How tree sitters hope to delay and block the Mountain Valley Pipeline (Blue Ridge Outdoors, Belt Magazine)

Since late February, a series of tree sitters and their allies have placed their bodies in the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile interstate line intended to move natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations to markets in the Southeast.

I’ve covered this story a few different times in a few different places.

For background, read my 2015 Roanoke Business story on the various pipeline proposals and my 2014 Grist story about how craft brewers were lining up against them.

The tree sits first went up on Peters Mountain, beside the Appalachian Trail near the Virginia/West Virginia line, in late February. In early April, a mother and daughter stationed themselves in trees on their land in Bent Mountain, and later that month, tree-sitters went up in Franklin County, to the east.

My first story on the tree sits appeared in Blue Ridge Outdoors in late April and covered what had happened up to that point.

In early May, however, Red and Minor Terry, the mother-daughter pair on Bent Mountain, were forced down by a court order. I live-tweeted their descent and collected those tweets at Medium. Another story also was published by Blue Ridge Outdoors.

When I was writing that first story for Blue Ridge Outdoors, a guy said to me, “Those people are way too late. They should have been fighting it years ago.” Thing is, the pipeline opponents HAVE been fighting for years, and they’ve more or less done everything right along the way: Packing open houses, filing public comments that right time, activating opposition around assets such as the Appalachian Trail, collecting scientific data to refute the pipeline’s filings, etc.

So I wrote a story for Belt Magazine specifically for the Rust Belt, Appalachian & Midwestern communities that stand in the paths of more than 100 pipelines planned for the near future, many of them moving fracked natural gas from the Marcellus & Utica shale formations. What can they learn from the tree sits & the broader fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline? You can read that story here.

Meanwhile, the battle between the tree-sitters and MVP construction crews continues. The Franklin County tree-sitters were forced down by a federal court on Memorial Day, leaving one original tree-sitters on Peters Mountain, plus a nearby aerial blockade of a National Forest access road that was blocked for more than 50 days by one woman who has since been replaced by another.

The odds against stopping the pipeline remain long, but the sitters are buying time for a half-dozen or more court proceedings to play out. The story is still unfinished.

Legislation to add bikes to federal wilderness threatens to crack conservation coalition (Blue Ridge Outdoors)

A bill to allow mountain bikes in federal wilderness areas appears stalled in the House, & would seem to be DOA in the Senate anyway. Still, this story is important for what it signifies in the conservation coalition.

At 1st blush, this may seem simple. The Wilderness Act is a bedrock environmental law in the US, & preserving wilderness is important. & yet, I had not thought about how wilderness is regularly added by Congress, & what that means for areas once home to well-used bike trails.

I break that dynamic down a bit in this story through the example of Dolly Sods in WV. Expansion of that wilderness a few years ago was trumpeted as a major victory, but it also involved a breakdown between mountain bikers & wilderness advocates.

Politics & personalities ultimately contributed to the final outcome, & there is still bad blood today over how it went down. That’s the real danger of HR 1349—that it may splinter the coalition between recreationalists & wilderness groups.

My story in Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine digs into that dynamic, with voices from across the spectrum. Check it out in April’s issue or read it online here.

Don Blankenship has turned WV’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate into a 3-way race (New Republic)

When he first entered the West Virginia Republican primary for U.S. Senate, I kind of wrote off Don Blankenship’s campaign as an effort at rehabbing his image after a year in prison. But now, five weeks out from the primary election, it appears that the former apex predator of blood capitalism is in the hunt.

Read my story about Blankenship’s background & the current moment at The New Republic.

How Appalachian black metal is defining a new era of mountain music (Noisey)

The music of the rising Appalachian black metal scene is awesome, & the musicians behind it are extraordinarily thoughtful individuals, so I always jump at the chance to talk to them.

This story features Slaves BC, Ulfrinn, Twilight Fauna, Nechochwen, and Vials of Wrath.

I recommended more artists here:

 

Read my story at Noisey.

Don Blankenship’s entry into the GOP US Senate campaign scrambles the race (Blue Ridge Outdoors)

The 2018 GOP primary for West Virginia’s US Senate seat was turning into another Mitch McConnell/Steve Bannon proxy fight. Then one of the most hated men in West Virginia announced his candidacy.

I think Don Blankenship is using this mostly to grind his ax against MSHA, incumbent US Sen Joe Manchin & the federal government. Even so, he’s injecting a unpredictable element of chaos into what had been a seemingly straight-forward primary.

Read the story at Blue Ridge Outdoors.

Can a new kind of West Virginia Democrat emerge from its 3rd congressional district? (The New Republic)

West Virginia’s 3rd congressional district went 73/23 for Trump over Clinton last year, but Democrat Nick Rahall held that seat up through 2014. With the seat open again (Evan Jenkins is running for Senate), I wrote about how Democrats are trying to engage voters and address the real challenges of poverty & economic disruption there (including at least two who are doing so by running for the Republican nomination).

My story for the New Republic looks at several present and past Democrats in the district (including some current Republicans) who are now maneuvering for the open seat. The story focuses largely on Richard Ojeda, a veteran and state senator who supported Trump in 2016 but is building a campaign that combines his brawling anti-establishment style with a generally progressive platform.

Summer stories for 100 Days in Appalachia

From mid-June through mid-August I worked as a contributing editor for 100 Days in Appalachia.

I posted a short thread on Twitter about my departure from the digital publication.

I contributed a number of stories to 100 Days in Appalachia through the summer:

Trump’s Proposed Infrastructure Improvements Remain a Windy Road for Commuters in Appalachia

Can ‘Berniecrats’ Win in Appalachia?

How a Rash of Tick-Borne Illnesses is Challenging Appalachian Health Systems

How the Annual Remote Area Medical Clinic in Wise, Virginia, Became Ground Zero for Parachute Journalists Writing about Healthcare in Appalachia

What Congress Can Learn from West Virginia About Tax Reform and Budgets

With Trump, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice Announces he’s Becoming a Republican. Again.

How a 40-Year-Old Federal Law Literally Changed the Appalachian Landscape

Appalachia Can’t Close the Health Disparity Gap Until it Fixes its Hospitals

Probably my favorite story for 100 Days involved visiting Camp Lincoln, a Goldwater-era conservative leadership camp near Webster, WV, where I watched teenagers debate recreational marijuana and practice political maneuvers to introduce last-minute legislation and push it into law.

If I squinted, I could see the future.

An update on ultramarathoner Mirna Valeria & her new memoir (Blue Ridge Outdoors)

Step over step. Step over step.

My dad was a lifetime runner, & I aim to follow in his steps. That’s part of why Mirna Valerio’s story resonates deeply with me. She’s using running as an avenue to lifelong fitness, and inspiring a ton of people along the way. She’s awesome.

Her memoir, “A Beautiful Work in Progress,” was released in October. I caught up with her for Blue Ridge Outdoors.

Appalachian communities hoping to build a new outdoor economy see threat from Trump (100 Days in Appalachia)

After years of building their regional economy around extractive industries, many Appalachian communities now are tapping into their bountiful outdoor assets to draw tourists—-and perhaps manufacturers and other job creators.

Places like Roanoke, Virginia, have created a new model for economic development, pairing traditional lures like workforce and infrastructure with an emphasis on livability and access to outdoor recreation.

Substantial challenges remain, however—-including President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, which would gut a number of programs crucial to economic diversification efforts.

Read the story at 100 Days in Appalachia.

100 days in, here’s what Donald Trump has meant for Appalachia (Vice)

Donald Trump dominated Appalachia on Election Day, 2016, and he wasted no time in loosening regulations on the region’s coal industry. In the big picture, however, the regulatory shifts mean an extension of the status quo.

His proposed budget, however, which would gut the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Economic Development Administration, the USDA’s infrastructure budget and other programs crucial to economic development efforts, may well wipe out any job gains from the coal industry.

For Vice, I tried to sort out the impact of federal actions on Appalachia under Trump. Read it here.