West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Wins Annual

Friends of the Earth-International Award

By Wayne C. Spiggle, M.D.

They donít have a Clean Water Act in Nigeria, Chile or Costa Rica but their strip mining issues are the same as ours in Appalachia. Absentee land ownership, the sacrifice of ground water, the loss of streams, official disdain for social justice rights of the people living near by, the forfeiture of future productive land use, the profiteering and the corruption of government it spawns are all understood and experienced by our international friends. It was an amazing experience on September 11, to stand before one hundred delegates from 63 countries meeting at Coolfont in Berkeley County and describe my beloved mountains and my outrage over these shared issues.

The occasion was the annual meeting of Friends of the Earth-International. Cindy Rank asked me to go there and accept for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy their most prestigious award for a community or organization demonstrating outstanding leadership on behalf of the environment. The honor was mine to represent the Highlands Conservancy because I live in near by Mineral County and Cindy has dubbed me an "honorary member of the Mining Committee." I was delighted with the assignment because as a grass roots member, I have long admired the responsible stewardship and the potent advocacy of the Highlands Conservancy. The roster of officers, board members and committee chairs listed each month in the Highlands Voice is truly a list of my heroes.

The news release put out by Friends of the Earth said:

"The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has fought against powerful corporate and political interests on behalf of the environment."

"The Conservancy stood up for coal field citizens and the environment when the state of West Virginia refused to."

"They have partnered with Friends of the Earth to fight the destructive practice in which mining companies blast the tops off mountains to reach coal underneath and then dump waste into nearby streams and valleys."

"Friends of the Earth has networked with the Highlands Conservancy and others in combating the US Environmental Protection Agencyís and the US Army Corps of Engineersí proposed change to a critically important Clean Water Act rule issued for public comment in April, to allow wastes to be dumped into rivers, streams and wetlands across the United States" Ė effectively overturning Judge Hadenís ruling on mountaintop mining. Friends of the Earth was particularly helpful to the brave band of Conservancy members who went to Washington last November to defeat a legislative rider by Senator Byrd which would have overturned Judge Hadenís decision.

The award and the enthusiastic response to my acceptance remarks demonstrate the respect the international environmental community has for what the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy is doing. Congratulations!