Tag Archives: Liz Wiles

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Threatened Bat from Two West Virginia Coal Mines

Unchecked mountaintop removal coal mining continues to harm communities, endangered species in Appalachia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Center for Biological Diversity, Coal River Mountain Watch, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the Sierra Club filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for their failure to protect threatened northern long-eared bats at two proposed mountaintop removal coal mines in West Virginia. The mines will clear more than 1,000 acres of hardwood forest that are home to the rare bat, which was protected under the Endangered Species Act in April. The agencies have not put any specific measures in place to protect the bats from the mining activities, as required by law.

A mountaintop removal site Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

A mountaintop removal site
Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

“The failure to protect these bats is the latest example of coal companies getting a free pass in Appalachia when it comes to complying with the Endangered Species Act and other laws designed to protect the health of people and the environment,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “The wink-and-a-nod compliance with the law is having devastating effects on wildlife and human communities in Appalachia.”

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection for the northern long-eared bat in 2010. The species has declined by 96 percent in its core range due to a lethal disease called white-nose syndrome. Because of the drastic impact of this disease, the bat is extremely vulnerable to habitat destruction.

The bat is found at both Republic Energy’s proposed Long Ridge mine on Coal River Mountain in Raleigh County, which will clear 664 acres of forest, and Jim Justice’s Big Creek mine in McDowell County, which will destroy 468 acres of forest. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and Fish and Wildlife Service are required to ensure that mining does not jeopardize the survival of the bats.

“Federal agencies need to do a better job of protecting both the northern long-eared bat and the people who live around these mines,” said Vernon Haltom, director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Mountaintop removal is destroying wildlife and human communities in Appalachia and it is time for that to end.”

“The lack of effective protections for bats and other endangered species mirrors the lack of protection for Appalachian residents from surface mining impacts,” said Dianne Bady, founder and project coordinator at the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

To try to address impacts to endangered species from surface mining, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement consulted with the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1996, resulting in a “biological opinion” that established very minimal requirements that must be met. According to today’s legal notice, the two mines in question have not established specific measures to protect northern long-eared bats as is required by that biological opinion. The groups also put the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement on notice that its continued reliance on the 1996 document to avoid impacts to imperiled species is illegal. The outdated biological opinion fails to ensure the survival of the northern long-eared bat and many other species that have required the Endangered Species Act’s protection since 1996 and, that like the bat, are being affected by surface coal mining.

“Today’s notice is another example of how critical it is to have increased protections in Appalachia from surface mining,” said Liz Wiles with the West Virginia Sierra Club. “Federal agencies need to revamp protections for endangered species when it comes to surface mining, which will benefit both wildlife and people.”

Much new scientific information has been published recently documenting the devastating effects of surface coal mining in Appalachia on wildlife and people. Mining has now been linked to declines in birds, fish, salamanders, crawdads, insects and freshwater mussels. Mining threatens nearby communities with air and water pollution and risk of flooding. More than 20 peer-reviewed scientific studies have now linked mining pollution in Appalachia to health problems, including increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects.

The proposed Big Creek mine is a case in point. In addition to destroying nearly 500 acres of native hardwood forest used by the bat, it is directly above a church and upstream of a Head Start center. It will also destroy more than five miles of streams, threatening another species that has been proposed for protection, the Big Sandy crayfish. More than one million acres of hardwood forest and more than 2,000 miles of streams have already been destroyed by surface coal mining in Appalachia.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Coal River Mountain Watch is a West Virginia nonprofit organization that works to stop the destruction of communities and environment by mountaintop removal mining, to improve the quality of life of residents, and to help rebuild sustainable communities. The group is working to pass the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE).

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition is national organization dedicated to the improvement of the environment and communities through education, grassroots organizing and coalition building, leadership development, strategic litigation and media outreach.

Sierra Club is one of the oldest grassroots environmental organizations in the country with more than 2.4 million members and supporters. Sierra Club’s mission is “to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environments.”

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Fracking Poses Threats to Public Health, Say Experts

Insight revealed at Marcellus Academy of West Virginia Sierra Club

By Michael M. Barrick

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. – Fracking poses clear, serious and even deadly public health risks said two experts on the topic at the Marcellus Academy, an educational initiative of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. The event – held June 27th and 28th at West Virginia Wesleyan College – was the fifth such gathering said Liz Wiles, the chairperson of the Sierra Club in West Virginia.

Dr. Mike McCawley, of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at the West Virginia University School of Public Health, and Dr. Jill Kriesky, of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (EHP), discussed public health research and assessments regarding the health threats associated with fracking; each also touched upon policy challenges and suggestions.

Breaking the ‘Pathway to Exposure’ the first step; multiple diseases identified
Kriesky said that her organization’s objective is to provide accurate, timely and trusted public health information and services associated with natural gas extraction.EHP Logo

Hence, the EHP first focuses its response on breaking the pathway to exposure, explained Kriesky. This is done by warning the vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, children and those with asthma and respiratory diseases.

The group monitors air and water quality and is beginning to do the same with soil. It offers community outreach through partnerships with watershed groups, community groups and those concerned about the placement of gas wells near schools.

They also conduct health assessments, though, revealed Kriesky, “We don’t recruit people. They find us. People know when they’re sick.” Health assessments include gathering a full health history of the client, vital signs and symptoms, determination of exposure (including researching the potential of occupational or household source exposure), and recommendations for further medical consultation, and cutting off the pathway of pathogens.

The group has had enough clients now to predict when people will begin presenting with symptoms. Noting that the agency does not have a “control group” for research purposes, she said, “All of Washington County (Pa.) is within one mile (of fracking activity). The whole county is essentially a control group.”

Kriesky said that 113 people have met the screening criteria, meaning “they have to have a plausible exposure.” Illnesses of the respiratory, dermatological, eye, nose and throat, gastro-intestinal, cardiac, neurological, psychiatric, endocrine and ear systems were documented.

Kriesky pointed out that 60 percent of the 113 people reported nose and throat illnesses, 58 percent neurological symptoms, 57 percent psychiatric illnesses and 53 percent had respiratory symptoms.

Kriesky said, “A skeptic might ask, ‘How many people have you seen,’ but we ask, ‘How many does it take?’ There is pretty decisive evidence that these are health impacts – chemical and non-chemical – from fracking.”

Policy proposals
She encouraged attendees to challenge elected officials. “This is about policy. It is worthy of action. We need to do something about it.”

In fact, EHP has put forth some specific proposals.

It is proposing a health registry which would provide data for long-term research that would inform public policy. The group prepared a white paper on the health impacts of fracking, data on emissions and a compilation of existing health registries. It also held a national workshop that proposed the development of registries from NGOs and existing data; proposed a “case definition” of what a person impacted by unnatural gas development looks like.” Kriesky explained, “It would help practitioners understand that if you see this, then you are seeing symptoms related to Marcellus shale development. That does not exist now.”

Kriesky said immediate steps can and should be taken, such as requiring that fracking activities be moved a safe distance from places where there are vulnerable populations, such as schools.

McCawley challenges EPA, tells about fracking research station
McCawley, meanwhile, called for improved and expanded monitoring of dust and other particulates by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), such as those emitted by diesel engines.

Those people most vulnerable to the damaging effects of fracking – those living closest to it – are showing signs of pediatric asthma, cardiopulmonary disease and cancer, said McCawley. He argued additional research must be conducted, but accused the EPA of being an impediment to further and refined studies. “They know about it. They aren’t doing anything about it,” asserted McCawley. He added, “It’s the not regulated part we should be concerned about.”

McCawley argued that even though disease rates are increased in fracking areas, the EPA does not measure particulate matter associated with fracking – for instance dust and diesel fuel – at small enough levels to accurately assess their impact upon people. Researchers, for instance, are finding people experiencing inflammation that is association with any number of diseases. “That’s a problem,” McCawley insisted, adding, “Anything that can cause inflammation in the cell can cause disease.” So, he said, he looks for opportunities to metaphorically “kick the EPA in the shin.” He did here.

The EPA, said McCawley, is not measuring appropriate dose levels of particulate matter that cause cancer, affect auto-immune and neurological systems, and pass through the placenta, causing birth defects and diseases. He asked, rhetorically, “Should there be regulations for this? I think so. Maybe I’m out on a limb on this.”

In the interim, WVU is measuring particulate matter from its own experimental gas well in Morgantown. McCawley said the university will monitor exposure levels, health records from hospitals, and medical symptoms, in particular those associated with cardiopulmonary diseases.

Potential response
Wiles said the information was valuable. “I was surprised to learn that the EPA is doing monitoring in a way that does not give the correct picture on particulate levels.” She hinted at some action in response. “This could be an initiative for us this year. It is yet another example of how fossil fuels in general are bad not just for the environment, but people. They go hand-in-hand.”WV Sierra club

This one issue is an example of the work facing the Sierra Club, said Wiles. “We are very much about grass roots, local people working on local issues. We want the people of this state to know the consequences from Marcellus development.” She concluded, “Then, go out and educate folks in their communities.”

© The Appalachian Preservation Project, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. If you find this writing of value, we hope that you will consider support our independent work by becoming a member of the Appalachian Preservation Project. You can learn more here. By doing so, you will be supporting not only this website, but also our other outreaches, programs and partnerships. Learn more.

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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

Earth 638831main_globe_east_2048

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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