becomes clear that they are actually incredibly similar.

    Conductivity is the measurement of the ability of a material to conduct electricity. In the case of water, the more positive and negative ions in the water, the more conductive it becomes. TDS measures the concentrations of dissolved ions in the water, so the higher the TDS, the higher the water’s electrical conductivity.

    When water has been discharged from a surface mine, it often runs through valley fills and other areas where heavy metals have been disturbed. Dr. Anthony Timpano of the Virginia Water Research Center authored a paper that explores the effects of high levels of TDS on aquatic life. Timpano states that streams impacted by coal pollution can often have a TDS greater than 2000 mg/L. A normal stream should have a TDS of less than 200 mg/L. Ions that typically contribute to high TDS levels include calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate and sulfate. Sulfate has been shown to have deadly effects on aquatic life.

    Another theme present in both of these cases is the lack of state oversight and enforcement for water pollution violations in coal-impacted communities. These lawsuits were filed by citizen groups that advocate for clean water in areas where industry is often favored over local communities. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy failed to hold Alex Energy, Elk Run Coal Company, and Red River Coal Company accountable. Instead, citizens have stepped up to the job.

    Appalachian Voices’ Water Quality Specialist Eric Chance hits the nail on the head, saying, “Unfortunately, it takes lawsuits like this one to get the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to do its job and enforce existing laws that were created to protect the health of people and streams.”

    Order Will Protect Portion of Historic Blair Mountain Battlefield

    Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

    By Brian Sewell

    A section of historic Blair Mountain is off-limits to mountaintop removal coal mining until at least 2018 when the permit comes up for renewal.

    An order issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection prohibits Aracoma Coal, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, from mining within 1,000 feet of the mountain’s historic battlefield. According to the DEP, the order affects about 50 to 60 acres of the company’s 1,100-acre Camp Branch surface mine permit, which encompasses the southern portion of the battlefield.

    The news was announced by Friends of Blair Mountain, a group dedicated to the preservation of the Blair Mountain Battlefield, after site visits and meetings with the DEP revealed that a 1,000-foot buffer included in a Clean Water Act permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was absent from the state permit.

    In 2009, the 1,600-acre battlefield was briefly added to the National Register of Historic Places, but was delisted after a successful campaign led by Alpha and Arch Coal, which has also received permits to mine near the battlefield.

    In 1921, more than 10,000 miners attempting to unionize the southern West Virginia coalfields revolted against armed coal company guards in Logan County. The battle remains one of the largest civil uprisings in American history.

    Amid Debate, EPA Releases Proposed Selenium Criteria

    By Brian Sewell

    Selenium is often discharged from mountaintop removal coal mines and is difficult for mine operators to prevent and expensive to clean up — challenges that have favored environmental groups in lawsuits against coal companies. But federal standards for selenium proposed in May by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could make limits harder to test for and enforce.

    The EPA’s proposed standards rely primarily on testing for the pollutant in fish tissue. Environmental groups contend that not only is a fish tissue-based system more expensive for states to enforce, but it will make it nearly impossible for citizens to exercise their rights under the Clean Water Act, since collecting fish to test for pollution generally requires a special permit.

    Critics of the proposal also say it could be difficult to determine — and prove in court — exactly where fish may have accumulated illegal levels of selenium along waterways with multiple pollution discharge points.

    The proposed standards also include water-based limits using a 30-day average concentration of the pollutant in streams.
    While the standards themselves are not a regulation and do not include legally binding requirements, they could pave the way for states to adopt similarly complex testing methods and gain EPA approval.

    Last year, the EPA approved weakened selenium standards in Kentucky, prompting a coalition of environmental groups including Appalachian Voices to sue the agency. West Virginia and Virginia have also moved to weaken standards.

    “Hollow” Documentary Wins Award

    Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

    By Kelsey Boyajian

    Throughout “Hollow,” an interactive online documentary, the lush hills of Appalachia are juxtaposed beside stripped mountaintops. Through the stories of 30 individuals living in rural McDowell County, W.Va., director and producer Elaine McMillion uses a combination of web and film to spotlight the history and aspirations of the county’s 21,000 residents, and explores the uncertain future of rural America. McMillion, a West Virginia native, recently received the esteemed Peabody Award for the project.

    Home to more than 100,000 residents in the 1950s, McDowell County is now among the one in three United States counties where more people leave than stay, according to the documentary trailer. As viewers scroll through a timeline of the county’s history through interviews, photographs, video and text, they witness the region’s struggles as well as the determined efforts of residents to revive their community.

    Many towns in McDowell County, and Appalachia in general, have historically relied on coal as their sole industry. But as coal became less competitive in the marketplace and mountaintop removal mining increased, many jobs were cut. Since the 1970s, poverty, unemployment and drug addiction rates have skyrocketed. “Hollow” addresses the way these issues have affected the overall view of West Virginia, and attempts to dissolve these notions of Appalachia. “For many years we have been defined by an outsider perspective, which often oversimplifies and stereotypes us,” McMillion says.

    Ellis Ray Williams, one resident featured in the film, offers a reason for the economic troubles in McDowell County. “We have a brain drain here,” Williams says, “The kids we send off to college, they don’t come back here, they have to go other places [for employment].” Community members have begun a movement to promote tourism in McDowell County to provide more job opportunities. By emphasizing the area’s tradition of bluegrass music as well as the recent restoration of the McDowell County Historical Society, they also hope to revitalize the arts and culture of the area.

    “Just because it’s called one of the poorest counties in the U.S., heartwise, it’s not,” says Robert Diaz, a founding member of the Community Crossing Mission, one of many nonprofits hoping to restore prosperity in McDowell County.

    In “Hollow,” Elaine McMillion pays homage to these individuals and landscapes, drawing from her own family’s history in rural West Virginia and shows how much heart this county — and Appalachia as a whole — still possesses.


    Doubts Follow Elk River Contamination

    Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

    By Kimber Ray

    Four months after a Freedom Industries chemical tank contaminated the water of approximately 300,000 West Virginia residents this past January, only 36 percent of those residents were drinking their tap water, according a survey released in May by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

    The affected private utility, West Virginia American Water Company, is under investigation by the West Virginia Public Service Commission regarding its response to the spill. A hearing is scheduled for October.

    The chemical spill revealed that West Virginia American Water has no backup water intake supply for its principle distribution center. State environmental officials have proposed that the Kanawha River — of which the Elk River is a tributary — be designated as a potential drinking water source. Approval of the proposal during the 2015 legislative session would create tougher pollution controls on the Kanawha. In the long term, this would make it possible for West Virginia American Water to establish a second intake at the location.

    Water quality and other environmental regulations have long been contentious issues in West Virginia. According to a 2012 study in Environmental Science and Technology, approximately 25 percent of the state’s surface water is contaminated by mountaintop removal coal mining. The chemical that contaminated the Elk River in January, MCHM, is used in coal processing. Following the spill, a state review uncovered three coal companies’ facilities discharging trace amounts of MCHM into nearby waterways. Two of those companies have since discontinued their use of the chemical.

    This April, both Ohio and North Carolina began accepting wastewater contaminated with MCHM by the Elk River spill. Between the two states, more than 225,000 gallons of contaminated stormwater runoff will be treated, and an additional 50,000 gallons of wastewater from Freedom Industries’ storage tanks and the Elk River has been injected into hazardous waste wells in Ohio.

    Communities Pursue Revitalization Plans

    Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

    By Carvan Craft

    Convenient access to local food can be a rare commodity in rural communities. Thanks to the Appalachian Livable Communities grant program, founded in 2012, five Appalachian communities will receive a shared total of $375,000 to help make local food projects a reality.

    The grant will fund a new agricultural education facility for local farmers in Berea, Ky. In North Wilkesboro, N.C., the farmers market will be moved to a new downtown location so local produce will be at the focal point of the town. The grant will fund local food networks that focus on education, sustainability, and healthy eating in Huntington, W. Va. The town of Albany, Mississippi will build a riverfront farmers market.

    In Forest City, N.C., there are plans to build a Regional Agriculture Innovations Center where farmers can exchange new farming methods. Danielle Withrow, Forest City town planner, says this facility will be “the most comprehensive resource for agriculture in the foothills region.”

    There are also plans to relocate the Rutherford County Farmers Market to downtown Forest City. Having a farmers market downtown provides greater access to locally grown food, explains Withrow. She says the city is promoting the farmers market to “give people a local alternative for buying local products.”

    Withrow says other environmentally conscious industries will come to Forest City because the community is becoming more sustainability-minded. “In today’s world, people are looking for the places that are doing the right thing,” she adds.

    The Appalachian Livable Communities grants are funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
    For more information, visit

    Poll Finds Increase in Support for Environment

    By Kelsey Boyajian

    A recent Gallup-Healthways poll reports that more Americans favor prioritizing environmental protection over economic growth. When the poll began in the 1980s, most Americans gave priority to the environment, but this trend reversed following the 2009 recession, with more Americans endorsing economic growth even if it compromised the environment. In this year’s survey, 50 percent of Americans prefer environmental protection and 41 percent prefer economic growth. Support for environmental protection has increased among both major political parties, and is endorsed by two-thirds of Democrats and one-third of Republicans.

    A Victory in the Battle to Protect Blair Mountain

    Monday, May 12th, 2014 - posted by brian


    An order from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will put a section of a mountaintop removal permit near historic Blair Mountain off limits to mining until at least 2018 when the permit comes up for renewal.

    The DEP order prohibits Aracoma Coal, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, from mining within 1,000 feet of the mountain’s historic battlefield. The 1,600-acre battlefield was briefly added to the National Register of Historic Places, but was delisted after a coal industry-led campaign falsified public opposition to the historic designation.

    The order came after the agency discovered its permit for the Camp Branch mine, which encompasses the southern portion of the battlefield, did not include a 1,000-foot buffer that was included in a Clean Water Act permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    In 2011, Appalachian Voices joined with over a thousand citizens and advocates during the week-long March for Blair Mountain to protest the impending destruction of the historic landmark.

    Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette reports that the acting director of the DEP Division of Mining and Reclamation, Harold Ward, said the order affects about 50 to 60 acres of the Camp Branch permit and “pretty much stagnates those reserves.”

    The news was shared by Friends of Blair Mountain, a group dedicated to the preservation of the Blair Mountain Battlefield. In 1921, more than 10,000 miners attempting to unionize the southern West Virginia coalfields revolted against armed coal company guards in Logan County. The battle remains one of the largest civil uprisings in American history.

    The controversy over the Camp Branch permit is nothing new. According to Friends of Blair Mountain, rumors of pre-mining activity such as forest clearing started shortly after the March on Blair Mountain in 2011. Ever since, the group’s board members have requested permission to visit the site in order to document evidence that portions of the battlefield were being disturbed by the coal company.

    During a site visit in March, the group documented “significant areas of the battlefield” that were destroyed through logging and construction methods, and earlier this month shared that evidence with the Office of Surface Mining, the Army Corps and the state DEP. A more detailed series of events is up on

    We’ve covered Blair Mountain’s place in history, and the back-and-forth battle between coal companies that want to blow up a prominent piece American labor history, and those citizens fighting to protect the site by listing it on the National Register of Historic Places.

    A surface mine near the historic Blair Mountain battlefield.

    A surface mine near the historic Blair Mountain battlefield.

    Appalachian Voices is encouraged that the diligent work of the Friends of Blair Mountain and other groups led state regulators to correct their error in neglecting the 1,000-foot buffer zone meant to protect one of the most important historic landmarks in Central Appalachia.

    But the historic battlefield is still at risk. Fortunately, the federal Office of Surface Mining has empowered the state to do more. The agency confirmed that West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin can issue an executive order giving DEP “the power to enforce section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act on a 1,000 ft. boundary around the entire Blair Battlefield.”

    “If Governor Tomblin will act, then what remains of the Blair Battlefield can be preserved,” Friends of Blair Mountain representatives say. “We can still preserve this ground, build a place where the public can celebrate and learn from this great history, and help diversify the local economy.”