Oct 302012
 

Wow! Happy 25th Birthday OVEC!

Let’s all eat cake!

 

Who would have thought that OVEC would still be going strong considering our humble beginnings—a small committed group of people that stood up, spoke out and said “NO” to a major polluter? But here we all are, together celebrating a significant milestone in OVEC’s life— 25 years of hard-won successes.

Photo

Crystal Good’s reading of BoomBoom wowed the crowd.

 

We want you to know that we couldn’t have done any of this important work without the thousands of supporters who have been standing with us—and if you are reading this, you must be one of them. We hope you know that you, our members, volunteers, sustaining members, major donors and foundations share in every victory—both large and small. You are the life-blood of OVEC—generous, heart-centered, and committed to environmental justice, as well as clean air, water and land. Thank you!

We know that the only way to overcome the power of organized money is through the power of organized people—a core belief that has been the basis for our many real-world victories. In our early years, with OVEC’s assistance, citizens took leadership in their communities and successfully prevented major new toxic pollution sources in the Huntington Tri-State area and forced dramatic pollution reductions at the former Ashland Oil refinery on the Kentucky-West Virginia border. For 5 years, OVEC organized and led a coalition of groups, as well as hundreds of OVEC members which prevented the construction of the biggest dioxin-spewing pulp mill in North America in Apple Grove, West Virginia.

Appalachia Rising: The power of organized people!

In our quarter of a century life, we’ve learned that major victories are not won overnight. That’s why OVEC also believes in “endless pressure, endlessly applied.” Major pollution reductions at the Ashland Oil refinery took over twelve years of citizen organizing and toxic tort litigation. Standing with impacted communities, OVEC has been fighting mountaintop removal mining and other abuses of the coal industry for fifteen years. While we haven’t won yet, your loyal support has allowed us to stand our ground against injustices perpetrated by a politically powerful coal industry.

Bottom right is what remains of Jarrell family cemetery. Flight courtesy of Southwings (www.southwings.org).

A story aired on MetroNews radio prior to our celebration.  You can read about it here:

http://www.wvmetronews.com/news.cfm?func=displayfullstory&storyid=55884

You can read more about our celebration here:

http://www.herald-dispatch.com/features/x746103258/Huntington-non-profit-OVEC-celebrates-25-years-this-weekend

Today, while we continue to grieve and stand with those who still suffer the day-to-day assaults of mountaintop removal mining, we can take some solace in knowing that without our efforts, there would be many more active mountaintop removal mines now operating in West Virginia. Again, we want to express deepest gratitude to all of you— our faithful dues-paying members and hard-working volunteers, our board members and partner organizations, and all the attorneys who work with us providing significant time, energy, and resources to help save our precious mountains, streams and communities.

Blackwater Canyon

 

None of us knows what the future holds for OVEC, but we can all reflect with satisfaction knowing that OVEC’s presence in West Virginia has made a significant positive impact on the quality of life and the environment. We know with your continued support, we can forge a new vision for the state’s future—a future where all people are respected and valued, that preserves our mountain ecosystems and unique culture, is truly democratic, inclusive and, sustainable. That’s a tall order, but with your continued support, we can do this together.

Onward and upward!
Janet Keating, Executive Director
Dianne Bady, OVEC Founder and Co-Director

Oct 232012
 

The first time I spoke with James Olbert, I was completely engaged by his story. He phoned me in my capacity with the West Virginia Council of Churches, wondering if there was anything we could do to help. A self-effacing, pleasant man, Mr. Olbert was obviously deeply distressed. His family cemetery had been purposely bulldozed by a gas company making a road. He related that a passerby had called to the workers, didn’t they know there was a cemetery there? Contrary to the company claims that the desecration was “accidental,” the workers not only knew there was a cemetery, they knew exactly who was buried there. The racial slur uttered by the worker confirmed that. The family had been trying for six years to obtain amends and justice, but the process seemed to have stalled.

The Council did help, and so did OVEC. The WVCC’s Rev. Jeff Allen, and OVEC staffer Rev. Robin Blakeman and I went to visit the cemetery with James Olbert and another family member James Early. We saw for ourselves the dislocated grave stones, and metal markers placed by funeral homes scattered over the road. We asked if the family would like to have the site re-consecrated after the terrible desecration that occurred there. That appealed to the family, and we worked with Mr. Olbert to schedule the ceremony in August 2010, at the time of the family reunion. Local Pastor Willie Lewis joined us for that moving ceremony, at which the children planted flowers and placed a new sign reading “Crystal Block Cemetery.”

Members of the Olbert family plant mums at the Crystal Block Cemetery. Photo by Carol Warren

OVEC staffers and Council of Churches representatives were present to support the family when a number of Certified Questions on the case were presented to the West Virginia Supreme Court. The Council had filed an amicus brief at the request of the family’s attorney, Kevin Thompson.

The case was then sent back to Logan County and a court date finally set. It was with great relief and excitement that we learned that the family’s day in court yielded a jury verdict ordering Equitable to pay $700,000 in compensatory damages, $14,000 in repair costs, and $200,000 in punitive damages. This will certainly not make up for the suffering of the family members, or the insult to their beloved dead. But at least it is some measure of justice for people who have endured a very difficult ordeal. Equitable plans to appeal the verdict.

OVEC’s cemetery protection work is ongoing. For more information, contact Robin Blakeman at robin@ohvec.org and be sure to see this Internet page.

Oct 162012
 

Chap’s grave on Cook Mountain–what is left of it. Photo by Dustin White.

As boy I can remember joining my father on the picket line on the bridge leading to the Wells Complex coal mine. Boone County, W.Va. coal was booming, Peabody Coal was the dominant company in the area, and the United Mine Workers of America was strong, fighting for miners’ rights. My dad had been a coal miner with Peabody since coming home from Vietnam and was a member of the UMWA and he and his coworkers had gone on strike against Peabody for a new contract. They had been there for days, dressed in their camouflage with signs in hand.  They had worked hard for their benefits and weren’t going to go back to work until they got what they had worked so hard for.  They weren’t going to back down.

That seems like a lifetime ago and, my, how things have changed.  My father is retired now.  Coal production is at a new low. The UMWA is not as prevalent as it once was and many Union members face a new challenge. Patriot Coal, the company born of Peabody to inherit its holdings in Appalachia, has filed for bankruptcy. Retiree benefits, like my father’s, could be at risk.

Patriot is responsible for more than $600 million in health care liabilities for approximately 9,000 Peabody union retirees and their spouses in the eastern U.S. and with its bankruptcy may dissolve its responsibility to provide for Peabody’s retirees. My father, who retired in 2006, and many other former Peabody/Patriot employees cannot and must not lose their medical and other benefits they worked so hard to earn. Like many others, my father suffers the health impacts of many years mining coal.

In response to protecting these benefits, the UMWA has launched its “Fairness at Patriot” campaign.  I am proud to say that we at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition support this call for fairness for workers, retirees, and their families as Patriot moves through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  We urge the company to show respect for workers and all citizens of Appalachia, even if they have not shown respect for the environment of our state.

As one of the largest purveyors of mountaintop removal in the state of West Virginia, and currently the company dismantling my ancestral home of Cook Mountain, Patriot still owes it to their workers to honor the benefits they have earned.  The workers are not at fault for the practices their company chooses. However, studies have overwhelmingly shown that mountaintop removal harms residents, including the employees at Patriot and their families.  They cannot afford to lose their benefits.

All residents of Appalachia must stand together to demand fairness for our current coal miners but also demand economic fairness and diversity with well paying, sustainable and environmentally friendly jobs for all. We at OVEC stand in solidarity with the UMWA and workers at Patriot, even if they decide to take their fight for worker’s rights and the benefits they worked so hard to earn to the streets.  They cannot afford to back down.

Before his passing, the great Keeper of the Mountains, Larry Gibson said:  “I am in favor of benefits for the working man and families!”  We at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition agree and urge Patriot to act fairly and justly for everyone. Solidarity!