Archive for the Appalachia Category

Kentucky Coalition to Sue EPA Over Mountain Streams

Posted in Appalachia, Environment, Kentucky News, Kentucky Small Towns, Media, Politics on December 23, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

The Courier-Journal is reporting this morning that a coalition of groups in Kentucky and Appalachia are suing the Environmental Protection Agency after a lame-duck revision that would allow mining companies to potentially dump waste rock in mountain streams:

A coalition of environmental groups including Kentucky Waterways Alliance has sued the Interior Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking to overturn a new rule that will make it easier for mining companies to dump waste rock into streams.

The revisions, made final Dec. 12, will let mining companies disregard a 100-foot stream buffer zone if they are able to convince regulators that no other option was available and that they had taken steps to minimize harm to the environment.

Attorneys with Earthjustice, Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance filed the legal challenge yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The suit was filed on behalf of the Kentucky environmental group as well as the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Save Our Cumberland Mountains, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

If not overturned, the environmental groups from Kentucky, West Virginia or Tennessee said the rule change would lead to more mountaintop removal coal mining. That’s the mining practice of using explosives on the tops and sides of mountains to get at underlying coal seams.

“The notion that coal mining companies can dump their wastes in streams without degrading them is a fantasy that the Bush administration is now trying to write into law,” said Judith Petersen, executive director of Kentucky Waterways Alliance.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the federal agencies violated environmental protection standards, failed to consider the cumulative effects of stream loss from mining, and failed to analyze a full range of alternatives, among other allegations.

At issue is a new Office of Surface Mining rule that revised a 25-year-old rule that generally prohibited mining within 100 feet of streams, but has been a source of controversy and confusion since it was challenged in a federal lawsuit in West Virginia in the late 1990s. Despite the rule, companies generally have been allowed to fill the upper reaches of stream beds in mountain hollows…

Gov. Steve Beshear along with Attorney General Jack Conway and U.S. Reps. Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth wrote letters to the EPA opposing the rule change. But 20 Kentucky legislators, including House Speaker Jody Richards and House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, followed up with their own letter supporting the change.

We expect the story to get a fair amount of national coverage as well, beginning with this Associated Press piece on the lawsuit.

In other environmental news, yesterday the EPA designated five counties within the Louisville region, as well as some other counties within Kentucky, as non-compliant with federal clean air standards regarding particulates. Fun.


Louisville Label Lets Loose Nimrod Workman

Posted in Appalachia, Film, Kentucky Small Towns, Music on November 18, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

A new Louisville-based record label called Twos & Fews (run by one of our favorite Louisville people, Mr. Nathan Salsburg) lets loose its first release today, an album of archival recordings of one Nimrod Workman. We’ll let Nate tell it in his own words:

That album is of the coal miner, union activist, and traditional singer Nimrod Workman, and is entitled “I Want to Go Where Things Are Beautiful.” It’s an hour of unaccompanied ballads, lyric songs, play party pieces, and religious singing, recorded in 1982 by Mike Seeger (Pete’s half-brother) when Nimrod was 87 years old. It gives Workman (who died at 99 in 1994) his first LP in thirty years, and his first ever CD solo release.

You might have seen Nimrod at the beginning of Barbara Kopple’s “Harlan County USA,” or in Alan Lomax’s American Patchwork films “Appalachian Journey” or “Dreams & Songs of the Noble Old.” Or, like most, you have never heard of him. Well… his ain’t party music, but you might find it rewarding, challenging, and beautiful. It’s been an honor and a privilege to put this record together, and if you can bear it in these trying times to do something so anachronistic as to shell out money for music, I’d be thrilled if you’d give Nimrod Workman a chance.

For more info:

You can listen to some of the songs available on I Want to Go Where Things Are Beautiful at the Twos & Fews myspace site, linked above. You can (and should!) purchase the album at all finer record stores as well as online.

Ronnie Ellis on Coal’s Complications; Where Your Candidates Stand on Mountaintop Removal

Posted in Appalachia, Development, Drink, Economics, Elections, Environment, Kentucky News, Kentucky Small Towns, Louisville News, Media, Politics on October 27, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

(above photo of Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo from

The always-excellent blog The Ville Voice hipped us to this excellent piece by Ronnie Ellis in the Glasgow Daily Times on his recent trip to southeastern Kentucky with Lieutenant Governor (and coal supporter) Daniel Mongiardo to observe mountaintop removal operations and reclamation. Here’s a fantastic excerpt:

At one reclaimed site Mongiardo said: “If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were in central Kentucky.” No. More importantly, I asked, if one wants to live in central Kentucky, why wouldn’t one move there instead of trying to turn a awesomely beautiful place into something other than what God created and which shapes the magnificent spirit and character of the equally wonderful people who live there?

At the end of the day, I thanked Mongiardo. I told him I recognized his genuine passion for eastern Kentucky and his understandable desire to pump economic life into the region. But, I concluded, neither the elk, the trails nor the faulty rationale could eradicate the scarred images from my mind nor the sense that we are in the process of destroying something which is sacred to the people of southeastern Kentucky in order to preserve it. You simply can’t preserve something by destroying it, I told him. For what does it profit eastern Kentucky if it sells its soul?

That’s why I was so surprised to learn Mongiardo told a meeting of the Kentucky Coal Association in Lexington a week later that he’d taken a reporter to show him the reality of mining and, “I think he’s got a different attitude now because he saw it first-hand.” He didn’t name me, but there were people in the room who knew Mongiardo spoke of me.

It’s not surprising that Mongiardo, who is from Hazard, would be so pro-coal, but we have to wonder to what extent has Appalachia ever benefited from exploiting the coal under its mountains? Certainly the residents of the region aren’t getting any richer, and if the so-called benefits of mountaintop removal include turning beautiful eastern Kentucky mountains into hills similar to beautiful-but-not-quite-as-beautiful central Kentucky’s, then we really don’t see the point.

However, it’s easy to second guess our dependence on coal from the big city, despite being the beneficiaries of coal-powered electricty. As LEO‘s Fat Lip blog reminds us, here in Louisville the choices we make for our political representation have an impact on eastern Kentucky. FL linked to the Watchdog Earth blog of the Courier-Journal‘s Jim Bruggers, who published two excellent posts comparing the proposed coal policies of US Representative John Yarmuth (D-Louisville) and challnger Anne Northup (R) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R) and challenger Bruce Lunsford (D).

Bush to Appalachia: Get Larger, Stay Fucked

Posted in Appalachia, Development, Economics, Elections, Environment, Kentucky News, Kentucky Small Towns, Labor, Politics on October 21, 2008 by stateofthecommonwealth

(photo of a horse farm outside of Carlisle, Kentucky from the Associated Press)

We heard a snippet of a strange story on WFPL this afternoon that President George W. Bush had signed into a law a new geographical designation for the Appalachian region. We couldn’t find anything about it on WFPL’s site this evening, but came across this amusing — if slightly depressing — story on the matter from the Associated Press:

CARLISLE, Ky. (AP) — Tabbatha Tubbs laughs at the thought of Washington politicians decreeing her hometown Appalachian. After all, there’s not a mountain in sight from this gently rolling countryside best known for its thoroughbred horse farms.

This is picturesque Bluegrass country: Black wooden fences surround grazing thoroughbreds. Golden stalks of tobacco hang from tiered barns. And herds of fat beef cattle mow their way across fields of green grass.

It’s hardly the heart of Appalachia, the rugged hills where President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty some 44 years ago. But like it or not, Tubbs and her neighbors are now residents of the impoverished region, at least in the eyes of the federal government.

“It’s funny, I think,” Tubbs said last week, glimpsing out at the landscape from the window of her Carlisle beauty salon.

Folks in the heart of Appalachia aren’t amused that President Bush, with the stroke of his pen, has redrawn Appalachia’s geographic boundaries in a way that could take federal money away from some of the poorest communities in the United States.

Bush signed a measure Oct. 9 that gives 10 additional counties in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia a cut of about $87 million in federal money set aside this year for poor mountain communities to pay for economic improvements. The money will be distributed by the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal agency that has been fighting poverty in the mountain region for more than 40 years…

Poverty indicators show the contrast between counties in the heart of Appalachia and the new additions. For example, the federal government sent more than $12 million worth of food stamps in 2006 to Kentucky’s Harlan County, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Nicholas County, where Carlisle is located, received just $1.1 million.

Annual jobless rates in Harlan County ranged from 13 percent in 1997 to 9.1 percent last year. In Nicholas County the range was 4.4 percent to 6.4 percent for the same periods.

The redrawn map upsets Karen Phillips, a teacher in a community where 75 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches because their families are considered poor. Other areas of the country face economic hardships, Phillips conceded, but not like central Appalachia.

“The poverty here is so much worse than anywhere else,” Phillips said. “You see that in the housing, in the age of cars people drive, in the clothing that kids wear to school.”

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, defended the expansion, saying each of the additional 10 counties face similar economic problems and therefore “meet the criteria” to receive more financial support….

The legislation signed this month not only expands Appalachia’s boundaries, but also calls for $510 million to be spent in the region over the next five years to build roads, install water lines, fund educational improvement projects, encourage economic development, even purchase computers for poor children. The proposed spending total is a $64 million increase over the last 5-year allotment.

That could have meant more money for core Appalachian counties, Eller said, if politicians hadn’t opted to spread it across a larger area. “When you continue to expand the counties, ultimately it creates a smaller pool of resources for use in the most severely distressed areas of the region,” he said.

Certainly there is no other area in the country that we can even think of that is as desperately poor as Appalachia, which needs this money. However, the continued expansion of ARC — right before a presidential election — seems really desperate. As the mainstream media is constantly reminding us, Appalachia is the home of some of the most ridiculous racist sentiments held by voters during this election. Never mind the fact that poverty in the region hasn’t been solved by either side in Washington.