Inside Appalachian Voices

Musicians for the Mountains: Artists Team Up With Appalachian Voices

Three Kentucky musicians are teaming up to promote awareness of the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining, with plans to donate their new album’s proceeds to the cause.

Cellist Ben Sollee and guitarist Daniel Martin Moore collaborated with recording artist/producer Yim Yames on “Dear Companion,” an eleven-song album released in February by Sub Pop Records. The artists’ proceeds from “Dear Companion” will benefit Appalachian Voices’ national campaign to end mountaintop removal coal mining. The practice has to date destroyed more than 500 mountains and buried or polluted over 2,000 miles of streams.

Appalachian Voices is sharing the proceeds with the Alliance for Appalachia, for whom they produce The website is an online “action and resource” center dedicated to ending mountaintop removal coal mining, and has garnered over 40,000 supporters across the country.

Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore chose to collaborate with Appalachian Voices “to help with all the good work they are doing to raise awareness around the issue and to help amplify the voices of people living with mountaintop removal.”

“Dear Companion” explores the musicians’ ties to the places they love and aims to draw even more attention to the problem of mountaintop removal mining and its impact on the people and heritage of central Appalachia.

“[Ben and Daniel’s album] Dear Companion is so dense musically, lyrically, thematically…it’s a powerful plea for ecological, economic and social healing,” said music review website Buzz Grinder.

Sollee and Moore recently began a cross-country tour for the album, performing their unique synthesis of folk, soul, jazz and bluegrass. A representative from Appalachian Voices will be available at many of the shows to answer questions about mountaintop removal mining.

Sandra Diaz, Appalachian Voices’ Director of Development and Communications, who has been touring along with the artists says that the album is having its intended effect. “Many people I talked to knew about the issue, but were not sure how to get involved. Others had no idea until this album came out. Working with Ben and Daniel has been a great experience so far.”

Learn more about the project, including tour dates and a chance to listen to a track, at


Grassroots Movements Gain Ground in Virginia

By Mike McCoy
In February, the town of Dendron, Va., and Surry and Sussex Counties approved zoning changes for Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s (ODEC) proposed $6 billion coal plant.

Thanks to the hard work of concerned citizens around the state, it took ODEC more than a year to get these votes, during which time the grassroots opposition to the proposed coal plant has grown stronger and broader.

As the controversy moves to the arenas of the state and federal governments, Appalachian Voices will continue to work with local citizens on the grassroots level.

In addition, the Stream Saver Bill (S. 564), sponsored by Appalachian Voices, was given a special hearing before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. If passed, the bill will curtail mountaintop removal coal mining in Virginia.

Dozens of affected citizens drove six hours from southwest Virginia to present their case to the state senators. While the bill was not voted on this year, the hearing marked the first time that mountaintop removal was presented to the state legislature in a way that drew significant attention to the issue.

The Appalachian Voices’ office in Virginia has also sponsored the Virginia Jobs and Efficiency Act (S. 71), a bill to create mandatory energy efficiency standards for utilities.

The Virginia Jobs and Efficiency Act follows a proposed bill that did not pass out of committee last year. This energy efficiency proposal would have created up to 10,000 green jobs, reduced pollution and decreased demand for mountaintop removal coal.


Operation Medicine Cabinet: Program Aims to Keep Rivers and Kids Safe

The first Operation Medicine Cabinet in Watauga County, N.C. was a huge success, collecting thousands of pills. Photo by Jamie Goodman

The first Operation Medicine Cabinet in Watauga County, N.C. was a huge success, collecting thousands of pills. Photo by Jamie Goodman

By Megan Naylor
Appalachian Voices’ Upper Watauga Riverkeeper, Donna Lisenby, in collaboration with an alliance of community partners and law enforcement officers, will host a second Operation Medicine Cabinet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 22.

Operation Medicine Cabinet is an event focused on collecting pharmaceutical drugs to keep them out of regional waters and out of children’s hands.

The debut event, hosted on Oct. 3, 2009, was a huge success. The Watauga Riverkeeper and community partners collected over 40,000 pills.

The May Operation Medicine Cabinet will expand to incorporate not only Watauga County, but also Avery County, N.C.
Law enforcement officials, scientists, and community partners have come together in order to offer people a place to safely dispose their medications.

There are several issues that raise concern regarding the improper disposal of medications. Law enforcement officials have observed a drastic increase of teenage prescription drug abuse.

“We see even in some of the elementary schools evidence where kids are bringing legally prescribed medication from their mom, dad, brothers or sisters to sell or take themselves,” said Sheriff Len Hagaman. “It is becoming rampant and although I don’t want to go overboard, it is serious to the point that it is becoming more and more of an issue for us, so the more we can get off the streets the better.”

According to Lisenby, medication making its way into rivers is especially frightening because many towns get their drinking water from local rivers, which are already showing signs of elevated hormone levels.

“It has gotten so problematic that male fish are becoming feminized,” Lisenby said. “If the tainted water is causing intersex in fish, what is it doing to humans?”

“Operation Medicine Cabinet goes a long way in bringing medications back where they can be disposed of properly and taken out of the stream for people with abuse problems,” said Hagaman.

Logo for Operation Medicine Cabinet

Additional drop-off locations will be available this spring. To find out more, visit or call the Watauga Riverkeeper at 828-262-1500.


Protecting Our Rivers From Toxic Pollutants

By Maureen Halsema

Due to the investigative work of Appalachian Voices’ Upper Watagua Riverkeeper team, the North Carolina Division of Water Quality has ordered Duke Energy to take greater measures to test groundwater near coal ash ponds.

This mandate comes in the wake of an October report published by Appalachian Voices that found 13 ash ponds owned by Duke and Progress Energy to be leaking toxic waste into ground water. Results showed 681 instances in which heavy metals had accumulated around the ponds in levels exceeding North Carolina groundwater standards.

These toxic pollutants, such as arsenic, boron, cadmium, chloride, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, pH, and sulfate are among those known to cause cancer and organ damage.

The power plants, which are typically located on rivers, routinely discharge water from the coal ash ponds directly into waterways.

In addition to this success, Upper Watagua Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby joined the Environmental Integrity Project and Earth Justice in a report that identified 31 coal-ash waste sites in 14 states—including North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia—where groundwater, wetlands, creeks, or rivers had been impacted by toxic pollutants.

According to the report, “Out of Control: Mounting Damages from Coal Ash Waste Sites,” “Many of the pollutants found in the waters underneath or adjacent to these sites are carcinogens, neurotoxins, or are deadly to fish and other aquatic life.”

A 2007 EPA Risk Assessment concluded that residents with wells who live in close proximity to coal ash ponds have as much as a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from drinking water contaminated by toxins such as arsenic, one of the most common and dangerous pollutants in coal ash.

The sites identified by this report are in addition to the 70 that the Environmental Protection Agency noted in their justification for a pending ruling on coal ash contamination sites. The report urges the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to stop stalling on the EPA ruling.

According to the report, “The evidence is overwhelming — these 31 sites sound a clear warning that the EPA must heed before more damage is done.”

Of the 31 identified sites, 25 are still actively used as coal ash disposal sites.

“The pollution present in this waste is among the earth’s most harmful to aquatic life and humans—arsenic, lead, selenium, cadmium and other heavy metals which cause cancer and crippling neurological damage,” Lisenby said. “If these poisons can be kept out of the fish we eat, the water we drink, bathe in, and need to survive, simply through regulation, than we must take that long overdue step, not only for the sake of our public waters but for humanity’s sake as well.”

To read the entire report click to

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