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Jeff Biggers
Jeff Biggers is the American Book Award-winning author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, In the Sierra Madre, The United States of Appalachia, and State Out of the Union. His website is:

Entries by Jeff Biggers

Mountaintop Removal Ends March 16. Put Your Foot Down for Basic Health and Human Rights!

(1) Comments | Posted February 26, 2015 | 12:30 PM

Fourteen months after the world watched in astonishment as poorly regulated coal-washing chemicals contaminated the Elk River in West Virginia, coal country residents and supporters are gearing up for an epic showdown on March 16 with the state's Department of Environmental Protection -- and the U.S. Congress --...

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Ecopolis Iowa City: Will Riverfront Park Showcase Bold Leadership on Resiliency, Climate Action?

(0) Comments | Posted February 23, 2015 | 7:52 AM

(All photos courtesy of Miriam Alarcón Avila)

When the UN Climate Summit kicked off last fall with the short film, "What's Possible," actor Morgan Freeman's challenge to "our leaders to be brave, and their choices to be bold" resonated with...

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Ecopolis Iowa City: As State Leads in Wind, Can Iowa City Become 'City of Solar'

(0) Comments | Posted January 22, 2015 | 11:17 AM

With the state of Iowa leading the nation in wind energy production, a packed crowd filled the Iowa City Public Library last night to discuss game-changing new power purchase agreements that could light up the famed "City of Literature" as a bright shining "City of Solar."

"Iowa has been a national leader in wind energy for years, but Iowa also has the potential to be a leader in solar energy as well," said Mike Carberry, a long-time clean energy advocate and a member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. "Sun power that grows all of our corn can also be used to grow electricity. We have the solar resource, now we just need the will to make it happen."

Less than 15 miles from Iowa City, in fact, the extraordinary work of general manager Warren McKenna and the Farmers Electric Cooperative (FEC) has won international acclaim for its role as a national model for solar financing and development. Recognized last year by the Solar Electric Power Association as the "Utility CEO of the Year," McKenna spoke about his pioneering solar work since 2008, including the establishment of one of the nation's first feed-in tariff systems. FEC has installed solar systems at area schools, launched a groundbreaking solar community garden, and now oversees the largest solar farm in Iowa.

Farmers Electric Co-op manager Warren McKenna at Ecopolis Forum. Photo: Jeff Biggers

Speaking on behalf of Ecopolis Iowa City, a community forum on regenerative city initiatives that hosted the event, Miriam Alarcón Avil cited the state's high solar potential ranking in a recent Iowa Environmental Council study, which concluded that 20 percent of Iowa's electricity could be provided by rooftop solar installations.

The Ecopolis Forum members touted the breakthrough Eagle Point decision in the Iowa Supreme Court last year, which allows for third party power agreements, and effectively opened the flood gates for cost-effective solar energy initiatives in the state, and called on the city of Iowa City and the Iowa City Community School District to commit to a goal of 20-25% on-site solar energy on city buildings and new development projects with city funding within the next two years, along with energy efficiency requirements:

Ecopolis Forum
Petition for Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency in Iowa City

We, the undersigned, ask the city of Iowa City to adopt a requirement for 25% of the projected building energy use be provided by on-site renewable energy (solar, geothermal or wind). This shall apply to new construction and major renovations of city buildings and projects seeking city funding which have a construction budget of greater than $500,000 and city support greater than $75,000.

We, the undersigned, ask the city to adopt a 2030 Challenge requirement for all municipal buildings - new construction and major renovation - and for all new construction and major renovation projects seeking city funding which have a construction budget of greater than $500,000 and city support greater than $75,000. The 2030 Challenge seeks to achieve Net Zero Carbon Emissions for all new construction and major renovation by the year 2030. All new buildings and existing building major renovation projects shall be designed and built to meet an energy consumption performance standard of 70% below the regional average EUI (Energy Use Intensity, defined as kBtu/SF/year) for that building type. This standard for all new buildings and major renovations will be increased to: 80% in 2020, 90% in 2025, and carbon-neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate).

We, the undersigned, ask the Iowa City Community School District to adopt a requirement for 25% of the projected building energy use be provided by on-site renewable energy (solar, geothermal or wind). We also ask the Iowa City Community School District to adopt a 2030 Challenge requirement for all new construction and major renovation, with all projects designed and built to meet an energy consumption performance standard of 70% below the regional average EUI (Energy Use Intensity, defined as kBtu/SF/year) for that building type.

Kevin Hanick, winner of the Tesla Award for Renewable Energy Innovation. Photo: Jeff Biggers
For his groundbreaking solar development in Iowa City, developer Kevin Hanick was awarded the "Tesla Award for Renewable Energy Innovation" by the Ecopolis Forum. Hanick, a past recipient of the Iowa City Area Association of Realtors Distinguished Service Award, plans to install over 700 solar panels on his private housing complex in the Riverfront Crossings District.

In fact, as several presenters noted, southeast Iowa has already established the groundwork for a solar energy boom. State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, who represents Iowa City, has been a leading sponsor of solar legislation. Last fall, Johnson County signed on to a new solar agreement for a road facility, according to Moxie Solar representatives, that will save $250,000 over the course of the 25-year agreement. The University of Iowa recently released a request for proposal for rooftop solar photovoltaic electric generating system under a power purchase agreement.

In the southeastern Iowa town of Wayland, the Waco School District recently announced plans to save $100,000 annually, thanks to a newly installed solar system.

"The potential for solar in Iowa is largely raw and and untapped," said Troy Miller, who made a presentation with Jason Hall of locally-based Moxie Solar. "The winners will be forward thinking communities, such as Iowa City and Johnson County, who are aware that the federal tax credits may disappear after 2016."

Ecopolis members call for 20% renewable energy by 2020. Photo: Erica Damman...

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Climate Hope: Three Essential Green Books of the Year -- and a Poem

(4) Comments | Posted December 16, 2014 | 2:09 PM

Three important new books in 2014 -- and an extraordinary poem -- stand out as essential reading for our climate change century -- far from being requiems for our planet. Informative, original, unblinking and provocative, dealing head-on with the challenges of resource use in an urbanizing world, Herbert Girardet's

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Giving Green: Support the Judy Bonds Center on the Mountaintop Removal Front Lines

(1) Comments | Posted December 3, 2014 | 12:21 PM

While so many environmental justice projects abound that deserve donations, including the besieged community groups fending off an outrageous coal mining boom and incoming fracking operations in my own native southern Illinois, the grassroots movement to create the Judy Bonds Center for the Coal River Mountain Watch provides a rare opportunity to support an important legacy project on the front lines of the mountaintop removal crisis.

The Judy Bonds Center: Just the sound of such a memorial building dedicated to the modern day abolitionist in the heart of coal country, as Coal River Mountain organizer Junior Walk recently noted, will send a powerful message to the reckless coal industry and "inspires an end to the destruction of her community." It will also serve as an enduring memorial for so many lost residents, miners and communities.

In the nearly four years since her passing, Bonds' beloved Appalachian mountain communities have continued to be ravaged by violation-ridden mountaintop removal operations, now linked to lung cancer, while black lung disease soars among coal miners.

Former Massey CEO Don Blankenship may now be facing charges in federal court, but the damages from his violation-ridden operations continue.

Never has Bonds' uncompromising call for the abolition of mountaintop removal operations--not the maintenance of failed regulatory approaches, which have resulted in a rap sheet of environmental crimes and a mounting health care crisis--been more timely, and more important to a transition for a viable future in central Appalachia.

The New York Times editorial board called on the federal government to "outlaw" the "old and evil practice of strip mining" in 1970. Since then, reckless coal mining in central Appalachia, as well as booming operations in the Illinois and western basins, have poisoned and depopulated historic mountain and farm communities, and effectively erased the physical record of important chapters of indigenous and Appalachian history from our national experience. Lindyville and Twilight, West Virginia, have joined the ranks of once vibrant American communities turned into bombed-out ghost towns. In a region rocked daily by millions of pounds of explosive detonations, residents deal with deadly fly rock, silica and coal dust showers, contaminated streams and wells, and coal accidents.

In its 1970 editorial, "The Great Soil Swindle," the Times declared: "This ravaging of farmland, pasture and woods in the single-minded pursuit of cheap coal is a desecration."

That desecration continues today.

Judy Bonds gave untold thousands of residents and activists a reason to believe in environmental justice.

A gift towards the creation of the Judy Bonds Center for her Coal River Mountain Watch will make sure such a legacy continues her call to "don't let up, fight harder and finish off" the outlaw ranks of Big Coal and end the egregious crime of mountaintop...

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Ecopolis Iowa City: Community Forum Launches Regenerative City Initiative

(0) Comments | Posted November 19, 2014 | 9:02 AM


Photo courtesy of Miriam Alarcón Avila

A broad range of community members in Iowa City, Iowa kicked off the "Ecopolis Forum" today, a groundbreaking series of monthly winter conversations on creating the first regenerative city of the arts, food, renewable energy, and commerce...

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Illinois Approves Secret Fracking Rules: IL Enviro Council Thrown Under Bus, Grassroots Hold Line

(5) Comments | Posted November 6, 2014 | 9:30 PM

On the heels of the nation's fastest growing coal mining rush, a state legislative committee chaired by Sierra Club champion Sen. Don Harmon officially unleashed fracking in Illinois today, approving the final regulatory rules in secret, as legislators essentially dumped the concerns...

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Appalachia Health Quarantine: Will Feds Issue Protective Respirators to Kids, Families Near Mountaintop Removal Sites?

(2) Comments | Posted October 29, 2014 | 9:29 AM

On the heels of a breakthrough study that demonstrates the indisputable link between lung cancer and mountaintop removal mining in central Appalachia, besieged residents are wondering if the federal government will issue protective respirators to "every man, woman, and child living near mountaintop removal mining."

In lieu...

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Illinois Coal Rush Crisis: Citizens Sue Feds to Take Over Rogue State Mining Agencies

(5) Comments | Posted October 21, 2014 | 4:40 PM

As the onslaught of the nation's fast-growing coal-mining boom tears across the heartland, citizens in southern Illinois have filed a Writ of Mandamus in Federal District Court against the US Secretary of Interior, in an attempt to revoke the state's control over its notoriously...

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Climate Reckoning: My Own Private Coal Story

(12) Comments | Posted September 25, 2014 | 7:06 PM

Four years after the publication of my memoir/history, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, I found myself sitting in the front row of an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency hearing in southern Illinois. It was a historic evening in Harrisburg, only a few miles from where Peabody Energy sank its first coal mine in 1895, and a few blocks from where I had sat on the front porch as a kid and listened to the stories of my grandfather and other coal miners about union battles for justice. For the first time in decades, residents in coal country were shining the spotlight on issues of civil rights, environmental ruin and a spiraling health crisis from a poorly regulated coal mining rush.

The total destruction of my family's nearby Eagle Creek community from strip-mining was held up as their cautionary tale. The takeaway: Strip-mining more than stripped the land; it stripped the traces of any human contact.

"We have lost population, we have lost homes and we have lost roads," testified Judy Kellen, a resident facing an expanded strip mine in Rocky Branch. "We have lost history. We have to endure dust, noise levels to the pitch you wanted to scream because you couldn't get any rest or sleep, earth tremors, home damages, complete isolation of any type of view to the north, health issues, a sadness in your heart that puts a dread on your face every day, and an unrest in the spirit that we knew nothing of."

A lot has changed in these four years--much of it troubling, and much of it inspiring.

After traveling to coal mining communities around the U.S. and the world, I have learned that my own private reckoning with coal in the great Shawnee forests surrounding Eagle Creek was only a prologue to our greater climate reckoning for my children. But first, the inspiring part: Faced with losing their homes, farms, health--and sheer sanity--from the blasting and non-stop war-zone traffic of coal operators within 300 feet of their living rooms--southern Illinois residents with deep coal mining roots in Harrisburg were taking a courageous stand for climate and coalfield justice. Meanwhile, former coal mining areas from central Appalachia to Germany to Scotland have begun the process of transitioning to clean energy economies.

Here's the troubling part: Four years after the publication of Reckoning at Eagle Creek, Illinois is in the throes of a coal-mining rush not seen in nearly a century, recognized as the fastest-growing coal region in the nation. Since 2009, the state's mining production has increased by more than 60 percent.

In that same time period, my kids--the 9th generation of our family to be born in Illinois--and I have watched coal barges ease down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in a fivefold increase in coal exports, en route to CO2-spewing coal-fired plants abroad. The wake-up call: Illinois has experienced record drought and flooding, as climate scientists determined our planet had reached the alarming 400 parts-per-million milestone of CO2 emissions for the first time in millions of years.

Coal miners remain the canaries in the coal mine: Black lung disease among coal miners, an issue dear to my heart and to anyone who has watched their loved ones and friends suffer needlessly, is at record levels in 2014.

And communities not far from my beloved Eagle Creek, including members of my own displaced family, have once again found themselves on the front lines of mining destruction. As part of an "all-of-the'above" energy policy touted by President Barack Obama and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn--a Sierra Club-supported Democrat who once led anti-strip-mining campaigns and swept into office on promises of regulatory reform--the heartland has undergone a series of mind-boggling machinations in favor of coal mining and hydraulic fracking.

Even as states start the long process of responding to the proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations to cut CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants by 30 percent, coal industry lobbyists and their political sycophants continue to roll out the wildly inaccurate "war on the coal" slogans with fervor, and double down on their denial of climate change.

It begins with our kids: Despite a campaign by former coal miner Sam Stearns to halt the state's cringe-worthy "coal education" program, Illinois continues to push coal industry propaganda and climate denial into our schools.

It extends into our farm communities, like Hillsboro in central Illinois, where elderly farmers are fighting to protect their fertile land and watersheds from longwall mining and coal slurry pollution.

In these last four years, we have witnessed the cycles of hype and indifference over our coal mining disasters, coal slurry, coal ash and coal-related chemical spills, most notably in West Virginia last spring, which contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 residents near Charleston.And we have seen a stunning disregard for law enforcement by government agencies. An Associated Press investigation made a startling discovery this year of a coal industry run amok:

"...[A] review of federal environmental enforcement records shows that nearly three-quarters of the 1,727 coal mines listed haven't been inspected in the past five years to see if they are obeying water pollution laws. Also, 13 percent of the fossil-fuel fired power plants are not complying with the Clean Water Act."

Nowhere has such recklessness been so evident than in my own southern Illinois.

Eagle Creek, Illinois, photo by Jeff Biggers

I have learned two things from the loss of Eagle Creek and the treatment of coal miners like my grandfather and residents in today's coal mining communities; in a nation that prioritizes coal industry profits over workplace and residential safety, people are as disposable as our natural resources in openly accepted national sacrifice zones. And secondly, all coal mining safety laws have been written in miners' blood; the same is true for innocent citizens afflicted by clean water violations by coal and chemical companies.

This disregard for basic health and civil rights doesn't end here, though. The fallout over increasing climate disturbances brings a harrowing message: We all live in the coalfields now. Extreme energy extraction and fossil fuel burning, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently warned, is leading us to "severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems."With the exigency of action on climate change, and the mounting death toll and costs from coal mining, the heartland--like our nation--has reached a crossroads in our energy policy: It's time to fashion a just transition toward a more sustainable and diversified economy, including clean energy development, especially for those in historical coal mining communities-not just urban centers like Chicago that are connected to political power and pay-offs.

We need a plan for regeneration, not simply more unenforced EPA regulations.

How can we keep the carbon in the ground? By ensuring that our people and our ingenuity are considered our greatest natural resources.After shouldering the massive health and environmental costs of powering our nation's industrial rise to fortune over the past century, impoverished communities on the front lines of extraction should be in the forefront of clean energy investment and jobs. We need a regeneration fund for retraining and initiatives to jump-start reforestation and abandoned mine projects, along with start-up funds for solar and wind energy manufacturing and energy-efficiency campaigns.

Reckoning at Eagle Creek is my attempt to not only restore and "re-story" Eagle Creek and its place in history, but also plant the seeds to regenerate its unique contributions to our future American story.

To ask Abraham Lincoln's question in our own times: "It is not 'can any of us imagine better?' but, 'can we all do better?' The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise--with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

This essay was adapted from the new Foreword to the paperback edition of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, released this week by Southern Illinois University...

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Climate March on Frontlines: Illinois Residents on Coal Rush, Shawnee Forests, Food and Fracking (Photos)

(2) Comments | Posted September 21, 2014 | 8:08 PM

Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest, photo by Jeff Biggers

Facing one of the most under-reported climate disasters in the nation, including an unprecedented coal mining rush under Gov. Pat Quinn, deforestation, and an impending fracking boom, residents...

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The Urban Food Banquet: St. Paul Leads Nation in Art of Food Justice

(2) Comments | Posted September 15, 2014 | 12:57 PM

They began arriving hours in advance. Over 400 volunteers--farmers, cooks, drivers, mobile art kitchens, dance choreographers, spoken word poets, food servers, food runners, zero waste managers, and table hosts. And when the bell rang, nearly 2,000 guests followed the signs in Somali, Spanish, Hmong, and English and took their seats...

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Will HHS Sec. Burwell Be First Obama Official to Visit Appalachian Health Emergency From Mountaintop Removal?

(0) Comments | Posted September 3, 2014 | 10:38 AM

Here's a reality check: Since President Obama took office in 2009, not a single top-level official from the White House, the EPA, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Department of the Interior, or the Department of Justice has ever made a fact-finding tour of mountaintop removal mining communities...

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UPDATED: Decorated War Veteran/Resident Arrested: Peabody Coal Overruns Rocky Branch, Despite Appeal Pending: Gov. Quinn and AG Madigan on Enviro Justice, Civil Rights?

(3) Comments | Posted August 26, 2014 | 12:04 PM

Rocky Branch, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Jeff Lucas, Gutting the Heartland.

UPDATED: 10:30am CST

Rocky Branch residents are reporting that decorated Vietnam War-veteran Glenn Kellen, a Rocky Branch resident, has been arrested this morning, as he attempted to move his cross and...

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Moving Mountains Tragedy 2014: Stunning Court Denial of Appalachian Health Crisis

(6) Comments | Posted August 22, 2014 | 3:51 PM

In a breathtaking but largely overlooked ruling this week, a federal judge agreed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may disregard studies on the health impacts of mountaintop removal mining in its permitting process, only two weeks after Goldman Prize Award-winning activist

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Al di lá del Mare Nostrum: Il teatro italiano lancia un progetto internazionale per le storie dell'immigrazione

(0) Comments | Posted August 1, 2014 | 7:01 AM

Mentre 200 immigrati africani venivano soccorsi e arrivavano in autobus in un centro profughi a Bologna, ho incontrato la scorsa settimana, in questa città italiana del nord, Guido Ferrarini , fondatore e direttore di Teatroaperto, per discutere il lancio di un nuovo progetto di arti teatrali...

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Beyond Mare Nostrum: Italian Theater Launches International Project for Immigration Stories

(2) Comments | Posted July 30, 2014 | 3:26 PM

As 200 rescued African immigrants, including children, arrived by bus at a refugee center in Bologna, I sat down with acclaimed Teatroaperto founder/director Guido Ferrarini in this northern Italian city last week, to discuss the launch of a new international theater arts project on the unfolding...

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Gov. Jerry Brown Needs Green Wake Up Call: One Million Votes for Luis J. Rodriguez for Governor

(0) Comments | Posted June 2, 2014 | 11:11 PM

Eight decades after best-selling author Upton Sinclair upturned the political tables with his EPIC gubernatorial campaign in California to end poverty and "vested interests," best-selling author and Green Party candidate Luis J. Rodriguez is campaigning on a similar platform for environmental and social justice against Democratic...

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Solar Freakin' Roadways Electrify Clean Energy Generation (Video)

(4) Comments | Posted May 19, 2014 | 1:50 PM

As the once far-fetched idea of "solar roadways" gains a huge convoy of supporters--from the US Department of Transportation to Google to the Times of India to even Fox News -- a new video aimed at the millennial generation is set to...

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Death by a Thousand Cuts: Illinois Coal Tragedies Continue

(2) Comments | Posted May 15, 2014 | 5:00 PM

With the death toll still mounting at a coal mine in Turkey, another southern Illinois coal miner lost his life this week, along with two West Virginia miners. The state of Illinois, meanwhile -- called out at public hearings for a brewing coal ash catastrophe -- handed out...

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