The agenda for SEJ's 18th Annual Conference — Oct. 15-19 —continues to develop as a number of stars in the journalism community have committed, including legendary author Wendell Berry and former NPR Morning Edition host Bob Edwards.
Berry, the noted fiction and non-fiction author and widely acknowledged conscience of the region will join SEJ attendees on Sunday, Oct. 19, to read his work and discuss the writing life during the morning craft session. Joining him will beAnn Pancake (author of Strange As This Weather Has Been), Erik Reese (Lost Mountain) and others, including many SEJ authors.
Another speaker familiar to SEJ members: Edwards, host of the Bob Edwards Show on XM satellite radio. Before moving to XM, Edwards spent 24 years as host of NPR's Morning Edition. He will moderate the opening plenary session on Friday, Oct. 17, on the use of coal as an energy source.
Experts on all sides, including Don Blankenship, the outspoken and controversial president ofMassey Energy (invited), American Electric Power CEO Michael Morris, and Big Coal author Jeff Goodell will debate whether coal, which provides slightly more than half of this country's electricity, should have a role in America's energy future. Panelists will debate the effectiveness of carbon sequestration; mining's toll on workers, mountains, streams and forests; and whether the U.S. should find a way to wean itself from this fuel.
A breakfast plenary session will address the environmental justice movement. Since its inception in the 1980s in North Carolina, the movement has drawn attention to the inequitable environmental risks that many African American communities have long been forced to bear. In Appalachia, these same inequitable risks have been borne by poor white communities. Noted expert Robert Bullard will lead a diverse panel discussing where the movement came from and where it's headed.
SEJ's annual awards ceremony will honor some of the most important environmental stories of last year. Co-hosts for the presentation will be Philippe and Alexandra Cousteau of EarthEcho International, ocean explorers in the tradition of their grandfather Jacques Cousteau, and Jeff Burnside, SEJ board member and reporter atWTVJ NBC 6 Miami.
Among concurrent sessions running on Friday and Saturday will be computer labs and craft workshops offering hands-on experience with audio, video, podcasting, mapping, and turning data into stories. Other sessions will cover mobile media, search engine strategies, blogs, social media, citizen journalism, crowdsourcing and entrepreneurial media projects.
Eight tracks of concurrent sessions will bring experts, advocates, policymakers and others together to discuss coal, energy, climate, water, land, environmental health and the nation, and will also include craft sessions like freelancers and book publishers pitch-slams and many how-to sessions, from Energy 101 to being your own FOIA lawyer.
Thursday tours continue to be conference favorites among attendees, this year traveling to nine extraordinary destinations in theAppalachian mountain region for hiking, kayaking, or learning about energy issues like wind, nuclear and mountaintop removal mining.
The tour line-up for the Roanoke conference
Almost Level I: Cutting Down Mountains for Coal
Larry Gibson's piece of Kayford Mountain used to be the lowest peak for miles. Now it's the highest. There's no better place to see the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining – a practice that is feeding a growing demand for coal and leveling wide stretches of Appalachia.
What Are ForestsWorth?What Are They For? CanWe Sustain Them?
The Southern Appalachians provide a rare look at the changing face of America's forests. The tour will look at how foresters, community groups and others are spurring a new take on sustainable forestry; the U.S. Forest Service's struggles to balance recreation demands with timber operations; invasive species literally eating away Appalachian hillsides; and emerging "niche" forest products that could bolster rural communities.
Rural Energy:Wind, Hydro and Development in the Highlands
Virginia's Western Highlands are some of the most pristine rural mountain regions left in the Eastern U.S. Bath and Highland Counties are among the least populated east of the Mississippi, with county seats of fewer than 300 residents. But, like much of the rural U.S., these counties face new development pressures from energy industries and vacation home speculators. Highland County, with only a $7 million annual budget, has approved a $60 million wind power project. Construction is set for this year, and if built, it will be the first industrial wind power facility in the state of Virginia.
Healthy Food Shed
In the wake of global warming concerns and food-borne illness outbreaks with mounting evidence pointing toward industrialized agriculture, consumers are starting to pay attention to how their food is raised and how far it travels. Farmer, writer and speaker Joel Salatin is the poster child of the local food and farming movement. The tour will visit Salatin's 550-acre diversified Polyface Farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and show why his spread is, in the words ofMichael Pollan, "one of the most productive and sustainable farms in America."
A National Treasure at Peril – the Blue Ridge Parkway
Why are the Blue RidgeMountains "blue"? The tour will travel along lush ridgetops thatwere over-forested in the 1900s to themost photographed site on the parkway,MabryMill.The early 1900s communitygathering place today operates as a restored gristmill, sawmill and blacksmith shop.As the parkway approaches its 75th anniversary, however, America's Favorite Scenic Drive faces environmental issues and federalbudgetaryshortfalls resultingin57unfilledstaffpositions.Airpollution emanates from coal-fired power sources, the mighty hemlocks are dying, and flourishing development blocks scenic views.
Old River, New Challenge
The New River, a misnomer if ever there was one, is one of the world's oldest rivers. It's also among the most beautiful.We'll paddle canoes 6-8 miles past towering cliffs and rolling meadows. At the put-in, ecologists from Virginia Tech will conduct an electro-fishing demonstration and provide a brief presentation of the New's diverse aquatic species. After taking out, we'll drive a short distance downstream to where the local power company is planning to landfill coal-fired power plant ash in the floodplain of the New. Speakers will address the controversial issue of managing coal combustion residues. Note: mild whitewater rapids are on this run. Basic canoeing skills are preferred.
Journey Down the James
This tour will track the E. coli and nutrient trail from mountain farms to the Chesapeake Bay on a canoe journey down the James River. Nutrient and sediment runoff impacts water quality for everyone and farming in the mountains affects the bay hundreds of miles downstream.Attendees will paddle down about 10 miles of river, through farmland and pristine forest. This trip is suitable for beginners, but expect to be on the water between four and six hours with several breaks.
The Appalachian Trail- Land with a Past
Like great chunks of the Appalachian Trail that goes from Georgia to Maine, the roughly 11 miles of the trail's Catawba Ridge section pass over land that once held buildings. The jewel of this ridge is a rocky overlook, McAfee Knob, federally protected since 1987. The trail protection project marked a backwards progression of sorts, from developed to backcountry— a reclamation of industrial and residential lands.Attendees will hike the trail to McAfee Knob and see the Catawba Valley below, which is slowly being invaded by houses.
Nuclear Power from Ore to Volts
There are five stages in the life of nuclear power: Mining,processingore, enrichment of uranium to commercial or weapons grade, fuel fabrication, and utilization in a nuclear power plant. This tour covers the nuclear cycle with visits encompassing three of these stages.We'll visit a 1,000-acre farm, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, and now proposed as the U.S.'s first uranium mine outside the Southwest. Next, we tour a fuel fabrication facility and a full-scale nuclear plant training center, owned by the French nuclear giant AREVA NP, Inc. We'll watch an actual production run from delivery of the enriched uranium through to the 12-foot-long nuclear fuel rods that power the nation's 104 commercial reactors.At the training center, we will see the inside of a nuclear power plant, with full-sized cutaways of steam generators, reactors, and other equipment.
Further details on the tours and sessions for SEJ's 18th Annual Conference will be posted on www.sej.org  as they become available. Please check the website often for updates.
Conference concurrent session line-up
THE CRAFT • The Freelance Pitch-Slam • Covering Tragedies and Disasters • Environment Reporters of the 21st Century • Book Publisher Pitch-Slam • Energy 101: A Primer for Reporters • TV and the New Media • Covering Climate ChangeWithout GettingWhiplash • The Dating Game: Connecting Scientists and Journalists • How to Be Your Own FOIA Lawyer • Getting the Goods: Using Court Records for Environmental Investigations
COAL • Coal Around the Globe • Carbon Sequestration: Silver Bullet or Black Hole? • Almost Level: Mountaintop Removal Overview • Beyond Coal: Strategies for Appalachian Reclamation and Renewa
ENERGY • MustWe Grow? Conservation, Green Lifestyles and Alternative Energies • Take Two: Nuclear Power Reconsidered • Biofuels: Beyond the Steel Cage Debate • Is Energy Independence Green? Liquid Coal, Tar Sands, Natural Gas and More...
THE CLIMATE • Close Quarters: Can Controlling Population Growth Help Stabilize the Climate? • Climate Change and Agriculture • After Tomorrow: CanWe Adapt to Climate Change? • Climate Change and Emerging Legal Challenges
THE WATER • Are the Oceans Already Lost? •Water Quality from the Headwaters to the Chesapeake Bay • Dams: Past, Present and Future • Ends of the Earth: Polar Science and the Environment
THE LAND • Sharing Life on Earth: Biodiversity in Appalachia and Beyond • Animal Business:Wildlife Trafficking and International Law • Joy Ride or Ecocide? ATVs on Public Lands • Suburban Decay: The Sub-prime Mortgage Mess as an Environmental Story
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH • The RollercoasterWorld of Toxicology •Women's Environmental Health Issues • Toying with Toxics: Childhood Exposure to Chemicals •Workers and the Environment: Asbestos and Other Occupational Hazards
THE NATION • Environmental Policy, Public Opinion and the Election • Broken Bridges and Straight Pipes: Aging Infrastructure and the Environment • Environmental Justice and the Economy: From Cap-and- Trade Concerns to Green-Collar Promises • The Clean Air Act's Unfinished Business
**From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Spring 2008 issue