Working to prevent a downturn in Central Kentucky

KEF is also working with a diverse array of experts and economic development agencies to prevent a downturn in the Central Kentucky economy when the disposal project ends – leaving a significant number of highly trained employees in the region. Read more at:  

Progress continues to be made at the Blue Grass Army Depot

Progress continues to be made at the Blue Grass Army Depot in destroying the nation’s last chemical weapons storage site. To date almost 65 tons of chemical warfare agents have been destroyed safely. Efforts will continue with strong engagement of the local community led by KEF’s Director being a member of the Governor’s Commission and Co-chair of the Citizens Advisory Board.

The CARES Act is not Cutting It: Eastern Kentuckians Need More Federal Aid

By Larah Helayne and Ricki Draper.                                                           

First published in the Mountain Citizen, Martin County June 10, 2020

This is just one of over one hundred stories that have been shared by East Kentuckians requesting direct financial relief due to loss of income in the face of the COVID-19 Crisis. This financial relief didn’t come from provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the federal legislation passed in March to support families in economic crises. It came from the East Kentucky (EKY) Mutual Aid Network. Long before the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, many families in Eastern Kentucky have worked hard to make ends meet each month. The CARES Act didn’t provide enough support for many families in Eastern Kentucky, and that’s why we, organizers from the EKY Mutual Aid network, are calling on our representatives to do more for our communities and families by providing emergency relief funding to meet every Kentuckian’s basic needs.

EKY Mutual Aid is a new network, formed and led entirely by volunteers, that has emerged in response to the overwhelming need of East Kentuckians, made only more intense by the gravity of this current epidemic. COVID-19 has forced us all to recognize our own vulnerability and need for community support. Therefore, we adopted a mutual aid model that involves a reciprocal exchange of resources with the premise that the unjust distribution of resources in our society is a political issue. EKY Mutual Aid operates under the belief that when communities come together to support each other, every member of the community is stronger – each person has something to offer as well as something they need. The success of EKY Mutual Aid is completely due to an outpouring of communal support. Thus far, 139 individuals have donated over $11,000 to the group’s GoFundMe, which has allowed over 50 families to receive relief. Hundreds of people have shared the fundraiser on social media, and it has been amplified by other mutual aid groups, and various non-profits throughout the Appalachian region. Beyond providing financial relief, EKY Mutual Aid has started a Facebook group with over 600 members, where people can seek and share resources, such as masks, hand sanitizer, and gardening supplies. Twice a week, the group hosts virtual meetings to discuss fundraiser progress, possible expansions in the type of aid provided, and to highlight the work of other mutual aid organizations. The group is made up of students, parents, non-profit employees, musicians, artists, gig-workers, and community members from Letcher, Pike, Montgomery, Floyd, Knott, Martin, and Elliott counties, all with a common goal: empower our communities to come together and help one another in this trying time, and beyond.

Our experience with Eastern KY Mutual Aid shows the power of solidarity and relying on existing community strengths, but as the crisis continues and the financial futures of more and more individuals remain uncertain, it is hard to keep a fund like this one going. Donations to the GoFundMe are slowing as the crisis continues. The group closed the request form on May 11 to new applicants, and we are currently working hard to fulfill the existing requests on a long waiting list. The need is overwhelming, not just in eastern Kentucky, but across the country. And the fact is, the families hit hardest by this health and economic crisis are those that were already struggling to meet their basic needs.

Eastern Kentuckians are no stranger to challenges and hardship, and we have always taken care of our neighbors in times of need. But we, and families all across the country, urgently need more federal aid to survive this crisis. Federal aid distribution must also take into account populations disproportionately affected by Covid-19, especially Black, Indigenous, and immigrant communities. The national protests erupting across the country in response to the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and countless other unarmed Black people highlight the systemic racism that permeates our society and, though no federal aid package will be able to address the systemic inequities that this pandemic and past weeks have further revealed, congress can start to address these inequities by ensuring that those that need the most support are not left out. The CARES Act, one of the federal government’s initial relief efforts, offered only a fraction of what is needed. Many individuals were left out of the package and it did nothing to help bolster our state budget. Without adequate funding for state services like healthcare and education, those left out of the initial CARES Act, like people already unemployed, caretakers of elderly relatives or children under 17, and low-income earners, will be left to struggle without even the basic services they’ve depended on from our state.

            The next package of legislation must address the failures of the previous relief act. Legislation must prioritize every family’s basic needs: safe and secure housing, access to healthy food and clean and affordable drinking water, and medical care. To meet these needs, EKY Mutual Aid and a host of other community-based organizations believe that the act must include: a flexible emergency assistance fund to be administered by states that can provide assistance to those that don’t qualify for other aid; an increase in SNAP benefits to help pay for the meals of children home from school and allow families to buy more in one trip to the grocery store; housing vouchers for rental assistance, and relief for states. State fiscal relief is critical to ensuring that our recession does not deepen into a depression. The HEROES Act, legislation that passed the House of Representatives earlier this month, provides a SNAP benefits increase, support for states, and some additional rental assistance funds. It is crucial that Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, take action now to move this legislation forward in the senate. There is no time to wait.

We know how to take care of ourselves and each other, but in order to make it through this crisis, we need government officials and all those in political power to take initiative, and do what is necessary to provide East Kentuckians and all Americans with the relief and support they need. Join EKY Mutual Aid in demanding federal legislation that adequately addresses the needs of East Kentuckians, and all those who too often fall through the cracks created by an unjust system. Contact your legislators today. Send a letter to Senator McConell by following this link: We will get through this together; and that means all of us must play our part.

To see how your representatives voted click here.

“When I received the $200, it felt like the biggest burden had been lifted from my shoulders. My parents are both high risk to COVID-19, and their extra money had been going toward different cleaning products and supplies… We’re normally proud people and would never ask for help. I put all of that aside and I am so glad I did. I wish everyone knew how much this organization has helped the people who live right here in the mountains. Thank you all again for not making me feel like a charity case.” 

UPDATE: Since this article was published, EKY Mutual Aid has distributed over $15,000 to Eastern Kentuckians affected by Covid-19.

Preventing the Preposterous: Kinder-Morgan Pipeline Unpurposed

By Craig Williams

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.

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). 

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. 

The Beginning of the End

An effort that began nearly 35 years ago has finally come to fruition as the destruction of the last stockpile of chemical weapons in the United States is set to begin. Craig Williams, Director of Kentucky Environmental Foundation, along with many others, fought to make sure this process was safe for the community around them.  We are proud to see the results of so much hard work.

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.

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

By Mary Hufford, Director of Stories of Place

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

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.

“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”

In August 2018, 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 Leip (English) and Christin Roberson (Science). Our community adviser 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. 

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

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 Virginia and eastern Kentucky, and who from 2009 – 2010 was Kentucky’s poet laureate.  

Talking with community partners in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, as well as with members of Indigenous communities in the 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.  

Poster at the entrance to Sheldon Park High School advertising Stories of Place. Twenty sophomores signed up. Photo by Mary Hufford.

Central Appalachian Folk and Traditional Arts Spring Summit

CAFTA advisors, field team members, and LiKENeers assembled for a
group photo on a windy day, closing out the first of three Summits at Eupepsia
Wellness Center, in Bland VA: from left: Cassie Patterson, Eric Lassiter, Jordan
Lovejoy, Ellesa Clay High, Sophia Enriquez, Crystal Good, Katie Hoffman, Robert
Colby, Christina Benedetti, Nicole Musgrave, Danille Christensen, Jess Porter,
Melissa Biliter, Travis Stimeling, Tammy Clemons, Mary Hufford, Doris Fields, Drew
Carter, Betsy Taylor, and Michael Gallimore.

At the end of April 2019, LiKEN joined the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation (MAAF) in
launching the Central Appalachian Folk and Traditional Arts (CAFTA) survey. Under contract with MAAF, LiKEN is directing a fifteen month survey of 112 Central Appalachian Counties in Virginia, Ohio, and West Virginia. Identifying folk and traditional arts, practitioners, as well as existing forms of support for them within the region, the survey will inform the development of a new multi-state program designed to promote the understanding, recognition, and practice of diverse forms of folk and traditional arts in Central Appalachia, including those of newly arrived and emerging communities as well as those that are well-established. Advisers and fieldworkers convened for two days at the Eupepsia Wellness Center in Bland Virginia for the first of three summits, to share information and ideas for research that is now underway.
For more information on the project, please contact:
Jess Porter, Program Officer, 
Mary Hufford, CAFTA Fieldwork Director, LiKEN,

Project Overview Map created by Melissa Biliter.

CAFTA fieldworkers Nicole Musgrave, Michael Gallimore, and Jordan Lovejoy,
developing work plans for researching their counties.  Photo by Betsy Taylor.

LiKENeers Mary Hufford and Melissa Biliter, leading discussion of methods for
fieldworkers’ preliminary surveys of their counties. Photo by Betsy Taylor.

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”.

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.


  • 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


  • 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 A

Welcoming Remarks: 00:23
Julia Haggerty, Montana State University: 10:35
Betsy Taylor, LiKEN: 47:34
Dustin Mulvaney, San Jose State University: 1:31:02
Questions for the Panel: 2:17:23

The Rising Voices Impact

– Vera Petrovic, Lawrence High School, Kansas

It is almost dark. The sky is a dusky blue, and meets the murky waters of Lake Superior at the horizon line. Elongated grey waves approach me, and their foamy resolution echoes sweetly in my ears. The professor guiding my research group bends down to touch the water. He smiles. “You can drink it,” he says. “It’s that pure.”

Rising Voices 6 participants at Lake Superior. Photo courtesy of Sara Herrin.

I visited Duluth, Minnesota in April 2018, my junior year of high school. The waterfront city was hosting the 6th annual Rising Voices: Climate Resilience through Indigenous and Earth Sciences workshop, and I attended as a research assistant for LiKEN, the co-organizer. Both my father and brother had been involved with Rising Voices, but this was the first year I was actively participating in the workshop, compiling information for the public workshop report. My job was to listen and observe. I spent three attentive days with individuals at the forefront of climate advocacy, and a month later, when I sat down to write the report, I had no shortage of material to expound upon.

When I think of Rising Voices, I am reminded immediately of its warmth. People laughing and hugging, enjoying food and company, sharing stories and wisdom. I have little experience with professional workshops, but from what I do know, the atmosphere of Rising Voices is distinctly welcoming. It gathers together activists, scholars, and scientists, and most importantly, enables a discussion where Indigenous voices are heard and heeded. Indigenous knowledge is the pillar of climate knowledge, and it is fittingly the focus of Rising Voices. The conference takes a widespread and publicized issue–the impending threat of climate change–and presents adaptive solutions through a lens of traditional ecological knowledge. It is truly a revolutionary approach, because it combines both Western and Indigenous knowledge in a single exploratory event. 

Rising Voices is an enlightening experience, but its greatest value comes in its wisdom.  I remember Daniel Wildcat, Acting Vice-President for Academics, Haskell Indian Nations University, musing that perhaps “society has developed too much.” To listen to the speakers of Rising Voices is to take a pause from a fast-paced and urban approach to life and science. To listen deeply is to understand that climate resiliency and prosperity comes from honoring the Earth, as indigenous communities have done for centuries. Rising Voices is almost narrative in its nature, because so many of its speakers reflect on their personal connection to the land. Such a personal interest, in turn, prompts strengthened and consistent action. 

Water from Lake Superior, shared during the Opening Ceremony of RV6. Photo courtesy of Craig Elevitch.

I touch a finger to the water, and it is frigid. The professor bends down next to me, and takes a handful in his palm. He raises the seeping water to his mouth and drinks. Behind us, other members of the group marvel at the waves and walk slowly along the black rocks. As I watch them quietly delight in the view of Lake Superior, my stomach swells with gratefulness. I realize how grateful I am to be here, along Lake Superior, with people from the Rising Voices workshop, a gathering that cherishes a personal connection to the natural world and encourages a traditional ecological approach as the first combatant to climate change. 

Rising Voices: Representation and Empowerment

Itzel Flores Castillo

B.A. Environmental Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara


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.