Acid Mine Drainage: The Weirdest and Worst Fossil Fuel Impact You’ve Never Heard Of

In fall 2019, I moved from Minnesota to Washington, DC to attend George Washington University. My one and only pre-COVID semester was a rollercoaster in many respects, but in one of my classes, I found myself doing intense research on an environmental phenomenon called acid mine drainage. It’s something I’d never heard of, but it’s representative of the dangers of fossil fuels, and I think more people should know about it. 

When coal mining began in Appalachia and western Maryland at the advent of the Industrial Revolution, there was little regard for the environment (as was the case with many practices back then). Early on, I found a book about the history of western Maryland, published in 1882. It was my first book request at the school library — three thousand pages, in two volumes, the latter of which I had to request from another school. 

The first volume was enlightening. Nowadays, we often describe environmental damage using language with negative connotations (as one should).  But back then, someone described the runoff as “a little stream with yellow waters.”[i] In those days, people really had no idea what they were doing to the environment.

Mining runoff, and specifically acid mine drainage, occurs when metals associated with abandoned coal mines oxidize, dissolve into the water, and eventually incorporate into the sediment.

Part of the beautiful Chesapeake Bay we have to work hard to protect

Importantly, this drainage also turns the water acidic (hence the name acid mine drainage), and gives it a bright orange color.

As Maryland and the Chesapeake became more urbanized, the number of places for mining runoff to drain has decreased because concrete can’t absorb water. The “yellow waters” that have persisted since coal companies abandoned their mine lands have no choice but to drain into the tributaries that drain into the Susquehanna and the Potomac’s north branch; those rivers drain to the already endangered Chesapeake Bay.

This phenomenon is clearly problematic for the Chesapeake Bay as a whole, but also causes real damage to the land surrounding the smaller tributaries.

It can even reduce housing prices nearby by around 12.2 percent.[ii] Acidic, orange water is obviously an issue for communities near these water bodies. The water is not drinkable, nor can it be used for recreation. It also kills the local wildlife and inhibits the reproduction of important species such as the brook trout in Maryland.[iii]

Through my research, I also learned about attempts to abate the acid mine drainage in the Chesapeake specifically. I thought I had found a river which would have been perfect, but it drained west, nowhere near the Chesapeake. I then came across a report by the Chesapeake Bay Program entitled “Acid Mine Drainage to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed – Literature Synthesis,” which was exactly the type of document I needed! However, the website didn’t have the report attached, just an EPA report number. Turns out, the report was technically at the EPA library in Philadelphia; I freaked out briefly, wondering how on earth I was supposed to get the paper, but then I remembered that that’s why I have access to a research library. GW was able to pull it online for me, and this would also be the last of my research hiccups. In hindsight, they’re quite humorous and feel very representative of a first attempt at a research paper in undergrad.

An example of the brook trout; they are an indicator species, meaning that they can help show the overall health of a water body

This paper helped me learn about the actual solutions for acid mine drainage, as there are several. The first is a neutralizing agent, such as lime. When you put it in the acidic water, it solidifies (precipitates) the heavy metals, and makes it so that you can actually remove the metals that are causing the drainage. 

Another solution is reclamation, which attacks the drainage at its source: the mine. Reclamation basically means that you’re restoring the original mining land to the point where it looks like the mine was never there. 

These projects have proven to be wildly successful, turning old mine lands into recreational spaces and stopping the runoff at the same time. That being said, reclamation and neutralization are expensive, but are now eligible for federal grants because of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Basically, this law taxes coal production and uses that money to mitigate the lasting effects of mining. The legislation is by no means perfect and has some enforcement issues, but at the state level, agencies like the Maryland Department of the Environment have been able to put that money to good use, and one study has shown that the abatement measures have restored the aforementioned brook trout population in some tributaries.[iv] In short, this issue is being tackled quite well through an effective federal-state partnership program. 

Yet it brings to mind the larger question: What could we have been doing if we didn’t have to spend so much time and money cleaning up neon-bright orange pollution from our rivers over the past century?

The presence of acid mine drainage I feel like is only further proof that we need to phase out coal as energy (which disproportionately hurts predominantly Black communities like Brandywine, MD!) and continue to work to heal the natural areas that we so desperately need to protect. 

What’s more, all this just goes to show how decisions we make now have incredible implications for future generations — just like mining in the 1880s has had for us. Western Maryland is also where gas companies now want to frack, so we should do everything we can to try and stop it. 

This is why CCAN is putting forth the Maryland No New Fossil Fuels campaign, pushing bills for greenhouse gas reduction, and a Maryland Climate Stimulus for coronavirus recovery (sign that petition here). Through my internship this semester at CCAN, I’ve found that it’s more possible than you might think to make a more livable planet in the future, and that it’s actually possible to pass sweeping legislation when you have strong organizers and volunteers. I’m grateful to have made a difference and look forward to continuing my involvement in the environmental community in the future.


[i] Scharf, J. T. (1882). History of western Maryland Being a history of Frederick, Montgomery, Carroll, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett counties from the earliest period to the present day; Including biographical sketches of their representative men. Philadelphia, PA: L.H. Everts.

[ii] Williamson, J. M., Thurston, H. W., & Heberling, M. T. (2008). Valuing acid mine drainage remediation in West Virginia: A hedonic modeling approach. Annal Regional Science, 482, 987-999.

[iii] Sell, M. T., Heft, A. A., Kazyak, D. C., Hilderbrand, R. H., & Morgan, R. P., II. (2014). Short-term and seasonal movements of brook trout in the upper Savage River watershed, Garrett County, Maryland. Wild Trout Symposium XI–Looking Back and Moving Forward, pp. 357-362.

[iv] Loucks, C., & Shanks, K. (2014, August). Mitigating acid mine drainage improves pH levels in Aaron Run (EPA 841-F-14-001UU). United States Environmental Protection Agency.

New Regulation Puts Maryland at Forefront of Limiting Emissions from Gas Infrastructure

CCAN Looks to Maryland to Strengthen Rules Further to Fully Address Pollution and Community Concerns

TAKOMA PARK, MD — On Monday, November 16th, regulations will go into effect aimed at limiting methane emissions from certain natural gas facilities in Maryland, including compressor stations and large gas storage facilities. The rule puts Maryland in the vanguard of states working to limit methane emissions from gas infrastructure.

Anne Havemann, General Counsel, CCAN released the following statement in response:

We thank MDE for finalizing this strong regulation. Maryland’s new rule implements standards that should serve as an example to other states looking to limit methane emissions from the gas industry. The rule makes Maryland the first to require gas industry operators to directly notify communities of large blowdown events in their area. These blowdown events are loud, disruptive, and result in the release of vented, uncontrolled emissions. Maryland is now the second state in the nation to promulgate a regulation that requires the gas industry to report planned and unplanned blowdowns from compressor stations. 

Maryland’s new rule likewise implements strong leak detection and repair requirements that other states will look to in setting their own standards. 

Despite its strengths, the rule falls short in some respects and CCAN looks forward to working with MDE to improve upon this important first step in a subsequent rulemaking. 

The volume of gas that triggers the blowdown notification requirements, for example, is too high and will result in high-emitting blowdowns that do not trigger notification requirements. Communities are particularly unnerved by and concerned about these blowdown events. 

Moreover, we believe MDE missed an opportunity to embed environmental justice considerations into its rule. Given that gas infrastructure is increasing in Maryland, CCAN also urges MDE to ensure that environmental justice concerns are addressed in the siting of any new facilities.

State regulations like this are especially important given the EPA’s recent rollback of the methane standards that apply to oil and natural gas industry facilities. We are grateful to the staff of MDE for their hard work on this important rule.


Contact: Anne Havemann, General Counsel & Foundation Grants Manager, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, (240)

Welcoming our new Federal & Maryland Policy Director

Welcome to CCAN, Jamie DeMarco!

Just a few weeks ago CCAN had the pleasure of welcoming our new Federal & Maryland Policy Director Jamie DeMarco to our team and we are very excited to introduce you to him! Jamie joined the team as our new Federal & Maryland Policy director and will be leading us to future legislative victories on Capitol Hill and in Annapolis.

A Baltimore native, Jamie has spent the past few years cultivating massive wins in the environmental advocacy space, we are lucky to have him joining the team and joining us today.

We sat down with Jamie to chat with him about his journey in climate activism and his road to CCAN, his role in the climate movement, and what he sees as his most exciting challenge moving forward! Check out the interview below:

Follow along with the transcript below: 

Charles Olsen  0:00  

Jamie DeMarco recently joined CCAN as our new federal and state policy director and will be leading us to further legislative victories in the state of Maryland, as well as expand our legislative agenda on Capitol Hill, a Baltimore native Jamie has spent the past few years cultivating massive wins in the environmental advocacy space, we are lucky to have him joining the team and joining us today. Jamie, you’ve been working in climate policy and activism for some time now. Can you tell me about the first time you organize people? Were you drawn to this work as a kid, did this come naturally to you?

Jamie DeMarco  0:30  

Thanks so much for asking. And thanks for interviewing me, I really appreciate it. I mean, I think it’s so fun that you want to hear from me, and I’m really glad to be in this role at CCAN. But the first time I really started organizing people was early college before that, I had been channeling all of my energy just into my own life, trying to reduce my own impact on the climate crisis and all the other crises that we see. And I was really just trying not to be part of the problem. So I wouldn’t even actually write in cars. Like I spent two and a half years where I wouldn’t get in a car, even if it was already going somewhere. I need very few exceptions like Thanksgiving. But other than that, I would never do it. And it drove everyone around me up the wall. And it was really hard. And I lost a lot of connections and opportunities. That way. It’s kinda It was kind of like being in self quarantine, except I was the only one doing it. And nobody was sympathetic for two and a half years, but I sort of ended that when I started organizing with the beyond coal campaign in Asheville, North Carolina, and I was just an intern, doing work, you know, getting small businesses to try to sign on to say that they would support closing this coal plant and administrative tasks like entering in ballot or signature resolution data into databases. But I was so balanced, the people who were moving and shaking and like, if you just imagine this coal plant, I remember seeing it and it was like the biggest machine standalone machine I’ve ever seen. And we would just have these weekly meetings. If it’s random office building work, our plan was to like, make it stop operating. And the idea that we could do that just seems so ludicrous to me, especially because this is one of the coal plants that was at the time. It made financial sense, like it was relatively newer, and was not no one was talking about retiring, except for us. But through a long, intelligent campaign, they got that coal plant closed, and it’s today doesn’t operate, because of the people who would have those weekly organizing meetings that I was a part of. And I was so struck, how if all of those people had just tried to reduce their own footprint, rather than trying to close that coal plant, then that coal plant might still be operating today. And that was just so eye opening for me about what we can accomplish with our efforts if we put it in the right direction. And that is when I made the choice, that I wasn’t going to make my goal to not be part of the problem. I am going to make my goals be part of the solution, and then end up getting back in the car to become a more effective climate advocate. And I’ve been going at it ever since.

Charles Olsen  3:27  

Amazing. Thank you. You talked about your experience working on getting the Asheville coal plant shut down. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the main things that you’ve learned from that experience that you use in your organizing work now,

Jamie DeMarco  3:43  

At the time for that campaign, I was interning for Anna Jane Joiner, who is a major mover and shaker in the climate space. She is the daughter of an evangelical pastor who you know is very conservative, and actually stopped paying her college tuition when she was in college because he didn’t support the climate change ideas that her professors were putting in her head allegedly. And so she has been a sort of public figure about climate change. And one of the things that she told me as we were riding around Asheville in her car is that it’s not just about the numbers a lot of my training has sort of been like get the numbers get like this many petition signed phone died down get this many people to show up one on one conversation with those people to get this many people to be champions and it’s sort of like a almost like a for a good cause pyramid scheme. And Anna Jane Jr. would always call me like Jamie It is about connecting with people in a deep, profound way in the culture and worldview that they connect with and connecting to that and connecting that to the issues that we’re working on and Have people care about these things, more than a ballot, more than a sort of box to be checked more than a party that they’re affiliated with, but in their core sense of self, and the things that they care about? And that’s something I’ve never forgotten and always hold on.

Charles Olsen  5:22  

That’s super inspiring. You’ve talked about your faith in the past and how it’s important to you. How does your faith influence your work today in organizing and in the climate movement?

Jamie DeMarco  5:32  

Yeah, that is a great question. And my faith is important to me, and especially my faith community, like I grew up as a Quaker. And the sort of Quaker youth program that I was a part of was super formative, and Quaker camps that I went to. And I’m not like, like expanding, I don’t think of myself as a very religious person. Like, it’s kind of funny to think of myself as like this church geek, or some of these huge church programs. But that is what it is. And the faith, like the community is important just because it is a community and like it is the people who I would have would have been the constant threat to my life, and who I hold on to for stability and emotional support. And that in and of itself is important. But the faith itself that I hold most dear is that Quakers believe there is that of God in every person. Like there’s literally that of God, and every person. And I think that that plays into our work, because it sort of disqualifies any solution that would sacrifice people and like, disqualifies any solutions that would say like, this is a good solution moving forward. But like this group of people, is just not going to get the benefits of this group of people is going to be left behind. Because they, like every single person has gotten them and like you can’t throw God under the bus. And like every single person has this inherent dignity that you can’t trample on. And that’s sort of like the number one rule of the road, and then everything that you do has to follow from working backwards from that truth. That’s a beautiful thing about that a lot.

Charles Olsen  7:20  

That’s beautiful. While you were talking about the importance and the significance of every person, it brought to my mind the issues that we see today about incorporating justice into climate solutions. How do you believe that your religious beliefs and your climate goals overlap with the environmental justice issues of our time?

Jamie DeMarco  7:43  

Yeah, I think they overlap a lot. I mean, I first just need to say that I come from a lot of privilege and come from a place of sort of great security, like I at the end of the day can work on these issues, and then come home, to a place that is like a park near the backyard. And I don’t sort of fear for my loss of ability to breathe clean air, and sort of know that if anyone ever tried to harm the community I live in with a project like it would just be so unthinkable that it couldn’t happen because of the wealth and the whiteness that surrounds this community that I live in, in College Park.

So acknowledging that

I did grow up in Baltimore, and Mike had a lot of friends who had asthma who grew up like in the shadow of the incinerator, and I never made those connections as a child. It’s just like, oh, like all those friends of mine have asthma, I guess they can’t run in gym class, as much. But a lot has become more clear to me as a grown up and sort of brickcom started doing this work professionally and listening to people. And I think the most important thing is if someone has experienced oppression that you have not experienced, the most that you can say to that person, in that moment is like I believe you. Like I cannot fully understand what you have experienced. But I’m not going to challenge it or argue with it once right, I get like I believe you. And I take you at your word that like this is what’s happening. And this is what we need to do. And I think that humility is important and isn’t alarmed by faith.

Charles Olsen  9:32  

Thank you. Shifting gears a little bit. You’ve kind of already told us about your experiences of getting into environmentalism and the climate movement. Can you just take me through the steps that you took to get from what you have described as your hunky dory life in Baltimore, to working for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and joining the climate fight?

Jamie DeMarco  9:53  

Yeah, I mean, that’s the precipitating event. Like some of the greatest precipitation events that one has in life came from my girlfriend in high school, who really told me Jamie, like, Listen, the life you’ve been living comes at the cost of people in places all over the world. And up until that point, I had just been like, waking up as a kid living my life and like the things I thought about were like, how I was gonna have fun, like, how I was gonna like go do theater and then back home and then do the cross country team and then hang out with my friends, like there was just wasn’t a part of me that was thinking about my responsibility to account for the like, impact that my life has, and just more generally, to be accountable to the greater good. I mean, obviously, I cared about the greater good, but it wasn’t the thing that I thought about in my life. And then I had this transition period where I felt like I really couldn’t be happy because I was causing harm with my life. And I’d been taught that, like, if you’re causing harm, you’re a bad person, and like, I want to be a bad person. But I also wanted to live my life. And I just felt so confused. And I think what has emerged from that, is this just sort of underlying drive to do the most that I can with this, like, short, precious lights that we have?

And I mean,

I don’t know if you’re like asking about the resume, or like my career path more.

Charles Olsen  11:27  

Yeah. So could you take us through from working on fighting to shut down a coal plant? What professionally have you done to cause less harm? And to kind of go with that feeling that you just mentioned, to bring you on your path here to see can?

Jamie DeMarco  11:46  

Yeah, so I’ve been going as hard as I know how on the climate fight for a long time, you know, in college, I helped found our fossil fuel divestment campaign at our college, which was successful when I was in college divested from fossil fuels, we were one of the first and that was huge. I helped organize a lot of my peers, to get arrested at the Keystone to get rested at the lighthouse protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, I organized a vein of like a whole bunch of people to the Climate March in New York City. After college, I got a job working at the friends committee on national legislation, which is a great organization, and I was actually working on nuclear disarmament. And it was really fun to just work on a different issue for a whole year and learn a lot about the differences between different issues and see the climate issue from the outside. And, and after that, I helped found the Maryland clean energy jobs initiative, which was, of course, Maryland based. And it was a nonprofit that we created exclusively to pass this one bill, the Maryland clean energy jobs act to achieve 50% renewable electricity in Maryland, by 2030. And we created a two and a half year six step plan to get that bill enacted. And then we followed it and hit every benchmark and got that bill enacted. And from there, I moved on to working at the citizens climate lobby, where I’ve been for two and a half years, which, you know, advocates mostly at the national level for carbon fee and dividend pay bipartisan solutions. But I was mostly working at the state level. So my job was to help citizens’ climate lobby volunteers get plugged in the state level advocacy campaigns, to produce submissions. And we work in New York, in Oregon, DC and Maryland, all over the country on a lot of really exciting and successful campaigns. And then from there, I came to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network where I got my first professional experience. And so it feels like coming home.

Charles Olsen  13:59  

Your dad, Vincent DeMarco was hailed as one of the greatest lobbyists to come out of the Maryland State House. How does his legacy shape the work that you do?

Jamie DeMarco  14:08  

I am really lucky, I’m really privileged to have my dad be who he is. I, you know, grew up in a home where he was coming home every night and saying like, no, this is good. We’re working in Annapolis. And this is the headache we’re running into. And my mom also is an incredible advocate. And you know, she’s been working in Annapolis for years on a number of different issues. And, you know, sometimes like that would be the subject of family dinners like which legislators were doing what and how we were going to get around it. And so that was sort of like the water I was spinning in growing up. But I do think that there’s a certain amount to which you can’t see what your parents do as a thing that really could be applying to your life like it’s almost just too much like the default. And I do think that I had To go to Asheville and find advocacy on my own, in a different way, in order to feel like I had ownership of it, and I was like really choosing my path in my own way, so you know, you sort of have to leave home to find home. The home was always there waiting for me, but I just had to go find it somewhere else.

Charles Olsen  15:24  

Shifting gears again, what do you think the biggest challenge is that you face while working in climate activism?

Jamie DeMarco  15:30  

We’re doing something really hard. We have to change the hearts and minds of so many people about the way we live and the way we think about each other. And on top of that, we have to like, physically change the entire infrastructure of our world. Like in Montgomery county and Prince George’s County, they’ve been working on the purple line for like 15 years, and you know, it’s facing further delays, it may be another like, five years before it’s done. And that’s to build like one rail system. And in the coming decades, we need to literally overhaul our entire energy system. Like in the fight for marriage equality, we had to change a lot of hearts and minds. And once those hearts and minds were changed, we achieved marriage equality, and like now it is now the law of the land. In the climate fight, we have to change a lot of hearts and minds about how we live our lives and how we use our energy. And then once we’ve done that, we need to go into every home in America and retrofit it to electrify it. So there’s just a huge infrastructure challenge. No, nothing like this has ever been done at a global scale. And I think that’s part of again, where faith comes in. Because secularly looking at it, it’s really easy to become hopeless. And I think you need some sort of illogical belief that what we are doing is worthy and has a chance of success. And, and that’s what keeps me going a lot of the time.

Charles Olsen  17:09  

So often, we get caught up in the day to day work of saving the planet, you know, one policy at a time getting each thing done. Can you describe for me the world that you are fighting to achieve? For me personally, I fight for the possibility that my future kids, when they exist, will have a better world than the world that I grew up in. Can you paint me the picture of the world that you want?

Jamie DeMarco  17:35  

Yeah, that is a great question. And I first just want to answer by saying that I encourage everyone to check out Naomi Klein’s collaboration with the intercept, creating short videos describing the better world that we’re trying to make, because I think they do a better job of that creative visioning of how the world could be better than anything else that I’ve seen. But in broad strokes, like we’re envisioning a world, where like, every single person has inherent worth and dignity. And that is not just an idea, but a sort of guiding policy principle. So that we don’t have anyone who’s struggling to find food, but like certain things are just daring to, they don’t have anyone who’s been put out on the street in the cold against their will. Like we just people often say, and I think it’s really true that like if we really, if we didn’t have embedded racism, if we didn’t have the belief that certain people are expendable, then we never would have been in the climate crisis, because we never could have built the fossil fuel infrastructure infrastructure to get us here, without sacrifice zones. So this gets back to what we were talking about earlier, that part of the world we seek is just one that values human dignity and each person more because if we can achieve that world will not only solve the climate crisis, but we’ll make a better world. And I just like to have all these visions of worlds where energy is nearly free and bountiful. And food is nearly free and bountiful. And like people instead of worrying about what menial tasks they’ll do in order to scrape by in the living like, know that for the rest of their lives. They’ll have housing, food and health care guaranteed. And that they can pursue what creative pursuit they want to follow. Like, I would love to be a creative nonfiction writer, like I’m not good enough to make money at it, and I’m doing this other climate thing. So there’s like all these reasons in this world that could never work like in the world that I’m dreaming of. We don’t have systemic problems that we have to give our lives to to solve. And we all are free to pursue whatever we want creatively whether or not it’s going to make money. So that is a little pie in the sky, but In the world that I dream about, and I do fall asleep dreaming about it pretty often. 

Charles Olsen  20:04  

What do you want to achieve at CCAN? What are your main goals while working in your position?

Jamie DeMarco  20:13  

So as we’re talking, it’s October of 2020. And I really, really think that in the next seven months, we are going to pass the Clean Air Act of our time. Like I just like every fiber in my being is telling me but like, we can do this, you know, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, I can say this, because we have actually endorsed Joe Biden, and some Senate, Democratic Senate candidates, checks the Climate Action Network Action Fund, I should say, has endorsed those candidates. And I think we’re going to have a democratic sweep of the White House in the Senate. And then we are going to pass like the biggest, boldest, fattest climate legislation that anybody could ever have imagined. And it’s going to be a total before and after, for the movement.

And for our missions, and for her world.

And in these next seven months, where all that is going to happen, I just want to test the Climate Action Network and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund, to do all that we can to be useful, you know, we are a lean, mean, scrappy, local organization that has a history of punching above our way and like getting things done. And I want us to be as innovative, creative and effective as we can possibly be to make a difference in this national fight, because it’s going to be a national fight, it’s going to be a clash of Titans, there’s going to be players much bigger than us. But we are going to contribute all that we can. And the main thing that I want is for us to be useful. And for us to contribute something and make the bill better help the bill pass in some way. And on top of that, bring home the bacon for Maryland, which is the policy area that I’m in charge of additional federal work and Virginia where Kim is responsible. So bring home the bacon from Congress to Maryland and Virginia, and then help Maryland and Virginia build on national legislative success to pass what everyone used to think was impossible.

Charles Olsen  22:24  

If you could enact any one policy right now, what would it be? And why?

Jamie DeMarco  22:28  

For some reason, I’m really drawn to this policy of carbon, zero carbon electricity generation by 2035, with $2 trillion, to electrify everything, give a just transition for workers, and fund environmental justice, historical discrimination communities, and current discrimination communities. And that, of course, is the Biden climate plan, which I think it’s just jaw dropping, that he has endorsed and is advocating for and talks about it in the debate that he supports, eliminating all carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 2035. And then investing $2 trillion for justice, just transition and electrifying of everything. And that, like it was less than four years ago that Bernie Sanders was introducing a bill to achieve zero carbon electricity by 2050. So how far we have come since then, I just jaw dropping to me. And that’s the policy, I wouldn’t act. And that’s the policy I want to help get enacted.

Charles Olsen  23:39  

Before I let you go. I have to ask, Is there anything you would want to tell others, all of the young folk who are thinking of getting into activism or climate work, any advice that you would have for them just joining on?

Jamie DeMarco  23:53  

if you are a young person who’s interested in making a difference on climate, like there is no one who can make a bigger difference than you can. All the power that goes to Congress, all the power that goes into these national fights comes from the grassroots sort of lobbyists and super power lobbyists and grass tops, figureheads, like, they have no power without the field work of people on the ground. And I think at heart, I’m always going to be sort of like a field grassroots organizer because they just have such a romantic idealization and draw to like the person who is going out and like talking to one person and then talking to another person and making 10 phone calls but no one picks up and then having that one more phone call with it, get someone to take an action and building public weal that way. I think that’s where it all comes from. And you should sign up for just the Climate Action Network, find out how to get involved, and we’ll get you involved, and we’re going to make a better future together.

Charles Olsen  24:58  

Jamie, thank you so much for joining me, thank you so much for telling us your story. I really appreciate it.

Jamie DeMarco  25:04  

Thanks so much for interviewing me. This was really fun.

Welcoming our new Virginia Director

Welcome to CCAN, Kim Jemaine!

Just a few weeks ago CCAN had the pleasure of welcoming our new Virginia Director Kim Jemaine to our team and we are very excited to introduce you to her! Kim joined the team as our new Virginia director and will be leading us to future legislative victories in the commonwealth of Virginia. 

Originally from Pretoria, South Africa, Kim has called the Commonwealth of Virginia her home for the past 20 years. She obtained both of her degrees and Virginia, a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs from the University of Mary Washington, and a master’s in government with a concentration in law and public policy from Regent University. A lifelong advocate for democracy and environmental action, Kim  has brought her unique perspective to CCAN to fight for climate action in Virginia

We sat down with Kim to chat with her about her journey from Pretoria, South Africa to CCAN, her role in the climate movement, and what she sees as her most exciting challenge moving forward! Check out the interview below:

Follow along with the transcript below: 

Charles Olsen  0:00  

Kim Jemaine recently joined CCAN as our new Virginia policy director and will be leading us to further legislative victories in the state of Virginia. Originally from Pretoria, South Africa, Kim has called the Commonwealth of Virginia her home for the past 20 years. She obtained both of her degrees and Virginia, a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs from the University of Mary Washington, and a master’s in government with a concentration in law and public policy from Regent University. Kim, you’ve been working in climate policy and activism for some time now. Can you tell me about the first time you organize people? Was it something you were drawn to as a kid? How did you get into it?

Kim Jemaine  0:35  

Yeah, totally. So I would say that my initial interest in politics, working with people organizing didn’t come until a little later in life. When I was younger, I was really drawn to creative work. So I thought I wanted to be a choreographer or an artist. And I think that transition really happened in high school. For me, I was just involved in classes and conversations, and I really enjoyed learning about history government. And I think that’s where my interest kind of whispered, I think I also had the benefit of kind of coming into my own at the time when the Obama election was occurring in 2008. So it wasn’t necessarily the election itself. But I think just kind of the press coverage around that news coverage of the election and what was occurring in just the historic nature of the way he ran his campaign. So that really spurred an interest in politics for me. And then I went off to college the year after that. So I knew when I got to university that I wanted to do political work, I initially thought I wanted to do international affairs, and be a political correspondent outside of the country. But that work is hard to come by. And so when I graduated college, I just kind of found my way into electoral campaigns. And I really realized that there was this whole world behind campaigns and behind what you see on TV that kind of revolved around organizing people, getting them involved, mobilizing them, and helping them find a space in the electoral system. And I kind of just stuck within that work after I found that,

Charles Olsen  2:22  

yeah, I also was brought into politics and grew up in the age of Trump in the 2016 election is what activated me to become politically aware. So I completely understand having that monumental thing hanging over you.

Kim Jemaine  2:37  

Yeah, it can be a benefit. And it can be a little bit of a curse as well. So

Charles Olsen  2:42  

Exactly, yeah. Can you you’re originally from South Africa, can you tell me about any experience that you may have had growing up there that has influenced the way that you work and you organize today?

Kim Jemaine  2:54  

Yeah. So I would say I was actually pretty young when I moved away from South Africa. And I have kind of memories of apartheid ending, and really, people being engaged within the democratic system for the first time. But I think what really drew me to the work that I do is actually the absence. And because I moved to America, when I was around 10. And my family, my mother was pretty neat, was obviously new to the political system here and to voting into being engaged, civically engaged. And so I think a real benefit to me was that I didn’t like, unlike most American children, I didn’t have a kind of back priming, or that framing or that kind of family context that informs other people’s political views. And so I really gotta kind of develop my political views on my own, decide what my political values were in the work that I wanted to do on my own. And I think that really informed my politics and my way of thinking around the political system, the role of government, and the work we can do in state politics in federal politics. I think that absence of outside influences really allowed me to think through all of those aspects of government and what government should do for people on my own and develop that framework.

Charles Olsen  4:24  

That’s super interesting. You’ve gone into your experiences a little bit, getting politically active in following the 2008 election of Obama. Can you just real quick, run us through your resume, your professional experiences, what took you from growing up to going to school? How did you get here to see again,

Kim Jemaine  4:46  

When I moved to America, like I said, I had this kind of new start where I was able to form my own political views. And I really think that, like I said, I got involved with politics within both volunteering and with electoral campaigns through high school, and then in college, when I graduated college, I stumbled my way into the gubernatorial race in 2013. I really didn’t know much about electoral work, I was looking for internships, and I knew that I cared about politics, I knew that I cared about progressive causes. So I was just looking, hoping to find a place to do that work. And then like I said, I found my way, my way to this kind of world behind campaigns. And that was focused on mobilizing people, getting them involved in grassroots causes and getting them activated around things in issue areas that you cared about. And I did electoral issue advocacy work for a few years. And then I really realized that although I really enjoyed that work and was passionate about it, it is seasonal work, so it kind of takes a toll on your life. And I think the big thing for me was, I really wanted to find a way to get engaged with folks in a sustainable way. campaigns generally come in for a short period of time, you work with volunteers and other advocates for about six months, and then you disappear. And I didn’t want to continue to work in that context. So I decided to make that transition around then. The other thing for me was just working on elections, allows you a little bit of input, but I really wanted to do the work behind the scenes to inform policy to really find areas where people were suffering or where intersections were, were impacting people and find a way to help be so be part of the solution there. And I made a pretty deliberate choice to kind of pivot from electoral work to more policy related work public policy. And that’s what informed the decision to go back to school, I look pretty deliberately for Law and Policy programs within the state. And I got fortunate enough to about halfway through my master’s program to be offered a position with Virginia LCB, where I started as the public policy and communications associate, they really took a chance on me, they knew what my my way forward was, what I wanted my way for it to look like. But I didn’t have any experience in public policy and lobbying. At that time I had my electrical background, I had passion. But I really didn’t have that experience. So they really gave me that opportunity to grow, build my resume, and to just get to know the system here in Virginia get to see what it feels like to lobby and get to get my toe my feet in the water when it comes to environmental issues and climate change issues. And then with that experience under my belt, I came to CCAN.  

Charles Olsen  8:04  

What do you think your biggest challenge is that you face while working in climate activism? Do you find most of these challenges to be internal ones emotional? Or do you find them to be external from the work?

Kim Jemaine  8:17  

Yeah, so I think it’s a little bit of both. And I think they kind of intersect, I think part of it is just being a woman of color in this work can be difficult. And I think that kind of internal struggle comes from just being in a place where I don’t see a lot of people that look like you and often your tack to kind of be that voice. And that can be difficult, and it can make you question yourself. And obviously, imposter syndrome is real. And it is definitely a thing that happens within this work a lot. Because there’s a big weight on your shoulders. But then there’s also a moment of questioning whether you are the correct voice for that. I think that’s especially true for me, because I am an immigrant. I’m a fair woman of color. And so it can be a lot of internal struggle about whether or not I’m the right voice for certain fights. Despite the fact that people are looking to me, so that can be a struggle sometimes. And then I think the big thing is just I think the environmental community in Virginia often does great work in terms of their priorities and making sure that environmental justice is at the forefront of our work. But I think a lot of that work needs to be informed by frontline communities. And I think although we can tap those communities when we’re organizing and doing our grassroots work, grassroots work, we also need to make sure that folks are represented in our organizations and They have a real seat at the table. And so I think that struggle is one that I, I have a hard time with. And I think we we really need to do a good job and deliberate work to make sure that we’re addressing that moving for

Charles Olsen  10:18  

often we get caught up in the day to day work of saving the planet, one policy at a time. Can you describe to me the world that you’re fighting to achieve? For me, I fight for the possibility that my future kids I don’t have any today will have a better world than the world that I grew up in? Can you paint me a picture of the world that you want to create?

Kim Jemaine  10:39  

Yeah, definitely. So I do have a daughter. And I think just on a surface level, I want to make sure that there’s a sustainable and livable climate for her and her peers. But I think the big thing for me is that I’ve started thinking a lot in the last few years about how we often talk about these junctures of injustice as intersections. And the reality is that they’re not just points meeting on a map, they do intersect, but they also layer and they layer away in a way that really puts an undue burden on certain people. So those people are facing injustice, when it comes to wages they are facing injustices when it comes to access to jobs. They’re facing struggles when it comes to access to transportation, to the burdens of climate change, and environmental degradation. And those things aren’t just points that meet on a map, they’re things that just layer and layer to hold down certain segments of the population. And I’m not under the assumption that I’m going to be the person that addresses all of those issues. But I think, for me, I really want to be a part of lifting at least one or two of those layers and a part of that work. So we can really, like take some of that burden off the shoulders of certain segments of the population and do it in a way that doesn’t put the responsibility on them, but puts the responsibility on the system and the government in the structure that we’ve created that have placed that undue burden on them. So a few I am not under the assumption that it’s going to happen overnight. But I want to be part of this work to address those injustices.

Charles Olsen  12:26  

That’s super interesting. And that kind of brings me to one of my other questions. I grew up in a low income family in a redlined neighborhood on Long Island that was located with a landfill, just a few blocks away. And for so many years, the climate story, neglected environmental justice. And it’s been seen as something that sometimes, like you said, intersects every once in a while, but isn’t something that’s over layered. How has justice and as a black woman in America shaped your experience in the climate fight? And how do you think it’s going to shape the future of policy in the next big wave of environmental policies?

Kim Jemaine  13:07  

Yeah, I think I touched on that a little bit already. But I really do think that certain segments of the population just are getting burdened with low wages, income, inequality, the impacts of climate change on a day to day basis. And I really think the work needs to be deliberate, we need to take a good look at how the policies were enacted and the legislation that we’re enacting perpetuates that and how we can make sure that we’re working to counteract those injustices. I and I spoke briefly with our executive director, Mike about this when I first got hired, is that the reality is that the moment that we’re in when it comes to climate change right now, and with the Coronavirus, has really shown us how those those areas intersect and the impacts that they have on certain communities. And I think it has also shown us that we can’t really draw distinctions between injustice anymore. I think the work that we’re going to do in the climate arena is going to have to be informed by environmental justice and justice as a whole. Because I think for so long, we’ve kind of dipped our toes in the water in terms of environmental justice, every now and then. And I think moving forward when, when people’s lives are going to be impacted by climate change by poor air quality by rising sea level. I don’t think we’re going to be able to draw those distinctions anymore, and I think our work is really going to have to be led and framed by frontline communities. They’re going to have to have a seat at the table, table and we’re really going To make sure that their voices are centered, because I don’t think we’re going to be able to draw, like, delineate our work moving forward. And that’s a future I’m hopeful about. It’s something that I think we should embrace and really make sure that we hop on that train before it’s imperative and, and get ahead of the ball.

Charles Olsen  15:21  

Well said, Well said, Now, on a less serious note, who is one person in human history, people would be surprised that you admire.

Kim Jemaine  15:33  

So I don’t think it’s super surprising if you know me, but I think it is a little unexpected. And I think I would say Mary, Mary Oliver. She’s a poet, and she did some really great work, just writing about nature and our place in the world and kind of reverence for the world around us. And it’s something that really has centered me not just in my personal life, but in the work that we do. Just recognizing that we are this small speck on this in this world, and that we really should show appreciation and reference for the world around us and steward our natural resources more wisely So I would say Mary Oliver.

Charles Olsen  16:21  

How do you deal with the stress of climate change activism? I know just from my experience, and from talking to other people in the field, that this is a high stakes, high reward area, what do you do? Do you hike yoga? How do you get out of it?

Kim Jemaine  16:39  

So I think for me, that’s a good question. For me, I am a people person, I like chatting with people. I like getting to know people, I really thrive on relationships. So I tried to make sure that I have great people around me and invest in those relationships. I also in this work, have just found great allies, one of whom is Harrison, who had this role before me. And I think that that has really centered me in those times where like I mentioned earlier, imposter syndrome takes over, or I question my, my role within this space, relying on those relationships has really helped me. And then yes, I love hiking. Like I said, with Mary Oliver. And with everything about revering nature, it really does center me, it kind of brings me back to myself. And I like doing that with my friends by myself with my daughter. And it just helps me appreciate the world around me, it helps me stay calm. And it just makes you feel small, but also reminds you of the kind of responsibility you have to protect the world around you. So definitely hiking for Virginia is a beautiful place to live. And every time I go hiking, it reminds me of that. So that’s the short answer.

Charles Olsen  18:00  

I’m originally from New York. So I am quite biased in my love for Adirondacks hiking. But that’s a debate for another time. What do you want to achieve at CCAN?

Kim Jemaine  18:14  

Yeah, so I think I touched on this briefly in a few of my other answers. But I think for me, I just really want to make sure that C can, is deliberate in really thoughtful about the work we’re doing to ensure that environmental justice is centered as we combat the climate change climate crisis. I think, like I said, we’re not going to be able to avoid that work moving forward. The environmental community really needs to make sure that we’re centering those voices. And I think the big thing that drives me is, like I said earlier, I just want to do a small, be a small part of this solution to ensuring that certain communities have at least one area of burden or one, one layer of injustice lifted off their shoulders, whether it be in terms of where dumps are located or where environmental or where energy projects are situated, or whether it it is them being impacted by increased hurricanes, increased recurrent flooding, sea level rise, I just want to make sure that we’re taking a real look at who’s bearing the burden of those events, and doing the work on a policy and legislative front to make sure that we’re protecting those communities. And really ensuring that where we’re lifting some of their burden for their shoulder. So I want to lead my team to really be deliberate about answering those questions and being reflected reflective of how the work we do can further those goals? If you could enact any one policy right now?

Charles Olsen  20:05  

What would it be? You could do anything from a national fracking ban to a required Meatless Monday for all citizens? What would you do?

Kim Jemaine  20:13  

So I actually have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I went on a hike yesterday and thought about it, I think I would probably enact some kind of conservation land conservation policy. We did this when we enacted the land Water Conservation Fund. And I think it’s really something that we should be prioritizing moving forward, I think we really need to be good stewards of our land, and make sure that certain areas are protected. And that development doesn’t strip us away of all these beautiful places that used to be in the majority, and that we’re just kind of dwindling. And so I think I would really enact some kind of policy to ensure that our public spaces are protected, and that our public, our national parks are actually broadened. So certain certain areas are just protected from development, or projects or being exploited otherwise. So I think that would be long and short of it. And it might be informed by my love of hiking and being out in nature. But I think that would be it for me.

Charles Olsen  21:26  

Great, great answer. I have a public lands background. I interned at the Wilderness Society last summer. So for me, public lands, conservation and public lands policy is like, that’s it like, that’s the creme de la crop?

Kim Jemaine  21:43  

Yeah, absolutely. I, one of my big research areas that I worked on in grad school focused on public land conservation and the land Water Conservation Fund. And I just, I think it was a real testament to what we can do when we prioritize nature and the world around us in our public policy and within government. And I think if we got back to that, we’d be much better for it.

Charles Olsen  22:14  

Before we go. I have one last question for you. Is there anything you would want to tell others who are interested in this line of work? Any advice for the young folks who are just getting into college or coming out of college and jumping into the field? What would you say to them,

Kim Jemaine  22:32  

I think I would say that there’s a whole world kind of behind what you see on TV and behind what’s represented through our federal system. There’s a world where you can get involved in electoral campaigns, issue advocacy campaigns, where you can be part of driving policy lobbying, and advocating for certain legislative fixes. And it doesn’t have to be in the environmental sector. There are other progressive sectors and areas where there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in areas that you’re passionate about. And you just have to find those spaces. And I think for me, it was there was always this framing that it was work that was for specific people. And that was generally white men. And I think just finding the people that would advocate on your behalf and create a seat at the table for you was really pivotal to me finding this fake space. I had a couple of people who I worked under for years who really advocated for me, and they are the reason why I’ve been able to kind of grow into this work. And I think so. So I think the first part would just be finding those areas where you can actually actually advocate and create change in whatever area you’re passionate about. And then also finding people who you can create space for and who will do the same for you. I think, probably my top two tips.

Charles Olsen  24:05  

Amazing.  Thank you so much for joining me.

Kim Jemaine  24:08  

Thanks, Charlie.

Conservation groups applaud court’s suspension of Mountain Valley Pipeline construction

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals today sided with conservation groups and issued an immediate stay of Mountain Valley Pipeline’s stream and wetland crossing permits in southern West Virginia and Virginia. The groups, noting the company’s stated rush to resume construction and the serious environmental harms likely to result, had asked the court for the stay while it considered the merits of their challenge of the water-crossing permits issued by the Corps of Engineers.

The eight groups, represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, filed a challenge of the Corps’ reissuance on September 25 of two “Nationwide Permit 12” approvals that would allow MVP, LLC to trench through some 1,000 streams, rivers, wetlands and other water bodies in the two states. The 4th Circuit had rejected the Corps’ first round of permit approvals in 2018.

As noted in the groups’ filings, Mountain Valley Pipeline’s operator recently told its investors that it intends to blast and trench through “critical” streams “as quickly as possible before anything is challenged.”

The court had issued an emergency stay October 16; today’s stay remains in effect until it rules on the groups’ petition to overturn the Corps’ water permits for the MVP project.

The groups filing the challenge include Appalachian Voices, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Indian Creek Watershed Association, Sierra Club, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and Wild Virginia.

Peter Anderson, Virginia Program Manager, Appalachian Voices:
“Communities along the pipeline route have been on edge these past several weeks as the company has moved in heavy equipment and started doing work, so we’re very glad the court pressed pause on this permit while the water-crossing issues are reviewed further.”

David Sligh, Conservation Director, Wild Virginia
“Once again, the court has shown that it sees the dire threat this dangerous and damaging project poses to our precious waters and vulnerable communities. Convincing a court to stay an agency decision requires plaintiffs to convince the judges that they have a good chance to prove their case after full review. Now, we look forward to doing just that — to show conclusively that the Corps of Engineers abdicated its duty to protect us and our resources.”

Anne Havemann, General Counsel, Chesapeake Climate Action Network:
“The companies behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline have proven countless times that they are unfit to build this pipeline safely, with hundreds of violations and thousands of dollars in fines already. They’ve done nothing to prove that future construction won’t result in the same. We applaud the court for standing on the right side of history and issuing this stay.”

Joan Walker, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign:
“The MVP has already doubled its timeline and budget, and it’s not even close to being finished. If they were smart, they would quit throwing good money after bad and walk away from this fracked gas disaster like Duke Energy and Dominion Energy did with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

Jared Margolis, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity:
“This decision will help ensure the pipeline doesn’t keep posing catastrophic threats to waterways that people and imperiled species depend on to survive. Despite the project’s clear failure to comply with the law, Mountain Valley keeps pushing this climate-killing menace. We’ll continue working to ensure this destructive pipeline doesn’t poison waters and threaten communities along its route.”


CONTACT: Cat McCue, 434-293-6373,
Denise Robbins, 240-630-1889,