Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
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Winds of Change
July 2003


WV Activist Wins Global Environmental Award

OVCC: The Ohio Valley Coffee Cartel

Going (Slowly) Down the Road to Clean Elections

Note to the Homeland Security Folks: Environmentalists Are Not Terrorists

Cancer-Plagued Town Investigates Questionable Dumping

Awwww ... Massey Energy May Be "On Thin Ice," Forbes Magazine Says

Does EIS Really Stand for 'Environment Isnt Saved' or 'Everything Is Screwed'?

Mountaintop Removal Site
Used for Federal PR Stunt

14th Annual Treehuggers' Ball Features Great Music, Swell Gifts

OVEC, Other Activists Do
Double Duty in Foggy Bottom

MSHA Doesn't Get Mad, It Gets Even - Against Its Own People

 Community Voices Heard Group Leads Organizing Workshop in Whitesville

Awardees Visit OVEC to Learn More About Mountain Massacre in WV

DECAF Takes on Proposed Massive Delbarton Slurry Impoundment that Threatens Residents

What's It Going To Take?
Griles Has GOT to Go

Stay Tuned for "Moving Mountains," MTR Tunes With a Message

Final Assault a Hit in Theater

OVEC Volunteers Participate in Health Fair

Fourth Interstate Summit
for the Mountains a Success

Think Christmas in July
for that Perfect Holiday Gift

Academics, Universities Come to the Rescue of the Mountains

 Endangered-Species Lawsuit Targets MTR


For viewing the PDF version


Judy Bonds (center) with the other winners of the prestigious Goldman Prize - one from each inhabited continent. The winner from South America could not be there because she was unable to get a visa to get in the U.S. - she'd been arrested in the course of her activism.

WV Activist Wins Global Environmental Award

by Peter Slavin
Special to The Washington Post, June 9, 2003

At a May stockholders meeting of one of the nations largest coal companies, one-time convenience store clerk and Pizza Hut waitress Julia Bonds rose and gave its CEO a dressing-down. Facing Massey Energy Co. chief Don Blankenship at the nearby podium, she accused Masseys mining operations of trampling on the people and environment of southern West Virginia.

"When it rains, Appalachian children go to bed fully clothed," she said, as Blankenship stood motionless and expressionless. "They lie sleepless and traumatized, ready to evacuate their homes in case of flooding from your strip mines."

As her 12-year-old grandson lies in bed, she went on, he "plans escape routes in case one of your many toxic waste dams fails."

Bonds, 50, is a coal miners daughter. Until 2 1/2 years ago, her family had lived for nine generations starting not long after the Revolutionary War in and around Marfork Hollow near the Big Coal River, about 40 miles south of Charleston. But in 2001 they moved away, saying Masseys round-the-clock mining had made life there impossible.

Since then, Bonds, who goes by the nickname Judy, has thrown herself more than ever into a struggle being waged by several thousand West Virginians to save their communities and the mountains themselves from what they see as the relentless assault of coal companies.

Bonds has been in the thick of fights over coal company blasting that sends small boulders crashing into homes, over collisions between cars and overloaded coal trucks barreling along narrow mountain roads, and over dams holding back billions of gallons of coal waste near schools. But even in West Virginia, few knew her name.

That changed in April, when Bonds received the $125,000 Goldman Prize, the worlds premier award for grass-roots environmental activism.

The award recognized Bondss work opposing "mountaintop removal" a growing form of strip mining that involves blowing the tops off mountains to get at coal deposits beneath, while millions of tons of rubble are dumped into valleys below, burying streams. Bonds calls it "environmental insanity."

Some towns near these stupendous operations have been abandoned, and the damage to forests, wildlife and water has environmentalists up in arms. The battle to halt mountaintop removal, which has centered on whether clogging waterways with mining debris violates the federal Clean Water Act, is being waged in the federal courts and in Congress. The Bush administration, determined to maintain coal as a key energy source, rewrote the Clean Water Acts rules to make mountaintop removal legal by allowing mining waste to be dumped into waterways.

Her national award "speaks volumes for the stereotype of hillbillies," says Bonds, who proudly calls herself one. Although she makes only $13,800 a year as organizer for a small community group called Coal River Mountain Watch, she is donating $49,000 of the prize to her group and its allies.

Her determination has inspired others. "Shes very fierce and passionate, and it comes straight from her heart Thats powerful," says Janet Fout of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Bonds is "indefatigable," says former independent gubernatorial candidate and novelist Denise Giardina. "She does not give up."

Bondss energy and sense of urgency prompt "others to do more than they really want to do," says Bill McCabe, who works with coalfield citizens groups.

The president of the West Virginia Coal Association has surprisingly kind words about her. Bonds is "very devoted to her cause," says William Raney. But, he says, the real environmentalists are coal company personnel who minimize damage from mining operations and later reclaim the land.

West Virginias major political figures, who rarely criticize the powerful coal industry and generally side with it on mountaintop removal, have been silent on the subject of Bondss award. She says neither the governor nor any member of Congress has congratulated or even mentioned her.

Asked about her, three top officeholders declined to say anything of substance. Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (D-W.Va.), said in a statement, "Regardless of where you stand on the issue of coal mining, Judy Bonds represents the courage and conviction of the people of Appalachia."

West Virginians who oppose the coal companies say intimidation still goes on in the coalfields, but Bonds, a friendly but no-nonsense sort, is regarded as fearless. She is credited with inspiring other ordinary people to join the protests, though some who have crossed the coal companies say they have been followed, run off the road, found their car windows smashed and received death threats.

Patty Sebok, a miners wife who had never spoken in public, says Bonds told her if she wanted something done about overweight coal trucks, she had to act. Sebok testified before the legislature and later went to work for Coal River Mountain Watch.

Bonds carries a remarkable knowledge of the industry in her head and turns almost every conversation back to coal mining.

A friend, environmentalist Vivian Stockman, says Bonds is driven by love of the land, reverence for Gods creation and fury at what coal companies are doing which Bonds calls "rape and take."

Her coalfield roots give Bonds particular credibility. She grew up poor, one of six children. She remembers her mother and older sister "used to pick up lumps of coal that fell off trains into Marfork to keep us warm."

Her father retired from the mines at 65 and three months later was dead of coal-dust-induced black lung disease. Her mother admired Mother Jones, the United Mine Workers organizer a century ago who became a legendary crusader for miners rights.

This month, Bonds and other coalfield residents will begin touring the country to promote their campaign against mountaintop removal and to build support for a bill in Congress that would restore the prohibition against dumping mine waste in waterways. Coal River Mountain Watch and Bonds are also working with other groups on new court challenges against mountaintop removal under the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Two earlier legal challenges to mountaintop removal succeeded in federal district court but were overturned on appeal, and the Bush administration recently signaled its intent to abandon a central environmental curb on such mining.

But Bonds is undaunted. The fight, she says, is "only beginning."

B 2003 The Washington Post Co. Used with permission.

Editors Note: In the 14 years since the Goldman Foundation started giving this award, the award winners have always met with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency except for this year. Thats right, the EPA refused to meet with Judy! Christie Whitman must not have been up to answering questions about mountaintop removal.


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