Judy Bonds, undated/Jo Syz Photography, “Coal River Mountain Portraits,” josyz.com
The EPA announced last week that it’s revoking a permit the Bush Administration gave Arch Coal to start yet another mountaintop-removal (MTR) mining operation in West Virginia on grounds that the operation, called Spruce Mine, would cause too much destruction to the region’s water, air, environment, wildlife — you name it.
Arch Coal MTR operation in progress at left; Pigeonroost Hollow, long green crease at right, will be spared by EPA decision, Logan County WVa, April, 28, 2010/Vivian Stockman, flyover courtesy of SouthWings, OHVEC, ohvec.org
The coal industry and its supporters aren’t happy with the EPA’s decision.
Jim Bunn, chair of WVa Coal Association, addresses pro-coal audience before EPA hearing on Spruce Mine permit, Charleston Civic Center, Charleston, WVa, May 18, 2010/Chip Ellis, The Charleston Gazette, wvgazette,com
FACES of Coal rally, before EPA hearing on Spruce Mine permit, Charleston, WVa, May 18, 2010/Chip Ellis, The Charleston Gazette, wvgazette.com
Pro-coal audience applauds speaker during EPA hearing on Spruce Mine permit, Charleston Civic Center, Charleston, WVa, May 18, 2010/Chip Ellis, The Charleston Gazette, wvgazette.com
Coal miners & friends rally to support Spruce Mine permit, Washington, DC, Sept 15, 2010/AP, The Charleston Gazette, wvgazette.com
But environmentalists and anti-MTR mining activists are pleased.
March & rally against MTR mining, Washington DC, Sept 27, 2010/ Break-A-Leg Photography, “Appalachia Rising,” flickr.com
March & rally against MTR mining, Washington DC, Sept 27, 2010/Friends of the Earth, appalachiarising.org
NASA climate scientist & activist James Hansen addresses crowd at anti-MTR mining rally, Washington DC, Sept 27, 2010/ Break-A-Leg Photography, “Appalachia Rising,” flickr.com
March & demonstration against MTR mining, Washington DC, Sept 27, 2010/Rana Xavier, “Appalachia Rising 9.27.10,” flickr.com
Activists dump coal waste at EPA headquarters, Washington, DC, Sept 13, 2010/Yassine El Mansouri, Rainforest Action Network, flickr.com
“We breathe a huge sigh of relief today,” Janet Keating, president of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OHVEC) told The New York Times. “The science completely validates what we have been saying for more than a decade….”
“These types of mining operations are destroying our streams and forests and nearby residents’ health,”Keating said, “and even driving entire communities to extinction.”
MTR operation somewhere in WVa, undated/Mandel Ngan, AFP, Getty, guardian.co.uk
MTR mining somewhere in KY, undated/Flashdark, Sierra Club, sierraclub.typepad.com
Judy Bonds could have told people that — did tell them for years: from the moment she joined the fight against MTR mining more than a decade ago…
Judy Bonds speaks out against MTR mining, Washington DC, 2002/Deana Steiner Smith, Living on Earth, loe.org
…until she died earlier this month.
Judy Bonds speaks at local hearing concerning new Massey mining permit, image from video tribute to Judy Bonds, excerpted from “On Coal River”/vimeo.com
Her name was Julia. People called her Judy. She was nobody special and someone very special: a coal miner’s daughter raised in Marfork Hollow, WVa, who saw her grandson standing in a stream one day, surrounded by dead fish — a once pristine stream poisoned with runoff from MTR mining — and decided, “Enough. I have to help fight this. This has to stop.”
Children play on clear stretch of Coal River, Coal River Valley, WVa, undated/ Coal River Mountain Watch, Scholars & Rogues, scholarsandrogues.com
She began volunteering with an organization called Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW), working with other local activists — many of them mothers and grandmothers like her — to call attention to what companies like Arch Coal and Massey Energy were doing to their mountains and mountain homes.
West Virginia Mountains, image from trailer for “On Coal River/oncoalriver.com
MTR blasting, image from trailer for “On Coal River/oncoalriver.com
Bulldozer pushes MTR debris into a valley, place & date unknown/Michael Williamson, The Washington Post, washingtonpost.com
Impact of MTR mining, place & date unknown/Michael Williamson, The Washington Post, washingtonpost.com
MTR mining’s effect on former open valley & stream, place & date unknown/Michael Williamson, The Washington Post, washingtonpost.com
Fish in coal miner Elmer Lloyd’s pond killed by runoff from MTR mining, Cumberland, KY, undated/Sierra Club, youtube.com
Jimmy Murphy of Sprigg, WVa, one of hundreds of plaintiffs in a water-pollution suit against Massey Energy, with sample of what MTR mining has done to his well water, Charleston, WVa, Nov 15, 2010/Jeff Gentner, AP, The Charleston Gazette, blogs.wvgazette.com
Residents say MTR mining causes more frequent & severe floods, location & date unknown/Appalachian Voices, appvoices.org
Girl walks through mud after flood, Mingo County WVa, May 09/Stephen W. Rotsch, West Virginia Governor’s Office, chickahominy.davidmlawrence.com
Abandoned church choked with weeds and sludge from MTR mining, Boone County, WVa, Oct 05/Chris Russell, The Columbus Dispatch, ohvec.org
Judy had found her calling. Next thing you know, she had risen from Pizza Hut employee and part-time volunteer to Executive Director of Coal River Mountain Watch.
Judy Bonds at CRMW office, Whitesville, WVa, Jan 31, 2001/Eric Pianin, The Washington Post, washingtonpost.com
Next thing you know after that, she had won the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize for North American activism — only one is given out each year — which came with enough money to see to some family needs and help keep CRMW running.
Julia (Judy) Bonds with 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize/Goldman Environmental Prize, grist.org
Coal River Mountain Watch offices, Whitesville, WVa, Nov 09/a e Cassidy, flickr.com
The award also helped publicize Judy’s cause — a hard one to get the media to pay attention to because, you know: Appalachia? Coal mining? Hillbillies? Who cares?
Judy Bonds speaks at local hearing concerning new Massey mining permit, image from video tribute to Judy Bonds, excerpted from “On Coal River”/vimeo.com
Thank goodness for Judy. She was tough, smart, tireless, fearless, straight-talking, sharp-tongued, angry, righteous…
Judy Bonds at MTR mining protest, Charleston WVa, 2002/Vivian Stockman, OHVEC, Living on Earth, loe.org
Judy Bonds at anti-MTR rally, Massey’s Goals Coal operation, Sundial, WVa, May 24, 2005/Coal River Mountain Watch, crmw.net
Judy Bonds at anti-MTR rally, Washington DC, undated/JLW, creekkeeper.blogspot.com
Judy Bonds at anti-MTR rally outside state EPA headquarters, Charleston, WVa, Dec 7, 2009/Bob Bird, AP, Los Angeles Times, latimes.com
Judy Bonds in Coal Mountain River Watch office, Whitesville, WVa, image from video tribute, excerpted from “On Coal River”/vimeo.com
If the anti-MTR movement wanted reporters and cameras to show up at a march or protest, it helped if Judy was there.
Judy Bonds & Bo Webb (back to camera) of CRMW try to deliver list of demands to Massey officials during march & rally at Massey’s Goals Coal processing plant, Sundial, WVa, May 24, 2005/Vivian Stockman, OHVEC, ohvec.org
Judy Bonds is arrested for trespassing during march & rally at Massey’s Goals Coal processing plant, Sundial, WVa, May 24, 2005/ Vivian Stockman, OHVEC, ohvec.org
Judy is taken away during march & rally at Massey’s Goals Coal processing plant, Sundial, WVa, May 24, 2005/ Vivian Stockman, OHVEC, ohvec.org
People on both sides of the MTR mining fight are calling the EPA’s decision to revoke the Spruce Mine permit a milestone.
EPA Chief Lisa Jackson & President Barack Obama, undated/Getty, “Obama’s Green Team,”Bloomberg images.businessweek, businessweek.com
It has to pain those who knew and loved Judy Bonds that she didn’t live to celebrate it.
Julia Belle Thompson Bonds, Aug 27 1952 – Jan 3 2011/Rise Up! West Virginia, riseupwestvirginia.blogspot.com
But she did live to see progress being made. She saw her cause grow into a larger, more respected movement that began attracting more followers, more media coverage, documentary filmmakers, celebrity supporters…
Pro & anti-MTR crowds meet at Massey’s Goals Coal processing plant during anti-MTR march & rally, Sundial, WVa, June 23, 09/Chris Dorst, The Charleston Gazette, blogs.wvgazette.com
Actress Daryl Hannah & NASA climate scientist James Hansen at anti-MTR march & rally, Massey’s Goals Coal processing plant, Sundial, WVa, June 23, 09/Rainforest Action Network, understory.ran.org
Actress Daryl Hannah arrested for trespass during anti-MTR march & rally, Massey’s Goals Coal processing plant, Sundial, WVa, June 23, 2009/Chris Dorst, The Charleston Gazette, blogs.wvgazette.com
NASA climate scientist James Hansen & unidentified woman are arrested at anti-MTR march rally, Massey’s Goals Coal processing plant, Sundial, WVa, June 23, 2009/ Chris Dorst, The Charleston Gazette, blogs.wvgazette.com
Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship & environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. debate MTR mining at U. of Charleston, Charleston, WVa, Jan 21 2010/The Register-Herald, register-herald.com
Poster for “On Coal River,” released Summer 2010, oncoalriver.com/click to learn more and watch trailer
Image from trailer for “The Last Mountain,” official selection of 2011 Sundance Film Festival, youtube.com/click to watch trailer
And she did live to celebrate other victories: a code enforcement here, an industry concession there, a violation exposed if not swiftly corrected, more of the big ugliness of MTR mining brought to light.
Coal & conveyors, somewhere in WVa, image from video tribute to Judy Bonds, excerpted from “On Coal River”/vimeo.com
Observer on bluff (lower right) looks down on Massey’s Goals Coal processing plant, Sundial, WVa, Jan 2010/carolyna, Greenpeace, usactions.greenpeace.org
Big coal truck on small country road, Wise County, VA, Jan 08/Kent Kessinger, Appalachian Voices, Clean Energy VA’s photo stream, flickr.com
Arch Coal MTR mining operation near Spruce Mine site, Blair, WVa, undated/Todd Heisler, “A Mining Bellwether,” The New York Times, nytimes.com
Perhaps the sweetest victory Judy lived to celebrate: the announcement last April 30 that she and other concerned citizens of Coal River Valley and beyond had finally raised enough money to build a new Marsh Fork Elementary School a safe distance away from where the current one now stands: right next to a giant Massey coal silo…
Marsh Fork Elementary School, Massey coal silo & conveyor, Sundial, WVa, undated/The Charleston Gazette, blogs.wvgazette.com
Marsh Fork Elementary School, Massey coal silo & conveyor, Sundial, WVa, June 05/Martin Pasqualetti, picasaweb.google.com
…bombarded 24/7 with the noise, toxic dust and chemical pollutants thrown off by the Massey coal processing plant next door…
Massey coal processing facility (left), Marsh Fork Elementary School (right), Sundial, WVa, Nov 1 09/Carl Galie, flight by SouthWings, “brushy fork mountaintop removal,” picasaweb.google.com
Marsh Fork Elementary School (foreground), Massey coal processing plant, Sundial, WVa, undated/Britney Williams, Coal River Mountain Watch, The Charleston Gazette, blogs.wvgazette.com
…directly below a huge, man-made lake, called an impoundment, filled with 2.8 billion gallons of toxic sludge that could bury the school in minutes if the dam ever fails.
Blasted mountains (top); man-made lake (impoundment) holding 2.8 billion gallons of toxic sludge (center), containment wall and conveyors leading down to Massey’s coal processing plant (bottom center), Massey coal silo and Marsh Fork Elementary School (bottom right), April 29, 2009/Vivian Stockman, flickr.com
It could happen, too. The impoundment above the school, called Shumate impoundment, apparently isn’t the best constructed. Blasting from nearby MTR mining operations may have weakened it. Previous inspections have found seepage. And other dams have failed elsewhere.
Homes buried in toxic sludge after an impoundment dam failed at TVA’s Kingston steam plant, Harriman TN, Dec 22, 2008/ J. Miles Carey, Knoxville News Sentinel, AP, New York Times, nytimes.com
And the lake of sludge looming over Marsh Fork Elementary School isn’t even the biggest one in the area. Another one, called Brushy Fork impoundment, located a few miles away, closer to Judy’s ancestral home of Marfork Hollow, is more than twice as big.
Vehicles at lip of Brushy Fork impoundment near Whitesville, WVa, Nov 09/Carl Galie, flight provided by SouthWings, “Mountaintop removal coal mining,” picasaweb.google.com
Judy was at the state capitol with friends and colleagues on April 30 to hear then-Gov Joe Manchin (he’s a U.S. senator now) announce that, thanks largely to a last-minute $2.5 million donation from the Annenberg Foundation, the money to build a new Marsh Fork Elementary School was finally in place.
Bo Webb & Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch, Debbie Jarrell & Ed Wiley of Pennies of Promise, at capitol building before press conference announcing funds are in place to build a new Marsh Fork Elementary School, Charleston, WVa, April 30, 2010/iLoveMountains.org, “A new school for Marsh Fork Elementary!” flickr.com
Gov Joe Manchin announces funds are in place to build a new Marsh Fork Elementary School; CRMW’s Bo Webb (far left), Charles Weingarten of the Annenberg Foundation (third from left) and others look on, Charleston, WVa, April 30, 2010/Rick Barbero, The Register-Herald, register-herald.com
She looked good that day — happy. “We’re finally going to get a new, safe school for these kids,” she told a reporter from The Register-Reporter.
It’s possible she didn’t know she was sick yet — or didn’t know or wasn’t saying how sick she was.
Judy Bonds, Debbie Jarrell & Ed Wiley at state capitol for announcement that funds are in place to build a new Marsh Fork Elementary School, Charleston, WVa, April 30, 2010/Rick Barbero, The Register-Herald, register-herald.com
Massey Energy also donated a respectable $1.5 million to the new-school fund — but only after the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WVa) publicly rebuked the company for initially refusing on grounds that it already paid plenty in taxes.
There’s no proof Don Blankenship, the man running Massey at the time, actually spoke those words, but it sounds like something he’d say.
Don Blankenship takes strong pro-coal, anti-environmentalist stance in address to an overflow crowd at Tug Valley Mining Institute, Williamson, WVa, Nov 20 08/ohiocitizen.org
And Blankenship is a local boy! Like Judy Bonds and the late Sen. Byrd, Don Blankenship comes from modest West Virginia beginnings. He still keeps a home near his old neighborhood — a big house on an unblasted hilltop in Rawl, WVa, about 100 miles southwest of Marfork Hollow, where Judy grew up.
A career Massey employee, Blankenship took over in 1992, about a year before Massey came into Marsh Fork. He’s portrayed in the media as a driven, ruthless businessman who’d do just about anything to boost company profits.
Massey CEO Don Blankenship socializing with WVa State Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott (Spike) Maynard in Monte Carlo in July, 06, when Massey had a case on appeal before the State Supreme Court/WV State Courts, The Charleston Gazette, blogs.wvgazette.com
Don Blankenship gets rough with local ABC reporter outside Massey Energy office, Belfry, Ky, April 7 08/abc news, abcnews.go.com. Click to watch video
The tragedy said to have forced Blankenship’s retirement: the April 5, 2010 explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, WVa, just south of Marsh Fork.
Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, Montcoal, WVa, undated/Craig Cunningham, Charleston Daily Mail, AP, MSNBC, msnbc.com
Twenty-nine miners died. It was the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.
Scene near Upper Big Branch mine after explosion, April 5, 2010/Jon C. Hancock, AP, MSNBC, msnbc.com
Diner patrons listen to announcement that rescue operations at Upper Big Branch mine are being suspended, Whitesville, WVa, April 8, 2010/Ed Reinke, AP, MSNBC, msnbc.com
Residents hold vigil for lost miners outside local elementary school, Whitesville, WVa, April 7, 2010/Kayana Szymczak, Getty MSNBC, msnbc.com
Mourners at casket of miner William Roosevelt, Beckley, W.Va., April 11, 2010/ Jeff Gentner, AP, MSNBC, msnbc.msn.com
Don Blankenship retired on December 31, 2010, at age 60, with a reported $12 million retirement bonus. He’s said sometimes to have made more in salary and bonuses in a single year.
Massey CEO Don Blankenship testifies before U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on mine safety, Washington, DC, May 20, 2010 /Carolyn Kaster, AP, Herald Dispatch, herald-dispatch.com
Judy Bonds died three days after Blankenship retired — at age 58, of an advanced cancer that some friends and colleagues attribute to years of being exposed to the toxic dust, fumes and pollutants caused by Massey’s MTR mining operations near her home.
Judy Bonds & Freda Williams of Coal River Mountain Watch tour Brushy Fork impoundment, Whitesville, WVa, June 21, 2001/Vivian Stockman, summerrayneoaks.blogspot.com
Massey mining operation near Brushy Fork, undated/Jo Syz Photography, Coal River Mountain Landscapes, josyz.com
Coal processing plant, Coal River Valley area, undated/Jo Syz Photography, Coal River Mountain Landscapes, josyz.com
One by one over the years, as Massey expanded its operations, Judy’s neighbors in Marfork Hollow sold their homes and lands to the company and moved away.
Abandoned home sold to MTR mining company near Blair, WVa, undated/Michael Williamson, The Washington Post, washingtonpost.com
In 2001, just as Judy was getting going as an activist, for her grandson’s sake, mainly — he had developed severe asthma and taken to planning how the family would get out alive if the lake of toxic sludge hanging over their heads ever gave way — Judy finally sold her family’s home and land and left, too.
Judy Bonds, location & date unknown/Deana Steiner Smith, “A Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Mother Jones, June 15, 03, motherjones.com
Judy Bonds joins protest outside Massey shareholders’ meeting, Marriott Center, Charleston WVa, May 18, 04/Builder Levy, “Revisiting The Appalachian Coalfield,” allciapatterson.org
All her neighbors in Marfork Hollow were gone by then. Judy Bonds was the last to leave.
Judy Bonds, place & date unknown/TED, blogted.com
She was buried privately on Wednesday, January 5, 2011. A memorial service was held on Saturday, January 15.
Vernon Haltom, of Coal River Mountain Watch, speaks at memorial for Judy Bonds, Tamarack Center, Beckley, WVa, Jan 15, 2011/Leann Arthur, The Register-Herald, register-herald.com
Maria Gunnoe, of Boone County, WVa, winner of the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize for North American activism for her own involvement in the fight against MTR mining, was listed as one of the speakers at Judy’s memorial.
•Judy Bonds outside her home in Rock Creek, WVa, 2003/Melissa Farlow, “High Cost of Cheap Coal” National Geographic, March 06 •Maria Gunnoe outside her home, Boone County, WVA, undated/Tom Dusenbery, goldmanprize.org
• Judy Bonds, 2003 Goldman Prize winner/grist.org • Maria Gunnoe, 2009 Goldman Prize winner, flickr.com
Judy Bonds, Maria Gunnoe/ Jo Syz Photography, "Coal River Mountain Portraits," josyz.com
Judy Bonds, Teri Blanton, Maria Gunnoe, Larry Gibson at NRDC “Music Saves Mountains” Concert, May 19, 2010/Andy Mahler, heartwood.org
The fight goes on.
Judy Bonds heading to her Coal River Mountain Watch office, Whitesville, WVa, image from video tribute to Judy Bonds, excerpted from “On Coal River”/vimeo.com
• To read the EPA press release on the Spruce Mine permit click here.
• To read the EPA’s full findings on the Spruce Mine permit click here.
• To see the slideshow “Mountaintop Project Loses Permit” in The Wall Street Journal, click here.
• To read a Coal Mountain River Watch tribute to Judy and learn more about CMRW click here.
• To read fuller obituaries about Judy in The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post click here and here.
• Learn more about the Goldman Environmental Prize, click here.
• To learn more about Maria Gunnoe and her work with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, click here.
• To view photojournalist Antrim Caskey’s powerful images of MTR mining and the communities it affects, click here. To learn more about her work and order a copy of her photo portfolio Dragline, click here.
• To read a recent Rolling Stone profile of ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship , click here.
• To learn more about the recently released documentary film “On Coal River” and watch the trailer, click here.
• To learn more about the documentary film “The Last Mountain,” now screening at Sundance, and watch the trailer, click here.