The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

June 10, 2013

Coalfield Environmental Health Project to host delegation from New York

BEARDS FORK — The Coalfield Environmental Health Project is hosting a five-person delegation from the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, an organization that works with its members to protect the health of people in Tonawanda and surrounding communities from industrial pollution. The delegation was to join Fayette County residents at an informal cookout on Sunday and Community Forum on Monday, June 10 at 6 p.m. at the SALS Community Center in Beards Fork.

The delegation is coming to West Virginia, because a coal-fired power plant is one of the major sources of health-harming air pollution in their community and they want to learn how coal mining, especially surface mining, has affected Fayette County and what its residents have done to protect health and community well being from coal mining’s adverse effects.

Of top concern to both groups is the idea of transition: If in Tonawanda they are successful in closing the coal plant, how can those workers make a livelihood in the sustainable economy, and in West Virginia as coal mining continues to decline, what is next for coalfield communities?

“I’m looking forward to making new friends and learning new things, I hope we can work together to and bring urgency to the health effects of environmental pollution and fun at the same time,” said Ron Malec, Clean Air member and a resident of Tonawanda.

The community forum on Monday third in the Coalfield Environmental Health Project series of community meetings to stay informed on surface mining in the county and discuss its impacts.

Residents of Beards Fork and residents of Tonawanda will speak on a panel to share stories and lessons learned from their work for environmental justice and address questions of transition, health, and how the geographically separate communities can aid one another in the challenges each faces.

Surface mining operations are affecting a growing portion of Fayette County’s communities, land and waterways. In response, the Southern Appalachian Labor School, in collaboration with the Plateau Action Network, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and with the support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Justice, has launched the Coalfield Environmental Health Project to keep area residents informed of developments related to surface mining in the county. The project consists of community forums to disseminate and discuss information and trainings at which residents learn the ins and outs of existing laws that give them some measure of protection from surface mining impacts, and if enforced to the fullest extent would significantly limit the viability of large scale surface mining in West Virginia.