BUCKHANNON — If you are active in the Upshur County community, you’ve probably seen her at public meetings speaking with a confident, commanding voice and a holding a folder full of research — research she spends between two to six hours daily working on.
She estimates that between that research, writing and advocacy work, she logs about 30-40 hours a week — close to that of a full time job — working to save the local environment.
She’s made one thing clear: she won’t back down, and she won’t be deterred from her advocacy work for the environment.
And for that reason, Buckhannon resident April Pierson-Keating was recently awarded the Linda Schnautz Environmental Courage Award at the West Virginia Environmental Council awards dinner and silent auction on Feb. 27.
The award is named in honor of Linda Schnautz, an accountant from Barbour County who headed a grassroots citizens’ organization to oppose the creation of a massive landfill in Barbour County.
Keating is co-founder of the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, which promotes clean water and clean energy through education and advocacy.
“We envision a world in which nobody is marginalized and harmed for the sake of profit,” Keating explained. The MLPA works with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Ohio River Citizens’ Alliance.
Keating was also elected to the executive committee of the Sierra Club of West Virginia.
Keating has always cared about the environment, but she sprang into action in 2010 after seeing the film, “Gasland,” which focuses on the effects natural gas drilling — and specifically, hydraulic fracturing — has had on communities where it takes place. Since seeing the film, Keating has fought against fracking, extraction and environmental predation from outside interests.
“I’ve always been concerned about the planet and the fate of the Earth, but when I saw ‘Gasland,’ it motivated me to get out of my chair and do something, rather than just push buttons on a computer,” Keating said.
For two years, Keating has fought against the development of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in north central West Virginia.
She was “very humbled and very surprised” to receive the Linda Schnautz Environmental Courage Award for those efforts.
“In my speech, I basically gave the award back to everyone in the room,” Keating said. “I’ve been doing this since 2010, but there’s people that have been working on this for 20-30 years. I was humbled to be honored in that way by that group of people. Not a lot of us get paid for what we do — it’s confrontational, and it’s very, very hard work, so it comes from the heart.”
One thing Linda Schnautz – the woman for whom the award was named – and Keating have in common is that while fighting for environmental causes, they were and are also fighting their own private health battles. Schnautz battled terminal cancer, which she succumbed to shortly after the landfill proposal was defeated. Keating is also coping with a cancer diagnosis, which she said hasn’t slowed her down.
“I don’t know that I would be doing anything differently if I didn’t have cancer,” she said. “I am concerned about the rise in cancer rates. West Virginia is 50th on the Gallup-Healthways scale for health and well-being. We’ve been last on that list for about 10 years, and I really want to see us do better. We can develop industry and grow our economy without poisoning our water. The fact that we continue to poison our water while knowing that we’re poisoning our water is unethical at best.”
A lifelong Mountain State resident, Keating said she doesn’t plan surrendering anytime soon.
“I will just do this work as long as I can for the betterment of my state and the betterment of humanity and the health of the planet,” she said.
Virginia McNeil, who is a member of the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance and also in the Sierra Club with Keating, said Keating’s acceptance speech at the Feb. 27 awards ceremony made her proud to be a West Virginian.
“She talked about our heritage, she talked about the beauty of our land, she talked about her own roots in the state of West Virginia, her family’s heritage and what she’s acquired from them,” McNeil said. “She talked about the critical need to preserve West Virginia and not just give it away to the first bidder that comes down the pike. When it comes down to it, that’s all we have got – our water and our land.”
McNeil greatly admires Keating’s unwavering drive and deeply rooted passion.
“She’s almost single-handedly championed this organization (MLPA), she’s showed up at meetings alone, she’s provided testimony and rationale to preserve our resources in the face of large corporate interests,” McNeil said. “She’s dealing with her breast cancer in the middle of all this, and that hasn’t slowed her down even though she’s fighting against huge corporate powerhouses. She’s a dynamo.”
Keating encourages anyone who’s concerned about the environment and the fossil fuel industry’s impact on it to get involved with the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance. Find out more by visiting www.mountainlakespreservation.org or sending an email to [email protected]