Off I Go to D.C. – Or “going off” in D.C.

The Alliance for Appalachia hosted an event this past weekend called “Our Water, Our Future.” I was surprised and tickled pink to be invited and to receive a scholarship/sponsorship which covered all my expenses. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was told to bring one business appropriate outfit.  I went to the event open to learning and willing to go with the flow.

Saturday was our traveling day.  Driving through the West Virginian and Southern Virginian mountains.  I discovered that I’ve gotten much better at spotting a Mountaintop Removal Mine from a distance.  Generally, they hide them from highway travelers.  But as coal becomes scarcer they are being permitted to mine closer to the public.  One such mine is the Pax mine.  You can see portions of it from the highway.  The tell-tale perfectly flat silhouette, seeing through a line of trees where once a mountain stood.  A “reclaimed” area of patchy grass, small bushes and a scrubby pine tree here and there where a hardwood forest had been before.  Sobering.

Our Water, Our Future

Woot! Group picture time!

Sunday was totally about training.  I had a lot to learn and people to meet.  One of our first training sessions we worked with the Value/Problem/Solution or Action/Vision formula.  I discovered that my own “formula” looks like this:

Value – Our homes and our lives are NOT the cost of business
Problem – Polluted Streams;  Wells Destroyed;  Watershed Changed/Flooding;  Health Concerns;  CITIZENS DO NOT MATTER
Solution/Action – Stop Mountaintop Removal;  Stream Protection Rule;  Re-funding Health Studies;  MAKE CITIZENS MATTER
Vision – A Real Plan for a Sustainable Economic Transition;  Coal/Gas/Oil Companies truly Held Accountable

Then I attended training for meeting with the Council on Environmental Quality.  I had never even heard of them.

CEQ

Bill Price of the Sierra Club explains the Council on Environmental Quality

We had four “asks” of the CEQ:

  1. Promulgate a Strong Stream Protection Rule
  2. Promulgate a Strong Conductivity Rule
  3. Promulgate a Selenium Standard
  4. Promulgate a Strong Minefill Rule

The various organizations represented (The Alliance for Appalachia, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices and the Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment) had been working for six months to organize and schedule this meeting, which was a continuation of meetings that have been going on for years.

They had requested three hours and specific Administration personnel to continue the work that had been done at previous meetings.  While we were preparing Sunday afternoon we discovered that we had ONE hour.  This gave each of us only 1-2 minutes in which to present our concerns!  I was asked to speak last on the topic of Public Engagement.

Monday was our meeting with CEQ.  We had another pre-meeting planning session.  We timed our speeches and honed our messages.

Other participants in the event met up with a Quaker group to go picket and protest at PNC bank.  PNC, BB&T and other banks provide loans for Mountaintop Removal and Fracking projects.  They succeeded in closing that branch of the bank and bringing awareness to the public of how their money is being used to pollute and destroy Appalachia.

CEQMeetingUsThe meeting was frustrating.  Not only had it been cut back to one hour, but none of the participants we had requested were there.  No one from the Administration had been in their positions for more than a year.  They referred to our meeting as an “opening dialogue”.  One of our members pointed out that this had been a five year dialogue.  They heard our concerns, politely, and offered nothing.  I left wondering if we had achieved anything at all.

After the meeting on the steps leading to the back of the White House.

After the meeting on the steps leading to the back of the White House.

OurWaterOurFutureMeme

Tuesday was our Day of Action.  We donned our “Appalachian Water Rescue” vests and grabbed our buckets and signs and marched to the Metro.  While on the Metro we sang and answered questions about who we were and what we were doing.

We met up at Lafayette Square.LayfayetteSpeechMore

Several of us gave speeches.  There was a bucket brigade from the fountain to our water barrels – Clean Water for Appalachia.

We wanted to deliver a report card to the Administration on environmental issues, giving the Administration an “incomplete” in all categories.  The people working in the CEQ building refused to accept our report card.  They refused to acknowledge our presence. Even when we treated them to some music and dancing:

CEQSteps

A few of us blocked the entrance to their federal building, risking arrest.  I nearly lost it when I felt bullied by a Homeland Security officer.  So disrespectful. I felt, once again, betrayed by people I thought were there to protect my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I met some of the most amazing people with heart-rending stories.  They made me cry.  They made me laugh.  They made me feel welcome.  They made me feel like fighting.

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Sanity and Profanities

20140807_173508This has been a busy week in my fight against the Keystone Development #2 Strip Mine.  This past Thursday, August 7th, Tam and I attended a rally on the capitol steps.  Several hundred people attended and the rally received a fair amount of media response.  I spoke on behalf of the residents that will be affected by the Keystone Development #2 mine.  I was so nervous that I don’t know what I said.  The next day over 4,000 signatures to Governor Tomblin’s office.  Again the media attended.  Tam and I finished the day with a picnic sponsored by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

These events and the people involved made me feel positive, hopeful and personally powerful.

Then  yesterday I went to a hearing at the Department of Environmental Protection regarding this permit.

DEPHearingThis was not my first hearing and I was better prepared this time for my anger and frustration.  I knew that the DEP attorney would roll his eyes and be disrespectful.  I knew that the Keystone attorneys would be arrogant and dismissive of human life.  I knew that the Surface Mine Board would give the impression that they were objective while finding for the mining company every time.

One expert for our appeal was trying to discuss the watershed plan and the high potential for flooding from this permit.  It seemed that the only thing that the Board and attorneys for the DEP and Keystone could focus on was whether or not the witness was an engineer.  I’m not certain how that would change the inadequate watershed plan.

When an expert for the appellants was expressing concerns about mine run-off and the affect it could have on aquatic and terrestrial life, the attorney for Keystone said, “and some flies might die, none of them would be on the endangered species list, would they?”

The arrogance demonstrated by Keystone’s attorney in the above quote was minor compared to the repeated comments he made in asides about being done with “these people”. Kanawha State Forest might not be affected by pollution in Kanawha Fork but WE would be! Our ground and well water WILL be. When my father-in-law made this point from the witness stand the attorney for Keystone snidely said, “You don’t know that.”  Fred responded with, “Prove to me it won’t.  You can’t.”

Kanawha Fork is the creek that runs in front of our homes, it joins up with Davis creek at the entrance to Kanawha State Forest, and then runs through Loudendale, WV, approximately 2,300 people potentially affected by water polluted by mine run-off. 2,300 homes in danger from mine-related flooding. But then, from what I’ve seen of Mr. Hoyer, we’re probably less significant than the flies he mentioned.

Our attorneys tried to get clarification on the $700,000 payment to the Department of Natural Resources.  The CEO of Revelation Energy said it was a way to give back to the community for the “temporary inconvenience.”  His attorneys repeatedly called it a “settlement” and a “done deal” that they would not discuss.  First of all, ten YEARS is not “temporary.”  Second, no matter what you call it, the “settlement” sounds more like the Department of Natural Resources signed off on the permit because they were paid off to do so.

The mine has had three violations since the permit was signed in May.  The precursor to this mine, Keystone Development #1, has had a history of being in violation, a history which seems to be repeating itself at Keystone Development #2.

West Virginia Governor, Earl Ray Tomblin has the authority to rescind the permit, or, at the very least, place the entire permit on hold until a full review can be done.  To ignore us and not respond in any way makes his alliance clear.  He does not represent the people of West Virginia.  He represents the corporations.

Productive FrustrationThe time I spent at the hearing was not a complete waste.  Since I am often overwhelmed by the desire to burst out at these hearings and am fluent in American Sign Language, it’s important to keep my mouth shut and my hands busy.  So I brought my sanity with me in the form of crochet.  I may get a lot of gifts done this way.

 

This is a personal blog and these are my impressions and my understanding of the situation.

 

 

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Mountaintop Removal and Blanket Forts

Coloring Fort

I’ve been two weeks, no after checking the calendar it’s actually almost three weeks, telling myself that I needed to post to my blog.  But I couldn’t.  I was hurting.  I was depressed.  I was too angry.  You see, the day after I came back from vacation I attended a hearing of the Surface Mine Board of the Department of Environmental Protection regarding the Keystone Development #2.

The purpose of the hearing was to request a stay of the permit until additional public concerns and issues with the permit itself could be clarified.  The stay was denied and the hearing will be continued on August 11th regarding other issues we were hoping to address.

It’s not the board’s decision regarding the stay, nor the continuance that had me emotionally needing a blanket fort.  No, it was the attitudes of the DEP attorney and the attorneys for Keystone Development.  Condescending, arrogant, dismissive, mean-spirited, snarly, rude.  I was shocked.

I expected the DEP attorney to be impartial at the very least.  I mean, Department of Environmental Protection.  I guess I’m naive.  I thought they’d side on protecting the environment.

One of our experts pointed out that the watershed plan for the permit was based on a seven-year-old soil study and that a newer study had been available since December, 2013.  Using the information from the 2013 study, our expert shared, the watershed numbers for water run-off showed a 25-50% increase.  This is significant!  But the Keystone Development expert, while acknowledging that our experts’ math was correct, insisted that she could make the existing plan and numbers “work.”  Excuse me?  It’s not her home that could potentially be flooded!

The Keystone attorney made closing remarks that sounded more like a threat than closing remarks.  He slammed both palms on the table and reminded the surface mine board that the governor wouldn’t be happy to lose $2,000,000 in revenue.

I left the hearing feeling so very, very angry with nowhere to channel that anger.  I knew I couldn’t say anything to anyone at the hearing without damaging our attorneys’ case and reputation.  I don’t want to say or do anything that reflects poorly on the Kanawha Forest Coalition or any of the organizations that have been incredibly supportive.  I went into hermit mode.

Luckily, these folk from KFC, OVEC, RAMPS and other organizations understand and won’t let me hide for long.  They encourage my self-care and validate the extreme emotional highs and lows of this journey.

When this reality looms over your life:

Our home is about 2000 feet from the northern phase of the Keystone Development Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine. Photo courtesy of Viv/Southwings

Our home is about 2000 feet from the northern phase of the Keystone Development Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine.
Photo courtesy of Viv/Southwings

it becomes vital to find the positive. 

 This is a personal blog and these are my impressions and my understanding of the situation.

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Everywhere I Go…

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I’ve been on vacation.  I tried to take a vacation from the stress and frustration of fighting our new neighbor, the Keystone Development #2 Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine.  I discovered that wherever I go, this issue now goes with me.  People ask about it, which is an educational opportunity that I won’t pass up.  My friends and family probably heard more, and now know more, than they wanted to.  I’d like to apologize for that, but I can’t really.  I think we should become more conscious of the true costs of our energy consumption.

On the last day of my vacation I went to an amazing dinner at a local restaurant, The Bluegrass Kitchen.  They were sponsoring a Haiku event.  The above image was mine.  My dear daughter read it and said, “Wow, mom, that’s depressing.”  She was right.  I consciously moved the issue to the back of my mind to enjoy the food, drink and especially, the company of my spouse and out-of-state family.

But it’s never really gone.  Every day there is something to do regarding the fight.  I can’t apologize for being, honestly, obsessed, by something so important.  It’s hard for me to understand why everyone isn’t.

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Once Aware…

VacationStudy

I’m on vacation.  Far away from any coal mine.  But I can’t really get away.  I brought study material (that’s on me) to enjoy (?) on my son’s back porch with a cup of chai on this sunny summer day.  Email reminds me that an informational meeting needs to be publicized on Facebook.  Son urges me to connect my blog to my brand new Twitter account to share my blog further.

But it goes deeper than that.

I can’t really get away because now I am awake to some of the true costs of the electricity that I use every day.  I love my tech gadgets.  No, I SERIOUSLY love my tech gadgets.  But now I know that especially in Appalachia, someone’s groundwater has been polluted to bring me this electricity.  A mountaintop is gone, destroyed for the coal it contains, to fire up a coal fired electric plant.  A community’s air is fouled.  A homeowner’s home has lost all of it’s financial value because of a neighboring mine.  Someone is struggling with health problems due to pollutants and stress from living near a mine.  And I’m aware that there are additional costs that I don’t really know about yet.

I am aware and I can’t stop being so.

Coal is safe.  “Clean Coal” is achievable.  Pollutants from coal mining are strictly regulated. Mountaintop Removal sites are left better than before.

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I Used to Love the Smell of a Campfire

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Image from “How to Destroy a Forest Habitat

For the past few days, stepping outside, especially first thing in the morning, the scent of a wood burning fire is on the breeze through the hollow.  I know my neighbors aren’t burning anything and there isn’t anyone other than the Senior Ranger for Kanawha State Forest upwind of us.  He’s not burning anything either.

I suspect that the Keystone Development #2 coal mine has stared phase one and is clear cutting all the timber and burning it.  I can’t prove this without trespassing on mine land.  Or checking Google Earth and seeing if there is a recent satellite image.

Typically, they cut all of the trees and bulldoze them over the side (filling the valley/hollow) and set them on fire.  The wood is not sold for lumber, mulched to feed the topsoil during reclamation, or given away as free fuel for residents in the area who still heat with wood burning stoves.  It’s simply burned.

But I’m not sure what they are doing at KD#2.  You see, the permit doesn’t allow them to fill the hollows/valleys surrounding the permit area.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing so.  Often, according to the research I’ve been doing, they do what they want and simply absorb the fines into the cost of the job.  The fines are so minimal that they are not a deterrent.  There are no cameras on the work site.  So unless an inspector just happens to stop up there, if they are bulldozing the trees over the side, no one will know.  Honestly makes me wish I had access to a drone with a camera.

We can put surveillance cameras in the workplace.  At traffic crossings.  On our ATM’s.  But not on the property of a mining permit that has some very specific restrictions.  This makes no sense to me.

None of this makes any sense to me.

It breaks my heart to even think about the destruction of the trees.  I’m reminded of Treebeard from “Lord of the Rings”:

Treebeard: [after seeing the torn-down forest around Isengard]
Many of these trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn…
Pippin: I’m sorry Treebeard.
Treebeard: They had voices of their own…

 

 

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Riding the MTR Pendulum

Any time spent not focusing on educating people about Mountaintop Removal coal mining, or on canvassing our community, calling elected officials, writing here on my blog or attending meetings feels like guilty, stolen time.  No matter what I’m doing, my activity, my thoughts are interrupted by something else I need to do to stop this mine and save our home.  Just now, I stopped writing to send a quick email to our attorney.  Every day, all day, is like that.  I’m doing laundry and making phone calls.  It feels like I’m doing everything (I’m not).  It feels like it’s all up to me (it’s not).  It feels like no one else is helping (patently not true).  I can’t do enough.

Or, I do nothing.  Awash in hopelessness.  “I wonder if I’ll be able to open our windows to the bird song and the breeze this time next year.”  “I wonder if I’ll be able to drink our water.”  “I wonder if my spouse’s COPD will flair.”  “I wonder if my father-in-law’s Asbestosis will flair.” “What’s the point.  No one wins against coal.” “The mine complex is only five miles from the state capitol building – kind of says it all.”  “WHY DOES NO ONE CARE?”  Self-pity and despair.  I loathe it.

All of us, me, my spouse and my father-in-law had a conversation where we all admitted to feeling this way.  Up one minute, and not just down, but all the way down, the next.  We committed to not taking it out on each other.  To remember that we’re in this together.  We’re driving each other in this struggle and making allowances.

But we’re not stopping.

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