Chapters Modern-Day Muirs Win Clubs 2012 Special Service Award
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Jim Kotcon & Beth Little recognized by national Sierra Club for years of service
In San Francisco on August 4, James Kotcon and Elizabeth Little were presented with Sierra Club Special Service Awards following a reception with hors d’oeuvres, beer, and wine. Karen Yarnell accepted the award for Beth Little and Jim Sconyers accepted the Communication Award for the WV Chapter (see article in Jul/Aug Sierran).
Dr. James Kotcon is an educator of students, volunteers, club members, legislators, and other officials. He is Associate Professor of Plant Pathology and Environmental Protection at WVU and longtime advisor of the Student Sierra Coalition. Jim has served on the Chapter Executive Committee most of the past 25 years, and was a founder of the WV Environmental Council. Flanked by Executive Director, Michael Brune, and Club
President, Allison Chin, Karen Yarnell (accepting for Beth Little) and Jim Kotcon display their Special Service Awards. Not shown: Jim Sconyers accepting Communication Award for the WV Chapter
Jim is a respected authority on energy and air and water quality issues, authoring Sierra Club new matter forms, letters to public agencies, guest editorials, and newsletter articles. He is at the forefront of citizen organizing and lobbying the WV legislature to protect water and air quality. Jim was instrumental in the City of Morgantown signing on to the US Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement.
Some of Jim’s noteworthy campaigns are: a successful lawsuit by the US Justice Department, environmental groups, and northeastern states over federal Clean Air Act violations; chair of Citizens against Longview Power, a coalition opposing construction of a coal-burning power plant resulting in mitigation and reduced emissions; helping to defeat the Western Greenbrier Co-Generation Plant; and fighting the high voltage electricity transmission lines TrAIL and PATH as an organizer and expert witness.
Currently Jim is leading initiatives to protect our land and water from toxic coal ash pollution, and he continues to be instrumental in organizing for more effective Marcellus Gas drilling regulations. The WV Sierra Club owes much of its success to the leadership, intelligence, knowledge, and boundless energy of James Kotcon.
In addition to more than 25 years of activism in protecting the Monongahela National Forest, Beth led the campaign for increased awareness and stronger protections from unregulated natural gas development in West Virginia. She recognized early on that technologies associated with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) created substantially greater impacts and that existing regulatory structures were completely inadequate to mitigate the adverse environmental impacts of shale gas development.
Beth Little enjoying some of the planet she helped protect.
Beth’s efforts began in the 1990s when the Thornwood gas pipeline was proposed for the Monongahela National Forest. The recognition that a pipeline would open the interior forest to numerous wells led to long-term protections in the form of a mineral development amendment to the MNF Land Use and Management Plan.
Beginning in 2009, Beth began raising the alarm over unrestricted drilling statewide. Brine disposal in MNF sites had resulted in dead trees and polluted streams and there were leases being proposed for State Parks, but the horror stories on private lands were substantially worse. Beth began researching cases and compiled a multi-media slide show to illustrate the scale of the impacts.
For two years, Beth was the primary contact for citizens concerned about gas development. She became expert in gas leasing and property rights issues. In addition, with frequent talks to local groups statewide, she helped raise awareness to the lack of adequate regulation of the industry, the Halliburton loopholes, and the problems with the lack of inspectors and the inadequate enforcement. She identified the need to further refine Sierra Club policy on natural gas at a time when there was a tendency to ignore the adverse impacts.
But this was not a story of one person crying in the wilderness. In fact, the problems were real, and a growing cadre of activists began demanding better regulation. In 2010, the WV Chapter established a formal Marcellus Shale gas campaign, with Beth as Chair. This campaign was focused on developing grassroots activism. The words from the victims and local activists helped clarify the reality of the problems. Over and over, the response from local officials was “I had no idea it was this bad.”
In addition, Beth headed an informal statewide coalition of environmental groups working on gas issues. Biweekly calls addressed state rule-mak-ing, National Forest issues, and local concerns. Contacts with Chapters and activists in other states began developing a nation-wide message that called for a moratorium on fracking until an adequate regulatory structure could be put in place. Beth helped organize weekly lobby visits, provided most of the technical content for the new web page (www.marcelluswv.org), held screenings for the award-winning documentary Gasland, and much, much more. Beth led the Chapter campaign through the summer with a new slogan, Water is Life; Keep It Clean. Dozens of local groups were formed as farmers, homeowners, local community groups, churches, and businesses all became alarmed at how quickly the industry was moving into previously pristine rural countryside.
Beth continues to organize at the local level, making the connection between local issues and international markets. Her efforts represent the best in the old slogan, “Endless pressure, endlessly applied.”