Jessica Tzerman

A born and raised southerner, Jessica Tzerman graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2003. She currently resides in Manhattan, where she is an editorial assistant at Food & Wine magazine.

Britain's new McFleet

McDonald’s trucks to use french fry grease as fuel

On July 2, McDonald's announced plans to convert its entire British fleet of 155 delivery trucks, which consume about 6 million liters (a little less than 1.6 million gallons) of diesel per year, to run on cooking oil from Britain's 1,200 McDonald's restaurants. The company pledged to make the switch within the next twelve months. In an apparently unintentionally ironic statement, VP John Howe said the fuel wouldn't smell like french fries -- though, he remarked, the Pavlovian effect that would have been "one of the best marketing campaigns we've ever had." Two steps forward, too many back.

Coal is filthy

Motivation aside, the ad’s still true

West Virginia Dems Rep. Nick Rahall and Sen. Robert C. Byrd are fighting mad over some "despicable" anti-coal ads that have appeared in major publications recently. The ads, underwritten by a natural gas company called the Chesapeake Energy Corp, show faces smudged with make-up meant to resemble coal dust under a headline reading: "Face It, Coal is Filthy."

The good, the bad, the politics as usual

More on coal in West Virginia

OK, here's some rare good news in the fight against mountaintop removal mining. Last Friday, Judge Robert "Chuck" Chambers, a federal judge in West Virginia, ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers broke the law in issuing MTR mining permits that would allow streams to be buried. This means that, finally, the Corps, which approves mining permits, will have to recognize and uphold the Clean Water Act! They've been called out for illegally issuing permits that destroy vital streams, ecosystems, and the environment around mining sites. Never mind that they're supposed to be the ones in charge of protecting the environment and preserving the integrity of the streams and rivers that run through the all-but-devastated Appalachian Mountains. Now they actually have to do their jobs, not facilitate the kind of environmental destruction they purport to fight. Hard to believe it took a federal judge and months of appeals and public outcry to make the Army and the government keep their word. Makes me wonder what else we should be holding their feet to the fire for. How does this affect Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine, which I wrote about at the end of January? Well, it sounds like it'll take more time in court to come to a conclusion, so stay tuned. Friday was a great day, though; Judge Chambers decision set a remarkably important precedent. Now for the bad news.

Mountaintop-removal news roundup

From the hills of West Virginia

My good friend Peter Slavin just published the most up-to-date article on mountaintop-removal mining out there. Here's some information on developing MTR stories: The Appalachian Coal Field Delegation will be attending the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Conference for the second time this year. The conference runs from April 30-May 11, but Bo Webb learned from experience last year that corporate execs and the bigwigs that matter usually only attend the last week, so this year he and the other delegates will, too. They want to go beyond linking to NGOs with similar interests and goals to form a common language with which to (hopefully) influence U.N. policy. To bring attention to their efforts, the Coal Field Delegation, along with friends and supporters, will host an event in New York. Should attract some pretty big names from what I hear.

Buried in Logan County, WV

Arch Coal gets the go ahead for record-size strip mining permit

Eight years after a federal judge prevented Arch Coal Inc., one of the biggest and most active players on the West Virginia coal mining scene, from obtaining a permit to mine 3,113 acres near Blair, WV in Logan County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the permit instead. Though slightly smaller in size at 2,278 acres, the "dredge-and-fill" permit nevertheless allows Arch's Spruce No. 1 Mine to bury nearly seven miles of streams and is the largest permit ever issued in the history of mountaintop-removal mining in West Virginia.

Praying for change

At Marsh Fork Elementary, danger is spelled M-A-S-S-E-Y

In Raleigh County, West Virginia, about 45 miles from Charleston, just over 200 students attend Marsh Fork Elementary School. Though small, Marsh Fork is important to the folks in the Coal River Valley, and not just because it's the only school in the county with high enough enrollment to remain open. No, the fate of Marsh Fork matters more because it represents all the special interests and politics that have come to define life in the shadows of Big Coal. Not 300 feet away from where children learn and play nine months a year sits a leaking, 385-feet tall coal refuse dam with a nearly 3-billion gallon capacity. Never mind the coal dust that has been found in the school. Never mind the drinking-water contamination that has been reported. If this dam breaks, it will destroy everyone and everything within 30 miles. So why are 200-plus children still making the trip to school every day despite the constant threat of illness and even death? Because they have nowhere else to go.

In coal country, mining is destroying cemeteries and faith

James Bowe, a lifelong resident of Whitesville, W.Va., knows the mountains around his home better than he knows himself. He’s seen friends and family buried …