Who We Are
Appalachian Mountain Advocates is a non-profit law and policy center dedicated to fighting for clean water and a clean energy future.
Why We Do What We Do
The current scale of the fossil fuel industry harms the people, land, water and air in our region — and across the world.
Whether it’s coal, oil or gas, extracting and burning fossil fuels poisons the water we drink. It pollutes the air we breathe. It decimates the natural areas we and countless other animals and plants depend upon. And unquestionably, it intensifies the devastating impacts of global climate change.
Only a dramatic shift to clean energy can avert the worst of this mounting crisis.
Yet further investment in dirty fossil fuels is proposed. Allowing that sunken investment would continue to crowd renewables out of the marketplace, blunting the research and financing that could lead to affordable, sustainable clean energy.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates won’t let that happen. For the last 15 years, we have worked hard to fight the coal industry’s attempts at expansion and prevent it from leaving a legacy of pollution.
And we have been successful.
Appalmad has a long history of winning precedent-setting court cases and negotiating costly settlements. We have secured hundreds of millions of dollars towards conserving natural areas and treating polluted water. We have worked to ensure that the coal industry cannot continue to dump its costs of doing business onto the public.
The natural gas industry is next. Some incorrectly view natural gas as a bridge fuel between coal and clean energy. We know better.
Fracking is destroying communities and water sources across Appalachia. Getting the fracked gas to market calls for construction of massive multi-state pipelines that would cut through mountains, prime forests, and private land, leaking potent greenhouse gases like methane along the way.
Every dollar invested in gas is a dollar that would be better spent on truly clean energy production. With the opening of our new Virginia office, we are expanding our focus to fight investment in natural gas, making space in the marketplace for affordable renewables.
We are dedicated to continuing the fight for clean water and a clean energy future.
Joe Lovett, a founder of Appalachian Mountain Advocates, has been a catalyst for focusing local and national attention on the devastation caused by mountaintop removal coal mining. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law in 1995 and served as a law clerk to the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. He is admitted to practice law in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia. He has litigated many precedent-setting cases against polluters and the agencies that purport to regulate them. Joe is a native West Virginian.
Derek Teaney is a ninth generation West Virginian. Derek graduated at the head of his class from Lewis and Clark Law School in 2004, where he was Editor in Chief of Environmental Law. After law school, Derek clerked for the Honorable Rex E. Armstrong of the Oregon Court of Appeals. He then joined Appalachian Mountain Advocates as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in 2006, becoming a permanent staff member at the end of his fellowship. Derek is a member of the West Virginia State Bar. When not litigating complex environmental cases, Derek enjoys skiing, running, acting and home brewing.
Kate Asquith joined Appalachian Mountain Advocates as the Director of Programs and Strategic Outreach in August 2015. Kate graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 2011, where she was a managing editor of the Washington Law Review and a member of the National Environmental Law Moot Court team. Following law school, Kate clerked for Justice Daniel Winfree on the Alaska Supreme Court. Before joining Appalmad, Kate spent three years as an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, advocating for smart transportation solutions in the Southeast. Kate is a member of the bar in both Tennessee and North Carolina (inactive).
Mike Becher joined Appalachian Mountain Advocates in August of 2010 as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by the Philip M. Stern Family Foundation. Prior to law school, Mike worked for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection as the Stream Partners Program Coordinator for two years, serving as both a community organizer and grant administrator. He then attended law school at the University of Cincinnati where he was an editor for both the U.C. Law Review and the Human Rights Quarterly. Mike spent three years as law clerk to the Honorable Robert C. Chambers of the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia before joining Appalmad. He is a member of the West Virginia State Bar.
Isak Howell joined Appalachian Mountain Advocates in August of 2010. He graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2007 and clerked for one year for the Honorable Samuel G. Wilson of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. He then worked at a private law practice in Virginia for two years. Isak worked as a reporter for The Roanoke Times for five years prior to attending law school. Isak is a member of both the Virginia and West Virginia State Bars.
Ben Luckett joined Appalachian Mountain Advocates in September of 2010. Ben graduated in 2010 from Lewis and Clark Law School, where he served as a student director of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, on the executive board of the Public Interest Law Project, and as an associate editor of the journal Environmental Law. After completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Kentucky, Ben pursued a number of opportunities including working for the National Park Service in northern California, skiing in Big Sky, Montana, and community organizing in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Ben is a member of the West Virginia State Bar.
Evan Johns, a native West Virginian, joined Appalachian Mountain Advocates as a staff attorney in August of 2015. Evan graduated from the West Virginia University College of Law in 2014 with distinctions as both Order of the Coif and Order of Barristers. While in law school, Evan interned with Appalmad for a summer as a Bill Worthington Fellow for Law and the Public Interest. He also worked as a student attorney in West Virginia University’s Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic as well as its Supreme Court Clinic. After law school, Evan clerked for the Honorable Michael John Aloi of West Virginia’s Sixteenth Judicial Circuit. Evan is admitted to both the West Virginia and Virginia State Bars.
Elizabeth Sutton began working with Appalachian Mountain Advocates in January 2011. She earned Bachelors degrees in Secondary English Education and Psychology from the University of Kentucky. She lives on a small farm in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.
Ben Barczewski, a native Pennsylvanian, joined Appalachian Mountain Advocates as a staff attorney in September of 2017. Ben received his undergraduate degree in political science and philosophy magna cum laude from Columbia University in the City of New York in 2012 and graduated cum laude from New York University School of Law in 2015. While in law school Ben served as a managing editor of the NYU Environmental Law Journal. He also participated in NYU’s Environmental Law Clinic, assisting attorneys at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Prior to joining Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Ben clerked for two years, first for the Honorable Pamela Scott Washington of the Alaska Superior Court and the Honorable John Suddock of the Alaska Court of Appeals, and then for the Honorable Robert C. Chambers, Chief United States District Judge for the Southern District of West Virginia.
James Weekley walked into Joe Lovett’s office in 1997 and opened up the U.S. News and World Report to a photograph of a massive strip mine encroaching on forested mountains. He pointed to a hollow directly below the mine: “That’s where I live,” he said.
Weekley’s home in Pigeonroost Hollow backs up to the Spruce No. 1 mine, one of the largest mountaintop removal mining sites ever proposed. The mine was intended to span more than 3,000 acres, burying 10 miles of pristine mountain streams under up to 1,800 feet of dirt and rock.
The conversation that followed ultimately drove Lovett and his colleague Ryan Alexander to found Appalachian Mountain Advocates. Since then we have led the legal battles defining the fight against mountaintop removal mining. Nearly 20 years since Weekley’s visit, Appalachian Mountain Advocates has continued to block the Spruce No. 1 mine, as well as many others across our region.
At the time of Weekley’s first visit, no lawyer had ever challenged mountaintop removal mining. Lovett was in largely unexplored legal territory.
He soon filed a lawsuit challenging the permit on behalf of conservation groups and 10 coalfield residents, including Weekley. In court, Lovett faced off against more than a dozen lawyers representing the coal industry and government regulators. After a lengthy hearing including evidence from expert scientists as well as a tour and flyover of mountaintop removal operations, the court granted Lovett a preliminary injunction, pausing work on the mine until it could hear the full merits of case. The court recognized that permanent destruction of mountains, streams and wildlife outweighed any possible short-term economic losses.
As Lovett prepared for the trial, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stunned the coal company by withdrawing the permit, recognizing there was “virtually no chance” the agency would prevail in court.
Lovett’s advocacy in this case ultimately secured a landmark ruling banning many of the most environmentally destructive valley fills, a euphemism for the disposal of mining waste in pristine mountain streams that inevitably result from the mountaintop removal process. The court ruled that these valley fills violated the federal “buffer zone rule” — which prohibits most surface-mining activity within 100 feet of streams.
The court’s ruling ignited a firestorm of protest from the coal industry and coalfield politicians. Senator Robert C. Byrd took to the Senate floor to denounce the ruling and worked hard, but unsuccessfully, to overturn it legislatively. The ruling was never overturned on the merits; however, it was ultimately vacated on a jurisdictional technicality. The appeals court found that the state couldn’t be sued in federal court — even for violations of federal law. The Bush administration then acted swiftly to eliminate the buffer zone rule completely, removing our ability to rely on that environmental safeguard.
CONTINUING THE FIGHT
Appalmad has continued to work creatively despite that ruling, crafting innovative (and successful) legal challenges to the coal industry. For example, nearly a decade after Weekley’s first visit, Appalmad once again went to federal court to challenge a new permit for the Spruce No. 1 coal mine. As our legal battle progressed, our expert scientific analysis caused the EPA took a hard look at the environmental impact of the proposed mine. The EPA ultimately used its authority under the Clean Water Act to veto the permit, halting the coal company proposed valley fills.
When the coal company sued the EPA, Appalmad intervened in support of the agency. Our support helped EPA secure a win in the federal court upholding the agency’s legal authority to veto a mining permit. We once more provided legal support for the EPA’s position when the coal company appealed that decision. Just recently, in July 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the EPA’s 2011 decision, rejecting the coal company’s appeal.
MORE THAN A COURT FIGHT
Appalmad’s Spruce No. 1 mine litigation has helped to drive the politics and the activism of those opposed to mountaintop removal mining. Our work has focused national attention on mountaintop removal mining, catalyzing the opposition to the destructive practice. The outside experts we have brought in to challenge industry-funded science and state regulatory agencies provided solid support for community opposition.
Even more, the legal precedents we’ve established have strengthened regulation of mountaintop removal mining, leading to smaller and more heavily regulated valley fills. Appalmad and other organizations across the country continue to rely on the legal and scientific foundation set in this case in our subsequent challenges to other permits.
Pigeonroost Hollow is safe, for now. But other hollows throughout Appalachia are still threatened by coal mining. And new threats are emerging as the natural gas industry sets its sights on our region. This case began Appalmad’s deep commitment to fighting extractive industries and making way for clean energy in the marketplace.
Read more about why we do what we do.