Anti-mountaintop-mining activist Judy Bonds did not quite live to see the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revoke a mountaintop-mining permit in her native West Virginia. This environmentalist at the forefront of the fight against such methods died of cancer on Jan. 3 at age 58.
A Native American blessing was among the many tributes, stories and music that poured forth at a memorial service for Appalachian Julia “Judy” Bonds attended by hundreds, The Register-Herald newspaper of Beckley, W.Va., reported.
Bonds brought international attention to the practice of mountaintop mining, in which a mountaintop is denuded and stripped to expose the coal seams beneath for extraction, and the detritus piled back on in a facsimile of the mountain’s original shape. Any leftover material is deposited in surrounding valleys, choking streams.
The EPA revoked permits for Arch Coal Inc.’s Spruce Mine No. 1 on Jan. 13, although other such mining operations are still up and running.
Bonds herself was famously inspired to act when she found her then six-year-old grandson scooping up fistfuls of dead fish in 1996 and asking what was wrong with them, The New York Times and other media outlets recounted. She started investigating and learned the fish had been poisoned by mining debris from the mountains above her home, the Times reported. When her grandson turned seven and started planning an escape route in case of mining disaster, enough was enough. An activist was born.
Bonds won the prestigious, $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003 for being a grass-roots environmental hero, as the foundation put it at the time. The Coal River Mountain Watch, which she had co-directed since 2007, issued a statement that outlined her contributions and her heroism.
“She endured physical assault, verbal abuse, and death threats because she stood up for justice for her community,” said Coal River Mountain Watch co-director Vernon Haltom, who held that job in tandem with Bonds. “I never met a more courageous person, one who faced her own death and spoke about it with the same voice as if it were a scheduled trip.”