Category Archives: Preservation

Pipeline Monitoring Group: FERC Not Doing Job on ACP

Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition calls for agency to ‘start over and do a proper’ environmental study on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

By Michael M. Barrick

MONTEREY, Va. – The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) is again challenging the work of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). In a news release, Rick Webb, program director for DPMC, said, “If built, the ACP could mar the beautiful, unfragmented viewshed of the southern end of the proposed 90,000-acre Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area that stretches from Rt. 250 north to Rt. 33 on the western side of the Shenandoah Valley.”

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Shenandoah Mountain. Photo by Brad Striebig

He explained, “The Natural Gas Act requires FERC to assess impacts to scenic areas and recreational trails. Yet, the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for the ACP does not consider impacts to this special area which was proposed for congressional designation by Friends of Shenandoah Mountain a decade ago, recommended by the 2014 George Washington National Forest plan, and endorsed by over 280 diverse organizations and businesses.”

Webb continued, “In addition, the DEIS ignores impacts to the Wild Oak National Recreation Trail and dismisses Forest Service requests to re-evaluate wild brook trout stream crossings on Hankey Mountain.”

According to Webb, a new utility corridor across the Braley Pond area and Hankey Mountain would:

  • diminish scenic beauty
  • degrade popular recreational resources
  • fragment core forests
  • damage wild brook trout streams
  • industrialize a major gateway to the scenic area

Consequently, he noted, “A permanent corridor of this magnitude could degrade the natural and scenic characteristics of the proposed National Scenic area to the point where it could jeopardize its viability for congressional designation.”

Webb argued that FERC has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). He argued, “In order to comply with NEPA, FERC needs to start over and do a proper DEIS that fully considers significant impacts to one of the largest, mostly unfragmented tracts of national forest land east of the Mississippi River. The proposed scenic area and its water and recreation resources are revered by the public and deserve due consideration in the DEIS.”

Webb noted that the DPMC has created an online Story Map – “Proposed Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area and the Atlantic Coast pipeline.”

Learn more about the DPMC here or contact Rick Webb at rwebb.dpmc@gmail

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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OVEC Publishes Newspaper to Reach 29,000 West Virginians

Dangers of fracking, benefits of Clean Energy in West Virginia are covered in the 28-page newspaper, Renew West Virginia

By Michael M. Barrick

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – One of the most established and influential environmental and social justice organizations in West Virginia is printing and distributing 29,000 copies of its own newspaper – Renew West Virginia.

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) stated in a news release, “The publication … examines the health and pollution impacts of the fracking boom in other areas of West Virginia, and details fracking-related projects proposed for the greater Huntington area. It also explores the nationwide growth of renewable energy and related jobs, with a focus on the renewable energy efforts underway in Cabell and Wayne counties.

It will be distributed to residents of Cabell, Wayne, Putnam, Jackson and Roane counties.  It is being sent to those “ … who reside near some of the proposed pipelines and their associated compressors stations,” explained OVEC in the statement. It is also available online.

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The proposed route for the Mountaineer XPress Pipeline as provided by Columbia Gas Transmission online.

The proposed route for the Mountaineer XPress Pipeline, as provided by Columbia Gas Transmission online.

The newspaper has been published, said OVEC in its release, to answer the question, “What is our energy future?” The question is timely, argued the organization. It noted, “A total of nine large diameter pipelines are proposed to come through the Huntington area. Unlike the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline, which are largely completed already, the fracked-gas pipelines proposed for the Huntington area are not yet in construction, and some are still in the planning phases.”

It continued, “Columbia’s Leach XPress pipeline is planned to bore under the Ohio River near Camden Amusement Park, and Columbia’s Mountaineer XPress pipeline is currently in the public comment phase. There is also industry discussion now about fracking the very deep Rogersville Shale which underlies the Huntington area.”

As pipeline companies seek eminent domain rights, we need to remember that informed and organized people can demand their rights, protect their property, and contribute to a better energy future for our state and nation.” – OVEC Executive Director Natalie Thompson

There is a better way, argues OVEC in Renew West Virginia. OVEC Executive Director Natalie Thompson said, “All across the United States, a new energy for citizen action is emerging. We need to tap into that energy and work with others concerned about the severe climate impacts of these planned developments in our neighborhoods.” She continued, “As pipeline companies seek eminent domain rights, we need to remember that informed and organized people can demand their rights, protect their property, and contribute to a better energy future for our state and nation.”

Robin Blakeman, OVEC’s project coordinator, added, “We see the problems our neighbors in north central West Virginia have faced with the rise of deep shale fracking-related activities. We’ve published Renew West Virginia because we want to make certain that people know deep shale fracking-related activities are not the same as our grandfathers’ oil and gas industry.” She added, “Renewable is doable! We can choose to move West Virginia’s economy into the 21st century by embracing cleaner renewable energy.”

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Graphic from Renew West Virginia. Courtesy of OVEC.

Indeed, the impact of fracking upon the state’s northern counties, as well as residents in Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere are revealed in the newspaper. On page 3, under the headline, “Not Your Grandfather’s Oil and Gas Industry,” a new fracking well pad dwarfs an older well. With that startling contrast catching your attention, readers are informed, “To learn what this oil and gas rush would mean for our communities, we look to our northern neighbors. Explore these pages to learn more about what our region faces, about fracking-related activities, and about cleaner, healthier alternatives.”

A number of topics are covered, including the growth of renewable energy. There is also a section on the Rogersville Shale field – 12 to 14 thousand feet under about 12 counties in West Virginia and several more in Kentucky – which is in the sights of the gas industry. The Marcellus Shale, in contrast, is about 5,000 feet below the surface. The publication asserts, “If the Rogersville Shale is extensively developed, the Huntington/Wayne County area would be harmed by unprecedented deep fracking, with much of the oil and gas apparently slated for export overseas.”

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A modern well pad. Note the flaring. Dangers also include storage tanks for explosive, volatile natural gas condensate. Courtesy of OVEC.

Additionally, the publication points out that much of the gas being extracted from the West Virginia shale fields are earmarked for export, despite federal regulations designed to prevent that. It shows how a state court victory for citizens could thwart industry plans to export the gas they seek to extract. The ruling prevents gas companies from accessing private property. Hence, depending upon other factors, the ruling could severely limit construction, and hence production and, ultimately, export of the fracked gas. Consequently, the construction of pipelines and compressor stations, not to mention the many adverse impacts of fracking, could conceivably be severely restricted by West Virginians firmly standing for their rights.

In that decision from a case in Monroe County, the West Virginia Supreme Court upheld a ruling by Monroe County Judge Robert A. Irons ruling that landowners do have the right to prevent pipeline surveyors from coming on their property to survey for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). This was a clear win in checking gas companies’ abuse of eminent domain. He ruled what MVP’s attempts to get on private property without permission based on the premise of eminent domain is illegal because it was “private taking for private use.” In other words, the pipeline is not for public benefit, affirmed the court, but for the profit of the energy companies building them.

Other issues explored include public health and environmental complaints in Pennsylvania; the impact upon water supplies from depletion of lakes to pollution through leaching; earthquakes occurring where none had before the fracking boom; public health impacts, ecological risks, and overall nuisances of fracking well pads; and, a review of the impact of nine proposed pipelines, many of which would run under or near the Ohio River.

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Fleets of various large trucks, oversized for the two-lane highways of West Virginia, many hauling hazardous and radioactive materials, clog the northern counties of West Virginia, as well as part of other central Appalachian states. Courtesy of OVEC.

Readers are also encouraged to know and defend their rights. “Folks in West Virginia living along the paths of these proposed pipelines are advised: If pipeline land men come looking for you, know your rights! OVEC can suggest knowledgeable and trustworthy lawyers.”

The dangers of compressor stations are illustrated vividly through the photo of a child who was part of a health study in New York. As noted in the caption, residents suffered from asthma, nosebleeds, headaches, and rashes. On the same page, readers learn. “The Pennsylvania Medical Society has called for a moratorium on new shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”

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A child that was part of a health study in New York about the public health dangers of fracking. Photo: Minisink, N.Y. health study.

In-depth reporting is provided on the “typical steps” for a Marcellus Shale gas operation. Numerous photos tell their own stories. Radioactivity in fracking well waste is explored. The paper notes, “In December 2016, the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters reported on a study that found some well waste from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania contained radioactive material not previously reported, with the potential for leaching from landfills into the environment.” Over two pages, Renew West Virginia thoroughly reviews the science that proves fracking creates radioactive waste. Furthermore, they note that disposal of it is barely, if at all, regulated.

The newspaper also includes news of grassroots victories against pipelines; points out that the clean energy economy employs four million people in the United States; and, provides extensive analysis of solar energy.

Informational Meeting

OVEC will distribute copies of Renew West Virginia at an informational meeting at 6 p.m. on Wed., March 15 at the Main Cabell County Library, 455 9th Street (at the corner of 5th Ave. and 9th St. in downtown Huntington).

Learn more

To contact OVEC or to learn more about Renew West Virginia, click here.

What is fracking?
Fracking is a slang word for hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting a fluid consisting of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale. This fractures the rock, releasing natural gas, which is then extracted. In West Virginia, the Marcellus shale, a layer of rock 3,500 – 8,000 feet below the surface, is the object of fracking. The vertical depth of the formation is about 150 feet. Whether recovered or left behind, the frack fluid presents problems. The wastewater contains not only the chemicals added to the water, but also heaving minerals and radioactive materials recovered as part of the extraction process.

OVEC fracking process

Source of graphic: ProPublica; used with permission. Use does not imply ProPublica’s endorsement of any content of this newspaper.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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JAM: ‘Building Community One Tune at a Time’

Inspiring program is preserving music, history and communities of Appalachia

By Michael M. Barrick

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Strictly Strings. Photo by Martin Church.

LENOIR, N.C. – The Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program says on its website “We’re building community one tune at a time.”

That’s a fact, as I saw it on display last night here at the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. There, among many other great musicians, we saw and heard the group Strictly Strings, which was born out of the Boone, N.C. JAM affiliate. (Learn more here: Strictly Strings Carrying on the Old-Time Tradition).

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Strictly Strings on stage. Photo by Lonnie Webster.

Below each photo are statements from JAM’s website. We hope these photos and insights will motivate you to click on the links above and learn more about this vital educational music program that is preserving the history, traditions and communities of Appalachia. If you have a chance to see Strictly Strings or any JAM shows of the roughly 40 affiliates in southern Appalachia, do it! You’ll see and hear history come alive. 

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Members of Caldwell JAM at MerleFest 2016

We envision a world in which all children have the opportunity to experience community through the joy of participating in traditional mountain music together.”

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Strictly Strings as seen on the cover of their album, ‘High on a Mountain.’ Photo by Martin Church.

Our mission is to provide communities the tools and support they need to teach children to play and dance to traditional old time and bluegrass music.”

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Caldwell JAM musicians perform for North Carolina’s legislators on ARTS DAY

 

We believe that children who are actively engaged in traditional mountain music are more connected and better prepared to strengthen their communities for future generations.”

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Strictly Strings photo by Martin Church.

Read about Caldwell, N.C. JAM here. 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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WVDEP Secretary Austin Caperton to Speak at Public Forum

West Virginia Sierra Club groups host forum Monday on WVU campus

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Austin Caperton

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Sierra Student Coalition and the Mon Group of the West Virginia Sierra Club will host a public forum featuring the newly appointed West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Secretary Austin Caperton.

Notably, the WVDEP’s new Environmental Advocate, Edward Maguire II, will also be in attendance. He was recently appointed to the position by Caperton after the recent firing of Maquire’s predecessor by Caperton, former WVDEP Advocate Wendy Radcliff. That decision was roundly criticized by environmental and public health advocates, as well as journalists, as Radcliff was widely viewed among open-government advocates as among one of the most transparent officials at the WVDEP, working in a hostile political environment.

The forum is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Shenandoah Room of the Mountainlair, on the downtown campus of WVU at 1550 University Ave. This event is free and open to the public.

wv-dep-logoAccording to a news release from the Mon Group of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club Chair, Autumn Long, “Caperton will comment on the WVDEP’s responsibilities as well as his priorities and vision for the agency’s future. Maguire will comment upon the role of the WVDEP Environmental Advocate Office in assisting citizens with environmental concerns and fostering communication with the public.”

Emily McDougal, WVU Sierra Student Coalition member and executive committee member of the Mon Group of the WV Sierra Club, said, “This event promotes community involvement on environmental issues and allows the public to directly communicate their environmental concerns to the WVDEP leadership.” She continued, “We hope this session will mutually inform and inspire Secretary Caperton and attendees to kick-start solutions to environmental problems in the state.”

Long added that audience members can submit written questions to pose to Secretary Caperton and Mr. Maguire via a moderator.

Sierra ClubAccording to Long, the Mon Group of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club operates in a five-county region of North Central West Virginia – Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor counties. It works to increase awareness of environmental issues and opportunities for active participation in this area. For more information and to find out about upcoming Mon Group activities, visit www.sierraclub.org/west-virginia. Questions? Contact Mon Group Chair Autumn Long at autumnlong11@gmail.com.

The WVU Sierra Student Coalition aims to protect the environment through political advocacy, education, and outings. Activities are planned during weekly meetings and vary from trips to the state Capitol and environmental conferences to recreational outings. Find out more at http://sierra.studentorgs.wvu.edu and on Facebook and Twitter @WVUSSC.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Missing Those Quieting Tides

My mind’s eye meanders with the ebb and flow of the surf

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LENOIR, N.C. – Though born and raised a ridge-runner, I’ve enjoyed the ocean since I first ran and jumped into it at eight-years old. In my Bermuda shorts, t-shirt and converse tennis shoes.

Dad had driven the five of us over about 50 mountain ridges overnight to Myrtle Beach. It was 533 miles from our home, Clarksburg, W.Va. (I can remember that but can’t find the eyeglasses that are on my face).

sunsetSo, I woke up in the back of our Vista Cruiser station wagon along with my sisters in an early bright morning sun. There, outside the window, was the ocean. I got out the door, ran past my parents and proceeded to try and jump the surf. After I thought I had conquered the ocean, it cheated, hit me from behind, and in the surf my bottom landed. My mom likely and characteristically laughed, my dad was likely none too pleased, but he might also have been too tired to care, and my older sister probably just thought I was being silly. I probably tried to corrupt my little sister into joining me, as that was customary, but I can’t recall.

I may not remember all the details, but I remember that mom and dad were there. So were my sisters. And the great people that owned the motel we stayed at annually. And friends that came down from West Virginia at the same time. And a new “girlfriend” (I was probably all of 12) until she had to head back to Ohio after a few days … and mom cooking spaghetti in our efficiency. Dad taking us to play mini-golf. Mainly, days spent playing in the ocean and pool.

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Today, on a rainy, chilly winter day, I’d really like to be at the beach. I long for such peace and memories. But isn’t that human nature? To want what you can’t have rather than enjoy what is before you?

Yep. Even so, while I generally prefer a day in the mountain woods to a day at the beach, there are times – the off-season – when I’ll instead take the solitude of an empty beach. The lapping of the waves, the sand in the toes, the wind, the endless horizon, work in concert to offer peace and a window into memories I find nowhere else. Into an age of innocence that, from time to time, is worth pondering.

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Yes, many of these memories are captured in photo albums. But I like the meandering course my mind’s eye takes when it first hears the lap of those waves.

A quick note on these photos: during a very unusual week in a previous life, I found myself on both coasts of the U.S. in the same week. That might be customary for some people, but not me. In any event, I found myself watching the sunrise along the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean near Garden City, S.C. on Monday. On Friday, in San Diego, we watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Take a Hike!

Mother Nature nurtures our souls with wonderment and beauty

By Michael M. Barrick

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MORTIMER, N.C.Wilson Creek is officially a National and Scenic Wild River. That federal designation, which took effect in the summer of 2000 is critical, as the purpose of the law according to The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems website, is “ … to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational value in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Wilson Creek earned its designation only because of hard work and cooperation among county and federal elected officials and staff.

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The “creek” which is certainly as much like a river as the stream it feeds into – the Johns River – deserves the designation. Scenic and wild it is, as it tumbles thousands of feet in elevation over 23 miles down the Blue Ridge Escarpment through the Pisgah Forest in northwestern Caldwell County. Through the millennia, it has carved out steep and imposing gorges as well as quiet ponds for fishing or tubing as it nears it confluence with the Johns River.

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Harper Creek, a major tributary of Wilson Creek near Edgemont, N.C.

Its headwaters begin on Calloway Peak, the highest point of rugged Grandfather Mountain at 5,946 feet. More importantly to me is that a favorite spot on it is just 18 miles from my front door. Indeed, on my last visit last week – as I sat on a rocky perch overlooking the waters below and canyon to the north – a couple of determined kayakers were navigating its boulders and rapids.

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Perhaps it is because of how and where I was raised, but my soul demands nourishment from Mother Earth. Its wonderment and beauty is soothing. Add the challenges of a strenuous hike and the focus it requires, and you can understand the origin of the expression, “Take a hike!” It was probably a wife growing weary of her husband, “White Hair Curmudgeon,” grumbling and mumbling.

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I have been visiting here now more than 40 years. Formerly used by the Cherokee as a hunting ground, it was eventually logged by the first European settlers. It was once one of the most vibrant communities in the county, but two devastating floods – in 1916 and 1940 – made worse by the muddy slopes stripped of timber, stopped industry and settlement in Mortimer, though more than a few hardy souls live here and in nearby Edgemont.

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In the summer, it has its share of tourists. On a winter weekday, though, there’s a good chance you’ll see far more critters than people. Especially while the leaves are off the trees, it is where I go to “listen” for whatever I might need to hear; to interact with nature – hawks, whitewater, giant cliffs, rocks, steep paths and more – that are just not available in suburbia.

To paraphrase Jimmy Buffett, when I place myself in wooded latitudes, it does wonders for my attitude. So, go take a hike!

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Read more about the National Wild and Scenic River Act

Drawn to Mother Earth

The essential blessings of nature

By Michael M. Barrick

Growing up in West Virginia, I was blessed with my own private forest to explore. It was not large – less than an acre – but it was plenty for a seven-year-old. Elk Creek ran just below it, and two small tributaries fed it, one of which I damned up to form a small pond.

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Blackwater Falls in Tucker County, W.Va.

At first, it was just my playground. Then, as I grew older and was inundated with a strong dose of social justice teaching from the priests in our parish – not to mention our mom – it was where I meditated. For hours, I would sit on the picnic table under an aged and tall tree canopy that served as an aviary and allowed only slivers of sun through on the brightest of days. It was, as John Denver sang, “Cool, and green and shady.” It put in me the desire to become the “Boy from the Country” he sang about.

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Sandstone Falls on the New River near Hinton, W.Va.

There was no better place than our wooded “sacred spot” to sort through questions and concerns. The songs and chirps of the birds, the rustling leaves in a gentle breeze, the creek tumbling over the rocks, all inspired. This is why nature photos are put on PowerPoint slides in meetings and in hallways in hospitals; we are instinctively drawn to our Mother Earth for comfort, healing and peace.

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A trail along Crooked Run in Lewis County, W.Va.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

Photo credits: Blackwater Falls, Rick Carter; Sandstone Falls, Debbie Smith; Crooked Run, Michael Barrick.

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Ken Hechler, an Inspirational Mountaineer

His life of service to West Virginia is an inspiration for all those seeking justice

By Janet Keating 

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Ken Hechler, front, at a rally to end mountaintop removal outside the headquarters of Massey Energy. Photo by Vivian Stockman.

SLANESVILLE, W.Va. – West Virginia and the nation has lost a true hero and people’s champion. Former Congressman Ken Hechler died at his home in Slanesville on Dec. 10. He was 102.

There are politicians, public servants and then there was Ken Hechler, a man in a class all of his own – military man, historian, educator, politician, activist and, my personal favorite, “hell raiser.” Those who knew him are familiar with his uncompromising commitment to justice and the betterment of all people in West Virginia, but especially for his advocacy of the health and safety of our nation’s coal miners. OVEC (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition) members may know him best for his passion for democracy and our iconic mountains. As a lifetime member of OVEC, Ken was often a speaker at rallies to end mountaintop removal where he sang  “Almost Level, West Virginia” his parody of the popular John Denver song, “Almost Heaven, West Virginia.”

I came to know Ken in the late 80s during my first-ever plunge into environmental issues as a member of the Huntington Tri-State Audubon Society – working to “save” the Green Bottom wetlands, the third largest wetlands in West Virginia near Huntington, where the pre-Civil War home of General Albert Gallatin Jenkins still stands.  Ken, as a Jenkin’s historian and then Secretary of State of West Virginia, was familiar with Jenkin’s history and so joined with our coalition urging the state and federal government to consider managing the former plantation home, its wetlands and its significant Native American archaeology for a higher use beyond simply a hunting ground.  Not surprisingly, the media portrayed the issue as hunting vs non-hunting (though some folks were very concerned about birds of prey which frequented the area like Bald Eagles as well as the historic Jenkin’s home).

After several years of butting heads with both state and federal agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to hold a public hearing where Ken and others faced off.  Despite a room full of several hundred angry, shouting hunters, Ken stood his ground and voiced his concerns. In the end, a reasonable compromise was reached where the wetlands were expanded, the Jenkin’s home underwent renovations (and was managed for a brief time by West Virginia Division of Culture and History), signs were posted to alert hunters to the presence of protected birds of prey and native species were planted to provide wildlife habitat. Undoubtedly, Ken’s involvement garnered greater media attention and raised public awareness to the issue, than we otherwise would have had, a valuable contribution.  Presently, Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area has become a well-known location for bird watching and hunting, although the Jenkin’s home, despite the millions spent on its overhaul, is boarded up and no longer open to the public. Nevertheless, every time I visit Green Bottom, I am thankful that Ken lent his time, energy and “notoriety” to this unique site.

When the issue of mountaintop removal reared its ugly head, Dr. Hechler eagerly joined with community members and environmental activists hoping to end the destructive mining technique.  He was a member of Congress during the catastrophic failure of the Buffalo Creek sludge-dam in 1972 that killed 125 West Virginians, a tragedy which eventually led to the passage of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act in 1977 (SMCRA).  This bill, however, continues to be a failed attempt by the state and federal government to regulate surface mining by the coal industry. Ken was greatly concerned when the final version of the bill legitimized mountaintop removal (MTR) which was supposed to be an exception rather than the rule when it came to strip-mining; MTR was only to be used when a flattened mountain provided land for authentic economic development. While coal companies by law are supposed to return the former mountains to “approximate original contour,” unfortunately, states regularly issue permits with variances to that provision. As it turns out, Ken foresaw the destruction that would follow the passage of SMCRA – hundreds of thousands of acres of denuded, flattened mountains along with more than 2,000 miles of annihilated streams and disappeared communities. A favorite phase of Ken’s, “Akin to putting lipstick on a corpse,” was how he referred to strip-mine reclamation.

A notable event in Ken’s effort to stop MTR was his participation in 1999, while WV Secretary of State, in a re-enactment of the historic Miners’ March on Blair Mountain that preceded the 1921 Mine Wars.  In 1997, the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection had issued what would have been the largest ever mountaintop removal permit in the state.  At risk were not only the mountains and the small community of Blair, but also one of the most historic labor/history sites in the nation, where about 7,000 miners determined to organize a union were met with great resistance and after five days, halted by 3,000 armed “militiamen” organized by Logan County Sheriff Don Chaffin. This was the largest battle on U.S. soil since the Civil War where eventually the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Corps were called in.

A courageous Dr. Hechler, 84 at the time, joined the reenactment with a number of others (OVEC’s Laura Forman, Carol Jackson, CRMW’s Judy Bonds, Larry Gibson, Jimmy Weekly, and Cindy Rank to name a few) supported by several organizations including OVEC.  For many people, the application and issuance of a mountaintop removal permit at historic Blair Mountain, which could literally erase the dark history of mining, underscored the sheer arrogance of coal companies as well as the complicity of government agencies. While the reenactors were not met with guns and soldiers, they were, however, harassed every day by miners and others who pelted them with eggs, and much to everyone’s horror, also shoved and kicked Ken.

From a story about the confrontation during the re-enactment by reporter Rick Steelhammer, Ken stated: “I tried to think about Gandhi and Martin Luther King and how they would react. It’s important to retain your cool, but it’s difficult when people begin to wade in and rip up all your signs, throw eggs at the back of your head, grab away your West Virginia flag, and trip and kick you.”

That incident led to warrants and arrests of those who committed violence and eventually landed some people in court, though not in jail.  One of the Logan County perpetrators of the harassment eventually ended up serving in Governor Bob Wise’s administration.  I still smile when I think about Ken holding a sign at a protest that said:  “Kick me and get a job with Bob Wise.” And recently, the D.C. District court upheld the U.S. EPA’s decision to rescind the permit for mountaintop removal on Blair Mountain, another people’s victory in which Ken participated in a major way.

Ken Hechler’s legacy though far-reaching (and incalculable) was also at times very personal.  In particular, his influence on Larry Gibson, another mountain hero, was very special. Ken often traveled with Larry to colleges and universities throughout the country to talk about the impacts of mountaintop removal on land and people of Central Appalachia. Because of Ken’s encouragement, Larry went back to school to improve his reading and writing skills. Having become quite a duo, both Ken and Larry were interviewed by “60 Minute’s” Mike Wallace, who came to West Virginia to produce a segment on mountaintop removal.

Through nearly two decades, Dr. Hechler, admired by so many, continued to answer the call, showing up at events, protests and rallies – the most notable one, a rally and protest at the Marsh Fork Elementary School, in Raleigh County, where he, along with actress Daryl Hannah and NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, were arrested in a non-violent, direct action to draw attention to the great need for a new elementary school.  A massive and dangerous coal waste impoundment loomed above Marsh Fork Elementary School adjacent to a coal silo, a coal processing facility and a mountaintop removal site. Coal River Mountain Watch’s Ed Wiley began urging state officials to build a new elementary school after he picked up his ill grand-daughter who told him, “Granddaddy, this school is making us kids sick.” After 6 years of tenacious organizing and advocacy, a new school was opened where Ken Hechler had,  once again, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those most impacted.

As someone who was deeply concerned about the state of our country’s democracy, Ken became active in campaign finance reform issues, especially when “Granny D”’s (Doris Haddock) began her epic 3,200 mile journey/walk from California to Washington, D.C. to elevate the need for supporting the federal McCain-Feingold bill. If passed, this legislation would help reduce spending on political campaigns. Ken walked more than 500 miles with Doris who turned 90 years old by the time she arrived in the nation’s Capital. When Doris arrived in Marietta, Ohio, Ken Hechler was on hand to greet and welcome her as she made her way across the Ohio River to Parkersburg, W.Va., to speak to supporters.

In 2006, Granny D and Ken spoke at a regional mountaintop removal summit dubbed “Healing Mountains,” that OVEC and Heartwood (a regional organization that works to protect public lands from abusive practices) organized. Doris and Ken reminded us that if we want to win our issues, we needed to be more inclusive and supportive of people of color.  You may recall that Ken was the only member of Congress that participated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights march in Selma. Union supporter, environmentalist, statesman, writer, historian, teacher, husband, father and add one more label – civil rights activist.

If you still need convincing about what an amazing man that Ken was, he had the most incredible memory of anyone I’ve ever met. My hunch is that Ken spent his remarkable life making really good memories.

Dear Ken, we know that you, of all people, have earned your eternal rest. Well done. You will be sorely missed.

This article originally was published on the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition website. It is reprinted with permission.

Janet Keating is the former Executive Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (www.ohvec.org) who retired September 2016 after 24 years with the organization. Her latest endeavor, Green Shepherd, LLC, offers consulting and other services to environmental and social justice non-profits.

Dozens of Scientists Urge Feds to Promote, Not Curtail, Red Wolf Recovery

Experts say scaling back program puts North Carolina red wolves ‘on a swifter path toward extinction’ 

WASHINGTON— Thirty prominent scientists with expertise in ecology, genetics and other areas relevant to wolf conservation submitted a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Nov. 30 expressing concerns over the agency’s plans to dramatically curtail its recovery program for red wolves, the nation’s most imperiled wolf population.

Joseph Hinton, David Rabon, John Vucetich and other scientists urged the Service to identify additional red wolf reintroduction sites rather than remove wolves from the wild and drastically curtail the size of the recovery area in North Carolina, as the agency recently proposed.

red-wolf-by-seth-bynum

A red wolf, the nation’s most imperiled wolf. Photo Credit: Seth Bynum

“The Service has once again allowed politics instead of science to drive decisions on red wolf recovery – and the science is clear that scaling back this recovery program only puts these animals on a swifter path toward extinction,” said Jamie Pang, endangered species campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Service needs to listen to these experts and take the actions necessary to recover red wolves in the wild before it’s too late.”

In September the Service proposed to confine red wolf recovery to federal public lands, shrinking the animals’ recovery area from five counties in North Carolina to just one bombing range and one wildlife refuge in a single county. In the past couple of years, the agency has allowed the wild population of red wolves to drop to as few as 45, down from its peak of 130. Shootings and nonlethal removals threaten the wolves by disturbing pack dynamics and promoting hybridization with coyotes.

“Wild red wolves now face a perilously high risk of extinction. The Service’s recent actions seem consistent with abandoning red wolves rather than recovering them,” said Dr. John Vucetich, a professor and scientist at Michigan Technological University. “The Service has not adequately justified shifting resources away from the wild population. The most prudent action, by far, would be to protect the existing red wolf population in North Carolina and identifying new reintroduction sites elsewhere in the Southeast.”

“Red wolf recovery has been a testing ground for notable conservation strategies and innovation,” said Dr. Joseph Hinton, a postdoctoral researcher at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. “The science shows that the red wolf can be saved, and that the Service should re-implement those previous management practices to ensure the long-term viability of the wild population in eastern North Carolina.”

cbd.circle.rgb.jpgThe Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

FERC Independence Challenged by Nonprofits

Hundreds of Nonprofit Organizations Join to Demand Reform of ‘Rogue Agency’

WASHINGTON – More than 180 organizations representing communities across America, including West Virginia, called on leaders in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold congressional hearings into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) extensive history of bias and abuse. The groups are also requesting reform of the Natural Gas Act, which the groups say, gives too much power to FERC and too little to state and local officials.

“The time has now come for Congress to investigate how FERC is using its authority and to recognize that major changes are in fact necessary in order to protect people, including future generations, from the ramifications of FERC’s misuse of its power and implementation of the Natural Gas Act,” says Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and a primary organizer of the effort.

“The Greenbrier River Watershed has two pipelines proposed: Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley, yet FERC refused to do a Programmatic EIS to look at the need for two pipelines,” says Leslee McCarty, coordinator of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association.  “We hope Congress, instead of speeding up approvals for these projects, will force FERC to look closely at need, especially in light of global climate change.”

“The FERC represents the epitome of what the world has come to recognize as a rogue regime: unbridled power over citizens and unquestionable allegiance to and cooperation with unethical, socially unjust and environmentally dismissive corporations,” says Monroe County, WV resident Laurie Ardison,  co-chair of POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights).” For the citizens of this country to be victims of the FERC is unconscionable. Congress must reign in this agency which left unchecked, will continue to foster incalculable harms as the fossil fuel industry develops beyond need.”

McCarty adds, “Fracked gas may prove to be even more of a dirty fuel than coal. Yet in the US, and especially in West Virginia, we are asked to embrace this dirty business as our savior. It is a testimony to slick public relations and strategic campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies, and keeps us on a dangerous path to certain disastrous climate change and boom and bust economic development. This is the time for West Virginia to look to revitalize our energy portfolio and keep sustainable jobs, not continue to be led down the painful road we have traveled in the past.”

The letter to Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairwoman Lisa Murkoski (R-AK), Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), signed by 182 community organizations representing communities in 35 states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia as well as the District of Columbia, argues that FERC’s review and approval process for jurisdictional pipeline projects is infected by bias; and that it is resulting in uncontrolled and irresponsible proliferation of unneeded natural gas pipelines. Finally, the letter charges the agency with misusing provisions in the law to strip people and states of their legal rights, to prevent fair public participation in the pipeline review process, and to improperly use the power of eminent domain to take private property and public lands in a way that inflicts unforgivable harm to rights, jobs, and communities.

The letter details how FERC has implemented the Natural Gas Act in ways that deliberately undermine public input. FERC has prevented communities from challenging projects before the exercise of eminent domain and pipeline construction, made decisions to benefit its Commissioners, and used conflicted consultants to handle much of the review process.

In addition to calling for hearings into FERC and the Natural Gas Act, the letter opposes any further advancement of language in the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 meant to shorten critical pipeline review periods. Signers of the letter argue that the proposed law should be held in abeyance until after the hearings, where Congress will learn “how people’s rights, state’s rights, and the environment are already being abused under the implementation of the Natural Gas Act and so will be further harmed by passage of provisions proposed in the new law.”

Upon Congressional review, DRN and fellow parties demand the reforms necessary to address FERC’s extensive abuse of power, which requires revising the Natural Gas Act to prevent the misuse and exploitation that has been rampant. Additionally, the organizations seek affirmative action to remedy FERC’s problematic funding structure.

“FERC is corrupt and needs to be reformed,” says Paul L Gierosky, cofounder, Coalition to Reroute Nexus. “The evidence is overwhelming and clear as is set forth in the request for Congressional Hearings. It is time for Congress to hold FERC accountable.”

“The number of frack gas pipelines is exploding and the feds are not only not applying appropriate oversight, but are in fact also enabling the trampling of people’s property rights, public health standards, and environmental protection,” says David Pringle, NJ Campaign Director, Clean Water Action. “This letter is a clarion call to action for Congress to rein in this modern day Wild West that if left unchecked will lead to even worse abuses and explosions.”

 

A pdf of the letter is available here:
http://ohvec.org/ferc-hrg-sign-on-letter/