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The Blue Ridge near Abingdon, VA, looking eastward.
Photo by Bill Kovarik.
SEJ 2008 is being hosted by Virginia Tech in Roanoke, VA, Wednesday-Sunday, October 15-19, 2008.

Note: The following conference agenda is a rough draft only. All information is subject to change. Please check back often for updates and information on event times, speakers, etc.

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Friday and Saturday Concurrent Sessions

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SEJ's 2008 Annual Conference officially begins Wednesday evening, October 15, with a dinner reception, special welcomes, and the SEJ awards ceremony.

Sunday-Wednesday, October 12-15

Environmental Reporting Boot Camp
Whether you're new to the beat or a veteran wanting to bolster your toolbox, SEJ's second pre-conference boot camp offers something for everyone. Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism will train journalists at a three-day workshop in Roanoke. Boot Camp includes sessions on computer-assisted reporting, investigative techniques, writing, ethics, and topical issues. It includes the all-day Wednesday workshop (see below). Check MSU's Knight Center for details and application. July 21, 2008, deadline.

Wednesday, October 15

8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Covering Climate Change and Our Energy Future in Rural America

Breakfast and lunch are included. Pre-registration and $60 fee required. SEJ members only.
The past, present, and future of coal in Appalachia and the southeastern United States — and therefore much of the nation's energy future — come into sharp focus in a penetrating, day-long analysis kicking off SEJ's annual conference at Virginia Tech.

From the scientific perspective on global climate change to the satellite perspective on changing land patterns; from the ins, outs, and maybes of carbon capture and sequestration, to the science, economics — and wrenching emotional aspects — of mountaintop removal strip-mining; from internationally recognized energy experts like Amory Lovins to a panel of expert journalists steeped in mining these stories....

It's part of a special, in-depth, day-long immersion into coal, climate and the interdependent future of both, sponsored by SEJ with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, Virginia Tech, and the Yale Project on Climate Change\Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media.

See below for a full agenda.

Registered reporters will head home with practical insights and expert news sources on issues that play right to the heart of their hometown audiences. Hear from leading regional and local reporters bringing collective decades of newsroom experience in covering and uncovering some of journalism's most compelling stories on energy, coal, and climate change.

All sessions will be at the Hotel Roanoke. Breakfast and lunch are included. Pre-registration and $60 fee required. SEJ members only. (Members: If you've already registered for the conference and wish to add this workshop to your registration, please call Convention Management Services at 800-878-5131 or 517-485-2309 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. EDT.)

Reporting TODAY on America's Emerging Energy Future: Coal, Climate Change, and Energy Options in a Time of Extraordinary Change

8:00 - 8:30 a.m.
Continental Breakfast and Registration

8:30 - 9:00 a.m.
Program Overview and Introductions
Emcee: Bud Ward, Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media

9:00 - 9:35 a.m.
The Climate Challenge: Setting the Context for Considering our Energy Future Options
Speaker: Jacob Sewall, Virginia Tech

9:35 - 10:15 a.m.
What on Earth? Observed Changes in Land Features in North America and Eastern U.S. as Shown by Satellite Images
Speaker: Kristin De Beurs, Virginia Tech

10:15 - 10:30
Refreshment Break

10:30 a.m. - Noon
Mountaintop Removal in Context
Moderator: Ken Ward Jr., Charleston Gazette
Speakers: Gene Kitts, International Coal Group; Joe Lovett, Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment; Ben Stout, Wheeling Jesuit University

Noon - 12:45 p.m
Lunch and Informal Discussion

12:45 - 1:25 p.m.
Winning the Oil Endgame: Principles of and Progress Toward an Oil-Free America
Speaker: Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

1:25 - 2:05 p.m.
Exploring Carbon Sequestration Potential Options
Speaker: Jim Dooley, Senior Scientist, Joint Global Change Research Institute

2:05 - 2:45
Future Energy
Speaker: L. David Roper, Virginia Tech Physics Professor Emeritus

2:45 - 3:00 p.m.
Refreshment Break

3:00 - 3:40 p.m.
Winning the Coal Endgame: The Megawatt and Micropower Revolutions
Speaker: Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

3:40 - 4:45 p.m.
Reporters and Editors Roundtable
Speakers: James Bruggers, Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.; Robert J. Byers, City Editor, Charleston Gazette

4:45 p.m.
Concluding Remarks and Adjournment

Opening Reception at the Hotel Roanoke
Join your colleagues and our distinguished guests, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, for dinner and drinks at this grand, historic, and beautifully restored railroad hotel, the site of most conference activities this year.

SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment
Since environmental issues are often the most important stories on the planet, then the SEJ Awards ceremony is among the most important of its kind. We invite you to witness the best of the best with co-hosts Philippe and Alexandra Cousteau, ocean explorers and grandchildren of Jacques Cousteau, and Jeff Burnside, SEJ board member from WTVJ NBC 6 Miami. At this lively event, you'll see clips and images of the winning newspapers, TV, online, and other recipients of SEJ's $1,000 awards. And, new this year: The Rachel Carson Environment Book Award, worth $10,000.

Thursday, October 16

Day Tours
Advance registration is required for all Thursday tours. Attendance on each tour is strictly limited, so registering early is important. Departure times vary (see below), but all Thursday tours will return to the Hotel Roanoke about 5:00 p.m. Planning is still underway, so please check back for more details. For those looking for some exercise, tours 6, 7, and 8 are your best options. Other tours involve moderate exercise. Tours 5 and 9 are best suited for wheelchair accessibility (contact SEJ headquarters, 215-884-8174, for details).

1. Almost Level 1: Cutting Down Mountains for Coal
Kayford Mountain, about an hour south of Charleston, WV. Notice how the massive dragline is dwarfed by the scale of the operation. Photo by Vivian Stockman, OHVEC.
Click to enlarge.
6:00 a.m. departure, lunch included, $30 fee
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. See an active mine and hear from people who live near the mines and the processing plants and coal trucks that serve them. See mine reclamation and hear from industry representatives who'll tell you why what they're doing is good and necessary. Driving time — 6 hours total. But there will be beautiful scenery, informative speakers, and documentaries on the way. Also, see related event: Mountaintop removal flyovers, available to SEJ members from independent sponsors Friday and Saturday.

2. What Are Forests Worth? What Are They For? Can We Sustain Them?
7:00 a.m. departure, lunch included, $30 fee
The southern Appalachians provide a rare look at the changing face of America's forests. Walk onto an acre that was traditionally property of companies like International Paper nowadays and you're likely to find it's owned by something called a REIT or a TIMO... or maybe just some guy named Bob. See how foresters, community groups, and others are spurring a new take on sustainable forestry; how the U.S. Forest Service struggles to balance recreation demands with timber operations; how invasive species are literally eating away Appalachian hillsides; and how emerging "niche" forest products could bolster rural communities. Driving time — 3 hours total.

3. Rural Energy: Wind, Hydro, and Development in the Highlands
7:15 a.m. departure, lunch included, $30 fee
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. Driving time — 4 hours total.

4. Healthy Food Shed
7:30 a.m. departure, lunch included, $30 fee
In the wake of global warming concerns and food-borne illness outbreaks that could be partly the result of growing and processing methods used in 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. We'll visit Salatin's 550-acre diversified Polyface Farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and find out why his spread is, in the words of Michael Pollan, "one of the most productive and sustainable farms in America." And we'll hear from other industrious farmers, folks serving up everything from food to fiber to fuel in their communities. We'll also scope out some regional examples of Big Farming. Driving time — 3 hours total.

5. A National Treasure at Peril — the Blue Ridge Parkway
8:00 a.m. departure, lunch included, $30 fee
Why are the Blue Ridge Mountains "blue"? Join us for the answer, traveling along lush ridgetops that were over-forested in the 1900s to the most photographed site on the parkway, Mabry Mill. The early 1900s community-gathering 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 federal budgetary shortfalls resulting in 57 unfilled staff positions. Air pollution emanates from coal-fired power sources, the mighty hemlocks are dying, and flourishing development blocks scenic views. Driving time — about 4 hours total.

6. Old River, New Challenge
Two Thursday tours (#6 & 7) offer attendees canoeing and/or kayaking opportunities. Photo of Nick Kovarik by Bill Kovarik.
8:30 a.m. departure, lunch included, $55 fee
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 six to eight 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: You will encounter mild whitewater rapids on this run. Basic canoeing skills preferred. Driving time — 3 hours total.

7. Journey Down the James
9:00 a.m. departure, lunch included, $55 fee
Follow the E. coli and nutrient trail from mountain farms to the Chesapeake Bay on a canoe journey down the James River. You'll hear how nutrient and sediment runoff impacts water quality for everyone. You'll also see why farming in the mountains affects the bay hundreds of miles downstream as you 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. Canoes and a limited number of kayaks are available. Driving time — 2 hours total.

8. The Appalachian Trail — Land with a Past
9:30 a.m. departure, lunch included, $30 fee
Like great chunks of the Appalachian Trail, which 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 backward progression of sorts, from developed to backcountry — a reclamation of industrial and residential lands. Come and hike the trail to McAfee Knob and see the Catawba Valley below, which is slowly being invaded by houses. "See" what used to be on the trail — houses, a swimming pool, hunting camps. At the top, try your hand at geocaching, the latest backcountry enterprise. Hiking distance: 7 miles round-trip. Driving time — 1.5 hours total.

9. Nuclear Power — from Ore to Volts
10:00 a.m. departure, lunch included, $30 fee
There are five stages in the life of nuclear power: mining, processing ore, 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 completion of 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. Driving time — 3 hours total.

Independent Hospitality Receptions and Exhibitor Sneak Peek
After a day of adventure, wind down with old friends and new acquaintances in the maze of exhibits and receptions throughout the Hotel Roanoke. Wine and dine with environment and technology exhibitors and independent hosts. Festivities kick off immediately following your return from tours. And, check back here beginning in July to see lists of receptions and exhibitors as well as evening sessions added to the agenda.

Friday, October 17

A valley fill looms above a small community in southern West Virginia. Photo by Vivian Stockman, OHVEC. Flyover courtesy SouthWings. Click to enlarge.
Almost Level 2: Mountaintop Removal Flyovers

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition is teaming up with SouthWings to give journalists a bird's-eye view of one of the most environmentally controversial industry practices in Appalachia. Volunteer pilots will fly participants from the Roanoke Regional Airport into West Virginia for a loop around the coalfields. Morning and afternoon flights are planned for Friday and a morning flight on Saturday, all weather permitting. Tour takes about 3 hours. Space very limited. SEJ members only. Cost: $40, payable to Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. Participants register in advance and schedule a flight time with Tonya Adkins at OHVEC, or 606/286-1442. For more information on the independent organizers of this tour, visit SouthWings and OHVEC.

Exhibitor Breakfast and Craft Breakout Sessions
Join us bright and early for continental breakfast with exhibitors and green technology enthusiasts. Browse the exhibits and talk with experts about a myriad of environmental issues. Then join your colleagues for roundtable discussions on a wide range of craft-related topics.

Opening Plenary: Old King Coal: What's His Role in America's Energy Future?
Coal provides half of America's electricity and is the nation's most abundant domestic fuel source. But burning coal is a major source of greenhouse gases. And mining coal takes a toll on workers, mountains, streams, and forests. What role can — and should — coal have in the nation's future energy diet? Experts on all sides, including American Electric Power CEO Michael Morris and "Big Coal" author Jeff Goodell, will debate the issue during our opening plenary session moderated by XM Satellite Radio's Bob Edwards.

Concurrent Sessions (morning and afternoon; times TBA)
Please see Friday and Saturday Concurrent Sessions below for tentative topics.

Network Lunch
Always a popular favorite, grab your lunch and choose a discussion table or small breakout session on a wide range of reporting tips, timely topics, and lively newsmakers.

Do-It-Yourself Beat Dinners
A wide variety of restaurants are within easy walking distance of the Hotel Roanoke, and SEJ is reserving all available options. Check here beginning in July for details on leading your own dinner or joining dinners organized by others.

Saturday, October 18

Breakfast Plenary Session: Environmental Justice and the Poor
The plenary session includes a full breakfast. Pre-registration and $25 fee required.
Since its inception in the 1980s in North Carolina, the environmental justice 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 leads a diverse panel discussing where the movement came from and where it's headed.

Concurrent Sessions (times TBA)
Please see Friday and Saturday Concurrent Sessions below for tentative topics.

Lunch and Plenary Session: Election 2008 and the Environment
The invitations are out. If we can't lure the actual candidates themselves, then we'll at least expect the top environmental advisors from each camp, as well as congressional leaders, to meet head-to-head to discuss their candidates' and parties' visions for our future environmental policy.

Mini-Tour Adventures
Sign up on-site beginning Wednesday afternoon for SEJ's popular mini-tours. Options this year may include: GPS technology, megalandfills, black bear research center, green buildings, agriculture research, Tall Growth Tree Chamber, sediment flumes and creek restoration, prescribed forest burn, aquaculture center, and the NanoBioEarth lab.

SEJ conference manager Jay Letto and a J-class coal train. Photo by Bill Kovarik.
Click to enlarge.
Saturday Night Party: All Aboard!
Pre-registration and $35 fee required.
Join the SEJ Party Train for an evening full of fellowship, food and drink, and music and dancing. Okay, so we're not really riding a train. But, we're doing the next best thing. The venue is the Virginia Museum of Transportation, located just minutes from the Hotel Roanoke. We'll hear — and sing and dance to — regional music while dining on local barbeque. The party takes place outside in the museum's rail yard, where SEJers can check out a collection of vintage locomotives, the kind that for decades hauled coal, other freight, and passengers on the old Norfolk and Western Railway. Inside the museum is a wide array of transportation exhibits. Check back here for updates.

Sunday, October 19:

Bestsellers Breakfast
Pre-registration and $25 fee required.
Join us for a full breakfast and a relaxed literary morning as some of SEJ's favorite authors read from their works at the historic Hotel Roanoke. The Virginia Tech Bookstore will have books available for purchase and author signing, and we encourage all SEJ member authors to have their books on display. Breakout sessions will include a publisher's pitch-slam and separate sessions on travel books, science and policy books, and environmental history. And you won't want to miss the main event, a rendezvous with regional authors Wendell Berry, Ann Pancake, Penny Loeb, and others.

Sunday-Wednesday, October 19-22

Post-Conference Tour: From the Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay
The bus departs from Hotel Roanoke shortly after noon on Sun., Oct. 19, following the morning program of authors, and runs to Wed., Oct. 22. The $325 fee includes transportation, lodging, Sunday morning breakfast, and most meals throughout the tour. Please book return flights out of Richmond, with airport drop-off at 2:30 p.m. (for flights departing no sooner than 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 22). The bus will return to Roanoke about 6:30 p.m.
Come see the Chesapeake Bay, North America's largest and historically most productive estuary, and learn firsthand about the continuing struggle to save it 25 years after it became a poster child for regional ecosystem restoration. We'll take you from the headwaters of the James River, where you'll see efforts to control stubborn farm pollution, to the shore of the bay, witnessing along the way the sprawling suburbia that is the bay's other nemesis. After an overnight stay in a state park, we'll go by boat to Tangier Island, a traditional fishing community in the very heart of the bay, to immerse ourselves in the human factor of this complicated story. While staying at the Port Isobel Lodge of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we'll explore a salt marsh by canoe, seine for fish, and learn about the bay's "dead zone." Finally, we'll head back to the mainland to see an oyster farm and hear from experts at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science on the latest bids to bring back the bay's signature oysters and crabs. Deadline to sign up is August 6; include your departing airport and time. Deadline to cancel for refund, less $25 processing fee, is August 16. Please check back here for updates.

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Friday and Saturday Concurrent Sessions
Check back here often for updates on sessions and speakers. Please note: SEJ members and working journalists will be given preference during the question-and-answer periods.

New This Year!
Computer Labs and Craft Workshops on the Cutting Edge
Want to catch up, keep up, or get ahead of the new media landscape? We have two well-equipped computer labs this year, and we plan to take full advantage of them with sessions offering hands-on experience with audio, video, podcasting, mapping, and turning data into stories. Other sessions will cover what's happening with mobile media, search engine strategies, blogs, social media, citizen journalism, crowdsourcing, entrepreneurial media projects, and much more. Learn the skills and mindset that can keep environmental journalism — and your career — going strong, regardless of the fortunes of mainstream news organizations.

  • 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 Change without Getting Whiplash
  • The Dating Game: Connecting Scientists and Journalists
  • How to Be Your Own FOIA Lawyer
  • Getting the Goods: Using Court Records for Environmental Investigations


  • Coal Around the Globe
  • Carbon Sequestration: Silver Bullet or Black Hole?
  • Almost Level: Mountaintop Removal Overview
  • Beyond Coal: Strategies for Appalachian Reclamation and Renewal


  • Must We Grow? Conservation, Green Lifestyles, 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...


  • Close Quarters: Could an End to Population Growth Help Stabilize the Climate?
  • Climate Change and Agriculture
  • After Tomorrow: Can We Adapt to Climate Change?
  • Climate Change and Emerging Legal Challenges


  • 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


  • 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


  • The Rollercoaster World of Toxicology
  • Women's Environmental Health Issues
  • Toying with Toxics: Childhood Exposure to Chemicals
  • Workers and the Environment: Asbestos and Other Occupational Hazards


  • 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

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The Society of Environmental Journalists
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Telephone: (215) 884-8174 Fax: (215) 884-8175

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