Cindy Rank’s Clean Water Act Hero Award

Some history that needs to be known.

Clean Water Act Hero Award To Cindy Rank
From “Fighting to Protect the Highlands: The First Forty Years of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.” Get your own copy by simply joining the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and asking for a free copy.

One of the Conservancy’s hardest working members received something very special in late 2002. This story appeared in the November issue of the Highlands Voice:
The Clean Water Network has named West Virginia Highlands Conservancy mining committee chair Cindy Rank one of thirty national Clean Water Act heroes (get citation) as part of the celebration of the Clean Water Act’s 30th anniversary. This award honors individuals who have made powerful contributions to the protection and restoration of America’s rivers, lakes, wetlands, and coastal waters.

After reviewing the Ranks’ history in West Virginia and describing their efforts to organize their neighbors into the Friends of the Little Kanawha, the recognition narrative continued: In Rank hasn’t stopped since the 1970s. From the early days of the Clean Water Act, she engaged in state water quality standards development, clean water permitting, wetlands protection and more.
She remains active in the Friends of the Little Kanawha and volunteers for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. As mining chair for the Conservancy, Rank helped spearhead the first citizen lawsuit to protect West Virginia’s streams from mountain top removal mining and valley fills. The effect of this lawsuit has been far reaching—raising the issue with the national media, rousing congressional interest, and galvanizing a continuing legal battle. Cindy speaks out about mountain top removal mining.
Anyone who works with Rank comments on the same thing—her amazing ability to dive into the nitty-gritty of the policy and legal issues surrounding clean water. What makes this all the more amazing is that all this work—25 years of it—has been done as a volunteer.
Why anyone would spend their free time reading statutes and regulations? According to Rank, the answer is simple: “That’s where the decisions are made.You can yell and scream and cry until you are blue in the face, but it is all for naught if you can’t back yourself up with the law. People forget that all the seemingly small changes made in the legislature and at the agencies are going to make such a difference in their own backyard.”
“The importance of the Clean Water Act can’t be overstated,” Rank said. Even though some rivers and streams in West Virginia have been cleaned up, we continue to get further and further and further away from the goals of Act. The basic intention of the act was to protect and restore the waters of the nation. Simply put, if water is clean, you are supposed to keep it clean. If it is dirty, you are supposed to clean it up.”
Rank made her comments during a meeting reviewing studies for a long over-due Environmental Impact Study on mountaintop removal/valley fill coal mining.
“It is difficult to feel good about the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act when we are sitting in the middle of a meeting determining how many miles of streams we are going to bury based on profits for the coal industry.
“Probably the most egregious violation of the Clean Water Act in West Virginia today is the burying of thousands of miles of streams under millions of tons of coal mining waste rock and slurry.”

“Cindy is a Clean Water Act pioneer, an outstanding individual and my personal hero,” says Margaret Janes, a fellow clean-water activist in West Virginia. The incredible wild streams of West Virginia and the communities nestled next to them rely on people who can speak out for their protection. Even corporate coal companies have to listen when people like Rank speak for the rivers.

Rank was one of thirty recepients of the national Clean Water Act Heroes award. A few among them were: Wendall Berry, Kentucky; Senator Barbara Boxer, California; Representative John D. Dingell, Michigan; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., New York; Senator Edmund S. Muskie and Senator John H. Chafee (joint award); and Pete Seeger, New York;
It was recognition well deserved.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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