Winds of Change Newsletter, February 2007 See sidebar for table of contents
Groups, Individuals Work for Environment
Much Vital Work Goes On Behind the Scenes
by Janet Keating
In all our years of grassroots organizing, OVEC has been blessed with partners along the way who not only move our work forward, but also help us win key battles. In our efforts to end mountaintop removal, we have collaborated with many outstanding groups over the past decade.
Two of our partners often approach the problem from a legal or technical standpoint and generally work quietly in the background. They deserve thanks and praise for their research, hard work and dedication. The work of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment (App Center) and the WV Highlands Conservancy (Highlands) strongly bolsters work of other groups working to end mountaintop removal, like OVEC and Coal River Mountain Watch.
It is hard to imagine what would be left of our beautiful mountains without the crucial and timely legal work of the App Center and the technical assistance from Highlands. Led by attorney Joe Lovett, the App Center has represented OVEC members free of charge in numerous policy initiatives and legal challenges. Their role in ending mountaintop removal is critical to our overall success.
In 1998, Joe, just out of law school and with Mountain State Justice, brought the first major legal challenge to mountaintop removal coal mining in Bragg v. Robertson. Highlands had been and still is deeply involved and active in mining issues since 1967. The group was already hot on the trail of exposing the horrendous practice of filling headwater stream valleys with mine waste when Jimmy Weekley approached Joe to take on his very first case. Highlands and OVEC members were thrilled to assist Joe as he took up the challenge to confront industry and regulators about the excesses of mountaintop removal. This high profile case and subsequent lawsuits generated important local, state and national media attention.
The case stopped the largest mine ever proposed in West Virginia. This initial suit resulted in a settlement agreement that reduced the size of valley fills by 40 percent statewide, led to the federal programmatic environmental impact statement on mountaintop removal mining that is still of great use today, and greatly improved reclamation and forest planting requirements for mountaintop removal mines.
Additionally, coalfield citizens in both Kentucky and West Virginia were given a reprieve from mountaintop removal when App Center obtained three precedent-setting federal court orders, each of which stopped all new mountaintop removal permits in both states for substantial periods of time, allowing OVEC and other groups additional time for greater community organizing.
In addition to Joe, Dr. Margaret Janes, veterinarian
turned scientific researcher for App Center, quietly applies her much admired and greatly needed research skills. Without the numerous, detailed permit comments she writes and files on our behalf, OVEC wouldnt have a legal leg upon which to stand!
Another valuable aspect of our relationship with Joe and Margaret is their connections with national groups like Earthjustice and the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. App Center nurtures and uses its relationship with national environmental groups like these, to bring added legal help and financial resources to the region.
Collaborating with Highlands strengthens OVECs work in a different way. Cindy Rank is Highlands mining chair and Julian Martin heads their speakers bureau. Both are outspoken opponents of blowing up mountains and smothering headwater streams with valley fills.
Both Cindy and Julian have fought mining companies bad practices for at least 30 years. Cindy freely shares with OVEC her deep knowledge of the mining laws (and how the industry ignores them). There is something so very comforting about her calm presence in a room full of environmental regulators and coal operators at any public hearing. Cindy and Margaret are generally the first people who come to mind if theres a question about a particular permit or law.
When it comes to love for the mountains, there are few as passionate as Julian. Julian thought up the "I Z Mountains" bumper sticker. Its been spotted as far away as California! He debates coal executives, speaks to school groups, tables at events, regularly attends Friends of the Mountains meetings, writes great op-eds and letters to the editor, and speaks out at public hearings. Hes generally the first person to call "B.S.!" when regulators or mining executives are trying to pull one over on the crowd. In 1998, Julian joined Larry Gibson in our "Walk for the Mountains," traversing much of the state to raise greater public awareness to the obliteration of our mountains.
Our joint efforts to stop mountaintop removal with App Center, Highlands and other groups are a little akin to the social structure of bee hives or ant colonies. Individual groups have their specialized roles and apply their strengths to aid the survival of the whole or enhance the probability of success.
We truly value both the App Center and Highlands and hope that they receive the amount of financial support they need and deserve to continue their good work. (Hint!)
For more information about the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment: www.appalachian-center.org.
For more about the WV Highlands Conservancy: www.wvhighlands.org.