Jim Koton’s writeup by WVEC’s Frank Young and Mary Wimmer
Jim Kotcon and wife Candice Elliott came to West Virginia in 1985 when Jim accepted a faculty position in the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences. He often mentions with affection his research on tiny soil worms (nematodes). Soon after settling in, Jim got involved in WV Sierra Club, and has been sailing with them ever since.
Jim has been a constant grounding and energizing force for the Chapter for most of its lifetime. He has served on the ExCom all but a few of the past 20+ years, which included being Chapter Chair and Conservation Chair. Near home, he has been Chair of the Mon Group and “Founding (and current) Advisor” for the Student Sierra Coalition at West Virginia University, a great feather in his cap. He also enjoys leading Sierra Club hiking, biking, and trail maintenance outings, and his infamous annual XC Ski Outing in the Blackwater River Gorge.
As Sierra Club and other West Virginia environmental groups were coming of political age in the mid-late 1980s, Jim and others realized the need for a coalition of environmental activists whose focus would be on developing and promoting an environmentally-centered “green” agenda for the West Virginia State Legislature. Out of this realization was born the WV Environmental Council (WV E-Council or WVEC), an alliance of hundreds of individual citizens and dozens of local and state environmental organizations galvanized into a single political lobbying force.
Like any other effective organization, the WV E-Council needed some cohesive structure. Jim stepped forward to help write by-laws, and over the years, through amendments and administration, adapt them to the political and social realities of herding sometimes dissimilar groups and personalities into an effective voice at the West Virginia Statehouse. Today, as WVEC celebrates the 20th anniversary of its founding, Jim is affectionately known as the Council’s by-laws guru. As a WVEC organizer, citizen lobbyist, and in recent years as E-Council president, Jim has been the glue that has held the WVEC together. He was awarded their Mother Jones Award in 1999. As a result of his many lobbying journeys to Charleston, Jim is well known by many past and current state legislators, as well as by the current and several past West Virginia governors.
Over the past 12+ years, Jim’s energy has been focused on Clean Air and Energy issues. In the late 1990s, as the U.S. Justice Department and several Northeastern states filed a gigantic lawsuit over federal Clean Air Act violations, Jim took the lead in recruiting Sierra Club, WVEC and other plaintiffs to the case. After nearly ten years of litigation, the companies that owned those facilities agreed to pay millions in settlement fines, and spend hundreds of millions on pollution reduction and repair of environmental damage.
During this time, Jim helped organize, and chair, CALP, "Citizens Against Longview Power," a coalition opposing construction of a new coal-burning power plant not far from Morgantown. Unable to halt the plant, a Settlement was reached in legal action by WV Sierra Club and others that Jim helped spearhead. The plant would be built in return for improvements in pollution controls, along with mitigation money to be overseen by a committee of those involved in the Settlement. Significant sums of money are now being received for various green initiatives.
By about 2006, hundreds of miles of high voltage electricity transmission lines were being proposed to slice through West Virginia. The intent of these power lines, now well known as TrAIL and PATH, was and is to transport more electricity to feed the insatiable energy appetites of east coast states. Of course, this power would be generated by strip mining and burning more coal in more new power plants in the Ohio Valley. Once again Jim Kotcon stepped up and declared that this energy madness must be challenged.
Of TrAIL and PATH, Jim has said, "We here in West Virginia would get all of the air pollution from those plants, but the electricity would benefit people on the East Coast. In addition, it would dramatically increase emissions of greenhouse gases, when we ought to be reducing those emissions." He proceeded to lead that challenge at several levels, including public education, civil litigation, and legislative lobbying to enact more comprehensive energy facility siting laws. This campaign is not yet over.
In 2006, with Jim’s leadership, the Monongahela Group of Sierra Club established a Cool Cities Committee to encourage the City of Morgantown to sign on to the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. That Agreement pledged the City to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases to 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The City Council approved the Agreement, and the Mayor signed it in February 2007. As one of their first acts, City Council authorized purchase of a hybrid electric vehicle for the City’s fleet, and later pledged that a new City Fire Station would be LEED-certified. Under Jim’s shepherding, in May 2009, the City adopted a contract with CTL, Inc. to pay for installation of energy efficiency measures from the energy savings those measures would produce.
“Does this mean we are done and can rest on our laurels?” Jim asks. “Unfortunately, no. Increases in energy consumption since 1990 mean that further emissions reductions are needed. Further efficiency improvements will be required.” We can expect to see more of such projects bearing Jim Kotcon’s fingerprints in coming years.
Jim has won numerous WV Chapter Awards, and in 2000, his first Sierra Club Lifetime Achievement Award. “If I had to identify one individual who has been the underpinning of the WV Sierra Club since its birth in 1984, it would be the perpetually optimistic and good-natured Jim Kotcon,” says fellow Sierra Club activist Mary Wimmer. “I’ve been fortunate to work with Jim on numerous issues, and love going on outings with him. He is simply a great guy to share time with.”
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