Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Coal Industry Pushes for Relaxed Selenium Standards

Charleston, WV -- It is a ludicrous moment. West Virginia lawmakers are fighting to override current EPA standards on selenium discharge into West Virginia streams because they are up for review so that the state must come up with their own in the meantime ?

Selenium Hearing, HB2579 - Images by antrim caskey

 According to Thomas Cook, Vice President of Environmental Permitting for Alpha Natural Resources, the mountaintop removal company in West Virginia, "For several years, I've overseen research on selenium on fish impact in West Virginia streams...there were no individual community effects. The fish appeared healthy." This is the word from Alpha-funded research from the Alpha employee in charge of permitting. Patriot Coal has been held liable for more than 400 million dollars related to selenium clean up in their coal mining operations in Boone County, WV thanks to lawyers at Appalachian Mountain Advocates and the Sierra Club. As part of the agreement to settle the selenium lawsuits, Patriot Coal has promised to quit all mountaintop removal operations. This eliminates just 15% of the mountaintop removal operations in West Virginia. Alpha Natural Resources, formerly Massey Energy, control the rest of the mountaintop removal operations.

Water Problems With Coal Mining - Images by antrim caskey

 There was the junior Dark Lord of Coal, Bill Raney, of the West Virginia Coal Association, who shuffled up to the witness stand to testify in favor of the regulation-loosening bill; he was draped over bulky black crutches, dressed in a dark suit, though his hair is now grayed. Rainey, perhaps making up in voice for what he lacked otherwise, pronounced that the current regulations and rules on selenium discharge into West Virginia streams, which is not uncommon in coal mining, are already too strenuous. "They're literally having to make distilled water," he gaped. He then recited a platitude, "to keep our minds and business open" as he left the podium and loped back to his seat, surrounded by the bevy of junior coal barons he came with. 

 Refreshingly, citizen testimony channeled through a cute Hunger Games metaphor by United Methodist preacher Luana Scott who said "this bill makes fun of the fact that we're controlled by Industry...I come today in a ludicrous outfit. My faith compels me to speak out today." Scott was followed by Kathy Elkins who had taken the afternoon off so that she could comment on the proposed legislation. Elkins said " I observe this bill to be an attempt to protect the coal industry." For a final dose of inanity there was Jason Bostic, Vice President of the WV Coal Association, who pleaded with the lawmakers, "We seek to bring some sanity to our state's waste quality."

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Alpha Intent on Destroying Communities - Applies For New Permit on Coal River Mountain

Less Than One Month After New Marsh Fork Elementary School Opens, Removing Children From Harm's Way

Rock Creek, WV -- Less than a month after the new Marsh Fork Elementary School opened in Rock Creek, WV after years of community effort to move the school out of harm's way, Alpha Natural Resources, formerly Massey Energy, has applied for a permit to expand their mountaintop removal operations on Coal River Mountain. The WVDEP will hold a public question and answer session on the permit Thursday 28 February in Pettus, WV.

Alpha Applies to Blast More of Coal River Mountain - Images by antrim caskey 

One couple sat quietly on folding chairs in the school gymnasium, he a strip miner; a letter taped to their door indicated that a strip mine will come above their homes and the miner says that his personal beliefs conflict with his job so he can't say any more. "It's our property. We're gonna see what will happen." He sits, arms folded, red-faced and excuses himself for a cigarette. His wife waves her hands upwards from her lap and lightly back down, smiling, " Well I love coal," you can write that down. It is their son that lives in the house up McDowell Hollow. "I know what's coming, I work on a strip job," said the father, who requested not to be named along with his wife.

 The public session also included the facility to enter your comment opposing or supporting the permit at a table with a microphone and tape recorder set at the back of the gymnasium.

WVDEP Records Public Comment - Images by antrim caskey
 Rushing in shortly before the public session was to end came Jane Stover, of McDowell Holler, in the Clear Fork watershed area. "I just heard about this. I got 20 some acres."
Blasting 1850 Feet From Your Home - Images by antrim caskey 

 Examining the large topographical map of the area, Stover identified her home on the map and WVDEP engineer GK Demyan measured the distance from her home to the closest edge of the permit: 1850 feet. "We built our home. We're the only ones who've ever lived there," said Stover, whose home lays within the seven-tenths of a mile radius - designated the pre-blast survey zone - so that the WVDEP will be sampling her water, though when city water is already piped in, the DEP has no requirement to test the well water, though still they do, for their own liability, clarified GK Demyan, engineer, Division of Mining and Reclamation, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. While saying that "ground water is really not affected by mining," geologist with the WVDEP Tina White, said that they will work to incapsulate selenium if they find it in layers thicker than one foot. "They do have a problem with it in Logan," she said, but the "only place we saw selenium [in this permit] was McDowell Branch."

Friday, March 1, 2013

48 Arrests on Ash Wednesday at White House

President Obama's 8 sentences on the environment in his second inaugural address, during which he eloquently spoke of the well-being and health of the children of Appalachia and following, in the 13 February State of the Union address, when he spoke out of both sides of his mouth about the wonders of natural gas and cleaning up our energy; then declaring, "if Congress won't act, I will," which we hope refers to ending the glaring atrocity of mountaintop removal coal mining. Extreme extraction, whether it be mountaintop removal for coal, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas or tar sands extraction for oil, must end or our planet will continue its headlong path to burning coal-fire hell, which no amount of "prepping" can help.
Climate Change and Obama's Second Term - Images by antrim caskey February 13, 2013, 48 people of the environmental movement, organized by Sierra Club, and the Hip Hop Caucus, gathered at the White House, lashed themselves to the wrought iron fence, to send a message to President Obama, don't build the pipeline, stop blowing up mountains and quit fracking our countryside.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Call To Action Tour 2012; ACT ON ACHE (HR 5959)

Rock Creek, WV -- When the University of Michigan announced in April, 2012, that Maria Gunnoe, from Bob White, West Virginia, would be the 22nd recipient of the University of Michigan Wallenberg Medal, I made plans to attend the ceremony and public lecture she would deliver in Ann Arbor, MI.

Maria Gunnoe and Antrim Caskey after Gunnoe delivered the 22nd University of Michigan Wallenberg lecture in Ann Arbor, October 23, 2012.

Maria Gunnoe has become one of the most powerful and effective voices in defense of the land and people of Appalachia.  I first met Maria in New York City in May, 2005; she told me how Patriot Coal's 1200-acre mountaintop removal site, in her backyard since 2000, had turned her life upside down.  Three days later, I was at Maria Gunnoe's home-place in Bob White, WV, to witness for myself. 

Maria opened my eyes to the human and environmental costs of coal, particularly mountaintop removal coal mining.

Despite growing national awareness, he atrocities of mountaintop removal coal mining continues, 24/7.  But over the past several years, a growing body of scientific studies has emerged, directly correlating severe human health costs to breathing the poisonous dust that comes off these sites.

Bo Webb and his neighbors have built a campaign around these health studies, more than twenty now that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. These studies tell us that a non-smoking pregnant woman who lives near a mountaintop removal site is 180% more likely to bear a baby with birth defects compared to a woman who smokes cigarettes during her pregnancy, but does not live underneath a mountaintop removal site.

Bo Webb and a small team have used the studies to educate our lawmakers over the past years. As a result, we have a bill in Congress that will end all new mountaintop removal coal mining, the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE), HR 5959. The ACHE team runs a bare-bones citizen lobbying campaign out of their Washington, DC-based office.  Currently the ACHE Act has 27 sponsors, all Democrats.

"We want to approach the Republican side now. What better bill than the ACHE Act that the two sides can work together on. To show the American people. It saves lives and will save money," said Bo Webb from his home in West Virginia.  The ACHE team is planning a blitz on Washington, DC next week.

The first stop on our tour was Minneapolis, MN, where my dear friends Ariel and Jeff now reside with their two daughters. 

We spoke to Ariel's co-workers at Caldrea, as part of their monthly in-house education series,"Lunch and Learn."   We introduced them to Appalachian people directly affected by mountaintop removal coal mining -- Maria, Ed, Judy, Larry, Bo and the places in West Virginia -- Marsh Fork, Kayford, Rock Creek, and Bob White where they lived.  Afterwards, almost everyone took a copy of Dragline Some spoke up during the talk and described how surface mining has marred their local landscapes.  We told them about the ACHE Act when they asked, "What can we do?"

Our next stop: Madison, WI, where my godfather Doug Moore is the current interim minister at the First Congregational Church, an historically progressive congregation, knew hardly anything about mountaintop removal coal mining.

On Friday, October 19, the church hosted a potluck dinner, a screening of The Last Mountain, and a Q&A afterwards. At Sunday's service, we brought our message and the cries for help from West Virginia into the church. 
I was invited to deliver a homilyDoug's sermon spoke of the actions around good stewardship to the land. 

The most poignant part of the service was A Time With Children, when the children gather on the small steps below the alter.  We decided to tell them the story of Marsh Fork Elementary because these were children of the same age. As we sat just a few feet from their inquiring eyes, their beautiful faces, I could not speak -- staring into the future that lay before us.  Fortunately, Doug took over, he told the story of the children of Marsh Fork Elementary. 

Our next stop was Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Maria Gunnoe would deliver the 22nd University of Michigan Wallenberg Medal lecture.  This event was the reason we were on tour, openly advocating for the end of mountaintop removal coal mining through passage of the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act ( HR 5959).  

After a welcome cocktail reception and dinner, we all sat in Rackham Hall, the favorite building of the whole campus I was told, and listened to the extraordinary introduction and story of Raoul Wallenberg, followed by Maria Gunnoe's slide lecture, followed by questions from the audience of the University of Michigan community.  Many students in the audience had been shown the powerful documentary, The Last Mountain, in a number of different classes in the days leading up to Maria's visit. Some of them were fired up; propelled toward action by Maria's testimony

On the train to Washington, DC the day afterwards, Maria told me how over the six days she'd spent at University of Michigan, she had spoken to almost twenty different groups of students.  She told me that she was using Dragline as a tool to help educate and activate the students and she told me how she gave them the latest tool that could end the atrocities of mountaintop removal coal mining, she told them all about the Appalachian Community Health Emergency (ACHE) ACT

Most people I met in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan had not heard about the human health impact of mountaintop removal coal mining, but they were outraged and concerned  to learn that citizens were breathing the dust that contains diesel fuel, ammonium nitrate, silica dust and coal dust.  And that 5.5 million pounds of explosives are used every day in mountaintop removal coal mining -- forcing citizens to breathe this poison every day.

We welcome too our new friends of Appalachia Watch and Climate Ground Zero. Please join us in our fight. Visit the ACHE Team today: learn more, sign the petition, and ask your Congressperson to support the ACHE Act.

Our last stop was Washington, DC to give a  TEDx talk on October 27 as part of TEDx MidAtlantic 2012. The video podcast of my TEDx talk will be available soon. 

Antrim Caskey speaks October 27 at TEDx MidAtlantic 2012 in Washington, DC.

Thank you as always for your interest and your support !

Antrim Caskey

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Witnessing the Subversion of Democracy in West Virginia

Rahall tells constituents that 90% of the work he does is "symbolic"

Mike Roselle watches Chris Hamilton, Vice-President of the West Virginia Coal Association and Roger Horton representing the UMWA in Logan County, WV enter the House Oversight Committee hearing over the Environmental Protection Agency's actions in Appalachia, July 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. photo credit: Antrim Caskey / Appalachia Watch
     As a resident of the Coal River Valley in Raleigh County, West Virginia, I sat in a meeting with a handful of Appalachian Ambassadors at Congressman Nick Joe Rahall’s office on July 13, 2011 in Washington, DC.  It was stunning to see the 18th-term Congressman stare in silence -- his only real reply -- as Bo Webb, Maria Gunnoe and Vernon Haltom described the horror and the heartbreak of living with the long-term effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. Armed with the latest Hendryx report, which cites the connection between increased chance of birth defects in newborns with living near mountaintop removal operations, these Power-Hillbillies put this latest evidence in front of a distracted Rahall and announced their demand for an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal. Rahall had nothing to say other than trying to pass the buck, first to, Alpha Natural Resources (Massey Energy's new name), then Office of Surface Mining (OSM). What we witnessed in Representative Nick Joe Rahall's office is what Bobby Kennedy Jr calls the “subversion of democracy in the state of West Virginia,” and we stared back in silence, in anticipation, as Rep. Rahall, stone dead in the eyes, the dome of the Capitol filling the large window behind him, said nothing to us West Virginians demanding to be represented.

This is what the subversion of democracy looks like in West Virginia, where sprawling corporations have woven their money-hungry tentacles all throughout the Appalachians in search and removal of coal, seizing more that 550 mountaintops and 5000 miles of headwater streams; annihilating hundreds of mountain hamlets, so many treasures, spurned with contempt.  All of the normal paths to correct injustices like Massey's chronic corporate nuisances, like the courts and regulatory agencies, have been compromised beyond belief. Instead, West Virginians face a state Supreme Court where the Chief Justice Brent Benjamin was elected with 3 million dollars of help from the local coal company, Massey Energy.
Dennis Kucinich speaks with residents from the Coal River Valley after the House Oversight Committee hearing on 13 July, 2011, and directs his aide to set up a visit with Bo Webb and Vernon Haltom of Coal River Mountain Watch.  photo credit: Antrim Caskey/Appalachia Watch

Finally, it was Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio who heard us during the House Oversight Committee hearing where Rep. Kucinich proposed a visit to see the atrocities he's been hearing so much about, especially in the brilliant new documentary, The Last Mountain. Kucinich repeatedly demanded that he "wants to view specific sites in the Coal River Valley." We anticipate Congressman Kucinich's visit and we would welcome Congressional investigations into the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. It is imperative that you act on this issue. 

Where does your energy come from? Check here.

Antrim Caskey
Rock Creek, WV

Friday, July 8, 2011

Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards (video)

On May 18, 2011, Dragline, a 74-page photojournalistic exose of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, was recognized as the Domestic Photography Winner at the 43rd Annual Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards. Here's the video wrap up of the award ceremony.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Artist-in-Residence Program Begins

On July 1st photographer Bobby Neel Adams left the hot & stinky summer smells of New York bound for Rock Creek. The smells have improved and he now awakens to birds, an pickups with no mufflers and the coal trucks rumbling by. Much better than the M train that passes by his Queens window. Concrete has been replaced with thick and often prickly vegetation that grabs at his ankles as he walks by.

In West Virginia Adams is continuing to work on his series of photographs titled: DROWNED. These Vinatas style photographs depict an underwater world of detritus and decay hinting at the ephemeral nature of life.

So if you live near Rock Creek, WV please throw a garbage bag and gloves in the trunk of your car, as Adams desperately needs fresh road kill to continue his work.

Any donations of skulls, bones, stuffed creatures, and the once living would be greatly appreciated and returned or not.

--Bobby Neel Adams

Appalachia Watch and Climate Ground Zero welcome Bobby Neel Adams as our inaugural artist-in-residence in Rock Creek, West Virginia. The program stems from a suggestion of our dear friend and neighbor Ed Wiley, who kept telling me, "Antrim, you've got to get the New York photographers down here." Wiley, an indefatigable fighter, understands the power of the picture, of media attention, and that we need more down here to end mountaintop removal permanently. So, we offer artists, journalists and filmmakers like Adams and future visiting artists a refuge of Appalachian beauty.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Demand Justice

Appalachia Watch Summer 2011 Intern Carolyn Case has produced this 43 second Public Service Announcement (PSA) advocating the end of mountaintop removal coal mining. Includes still photographs, sound, and text.

Demand Justice is to be shared freely. Please embed it today.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

RFK Jr on Tavis Smiley

A great interview with Bobby Kennedy Jr on Tavis Smiley's program discussing the film The Last Mountain.

Watch the full episode. See more Tavis Smiley.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

PSA: Maria Gunnoe, MTR Stops Here

MTR Stops Here. Check out this PSA shot at MountainFILM Festival in Telluride, Colorado over Labour Day Weekend - STOP MASSEY AT TWILIGHT