Judy Bonds, a West Virginia environmental activist who spearheaded the opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining, died Monday evening, AP reported Tuesday. She was 58.
Bonds, a coal miner’s daughter and self-proclaimed “hillbilly,” is credited with bringing the issue of widespread strip mining in the West Virginia mountains into the public eye.
Mountaintop removal (MTR) involves blasting away mountaintops to expose the seams of coal underneath. The environmental impact of the process is simply devastating.
For Bonds, the battle with MTR began when the West Virginia hollow where her family had lived for six generations was threatened by a Massey Energy strip mine and slurry dam, NPR reports.
She said she knew she had to take action when her grandson found dead fish in a stream her family had enjoyed for six generations.
“‘What’s wrong with these fish?’ he asked. That day I knew that if I didn’t do something, that would be the future of our children,” she told AP in 2003.
Massey Energy, one of the Appalachian region’s largest coal producers, became Bonds’ biggest adversary. She and the group she directed, Coal River Mountain Watch, frequently led protests against the Richmond, Va.-based mine operator.
Bonds testified against MTR at regulatory hearings and filed lawsuits against the process, AP reports. In 2003, she received the $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for her activism.
Coal River Mountain Watch co-director Vernon Haltom told AP that Bonds, who had cancer, died Monday evening at a hospital.
“Judy will be missed by all in this movement, as an icon, a leader, an inspiration, and a friend,” Haltom said in a statement on the environmental group’s website. “No words can ever express what she has meant, and what she will always mean. We will tell stories about her, around fires, in meeting rooms, and any place where people are gathered in the name of justice and love for our fellow human beings.
“When we prevail, as we must, we will remember Judy as one of the great heroes of our movement. We will always remember her for her passion, conviction, tenacity, and courage, as well as her love of family and friends and her compassion for her fellow human beings. While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder.”