October 11, 2007 issue

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Helps Appalachian Voices Celebrate at 10th Anniversary Gala

Story by David Brewer

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. poses alongside members of the Appalachian Voices staff and board of directors following his speech at the nonprofit's 10th Anniversary Reception Gala. Photo by David BrewerWith the hotly contested Globe Basin serving as the pristine fall evening’s backdrop, staff members, supporters and dignitaries gathered at the Blowing Rock home of Leigh and Pamela Dunston last Sunday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Appalachian Voices, a Boone-based environmental nonprofit organization.

To mark the momentous occasion, Appalachian Voices welcomed keynote speaker and tireless environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to address the enthusiastic crowd, as well as sign copies of his books Crimes Against Nature and St. Francis of Assisi.

During the last decade, Appalachian Voices has toiled to address a number of major environmental issues threatening the Southern Appalachian Mountains, specifically seeking to end mountaintop removal in West Virginia, fighting to enact clean air and water legislation in North Carolina and promoting responsible land management.

To begin the evening’s activities, representatives from the Blue Ridge Wildlife Rehabilitation Center held a demonstration with two hawks currently in the care of the facility. Kennedy, a master falconer, and a BRWRC employee, stood approximately 10 feet apart, enticing the majestic red tail hawk to fly back and forth with slivers of meat.

Following the demonstration, the crowd watched and cheered as Kennedy released a young red tail hawk into the wild. As the honored guest raised his arms skyward, the bird spread its wings. Taking flight to the sounds of the cheering crowd, the now free bird landing in a nearby tree.

Using the back deck as a stage, Metropolitan Opera soloist mezzo-soprano and Appalachian Voices Executive Board Member Brenda Boozer, along with her pianist husband Dr. Ford Lallerstedt, performed selections from Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

Appalachian Voices founder, current Treasurer and Executive Board Member Harvard Ayers kicked off the evening’s speeches with praise for the current staffers and supporters and their mission.

“We have come an incredibly long way in the last 10 years,” said Ayers.

Wild South Executive Director and Appalachian Voices Board of Directors Chair Lamar Marshall spoke for several minutes regarding the U.S. Forest Services’ plans for logging the Globe Basin, specifically criticizing their plans to cut down a tree that is more than 300 years old.

“We want to protect a piece of original America,” said Marshall.

Following Marshall’s remarks, Wise County, Va. resident Kathy Selvage gave a first-hand account of the effects of strip mining and mountaintop removal in her home county.

“It’s the dust that invades your home, even though the windows are locked,” said Selvage. “It’s the ghastly smell from hell.”

Heading the nonprofit’s operations for the last three years, Appalachian Voices Executive Director Mary Anne Hitt began her remarks by echoing Ayers sentiments, saying that Appalachian Voices has transitioned from a moderately successful nonprofit to accomplishing important environmental goals on a national stage.

“10 years ago, Harvard Ayers and the other volunteers came together because they realized that this is an extraordinary place on earth,” said Hitt.

Hitt went on to recognize a number of Appalachian Voices’ achievements, specifically their work with the Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia, lobbying successfully for the passage of the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act, the Code Red designation for polluted national parks and the Appalachian Voices Landowner Handbook. When concluding her remarks, however, she again addressed the troublesome problem of mountaintop removal.

“When you blow up a mountain, it does not grow back. It is gone from the earth forever.”

After a long introduction by personal friend Boozer, a wear voiced Kennedy took the microphone, delivering a riveting and informed verbal attack on environmental offenders across the country while lambasting big energy companies and corrupt government officials. Kennedy also offered considerable praise for Ayers, Hitt and Marshall, referring to them as “people who understand that this is a fistfight.”

“Some people look out on these virgin landscapes and see the green of money,” said Kennedy. “They have to remain in the hands of the people. Whenever you see environmental damage, you also se the suppression of the democratic process. This battle is about democracy.”

Working with the Riverkeeper organization since the early 1980s, Kennedy is now president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, which oversees environmental policing efforts on 161 bodies of water around the world.

In his address, Kennedy spoke at length about residual problems developing around the country due to water quality. According to Kennedy, 19 states in the U.S. have advised people not to eat fish caught in lakes, rivers and streams.

“Every child in this country has the right to go down to the water and pull out a trout and feed it to their family” said Kennedy. “We’re living in a science-fiction nightmare.”

Kennedy railed against big coal operations in West Virginia, detailing their process of mountain and stream destruction and their lasting and detrimental effects on both people and wildlife. According to Kennedy, coal companies use 2,500 tons of explosives every day.

“My dad told me when I was 14 years old, ‘They’re not just destroying the environment, they’re impoverishing the communities,’” said Kennedy. “Nature is the infrastructure of our communities. In 100 percent of situations, good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy.

““The reason we’re protecting the environment is not for the sake of the fishes and the birds, it’s for ourselves. You will never get these mountains back,” said Kennedy.


Appalachian Voices: A Decade of Positive Change

Since the formation by a group of dedicated and concerned volunteers in 1997, Appalachian Voices has grown to require the work of more than 10 full time staffers including Washington lobbyist J.W. Randolph. Though the group has celebrated a number of milestone achievements during the last decade, some particular efforts are worth noting.

Google Earth Software

Creators of the popular Google Earth Software have included a folder in the latest edition of their software dedicated to Appalachian Voices’ campaign to stop mountaintop removal. According to Mary Anne Hitt, Appalachian Voices’ Executive Director, the project began when actor Woody Harrelson read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the use of Google Earth to show the potential effects of a logging company’s timber harvest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Harrelson, a longstanding and vocal opponent of mountaintop removal coal mining, contacted Google and asked if the company would be willing to help Appalachian Voices with a similar project aimed at showing the destructive effects of the process.

North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act

From the start, clean air has been a top priority for Appalachian Voices. The nonprofit was one of the leaders of the coalition that passed the 2002 North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act, on of the strongest clean air laws in the nation. As a result, Duke and Progress Energy are required to reduce emissions of two major pollutants by roughly 75 percent over ten years.

Launching Upper Watauga Riverkeeper

Started in Crotonville, N.Y. by a blue-collar coalition of commercial and recreational fishermen known as Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, Appalachian Voices recently announced the formation of the Upper Watauga Riverkeeper.  Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the communities, water quality and ecological health of the Watauga watershed. Threats currently facing the watershed include sedimentation, stream-bank erosion, storm water runoff and Christmas tree production among others.

Last Friday, 100th Co-sponsor for the clean Water Protection Act

Coal River Mountain Watch

During the last decade, Appalachian Voices has teamed with the Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia to stop the destruction of communities and environment, improve the quality of life in the affected area and helped rebuild sustainable communities. The organization has become a major force in opposition to mountaintop removal and figured prominently in Robert F. Kennedy’s book Crimes Against Nature.

North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act


Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s Quest to Save the Planet

As a member of one of America’s most powerful political families, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has been involved in national matters for most of his adult life. However, instead of seeking political office, Kennedy has become one of America’s most outspoken environmental activists.

Named one of Time magazine’s Heroes For The Planet, Kennedy first enter the environmental realm in the early 1980s, fighting to aid Riverkeeper in their battle to save the Hudson River. The achievement resulted in the creation of more than 160 Waterkeeper organizations worldwide.

In 2004, Kennedy penned the New York Times bestseller Crimes Against Nature. Articles detailing environmental concerns by Kennedy have also been published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone and many other prominent publications.

Kennedy currently serves as senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and president of Waterkeeper Alliance. Since 1987 Kennedy has served as a Clinical Professor of Environmental Law and co-director of the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law.

Kennedy also currently co-hosts Ring of Fire on Air America Radio with Mike Papantonio.