Appalachian Voices was founded in 1997 with a goal of protecting the land, air, and water of Central and Southern Appalachia. Headquartered in the small mountain town of Boone, North Carolina, the primary focus of this visionary non-profit is to promote alternative sources of clean, sustainable energy, and defend the region from the destructive impact of its most insidious environmental pollutant—coal.
“The main problems facing the region are related to mining—mountain top removal and coal ash. That’s been our primary focus,” says Erich Chance, Water Quality Expert at AV. In this environmentally catastrophic process, explosives are used to decimate hundreds of feet of mountain ridges in order to access the shallow vein of coal that lies below. Widely used throughout Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, mountain top removal has blasted over 500 mountains and destroyed thousands of miles of headwater streams, devastating the economic and ecological livelihoods of surrounding communities.
“We don’t have Mountain top removal in North Carolina, but we use more power generated from that practice than any other state in the country,” explains Chance. “So we don’t have the problems here—but we create them.”
Appalachian Voices works on a grassroots level to defend the Appalachian region from the destructive impacts of coal mining, working to educate and inform the citizens about its massive health and environmental repercussions. They are lobbying to pass the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, which bans high-elevation mining techniques over 2,000 feet, and working with the Protection Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) to re-write the Stream Protection Rule, which will help to protect waterways from the heavy metals and toxic by-products of mountain top removal.
“We are working on solutions work as well, in addition to addressing the problems that already exist,” explains Chance. Their energy efficiency campaign works with rural electric cooperates to finance low cost or no cost energy efficiency upgrades to local homes. They also publish a bi-monthly newspaper, the Appalachian Monthly, which provides factual information about environmental concerns as well as cultural and outdoor news in the Appalachian Mountains.
Funding comes primarily from grants, and the 750 donating members who live across the country. “Most of our members live in North Carolina or Virginia, but there are many who are out on the West Coast,” says explains Maeve Gould, Development and Operation Coordinator at AV. “Folks feel as if they have a connection to these mountains. Maybe they grew up here, maybe they just visited, but they feel like it’s something they want to protect.”
Widely recognized for its outstanding work in environmental protection, AV has been the recipient of a multitude of honors and awards, including the 2010 River Warrior Award from the Resource Renewal Institute as well as the 2010 BENNY award by the Business Ethics Network among many others. They were named a Google Earth Hero for their contribution to the website iLoveMountains.org .
In this age of ubiquitous environmental threat, AV understands the need for partnership, and working in tandem with organizations that share a similar mission of environmental stewardship. They are members of the Alliance for Appalachia, Blueprint North Carolina, Clean Water Network, North Carolina Conservation Network, and the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition.