HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The new executive director of the Huntington-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition says the biggest challenge for the organization in the future will be to help residents of Appalachia transition away from a coal-based economy.
“We’ll be finding ways to help those who need to find jobs and a way to stay in West Virginia,” Natalie Thompson, who took over the top job at OVEC last week, told MetroNews.
Thompson grew up in Beckley and had family members who were coal miners. Her bio says her grandfather was a mine foreman who “lamented the change from underground to mountaintop removal mining, and especially the destruction of the family’s beloved Kayford Mountain.”
Those responses helped shape her environmental consciousness, Thompson said.
“(Coal) is a way to make money but seeing the way that greed conquered and the coal is taken away and taken care of but the people weren’t,” she said.
She began working with the environmental activist group 13 years ago. In recent years, she’s headed up projects focused on campaign finance reform and energy efficiency. She replaces Janet Keating who retired after 24 years with the organization.
OVEC relies heavily on volunteers for its outreach. Thompson was recently part of the hiring of a volunteer membership coordinator, she said.
“She’s fresh on the books with us and we hope she will strengthen that area of our organization,” Thompson said. “We have hopes of bringing more people in that are interested in our issues.”
OVEC, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, recently purchased the building that houses its headquarters in Huntington.
Thompson is looking forward to her new role to “help ensure the protection of health and the environment in all of Appalachia.”
“It’s always been a passion of mine to protect West Virginia and its beauty. It’s my home state and my land,” she said.