The Beginning of the End

by Craig Williams

In 1984 the Army announced their plans to incinerate the 500+ tons of chemical warfare agents contained in 101,000 weapons stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky. On May 28th, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to mark the start of operations at the neutralization facility at the Depot to finally begin disposal of these weapons of mass destruction.

In the 35 years it took to get to that point, the citizens in Central Kentucky fought an elongated battle to change the Pentagon’s approach of the open-ended combustion technology to a more contained, manageable, protective  and safer method of destroying these weapons. A true David vs Goliath tale that ended the same way as that story. The communities prevailed – but it was challenging to say the least. The good news is that operations have begun, and within a few years the weapons will be relegated to the history books. This will not only relieve the immediate community to the risks associated with storing these weapons of war, but will also bring the U.S. into compliance with the International Treaty requiring global destruction.

The Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF) and the grassroots groups across the country and around the world who formed the Chemical Weapons Working Group under KEF’s banner were relentless in their pursuit of methods that provided maximum protection to the workers, the communities and the environment while pursuing this noble objective. Now, we are at the final stages of our and our Nation’s effort to eliminate these weapons.

Energy Transitions & the First West: The Complex Histories of Appalachia’s Emerging Futures

On May 1, 2019 LiKEN’s Executive Director, Betsy Taylor was invited to speak at the National Academy of Sciences.  The forum was organized by the Academy’s Geographical Sciences Committee, to explore the “Effects of Energy Transition on Opportunities in Rural America”.  Dr. Betsy Taylor’s focus was Energy Transitions & the First West: The Complex Histories of Appalachia’s Emerging Futures.

In this thirty minute presentation she summarizes some of the legacy impacts of fossil fuel extraction in the region. At the same time, she shares the many assets of Appalachia that have the potential to improve livelihoods and provide new public revenues in a regenerative economy.  While many focus on the problems in Appalachia’s past, Dr. Taylor brings to light the potential in Appalachia’s future.

 

Appalachia can provide vital assets to the nation in the 21st century

 

CLIMATE STRESSORS,
21ST C. NORTH AMERICA

  • Water scarcity (drought, contaminants, etc.) 
  • Extreme weather events, flooding
  •  Greenhouse gases accumulated from 2 centuries of carbon energy systems
  • Climate migration (non-human & human)
  • Phasing out of long supply chains
  • Decentralized, distributed energy systems

APPALACHIAN ECOLOGICAL 

ASSETS

  • High rainfall region
  • Carbon sink potential
  • Propinquity to major population centers of the east coast
  • Climate refugia
  • Mega-biodiversity, buffering capacity, resilience
  • Moderate capacity for renewable energy 

Worldwide Ban on Fracking- A Summary of the Permanent People’s Tribunal Report

By Amanda Pantoja, LiKEN Research Assistant

April 16, 2019

The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) is an internationally recognized court of justice that

enforces global human rights law and policy to cases around the world. The PPT aims to raise

awareness of human rights violations using testimonies and evidence from impacted

communities. By stimulating awareness, the PPT also paves the way towards realizing justice

through its recommendations for changes in state and international law, policies and programs.

For instance, the current state of our global climate crisis has called the PPT to take on efforts

to enforce the integration of the rights of humans and nature to a healthy environment into legal

frameworks and social movement building.

 

Recently the PPT has released a report calling for a worldwide ban on hydraulic fracturing.

Commonly called “fracking”, this method of unconventional oil and gas extraction (UOGE) is

responsible for severe impacts to people, ecosystems and the planet. After considering the

evidence brought forward to the PPT from various regions, the tribunal has reason to believe

that UOGE presents significant violations of international human rights law. Because dangers

are implicit in UOGE techniques, their continuation provokes the degradation of local

ecosystems and community health. Fracking operations inherently infringe on the right to health

through its contribution to climate change that threatens the well-being of present and future

generations. For a long time, health impacts have not been considered in state and international

laws and procedures regarding UOGE. And due to the evident relationship between a

community’s poor health and their proximity to fracking, these operations violate legally

protected human rights to life, water, and a clean environment.

 

Based on testimonies by impacted communities, the PPT’s report identifies that the fracking

system also violates the right to informed consent and decision-making. Currently, in the context

of fracking, communities are fighting for the right to define fracking, ecosystems, and the effects

of fracking. First, the accepted definition of fracking generally only designates fracking as a

method of extraction and other industrial activities such as exploring and refining shale gas.

However, the fracking industry has fought against recognizing that within the definition of

fracking also exist the “‘fracturing’ of our health, environment, properties, communities,

legislatures, media, justice system, rights, relationships, and way of life by those who would

usurp and abrogate our rights” as stated by the amicus curiae brief from New York. Second, oil

and gas companies define an ecosystem as a commodity. This perception of ecosystems does

not properly represent that of communities who are impacted by fracking. For many rural

residents who neighbor fracking operations, the land is closely tied to their identity, culture, and

livelihoods and thus, should be considered a rights-bearing entity. Third, fracking policies

suppress adequate information on their practices. Consequently, communities do not have the

sufficient definition of fracking impacts and further, are not allowed to achieve self-

determination.

 

The PPT report recommends that in order to address social and ecological justice, solutions like

the discontinuation of UOGE operations, reparations and restoration must be pushed for

through state governments and frontline communities. The PPT makes the argument that legal

action alone will not facilitate the change the world needs to see. This is due to the fact that the

PPT has evidence that governments have also violated the very same rights as UOGE

operations. Thus, there exists a history of distrust by both the oil and gas industry and

governments that allows the violations described to the PPT. In regards to previous

international, national, state, and regional laws regarding the environment, they have still proven

to be insufficient being that they are usually “soft laws” or laws that are influenced by

corporations. For this reason, the PPT states the following:

“Such authorities have betrayed the people and in doing so, have made a mockery of

democracy, the rule of law and the right of peoples to determine their own destiny, and that of

the planet. The PPT believes that the direct, active resistance of the people in countries around

the globe must be recognized as justifiable resistance to the unjust, even murderous,

destruction of communities and plundering of nature’s resources aided and abetted by

governments.”

 

The report concluding remarks uphold the PPT’s commitment to urging governments to

advocate for a strict ban on UOGE operations and reinforces their commitment to protecting the

rights of people, our planet, and future generations.

Reflection: Relocation Task Force

By Hannah Ornellas  

I am currently two weeks away from finishing my final quarter of my undergraduate career at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and am becoming more and more excited to use what I have learned here to do what I am most passionate about, which is using my education to support others. Working with LiKEN this past quarter has given me a taste of what it is going to be like to very soon be contributing to projects and working outside of the university setting.

Many coastal populations, including Native American and Indigenous tribes in low lying areas are at risk of losing their land due to climate change and sea level rise. In response, LiKEN, through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant award to support the Rising Voices: Climate Resilience through Indigenous and Earth Science program, hosted by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research/National Center for Atmospheric Research (UCAR/NCAR) in partnership with LiKEN, has facilitated the development of a Rising Voices Relocation Task Force Team. To support this work, myself and two other LiKEN research assistants were assembled to investigate government documents to better understand what is allowable under existing policies, laws, and regulations in relation to community relocations.

My first role while working on the first part of the Task Force was to comb through government documents and national and state policy to find essential pieces of information and legal definitions. I specifically looked through the policies and projects of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the National Flood Insurance Program (NIFP), and the United States Army Corp of Engineer document 33 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

Governmental documents and policies are a navigational maze. Having spent the last four years focusing on learning research skills, I still struggled to find the specific information I was looking for in these policies and documents. This assignment made me realize how difficult it must be for people who are not native English speakers or those who do not have secondary education to try and find governmental policies that can help them. It illustrated how difficult it must be for disaster survivors trying to deal with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and insurance claims.

This project has confirmed my desire to use my education to support others. It is my responsibility in the fight for climate justice and a post-carbon world to use my education and my acquired skills to stand with communities and together, rise up and advocate for policies in favor of sustainable changes. We are running out of time to slow down the rate of climate change, and the work that LiKEN and other organizations are doing is essential for a sustainable, just future for all.

Protecting History and Nurturing Economic Development in Benham and Lynch, Kentucky By Mary Hufford

America’s environmental laws guarantee its citizens the right to participate in public conversations about alternatives to large-scale development projects.  Yet too often, when, as citizens, we exercise this right to participate in the visioning of futures for our communities, we are labelled “activists,” accused of threatening the jobs that come with environmentally destructive forms of extraction such as clear-cutting, fracking, and mountaintop removal mining.  We have a right to engage public conversations that consider the long-term costs and benefits of alternative pathways to development. To insist that these conversations take place is nothing less than patriotic.

Citizens of Benham and Lynch, in Harlan County Kentucky, have stepped forward to hold their representatives accountable to beneficiaries, past, present, and future, of Eastern Kentucky’s world-class public trust of fragile, forested, mountain ecosystems. They have identified resources on which they are already building alternative pathways to development. These historical, cultural, and ecological resources with economic potential are likely to be greatly diminished in value by strip mining in proximity. We support the citizens’ demand for an honest and thorough look at alternatives to extreme extraction that nurture and sustain human communities throughout the Central Appalachian region. As it stands, this requirement, though set forth explicitly in Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), and the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, has not been met.

 

Citizens of Benham and Lynch, partnering with the Kentucky Resources Council, have filed a Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition.  If you would like to support their petition, you can write to:                                                                                                                                                                  Jeff Baird, Director, Division of Mine Permits            jeff.baird@ky.gov                                                   300 Sower Boulevard, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601                                                                                The period for public comments is open until April 30, 2019.

Sarah Billings

Recently,  Dr. Maldonado and the LiKEN Research Assistant (RA) team based out of University of California, Santa Barbara,  met to discuss progress regarding all of the ongoing projects such as the Land Study in collaboration with Dr. Deborah Thompson. I have been mostly working on the Land Study for the past few weeks. In preparation for the land study project, Hannah Ornellas and I, as part of the research team are reviewing the software required to help code interviews conducted for the land study. We are learning different ways to use it and researching its capabilities. We are working on familiarizing ourselves with the intricacies of the software so that we can optimize its utility in helping organize and understand the study. By assigning specific numbers to words in a systematic way, we will be able to observe trends in the data and further our knowledge as a team. I really look forward to continuing with this project and seeing the final outcome because I find it very interesting to understand how communities feel as a whole, and by conducting and dissecting interviews,  it is a really good way for us as researchers to find out qualitative details about the sentiment of the communities. In conjunction with that, Dr. Maldonado, Hannah and I have a meeting with Dr. Thompson to discuss the Land Study and exchange ideas on how to exactly code the interviews. I look forward to the next meeting and moving along further in the project!

 

 

Stories of Place at the Capitol

LiKEN’s Stories of Place project was featured on Tuesday, February 12 at an event in the Kentucky State Capitol rotunda in Frankfort, sponsored by the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC). Sheldon Clark High School Students from Allison Leip’s English classes and Christin Roberson’s Air and Space science class presented posters illustrating their documentation of stories of elders in Martin County and a trip to map favorite fishing holes in and around Petercave Lake. More than 400 students from 22 school districts in Eastern Kentucky participated.

Stories of Place students and faculty on the steps inside the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda. 

Photo by Mary Hufford

During the day, Sheldon Clark students presented their projects to Kentucky legislators Rocky Adkins and Chris Harris. Throughout the spring, students will be continuing their documentary research in order to produce podcasts, videos, and updated maps featuring Martin County’s special places.

Brandon Matthew, shaking hand of Kentucky State Delegate Chris Harris, who stopped by to meet the Stories of Place students and faculty and learn about their projects.

Photo by Mary Hufford.

KVEC videographer, interviewing Andrea Davis about her Stories of Place Poster, based on her interview with Remona Ward Estep. 

Photo by Mary Hufford.

Stories of Place in Martin County, a project of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network in partnership with the University of Kentucky, is co-directed by Mary Hufford and Karen Rignall, with funding from the Whiting Foundation.

Preventing the Preposterous: Kinder-Morgan Pipeline Unpurposed​

By Craig Williams
Project Director
Kentucky Environmental Foundation

In February 2015, Kinder- Morgan, Inc., one of the nation’s largest energy infrastructure companies, proposed the re-purposing of 964 miles of their 70+ year old 24 inch pipeline from transporting Natural Gas (NG) to transporting Natural Gas Liquids (NGL). One needn’t be a genius to realize it would take more pressure to move a liquid through the pipeline than to move a gas. But, that was just the beginning of our concerns.

Upon digging a little deeper, it became apparent that there were many additional risks associated with this proposal, such as leaks, explosions, water and land contamination and the like. The pipeline company also wanted to reverse the flow from South to North using this antiquated line, so fracking materials destined for export could be moved to the Gulf from PA and OH. People began to question the potential risks associated with this proposal.

Photo by Robin Hart

It didn’t take long for them to recognize this was a plan that prioritized profit over people and to begin organizing against it. Efforts were initiated to bring citizens, organizations, governments, and institutions out in opposition to this plan in an organized fashion. Legal strategies were developed as an additional tool to protect communities along the route. The Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF), a project under LiKEN, worked with local, city, and county governments, academic institutions, and economic development organizations to educate, and to urge vocal opposition to the proposal.

Over the course of the following three and a half years, KEF was able to get more than fifteen of these types of entities to not only vocally come out in their respective communities, but, also, to send letters directly to the Kinder-Morgan President and CEO urging them to cease and desist. All were copied to the appropriate Congressional officials, as well as the federal agencies responsible for issuing permits to begin the project. Two counties went so far as to pass their own ordinances requiring conditional permits be issued by them prior to the project moving forward. (See joint Press Release for a list of entities who made public statements against the pipeline re-purposing).

 
 

It didn’t take long for them to recognize this was a plan that prioritized profit over people…

Meanwhile, grassroots efforts to educate the general public were vigorously undertaken to provide the underpinning needed to increase the political pressure objectives. In addition, legal actions were taken to challenge the pro-project decrees issued by the federal agencies along the way. These efforts were bolstered by presentations by scientists and documentation of problems associated with similar proposals. This multifaceted approach eventually tipped the scales in favor of communities. On October 2, 2018 Kinder-Morgan filed a request to vacate the certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity previously issued, that would have allowed the project to proceed. KEF and LiKEN are proud of the role they played in achieving this victory on behalf of the public’s health and safety and the protection of our collective environment.



“Stories of Place Project: Martin County, Kentucky leads the Way”

By Mary Hufford, Director for Stories of Place

“Working with youth to gather and present the stories of elders, Stories of Place engages multiple generations in the discovery and renewal of places that matter most to Central Appalachian communities”

The Stories of Place Martin County team, photographed during a field trip to  Appalshop in Whitesburg. Photo by Willa Johnson

In August, with the support of a Whiting Fellowship awarded to Karen Rignall (faculty member with the Community and Leadership Development program of the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment ) LiKEN launched its Stories of Place program at Sheldon Clark High School, in Inez, Kentucky. As director of LiKEN’s Stories of Place program, I have been working with Karen Rignall, project coordinator in Martin County, Ricki Draper, a fellow with the Highlander Institute, and Sheldon Clark faculty members Allison Leap (English) and Christin Roberson (Science). Our community advisor is Nina McCoy, who formerly taught biology at Sheldon Clark High School.  Twenty high school sophomores gather each week for Stories of Place meetings. They are developing the skills needed to conduct documentary interviews with elders in the community. They are also learning GIS mapping skills, and in the spring they will meet with Willa Johnson, of Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute, for training in editing and producing podcasts.

Nina McCoy, Ricki Draper, and Mickey McCoy reviewing a map of Martin County that is
used during Stories of Place Meetings with students. Map courtesy of Aaron Guest.
Photo by Mary Hufford.

Thinking of Stories of Place as applied narrative ecology, we approach “place” as an ecosystem  that depends on the stories we tell for its ongoing renewal. What are the environmental and social conditions that sustain storytelling in our communities? And how does storytelling nurture environment and society together?  Working with youth to gather and present the stories of elders, Stories of Place engages multiple generations in the discovery and renewal of places that matter most to Central Appalachian communities. Our curriculum introduces students to the unique legacies of the mixed mesophytic forests of the region, as they identify and explore landscapes and histories shaped by more than a century of coal and timber extraction.  Through discussions of the work of Appalachian writers and filmmakers, students learn to tell the stories of their communities. On the way they meet with and learn about key figures and institutions in the region’s cultural history, including a field trip to Appalshop in Whitesburg in October, and an upcoming visit from Gurney Norman, who grew up in the coalfields of southwestern VA and eastern KY, and who from 2009 – 2010 was Kentucky’s poet laureate.

Stories of Place students locating their homes and special places on a map of Martin
County during the first meeting. Photo by Allison Leip.

Poster at the entrance to Sheldon Park High School advertising Stories of Place. Twenty

sophomores signed up. Photo by Mary Hufford.

Talking with community partners in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, as well as with members of Indigenous communities in Western U.S., we hear a persistent refrain: Distracted by technologies of the digital age, we pay less attention to our local surroundings, and to the  communications between young people and elders that strengthen communities of land and people. Stories of place uses digital technology to address both rifts, and to engage youth and elders in planning for the future of their communities.

Rising Voices: Representation and Empowerment

Rising Voices  is a program that facilitates “cross-cultural approaches for adaptation solutions to extreme weather and climate events, climate variability and climate change.” It brings together Indigenous community members and physical scientists, social scientists, and engineers to establish conversations and plans to help communities who are adversely affected by weather and climate impacts. However, RISING VOICES is much more than that. It is a place for Indigenous community members to speak of their struggles, their fights, and the need for Western science to acknowledge them and their knowledge. And for me, it is a program where I found the representation and empowerment from people of color who could be my mentors – people who I do not often see in an educational system that is predominantly white.

I was introduced to LiKEN and RISING VOICES through Julie Maldonado in 2017 when I was taking her course in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which focused on the impacts of governmental policies and projects on communities across the globe. This class is where I first learned about Shishmaref, Alaska and how this community is suffering from island erosion, and how our government is not supportive enough – if at all – of relocating or financially supporting this community. Later I became a research assistant for Julie and LiKEN and had the amazing opportunity to attend the 6th annual Rising Voices workshop in 2018, held in Duluth, Minnesota as a notetaker and aid in writing the workshop report. I say amazing because I found in RISING VOICES much needed inspiration, role models, and revelations that I had not quite realized I needed.

The majority of participants were Indigenous. They were people of color completing their Masters degrees, running for public office, working in STEM fields, running their own companies, and so much more. Most of all, they were people who were fighting battles against a system that has primarily aimed to colonize our minds and taught us that the Western way is the only way – that being light skinned is the only way to get ahead. And it was being in the presence of all these people that made me realize this was the first time I had ever been surrounded by so many people of color at once and see just how lacking all of our systems are of these kinds of conferences, discussions, and people to represent us.

RISING VOICES made me realize just how much I needed to see people who looked like me in higher positions so I could know just how much I am worth and how much I can do. We need to continue growing so we can have our voices heard; so communities of color can get the help they need and not be pushed to the back of the agenda because they are not considered important enough to put first; and so that the younger generation can have more role models who look like them and who can help them navigate the system. Especially given the current political context, programs like RISING VOICES are more important than ever.


Itzel Flores Castillo

B.A. Environmental Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara