In Marble Halls: Our History with E-Council

By Cynthia D. Ellis

One poem.  Thanks to an interest in one poem, I stumbled upon Tennessee State University’s “Now & Then; The Appalachian Magazine” —a publication of that school’s Center for Appalachian Studies and Services.  And through them I acquired several archive copies of their magazine.

One was the Spring 1995 issue with the theme “Appalachia and the Environment.” In it one article examined the West Virginia Environmental Council.  Our own long-time member Mary Wimmer wrote enthusiastically of the genesis of the Environmental Council [which we with Highlands Conservancy have long supported] from the vantage point of the first six years of its existence.

The West Virginia Environmental Council was formed in 1989, at a Hardee’s in Morgantown, Wimmer noted.  It’s known that the nineteen sixties were a time of activism and change, but people were agitating for causes in the eighties and nineties too.  And, like us, the West Virginia Environmental Council came together from diverse groups and individuals.

FOLK [Friends of Little Kanawha], MOVE [Mon Organization for a Viable Environment], People Concerned with MIC, TEARS WV [Team Effort Against Ruining Southern West Virginia] and others were active then, as well as organizations of longer duration and larger membership such as Trout Unlimited, Sierra Club, and…us.  Leaders of these groups hoped the presence of active volunteers could increase the potential for positive environmental impact by joining forces and communicating effectively to lobby at the West Virginia Legislature.   Environmentalists did and do try to influence the lawmakers within the classic beauty of our state’s capitol building in the February and March weeks of each annual session.

Then as now, a prevailing issue was that of clean water.  A visit to the WVEC archives finds some déjà vu in that our lobbyists spoke like this about water degradation in February, 2001…

“Water Wars: West Virginians Deserve Strong Antideg Policy”

by Nathan Fetty and Donald S. Garvin, Jr.

Our regular readers know there’s a water war brewing in the legislature this year. An industry Dirty Water Coalition has succeeded in substituting its own Dirty Water version of an antidegradation implementation rule in place of the version put forward by the WV Environmental Quality Board…It is not clear at this time how antideg will be treated by the politicians here in Charleston…Of course, WVEC supports the strongest antideg policy possible, simply because we like clean water…”

Mary Wimmer praised the then-young WVEC for its work with the legislature on water and all issues.  She noted that the presence of a physical office, sparkplug leaders, and a finely crafted newsletter were coupled with those numerous citizen volunteers to account for the successes of the WVEC.  Later, the “E-Council” hired lobbyists to tread the marble floors and haunt the marble halls of the West Virginia Capitol as they labored to educate and inform legislators.  Just a few examples among accomplishments have been:  Rails-to-Trails Enabling Law [1992], Creation of DEP Environmental Advocate [1994], School Pesticide Act [1995], Permanent Non-game Program Funding [1995], and the Green Buildings Act [2012].

[For more on accomplishments and to see good bills and bad, scroll down on this WVEC link ]

On one hand, it may be disheartening to think of all these years of continuing the fight for clean water.  But on the other hand, it is cheering to see that the fight does go on.  We have not given up.  We, and those who we support in the work of lobbying the legislature, have the same commitment as ever, and the same resolve to win.

Something else I came across in looking at the beginnings of our Environmental Council were these words by the 39th U.S. President…

“Whatever we do to a landscape can ultimately be seen in the river into which that landscape drains ­ and we have done terrible things to many landscapes. To achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act, we must stop using our rivers and landscapes as though they were disposable. It takes more care and money, in the short run, to manage nature well than it does to abuse it, but the dividends are great.”

-President Jimmy Carter