Can an outdoor adventure economy take root on former mines? (Ensia)

Communities throughout central Appalachia are looking for a future after coal. Part of that challenge involves figuring out what to do with former mines.

For Ensia, I visited St. Paul, Virginia, one among the many Central Appalachian coalfield communities building outdoor recreation opportunities to benefit the regional economy and fill a gap left by the dwindling coal industry. I found the early signs of an outdoor industry taking hold, and other communities like Dante, several miles up the road, seeking to follow the same path. Change doesn’t come easy, however, and the growing outdoor industry faces challenges from the effects of coal’s remnants on the environment, economy and culture.

Read the story at Ensia.

Supreme Court case looms over Virginia uranium ban, & local pipeline politics (Southeast Energy News)

The photo above shows the largest uranium deposit in North America, just north of Danville in rural Pittsylvania County, Virginia. It was discovered in the 70s, but Virginia lawmakers placed a moratorium on uranium mining in 1982. In early November, however, the Supreme Court of the US heard lawyers argue over whether the state moratorium runs afoul of federal law.

I looked at the history of the deposit, talked to locals, and previewed the case for the Energy News Network. Read the story at Southeast Energy News.

Also for Energy News Network, I looked at a pair of supervisors in Franklin & Montgomery counties (Va) who won election last year on platforms that included opposition to the Mountain Valley Pipeline. But their opposition is being tested with local decisions on gate stations that advocates argue could boost economic development. Read the story at Southeast Energy News.

Outdoors at stake in the 2018 midterms (Blue Ridge Outdoors)

Whether it’s ownership of public lands or the quality of our environment, funding for land management agencies or the trade and tax policies affecting gear manufacturers, what happens in the outdoors is dramatically affected by elected lawmakers.

I wrote about six races in Appalachia and the Southeast to watch in the November midterms, plus two gubernatorial elections & a ballot measure.

Read the story at Blue Ridge Outdoors.

Kentucky program retrains miners for energy efficiency jobs (Yes! Magazine)

By 2013 the number of coal jobs in Kentucky declined to 12,550—-the lowest since the state started recording the figure in 1927. By August 2018, the number had dropped about 50%, to 6,238.

A number of organizations are trying to retrain miners for other professions. I wrote about a small-scale program in eastern KY that’s retraining miners for energy efficiency jobs.

Read the story at Yes! Magazine.

Legendary West Virginia energy writer wins “Genius Grant” (Southeast Energy News)

I’m an unabashed fan of Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Ken Ward. I started reading his stories and Coal Tattoo blog when I was a reporter at the Roanoke Times, and I was fortunate enough to meet him in person during an Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) training in Charleston.

So I was pretty thrilled when Southeast Energy News asked me to do a Q&A with Ward about being awarded a MacArthur Grant.

Read the Q&A at Southeast Energy News.

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.

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.

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.