Maria Gunnoe, a life time resident of West Virginia, won the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work as a community organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition against mountain top removal mining practices in Appalachia.
Mountain top removal is the process of first clearing, then blasting roughly 800 feet of rocks and dirt from the peak of the mountain. This allows coal mining companies to dig out the coal buried inside the mountain like the yolk of a soft boiled egg. The debris, often laden with heavy metals, is pushed into valleys where it contaminates water supplies, causes flooding, and can coat entire towns in layers of dust.
Ms. Gunnoe fought for 11 years against one company, Magnum Coal, who began their mining operation on the ridge behind her house in Bob White, West Virginia. Since the operation began, Ms. Gunnoe has lost five acres of her property to flooding. In addition, her water is no longer potable.
Education and awareness, Ms. Gunnoe believes, are the first steps in stopping the devastation of the Appalachian mountains. “There is a 52% chance that when you flip on your light switch, you’re blowing up the mountains where we live at,” Gunnoe said.
As of 2007, it was estimated that 470 mountains were stripped for coal throughout Appalachia. Coal burning power plants also accounted for 40% of the country’s carbon footprint. Currently, coal provides over half the country’s electricity.
Bill Rainey, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, points out that the coal industry employs 20,000 West Virginians while meeting energy demands across the nation: “We have plenty of coal resources in this country, we can make electricity with it, we can make liquid fuels with it.” He also maintains that coal companies have made “tremendous strides” in cleaning up areas where mountain top removal has occurred.
However, residents like Gunnoe disagree. “Clean coal is a complete and total lie,” she said, “Coal is black through and though.”
Voice of America News, June 17, 2009
“Activist Battles US Coal Companies over Mountain Top Removal Practice”
Author: Julia Ritchey
St. Petersburg Times (Florida), April 21, 2009
Author: Rovert Trigaux
The Boston Globe, December 26, 2007
“Coal’s Ascent is Igniting a Debate W. Virginians Split Over Costs, Benefits”
Author: John Donnelly and Joseph Williams
Student Researchers: Trisha Himmelein and Emily Schuler
Faculty Instructor: Kevin Howley, Associate Professor of Media Studies, DePauw University
Evaluator: John Caraher, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, DePauw University