The Front Porch Blog, with Updates from AppalachiaThe Front Porch Blog, with Updates from Appalachia


Slurry Lawsuit Comes to an End

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

Through underground injections and an alleged faulty slurry pond, Mingo County, West Virginia’s water has been inundated with a “toxic soup” of heavy metals cumulatively amounting to a volume larger than the BP Oil spill.

Rawl Sales and Processing Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy, began dumping coal slurry—the substance produced from washing coal—into a local slurry pond in the mid 1970s.

The class action suit began in 2004 and represents 732 clients. Because of the complexities of each individual client (effects on property, health, etc.) the case was relabeled as a consolidated class action suit, and lawyers had to build a case around each individual client.

Two years ago, the judge in charge of the case (Judge Thornsbury) was recused from his duties when it was revealed that Rawl Sales and Processing Co. was a former client of his. A mass litigation panel replaced him and was responsible for last week’s out-of-court settlement two weeks before the case was supposed to go to trial.

The settlement amount has not yet been announced publicly, leaving much to be questioned.

Mountaintop Removal Practices Cause Birth Defects

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

By Jillian Randel

A new study reveals that children living near mountaintop removal mine sites are impacted by the adverse health effects of mining even before they are born.

The study shows that higher rates of birth defects occur in babies conceived by women living near the sites. This comes as no surprise, as mining areas are known for causing higher rates of cancers and respiratory illnesses in local populations.

Researchers at West Virginia University and Washington State University broke the study into two periods between 1996 and 2003.

During the 1996-1999 period, birth defect rates were 13 percent higher in mountaintop removal sites than in non-mining areas; during the 2000-2003 period, birth defect rates in mountaintop removal sites were 42 percent higher than averages in non-mining areas.

The increase in birth defects during the second period correlates with increased environmental damage to the land, air and water–a result of larger, more explosive mountaintop mine sites.


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Massey and Alpha: The Great Merge or a Buyout Splurge?

Thursday, June 16th, 2011 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

By Jillian Randel

Alpha Natural Resources announced on June 1 that it will acquiesce Massey Energy—a much anticipated move that has left many outraged.

Massey Energy—one of the largest coal operators in the nation—is also one of the most shameful players in the industry. Violations of human safety and environmental health get kicked around their coal fields faster than a soccer ball.

Controversy over the transfer of Massey executives—who will maintain management roles in the merged company—has simply added insult to injury. Many of them are believed to be responsible for the inadequate safety measures that resulted in the death of 29 miners during the Upper Big Branch mine disaster last year.

The announcement came after an attempted challenge in court by Massey shareholders who wanted the merger blocked. The same shareholders brought an initial suit against Massey executives for failing to monitor mine safety properly after the Upper Big Branch disaster. The merger, claimed shareholders, was a way for top executives to avoid paying for the losses—in the hundreds of millions of dollars—incurred from the disaster.

Union leaders and mine safety workers are fired up about the transfer. There were 71 deaths from mining incidents in the U.S. in 2010, a sharp increase from the previous year, and 28 of those deaths were Massey workers. Mine safety is a recurring topic and it is hard to believe that Alpha can step up its game on safety and health standards while acquiescing one of the biggest culprits in the industry.


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BP Oil Spill Parallels Mountaintop Removal

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 | Posted by Jillian Randel | 1 Comment

Our Collective Voice

By Jillian Randel

Deep Water Horizon Offshore Drilling Unit on Fire

Upon returning from a visit to the so-called “Coalfields”, author and activist, Terry Tempest Williams commented, “Just when you thought you can’t see anything worse than the Gulf Oil Spill, we went to Coal River Valley and I was shattered.”

Today marks the one year anniversary of the explosion aboard the Deep Water Horizon drilling rig, also known as the “BP Oil Spill”. Calling it a ‘spill’ now seems too easy — it sounds like a small child tipped over a glass of milk, Ooppps! A spill! But this was no spill, it was a disaster, an ecological genocide, and when I say ecological, I include humans as part of this equation.

Tempest Williams’ comment was in no way a means of undermining the enormity of the oil spill and its devastation. I believe the imagery she meant to evoke was of the daily genocide that corporations are taking on our lands all across the U.S. — communities now suffer the effects of natural gas drilling (hydraulic fracturing), mountaintop removal coal mining (the process by which companies blast the tops off mountains and dump the debris into adjacent valleys), and the disastrous effects of oil drilling, are among the most destructive assaults. We wreak havoc on our environment daily and the communities who happen to suffer from this, well, they’re just collateral damage, right?


It is my right as a citizen to have clean air and clean water, and so it is for every citizen on this planet. Social and economic status does not change this, religious affiliation does not change this, zip code does not change this, color of skin does not change this.

The long-term effects of the oil spill still can’t be measured, nor really, can those of mountaintop removal. I see many parallels between the two issues and looking at most environmental and human health problems, the end result will be the same — the profits of large corporations trump all. Here is a brief comparison list below:

On the Gulf/In the Coalfields

– In the year 2010, CBS News found a minimum of 6,500 oil spills, leaks, fires or explosions nationwide — that’s 18 a day. Those are limited to the number of reported incidents, and one could reasonably assume that there are many other spills that go unreported.

-In less than 3 decades, mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed over 500 mountains, buried and polluted over 2,000 miles worth of headwater streams and destroyed 1.2 million acres of Appalachia — an area the size of Delaware.

On the Gulf/In the Coalfields

-5 million barrels of oil contaminated 580 miles of marshes and coastline, threatening and endangering four hundred species of wildlife — pelicans, ibis, egrets, sea turtles, shrimp, crabs, shark, dolphins and oysters to name a few. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that over 7,000 birds, sea turtles, whales and dolphins have died in the Gulf in the past year and many say this number is grossly underestimated.

-The Appalachian Mountains are home to the largest variety of life of any eco-region in North America, and it is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. The mixed mesophytic forests are one of the most ancient forest ecosystems on the planet. Blasting from mountaintop removal destroys entire ecosystems in the region.

On the Gulf/In the Coalfields

-Congress has failed to raise the $75 million dollar liability cap for oil companies, meaning that taxpayers are still on the hook for cleanup costs that rise above that cap; the Gulf Oil Spill has cost billions of dollars.

-Congress has failed to pass the Clean Water Protection Act or the Appalachian Restoration Act, both aimed at stopping the dumping of mining waste into our waterways and making it harder for coal companies to extract coal through blasting.

Mountaintop Removal Mining Site

On the Gulf/In the Coalfields

-Dispersants sprayed over the gulf and surrounding communities (meant to break up the oil) have caused Gulf residents and workers to suffer from short-term problems such as respiratory infections, dizziness, vomiting, ear infections, contact dermatitis, swollen throat, declining eyesight, memory loss and other illness. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, long-term exposure to dispersants can cause central nervous system problems and damage blood and organs such as the kidneys and liver.

-Coal dust from extracting and mining processes pollutes the air of nearby communities. It flies off the trucks transporting coal and dusts people’s homes, pets and yards. Coal ash produced from the burning of coal also litters communities located near coal-fired power plants. Residents living in areas that contain either or both types of this ash suffer from higher rates of respiratory illness, cancer, low birth-weight babies and other diseases related to nervous system failure.

On the Gulf/In the Coalfields

-Congress has failed to pass drilling-related measures that would improve worker and environmental safety and the industry still does not have any fail-safe devices for deep water drilling, yet the practice continues. Worse, congress has not stopped offshore drilling since the BP disaster.

– Kentucky’s fifth district, the Congressional district with the most mountaintop removal has the shortest life expectancy and the worst physical well-being, in large part due to the impacts of surface mining in the area. Congress continually fails to pass stricter mine safety legislation since the Upper Big Branch disaster (an incident in 2010 when 29 men were killed), let alone end mountaintop removal.

On the Gulf/In the Coalfields

-The oil spill has left Gulf communities with no source of income. An economy that was based on tourism has seen fewer and fewer visitors, affecting restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions among other businesses. The diminished fishing economy (the fishing industry has slowly collapsed due to “outsourcing” of fish and hit a low in 2000), is now dead as few people trust fish coming out of the Gulf. The moratorium put on off-shore drilling in the Gulf cost an estimated 13,000 jobs in the six months following the spill.

-Despite what proponents of mountaintop removal say, the practice is not good for the economy. It requires smaller crews than underground mining and, after huge layoffs during the 80s and 90s, has left old mining towns in despair. Communities located in and around coal mines have some of the highest rates of poverty and suffer from the worst health conditions in the country.

A Kick to Our Voice

NASA's Terra Satellites View of Spill

What are we doing to our people in our cry for capitalism and profits? Without trying to be sensationalist, put a face on the term ‘human health’, because it has many faces. This is not a news story, it is not a movie, it is life. This is what is happening: we are poisoning our own people.

During the discussion I attended with Terry Tempest Williams, she led the audience to the question: What can we do? Her answer (in simpler terms) was: We can use our voice, because we all have one.

There is no excuse not to lobby your congressman or woman. There is no reason not to start a letter-writing campaign, to make a trip to your legislators office (and bring 20 other constituents with you); there is no reason not to stand up and demand the change that you not only want, but that is absolutely, unquestionably necessary if we want to have a livable planet for our children.

Sitting by stagnantly while peoples’ lives and our ecosystems are destroyed is not OK. I consider myself lucky to have been born in a zip code that happens to exist in a democracy. I elect my public officials, and that is true for all of my countrymen and women. Yes, powerful corporations can put large sums of money into the hands of some officials, but those large corporations cannot take away the power of our collective voice.

Terry Tempest Williams passed on a message from West Virginia resident and activist Larry Gibson, he said, “Let there be a kick to your voice and let there be a kick to your words.”

Our government is not going to do this for us willingly; we have to make them do this for us. In honor of all those who have died so that we can turn on our lights, so that we can gas up our cars, so that we have heat in the wintertime, it is time that we demand a cleaner energy future.

Our energy consumption should not mean that a seven-year-old girl has to be hospitalized on a regular basis and hooked up to a respirator; it should not mean that a 73-year-old woman should be displaced from her home that she worked and lived her entire life. We all have the power of our actions and our words to create change, so let’s give it a kick and let’s make it a good kick, and let’s not stop kicking until we get what we want.

Snap to it!

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

Last call for all photographers! There’s only one month remaining till the close of the 8th annual Appalachian Mountain Photography Contest (AMPC).

Appalachian Voices is sponsoring one of the eight categories, called “Our Ecological Footprint,” which will document environmental impacts caused by human activities in Appalachia. There will be a $200 prize for the winning shot in this category.

Each photo costs $6.00 to enter and a portion of the proceeds from the competition are used to subsidize Student Outdoor Learning Expeditions (SOLE) at Appalachian State University. Students participating in SOLE trips spend extended time exploring rugged and remote destinations including New Zealand, Alaska, Fiji and Wales. To date, AMPC has contributed more than $10,000 to students participating in SOLE trips.

This is the final reminder- so don’t miss your chance to win part of $4,000 dollars in cash and prizes. Submissions are due Dec. 17, by 5:00 pm.

To see other categories and for more information, visit:

Cast your ballot for the environment

Monday, November 1st, 2010 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

“Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.” -James Garfield

What is the importance of voting? Voting is your constitutional right as an American. It is the shining platform of democracy. Elected officials make the decisions that affect how our country is run. By participating in the election process, we as citizens are indirectly making the decisions that affect … ourselves! That is what it means to live in a representative democracy.

We vote for democracy, the free world, as our duty to our country, because so many fought and died for it, because so much blood spilled so we wouldn’t be represented by a throne, and we vote because that is the example we want to set for our children.

Voting can be a vehicle to help citizens become more educated about their community and involved in its progress. According to PEW Research, however, less than 40% of the voting population casts a ballot during mid-term elections. The majority of nonvoters are younger, less educated and more financially stressed.

Midterm election participation is especially important because we have the chance to elect the officials who work directly in and with our community. They are the people who live close by and can better understand the community’s needs. These officials are often easier to contact and it is their duty to bring our issues to Washington D.C.

When you head to the polls tomorrow, consider who you are voting for with regards to environmental issues. Do your favored candidates support clean water? Land? Air? Where do they stand? Environmental laws are vital to protecting our local communities. Do the research. Make the decision to vote. Participate in voting and you participate in decision-making. The power is yours, go out and be a voice at the ballot box!

Go to: to find your polling station.

Bringing Artistic Perspective to Environmental Disaster

Monday, October 25th, 2010 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

I was at a reception in Washington D.C. last month and photographer J Henry Fair had his images of coal ash ponds on display. They were aerial shots that were so exotic and colorful that I almost wanted to hang one up in my living room. I was afraid of how I viewed the photographs, until my coworker turned and whispered to me, “These images are almost too pretty.” OK good, I thought, I wasn’t going crazy.

How is it that we can view photographs taken of environmental disasters as so artistically striking? Can we separate the visually intriguing aspect of a photographer’s eye from the depression of truth represented in an image?

Capturing a shot that brings in this artistic perspective is what Appalachian Voices is asking photographers to do for the 8th annual Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition. Again this year we will be sponsoring the “Our Ecological Footprint” category. Pictures submitted to this category should incorporate elements of the human impact on our surroundings in Appalachia.

Last year’s notable images for the category include: a black and white image of a playground at the entrance of an abandoned mine in Wainwright, Kentucky, a fly fisherman in the polluted Doe River in Elizabethtown, Tennessee where trout can no longer exist as heavy industry has left the river too polluted and oxygen deficient, and the winning image of the coal ash sludge disaster in Tennessee.

There is an element of beauty that one can find in even some of the most egregious assaults on the environment. These photographs then become powerful vehicles in which to educate the public about the human-made disasters happening all around us.

To learn more about the competition, visit: Photography Competition

Resist and Create: lessons learned from Wales

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

A big thanks goes out to the The Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University for hosting this weekend’s “Appalachia and Wales: Coal and After Coal” symposium. This weekend’s symposium brought together members from both communities face to face.

Wales’ mining industry came to an end in the 1980s. The relationship that has formed between Welsh activists and miners and Appalachians suffering from the same issues, has opened up a dialogue for the two communities to discuss ways that we can learn from one another and help each other out.

A quick review of some of our discussion is below:


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Seaming together Coal Countries

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

What connection do Appalachia and Wales share with one another? For starters, coal. Wales has been the sight of large-scale coal mining since the 1800s. With coal dominating the economies of both regions, Appalachia and Wales share long histories of social and political unrest with coal companies and mining.

This weekend, Oct. 14-16, members of Appalachian Voices will be participating in the “Appalachia and Wales: Coal and After Coal” symposium hosted by Appalachian State University. With coal mining dwindling down to one mine by the 1980s, Wales has since been experimenting with economic diversification and the task of regenerating a region controlled by coal mining for hundreds of years.

The relationship formed by the two regions has opened up a door for discussion on how to organize as communities, how to transition economies, and the steps that should be taken to move forward.

Speakers at the conference will discuss the historic, social, and economic ties between the two regions and the various ways that Appalachia can learn from Wales and their progress in diversifying their country’s coal mining areas with what the industry left behind. Both regions also share a strong tie to their local music, art and writing cultures. In that honor, guests are encouraged to attend Friday night’s live music with local Kentucky artist Randy Wilson at 7p.m.

Come learn about the parallels between the two regions this weekend in the Table Rock Room of the Plemmons Student Union. All events are free and open to the public.

For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit:

20,000 Clean Water Act Violations equals attack of the lawsuit!

Friday, October 8th, 2010 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

Yesterday’s press release made its rounds quickly as our WaterWatch team here at Appalachian Voices announced its legal action against three coal mining companies for violations (and violations… and violations…) of the Clean Water Act.

ICG (International Coal Group) has already responded in a furious attempt to label us as an “anti-mining group” and accused us of “attacking” them. Considering that they have committed over 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act in two years it’s hard to take these companies seriously when they accuse us of attacking them. Our “attacks” come only in response to their extreme attacks on the water supply, human health, and the environment of Appalachia.

On the contrary, the Kentucky State officials have responded that they are taking the allegations seriously and are ready to investigate. Here is a quote from the Governor’s office:

In a statement provided through his spokeswoman, Gov. Steve Beshear said: “These allegations are serious, and I have directed the Cabinet to investigate these claims. We will look further into the issues raised in the notice by these groups.”

The news is spreading on the web like wildfire. Check out the web-sites below to learn more:

The Ashland, Kentucky Independent: Coalition announces intent to sue coal companies Environmentalists claim 20,000 alleged violations in Kentucky

Louisville Courier-Journal: Environmentalists claim Kentucky coal mines faked water data

Lexington Herald Leader: Two Kentucky coal companies accused of fraud; advocacy groups intend to sue.

Institute for Southern Studies Facing South: Coal companies charged with massive violations of water pollution laws in Kentucky

Business Week: Groups claim mines polluting water in eastern Ky

Creative Loafing-Charlotte, NC: Coal companies sued for more than 20,000 clean water violations, fraud

Grist: The Tip of a Criminal Iceberg? #Coal companies charged w/ massive violations of water pollution laws in Ky

Associated Press:Groups claim mines polluting water in eastern Ky.

The Charleston Gazette Coal Tattoo: New legal action targets Ky. mine pollution

With Coal Company Polluters, It’s Citizens Who Have to Force Cleanup

Kentucky Coal Mines Accused of 20,000 Violations Over Past Two Years

Appalachia rises up at rally in D.C.!

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

Hundreds gathered at the EPA building to protest MTR.

“The people! United! Will never be defeated!” … “Hay hay ho ho MTR has got to go” … “Do your job, EPA!”

Hundreds of protesters marched the streets of Washington, D.C., yesterday to protest mountaintop removal coal mining practices.

Participants of Appalachia Rising, a weekend-long conference on citizen lobbying, civil disobedience, and the ins and outs of mountaintop removal, gathered in a Day of Action to ask our nation’s representatives to stop destructive coal mining practices caused by mountaintop removal.

The majority of protesters were part of smaller organizations, student coalitions, church organizations, or came on their own. All of the groups marched together, stopping in front of the EPA to rally, shouting in protest for their fellow citizens, the dirtied waters and the destroyed mountains that have from suffered this practice.


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Click Click Snap Away Photographers!

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 | Posted by Jillian Randel | No Comments

Snap away photographers! The Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition is underway and it’s perfect weather for walking, hiking, biking and poking around the outside world with your camera.

As you wander around with your camera during the upcoming months, pay special attention to the category sponsored by Appalachian Voices called “Our Ecological Footprint.” Perhaps you come across a tree root overtaking some manmade object, an abandoned trail cut through the woods or some industrial practice that is harming the environment. The point is to show how we as a species have impacted the natural world. Look around at what inspires you.

Don’t forget your other categories as well: Adventure; Blue Ridge Parkway Vistas; “The Parkway Tree Project,” (Blue Ridge Parkway Share the Journey® annual category); Culture; Flora and Fauna; and Landscape.

There will be $4,000 dollars in cash and prizes offered in the competition. Appalachian Voices is offering a $200 prize for the winner of the “Our Ecological Footprint” category. Last year’s winning photo was of the TVA coal ash spill in Roane County, Tennessee.

There is a $6 entrance fee per photograph and you have until December 17 at 5:00pm to submit pictures. Visit for more information.



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