Across Appalachia

Virginia: Boulder from mining operation kills toddler

A three-year old boy from Wise County, Virginia, was killed on August 20 when a boulder from a surface mining operation crashed through the wall of his home and into his bedroom, where he was sleeping. The mining company was working in the dark to widen an access road to the mine when the rock came loose at 2:00am. Prior to the accident, residents in the small community of Appalachia, just below the mine, had complained to state regulators about blasting and other activity at the mine.

Aerial photos of the mining operation taken by the Bristol Herald-Courier reveal an extensive mountaintop removal mining operation above the community. One retired coal miner, who left the area after he challenged a mining permit and lost, voiced the concerns of many residents when he told the newspaper, “I guess I feel that I didn’t do enough to stop it. It’s a miracle that hundreds haven’t been killed.”

The boy’s family has left the area and does not plan to return. The mining company was fined $15,000 by the state, the maximum penalty allowed under current regulations. A march in honor of the child is planned for September 25 in Appalachia.

Alabama: Bankhead National Forest threatened by coal bed methane drilling

The U.S. Forest Service has inserted provisions into the new Alabama Forest Plan that will allow over 90 percent of Alabama national forests to be leased for oil, gas and mineral development. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 8.5 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas is within the Black Warrior Basin Province, which includes the Bankhead National Forest.

Local residents and conservationists believe that this is the camel’s nose under the tent. “Even if local Forest Service officials may be opposed to drilling and exploration,” says Lamar Marshall of Wild Alabama, “they cannot stop corporate giants like Energen drilling for natural gas and coal bed methane. Opening the Bankhead to gas production would destroy it with a network of pipelines, power lines, new roads, noisy compression stations, contaminated waste-water and methane contamination of shallow aquifers.”

More information on this development is available from Wild Alabama:

Kentucky: Net metering now the law in Kentucky

Net metering will soon be available to owners of small solar energy systems in Kentucky as the result of a program developed by Appalachia-Science in the Public Interest (ASPI).

The net metering legislation requires Kentucky’s utilities to allow solar systems up to 15 kilowatts in size to be hooked into the electric grid. The system owner’s electric meter would run forward as it normally does when they are drawing electricity from the grid. But it also literally would run backwards when they are adding their surplus kilowatts. This allows the solar system owner to avoid the need for expensive batteries to store their surplus power.

“This could very well mean a boom for renewables in Kentucky, a place that really hasn’t had an opportunity for renewables.” said Bills, who works with ASPI. He helped educate state officials and legislators about net metering before and during the session. “Net metering is definitely one route to overcome barriers to solar use.”

North Carolina: Air pollution could reduce visits to Blue Ridge Parkway

Recent studies have found that, while visitors are currently satisfied with the quality of views from the Blue Ridge Parkway, they are worried that air pollution and development threaten those views. Visitors to the North Carolina section of the Parkway cited air pollution as their top concern and said they would increase visits to the Parkway if views remain the same, but would decrease future visits if the views become increasingly obscured by air pollution. Visitors to the Virginia section of the Parkway named subdivision development as their top concern.

A quarter of respondents said they would decrease their visits to the Parkway if views worsened, which could translate into a $3 billion loss for local economies. An increase in visits would mean tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue for these communities. North Carolina visitors were more likely than those in Virginia to reduce their visits if the quality of views declined. The studies, which were compiled by the National Park Service, are available at

West Virginia: New poll reveals strong opposition to mountaintop removal among West Virginians

A recent survey of 500 likely voters in West Virginia, conducted by a professional polling firm for the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, revealed strong opposition to the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. West Virginia voters, by a nearly 2 to 1 margin, oppose mountaintop removal mining (56 percent compared to just 29 percent), with 39 percent strongly opposing the practice versus just 12 percent who strongly favor it – a 3 to 1 margin.

There is also significant evidence that as West Virginians learn more about mountaintop removal they are more likely to oppose it. Of the 44 percent of voters who had seen, read or heard something about mountaintop removal recently, six in ten say that what they heard made them less favorable, while only 19 percent say it makes them feel more favorable.

West Virginia voters do not believe that there needs to be a trade off between environmental protections and a strong economy, with 44 percent believing that environmental protections are often good for the economy and only 21 percent believing that environmental protections harm the economy.

Tennessee: Zeb Mountain mining rights purchased

National Coal Corporation, based in Knoxville, recently announced its intention to buy mineral rights to 7000 acres in the Elk Valley region of east Tennessee from the Robert Clear Corporation. The purchase includes the controversial mountaintop removal coal mining operation that began last year at Zeb Mountain, just north of Knoxville.

According to Mary Anne Hitt, executive director of Appalachian Voices – one of the groups mounting a legal challenge to the Zeb Mountain permit, “it’s obvious that Robert Clear’s poor environmental performance, and their resulting legal costs, has finally caught up with them.”
In response to National Coal’s stated intention to “work with environmental groups,” Hitt said, “We’re waiting to see whether National will continue using the devastating practice of mountaintop removal.”

South Carolina: SC Congressman accused of corruprion.

Top Bush administration officials bent the rules to help a congressman avoid fines for an escaped forest fire, according to a Forest Service whisteblower. The U.S. Forest Service blocked mandatory criminal penalties and civil cost recovery – charges totaling about $4,000 – for an escaped fire from a burn set by U.S. Representative Henry Brown (R-South Carolina) that burned out of control in the Francis Marion National Forest, according to a complaint released recently by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The orders to not fine Brown came after he met with Bush administration official and former timber industry lobbyist, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey.

“The Bush administration has failed to protect communities, but they seem more than willing to cut a deal with political allies when it comes to fire accountability,” said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. “By bending the rules, the administration is rewarding a political friend, strapping taxpayers with the bill and setting a dangerous and costly precedent.”

Georgia: Georgia tree farmers support roadless

A number of Georgia tree farmers recently joined together with conservation groups such as the Sierra Club and Southern Environmental Law Center, in opposing the Bush Administration’s re-writing of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. These same tree farmers previously joined together with environmentalists, sportsmen and taxpayer groups to support adoption of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule by the Clinton Administration in 2001. That rule protected nearly 60 million acres of forests on public lands across the nation from road building and logging.

Now that the Bush administration is planning to reopen roadless forests to commercial logging, Georgia’s tree farmers are joining with environmentalists once again to keep a glut of timber off the market.

“It’s bad for the environment and bad for the pocketbooks of the tree farmer,” said, forester, Mark Woodall, who grows about 6,000 acres of trees near LaGrange in west Georgia.


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