Tag Archives: Earth Day Conference

The Earth Under Assault

Three years after Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference, Appalachia and all of the planet is as vulnerable as ever to fossil fuel industry

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Credit: NASA

April 22, 2018 — Three years ago this morning, I was having breakfast with our daughter Lindsay in Charleston, W.Va., reflecting upon the Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference we had organized with the help of countless of others. It has broken up the day before, and we allowed ourselves an extra night int he Mountain State’s capital to visit our favorite restaurant for dinner — Leonora’s Spagetti House.

We were hopeful. Despite a steady, cold rain that morning, the outlook we took from the conference reflected that spring morning; while it was cold and rainy, the grays and browns of the West Virginia winter had finally turned green in the Kanawha Valley. Indeed, during the warm and sunny days of the conference, the 50 or so gathered often looked longingly out the window at the budding leaves gently moving from the invisible breeze.

But we stayed inside, because we were gathered for a common and critical purpose — preserving Appalachia and all of the planet. We presumed, as you will read below from the article posted shortly after the gathering, that people from all backgrounds and disciplines could and would agree that the earth is sacred because it is the source of life.

We did. However, three years later, it is clear that the fossil fuel industry has been crushing all efforts at preserving our air, land and water. EQT (Pittsburgh), Dominion (Richmond), and Duke Energy (Charlotte) have set up a nice little triangle of fossil fuel dominance in Appalachia. Since 2010, they have bought the legislators in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Federal and state regulatory agencies have ignored the law and will of the people and greased the tracks for the very companies they are supposed to hold in check.

I am saddened, but I am in awe of our allies (many mentioned below) that continue to fight the good fight to preserve Mother Earth. On this Earth Day, let us recommit ourselves to being part of that fight. — MMB

Unity the Theme at ‘Preserving Sacred Appalachia’ Conference

Interdisciplinary and interfaith gathering helps strengthen collaboration on environmental issues

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Approximately 40 ecological preservationists joined together in Charleston at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center from April 19-21 to champion responsible environmental stewardship in the context of understanding that Appalachia – and all the earth – is sacred. Among those at the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” conference were people of faith, activists, artists, scientists, politicians, and educators.

Ben Townsend, a West Virginia native and traditional Appalachian musician, teaches at the conference. Photo by Keely Kernan

Ben Townsend, a West Virginia native and traditional Appalachian musician, teaches at the conference.
Photo by Keely Kernan

The unprecedented interfaith and interdisciplinary gathering was sponsored by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Hickory, N.C. In-state partners included the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light (WVIPL). The Appalachian Preservation Project handled public relations, planning and logistics for the conference.

It was an intentional interdisciplinary and interfaith outreach by and to people that are devoted to preserving the eco-systems which support life in Appalachia. It brought together the region’s rich collection of seasoned, experienced preservationists. While several organizations provided speakers, the event also included numerous attendees from West Virginia and other Appalachian states determined to identify fundamental areas of agreement regarding the immediate core challenges to Appalachia’s eco-systems and key strategies for addressing them.

Bob Henry Baber, an Appalachian poet, writer and educator, speaks at the conference. Photo by Keely Kernan

Bob Henry Baber, an Appalachian poet, writer and educator, speaks at the conference.
Photo by Keely Kernan

The gathering concluded with a roundtable discussion of the topics discussed over the course of the conference. From those discussions, participants will issue a white paper – scheduled for release this summer. The white paper will be a unified, decisive statement identifying the core challenges threatening the people and environment of Appalachia; explaining what makes Appalachia – and all the earth – sacred; and to equip the people of Appalachia with practical, effective methods to help preserve the region’s water, air, soil, habitats and natural beauty.

The keynote speaker was Tierra Curry, the senior scientist and a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The conference kicked off with an extended trailer of the feature film, “In the Hills and Hollows,” a documentary by Keely Kernan, an award winning freelance photographer and videographer. The documentary, which Kernan is presently filming, investigates the boom and bust impacts that mono-economies based on fossil fuel extraction have on people and their local communities.

Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity discusses the impact of climate change upon Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Tierra Curry with the Center for Biological Diversity discusses the impact of climate change upon Appalachia.
Photo by Keely Kernan

Other speakers included Susan Hedge with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia; Bill Price, the organizing representative for the Sierra Club – West Virginia Chapter; Allen Johnson of Christians For The Mountains; Angie Rosser, the executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition; Ben Townsend, a West Virginia traditional musician; Carey Jo Grace and Tuesday Taylor with Our Children, Our Future; Robin Blakeman, the Special Event and Membership Committee Organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Mike Manypenny, a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates; Bill Hughes, the West Virginia Community Liaison for the FracTracker Alliance; Bob Henry Baber, a widely published Appalachian poet, novelist, creative writing teacher and mosaic artist; Barbara Ann Volk, a Lewis County landowner; Liz Wiles, the chair of the Sierra Club – West Virginia chapter, as well as Aurora Lights and the Mountain SOL school; Lindsay Barrick, an artist and the Director of Programs at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church; Mel Hoover and Rose Edington with WVIPL; Autumn Bryson, an environmental scientist; Michael Barrick, the founder of the Appalachian Preservation Project and publisher of the Appalachian Chronicle; and, all of the conference attendees.

Topics addressed include Appalachia’s sacredness, climate change, water quality, the role of art and music in telling Appalachia’ story, mountaintop removal, fracking, natural gas pipeline development, child health, politics and policy. It also included times of meditation, reflection and sharing.

Bill Hughes with FracTracker Alliance teaches about the harms associated with fracking. Photo by Keely Kernan

Bill Hughes with FracTracker Alliance teaches about the harms associated with fracking.
Photo by Keely Kernan

As the conference completed, several presenters commented on its value. Wiles shared, “The Preserving Sacred Appalachia conference was a great opportunity to re-connect with familiar faces in West Virginia’s environmental movement as well as meeting members of the faith community who are working on environmental issues in their congregations. This was a good step in bringing together all kinds of communities who care about the health of their families, their neighbors, and their local, natural environment.”

Manypenny said, “I found it very inspiring that so many came out to participate in this event, both as speakers and as advocates, in the ongoing struggle for environmental justice, our Appalachian way of life, and for our love and appreciation of nature.” Barbara Volk echoed his remarks, adding, “I found myself so inspired by the diverse group of people that are ready to shift the paradigm regarding how we affect change in this culture of waste.”

Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia.
Photo by Keely Kernan

Price added, “I’ve been thinking about how the conference will benefit the work that all of us are doing. I think that the faith community can help to convene spaces where people of various opinions and perspectives can come together to get to know each other, to figure out those common values, and to work together for a better future.” Blakeman said, “The conference was a great opportunity to network with and learn from like-minded individuals.”

Hoover offered, “This partnership demonstrates that we are at a crossroads in the Mountain State. We have always known that we must work together to address the many environmental issues impacting the people and ecology of West Virginia. This conference, by joining together people of faith with scientists, educators, artists and others, sends a clear message that cannot be ignored – we are united in purpose.”

St. John's XXIII Pastoral Center. Photo by Allen Johnson

St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center.
Photo by Allen Johnson

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

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Environmental Groups target W.Va. DEP over Mountaintop Removal Permitting

‘The People’s Foot’ rally cites adverse health impacts as well as environmental damage

By Michael M. Barrick

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Several environmental preservation groups are joining forces to hold a rally Monday, March 16 to call upon the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to quit issuing permits for Mountaintop Removal (MTR). The groups cite adverse public health impacts as well as environmental damage. The permitted rally will be held at the DEP headquarters at 601 57th St. SE in Charleston.

The rally, which is called “The People’s Foot,” is a challenge to West Virginians and others to symbolically put their foot down to further permitting for MTR.The-Peoples-Foot-SSP

Allen Johnson with Christians For The Mountains explained, “The West Virginia DEP issues permits for mining operations. Its mission is to promote a healthy environment. Plentiful scientific research points strongly to high correlations between mountaintop removal operations and significantly worse health indices in nearby communities. We are pressing West Virginia DEP to acknowledge the science and stop issuing MTR permits immediately. We are calling upon them to ‘Stop the poisoning of people!’”

Johnson said that the concept originated with the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Coalition, led by Bo Webb. In addition to Christians For The Mountains, sponsoring organizations include the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, and others.Sierra Club

The DEP is the state agency responsible for issuing permits to companies seeking to operate or expand MTR enterprises. Allen revealed, “Several of our groups have joined together to ask the United States Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation to strip West Virginia DEP of authority and take over permitting itself under existing provisions, as the West Virginia DEP is not doing their job to protect the public and our lands and waters and air from harmful pollution.”

Johnson explained, “Water pollution comes from the exposure of heavy-metal laden rock that during blasting is exposed to water and then leaches the heavy metals into the streams. This can be measured by conductivity meters. High concentrations of Selenium, arsenic, magnesium, and others are carcinogenic as well as detrimental to the food chain in water systems. But perhaps an even more insidious pollutant is that of ultra-fine air particulates, sub-micron, smaller by far than the EPA standards of 2.5 and 10 microns.” He explained that the explosions resulting from the MTR process create “…very high concentrations of ultrafines, made up of silica, aluminum compounds, and blasting materials. These are absorbed through the lungs and into the circulatory system, including the placenta barrier, and are highly toxic for those living in these communities.”

Johnson explained his group’s involvement, sharing, “Isaiah 6:3 in the Bible says that ‘the whole Earth is filled with God’s glory.’ Numerous other scriptures can be cited, along with thousands of years of theology. Simply speaking, to degrade God’s handiwork in a permanent way is sin. Pollution of water, air, and stunting the fruitfulness – or sustainable viability – of earth is out of God’s order for creation. Humans are given the responsibility to nurture and protect creation, and in so doing to gain the privilege of sustenance, but within the boundaries of not assuming hubris and self-idolatry, which we are warned against in Genesis 2:15-17.”

Explaining the purpose of the rally, Johnson said, “We want to inspire, motivate, and equip people to really push for justice on this issue. That public policymakers and regulatory organizations would have such contempt upon their citizenry to permit, even aid and abet, their poisoning, is irresponsible and criminal. We are smoking them out from behind the coal industry’s smokescreens and keeping the lights on.”

The organizations also want rally participants to educate others. “We want them to push for the national Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, since state policymakers are hip-strapped to the coal industry. We are at a time when people power must rise up strongly all across the nation to break the neck – metaphorically – of moneyed power that is breaking apart our democracy and fleecing the treasury and destroying the future viability of our planet.” He continued, “Pollution simply cannot be acceptable. Full-cost accounting – that is, honest accounting of negative externalities – shows that the coal industry costs more in net sum that it adds.”

He added, “We’re going to pressure the West Virginia DEP on health and MTR. So far they and almost all legislators and congressional representatives refuse to even publicly acknowledge the two dozen peer-reviewed studies even exist. We are going to relentlessly push them.”

Johnson pointed out also that the message about MTR is shifting. “The message on MTR has changed since it first hit the media 15 or so years ago. Then it was about how ugly MTR is, how destructive it is to the ecology. Then we had no research on human health. Now we do and it’s devastating. So we are shifting MTR focus from an environmental justice issue to a health issue.”

Not mincing words, Johnson asserted. “The West Virginia DEP is a fraud if it does not address its most important mandate to protect the health of people from environmental pollution.”

He added, though, “On the other hand, we must give it room to change its heart, so to speak. So our event will be firm but civil. We hold the moral high ground. We want to win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizenry in the face of ‘fear mongering’ propaganda that says our state is sunk without the coal industry.”

For those who are unable to make it to the rally, the groups anticipate having a video available for streaming or downloading. Also a ride share board has been set up online for those seeking transportation.

© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise business committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.

The Appalachian Preservation Project is also handling planning for the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. Learn about it here. Johnson will be speaking at the conference.