Appalachian Voices

Exposed: Secret Settlement Deal Between Kentucky State Government and Oil Company

Earlier this year, former Kentucky state Rep. Keith Hall was convicted of bribing a state mine inspector while the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet looked the other way. It was only after the Lexington Herald-Leader revealed the bribery through an open records request that the FBI began an investigation.

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Mountaintop Removal Mining Is Pushing Species to Extinction

If you find yourself at a crawfish boil anytime soon, don’t be afraid to go back for seconds. The two species that are sold commercially — red swamp and white river crayfish — are prolific. They can be found in the wild throughout the South and are especially abundant in Louisiana, where they are also farm-raised in ponds.

But here in Appalachia, some of our native crayfish populations are teetering on the brink of extinction, according to a recent report issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Whether or not they are pushed past the point of no return depends largely on the outcome of a recent proposal by the agency to add them to the federal list of endangered species.

Like most creek-dwelling crawdads, the two species in question — the Big Sandy crayfish, which are native to the Big Sandy River basin in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky, and the Guyandotte River crayfish, a closely related subspecies found in West Virginia — spend a majority of their lives wedged into the crevices of the creek bottom. These nooks and crannies shelter the crayfish from predators and serve as places to lie dormant during the winter months. But when these rocky creek beds are covered up in sediment, the habitat that these creatures depend on to survive is lost entirely.

This is precisely what is occurring in the Big Sandy and Guyandotte River drainages of West Virginia. The sedimentation has become so severe in recent years that the Guyandotte crayfish population has retreated to the mid-reaches of a single stream, Pinnacle Creek, in Wyoming County.

If the crayfish disappear completely, the ecology of these creeks could change drastically. The freshwater crustaceans are a primary food source for many of the native fish species, including smallmouth bass and trout, which also happen to be the two most sought after sport fish here in Appalachia. Take away the food source and these creeks might eventually be fishless.

The cause of siltation is obvious when you look at where these creeks are located. There are 192 active coal mines in the area, many of which are mountaintop removal mines that are dumping their waste into the headwaters of streams, effectively burying them. And that’s just standard operating procedure. If an accident occurs, a toxic slurry of silt and chemicals spills into the creeks that feed the rivers that run into the reservoirs we drink out of, wreaking havoc on species like crayfish along the way.

The Fish and Wildlife Service specifically mentioned mountaintop removal coal mining in its report on the two crayfish species. The agency determined that, “the Big Sandy crayfish and Guyandotte River crayfish are in danger of extinction, primarily due to the threats of land-disturbing activities that increase erosion and sedimentation, which degrades the stream habitat required by both species,” and that, “an immediate threat to the continued existence of the Guyandotte River crayfish is several active and inactive surface coal mines, including MTR mines, in the mid and upper reaches of the Pinnacle Creek watershed.”

The FWS report also called attention to impaired water-quality — especially hazardous concentrations of sulfate and aluminum — in areas where most of the mines are closed, proving that “the detrimental effects of coal mining often continue long after active mining ceases.”

The proposed endangered species listing could have considerable impacts on the coal mining industry. If the Big Sandy and Guyandotte crayfish are protected under the Endangered Species Act, it would lead to more strictly enforced water quality regulations, which could affect ongoing mining operations in the Big Sandy and Guyandotte River basins as well as coal companies seeking permits to mine in the area.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments on this proposal until May 16. Click here to take action and ask the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect these two Appalachian species.

What Does EPA’s Carbon Rule Mean For Your State?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced Clean Power Plan aims to cut carbon pollution from power plants nationwide. Specifically, the plan seeks to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels. A new tool on the EPA’s website allows users to see how their state will be affected by the federal effort.

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Why Electricity Costs Are Major Cause of Poverty In the South

Fifty years ago, President Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in America, and Congress passed legislation to increase support and economic opportunities for the poor. Appalachia was the “poster region” for this grand endeavor.

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The 5 Worst Lies in Support of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

There are ethical and committed people working in Congress, both members and staff, but their work is often stifled by clever politicians catering to special interests and major donors. On every environmental issue under the sun, polluters and their allies are prone to misleading the public. Here are the five biggest, baddest lies about mountaintop removal coal mining.

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Where Are the Country's Least Happy and Healthy Americans? New Studies Reveal America's "Sadness Belt"

Gallup and Healthways recently released their annual Well-Being Index for 2012, and Appalachia was found once again to be home to some of the least healthy and happy Americans. The most striking result of last year’s Well-Being Index is that while the happiest states are spread throughout the country, the lowest ranking states are all clustered in Central and Southern Appalachia, and the region’s neighboring states.

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Why Does Massey Energy Get Away With Murder While Environmentalists Are Sent to Prison?

True community exists when neighbors respect each other. Good neighbors are mindful of the impacts that their actions have on the whole. When a powerful neighbor, like a corporation, does not respect their neighbors, communities can become literally endangered.

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The Battle to Save Coal River Mountain

Appalachian coal is a dead end road. With coal production declining across the Appalachian region and prices nearly tripling since 2007, economists and energy analysts are increasingly saying that Appalachian coal is the wrong investment for America.

In Appalachia alone, we've seen over 1 million acres of America's oldest mountains destroyed forever, 1200 miles of headwater streams buried, and some of the highest poverty in the nation due to mountaintop removal mining. But, though we have lost much, the people of Appalachia are fighting back through organizing and advocacy from Charleston to Frankfort to Washington DC.

Coal River Mountain, located in Raleigh County, West Virginia is one of America's Most Endangered Mountains. The communities surrounding the mountain have a rich and mixed history with America's most polluting fossil fuel. As the name implies, many of the towns in the Coal River Valley grew up with the expansion of coal-mining. But, 150 years after coal-mining began in Appalachia, much of the central and southern Appalachians stand devastated by mining, and impoverished by coal companies hell-bent on keeping coal "cheap" at the expense of our land and people. The communities of the Coal River Valley are no different. The people of the Coal River Valley -- having seen and experienced firsthand the devastation that the mining and processing of coal causes -- have seen enough to know that they need to take a new direction in choosing their future economic path.

When you're talking about Appalachia and coal, the word "battle" is not used lightly. From Matewan, to Harlan County, to Blair Mountain, violence and bloodshed are a very real part of our history. Now the inherently American legacy of the miners of Blair Mountain, courageous coalfield labor organizers, and the grassroots movement that led to surface mining laws in the 70s has reached a head. The Appalachian people have drawn our line in the sand. We stand here together to tell companies that would practice mountaintop removal to stop NOW. We have popular support for clean energy, a better economic alternative, and literally everything at stake, and the Appalachian people will win this battle of wind vs. fire.

Check out The Battle for Coal River Mountain to see maps of the area, more analysis, and job projections.

New Yorkers Realize Their Connection to Mountaintop Removal Mining

It doesn't always occur to us that our electricity comes from somewhere.

But for many people on the east coast, every time we flip on a light switch, we are connected to the blowing up of the oldest mountains in the world - the Appalachian Mountains - where coal is being extracted using a barbaric form of coal-mining called mountaintop removal.

This weekend, not only did the Bloggers Challenge hit 300 participants (woah!), but I witnessed several incredible citizens who realized that they were connected to mountaintop removal put on an incredible 3 day event in NYC called New York Loves Mountains, in order to raise awareness in New York about the destruction of Appalachia, and the fact that EVEN IN NEW YORK Americans are using electricity generated by mountaintop removal. In fact, 13 power plants in 11 NY counties purchase and burn coal from mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia. Speakers came from all over the east coast, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia in order to meet New Yorkers who are engaging their peers on the issue.

Not only are New Yorkers engaging their peers and fellow statesmen, but they are engaging their Representatives in Congress regarding the Clean Water Protection Act (HR 2169). The bill would stop the dumping of toxic mountaintop removal mining waste into our headwater streams.


Happy Holidays!