—Larry Gibson, 1946–2012
Mountaintop removal coal mining is an extremely destructive form of mining that is devastating Appalachia. On September 13, 2012, Earthjustice, in partnership with more than a dozen participating organizations and hundreds of voices for social justice, delivered the Mountain Heroes photo petition to the White House.
The historic Mountain Heroes photo petition featured photos, personal messages and stories from more than 13,000 people across the country who are calling for an end to mountaintop removal mining.
On the left are memorial signs for Larry, as well as signs to be used during the rally and petition delivery event.
Walk and Moye are both featured in the Earthjustice Mountain Heroes campaign.
In the past few decades, more than 2,400 miles of streams and headwaters that provide drinking water for millions of Americans have been permanently buried and destroyed as a result of mountaintop removal mining. An area the size of Delaware has been flattened. Local coal field communities routinely face devastating floods and adverse health effects.
Timothy Bolton, 10, of Berea, KY draws signs in preparation for the day’s events. Bolton's grandmother, Teri Blanton, spoke at the rally about how mountaintop removal mining is affecting the family.
In 2006, the coal industry cost the state of Kentucky $115 million—even after all revenues. (Source: Konty, Bailey, “The Impact of Coal on the Kentucky State Budget,” Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, 2009.)
Matthew Sherman and Maria Gunnoe share a quiet moment at the Foundry United Methodist Church before they and a large number of rally participants delivered the Mountain Heroes photo petition to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Sherman, a Blackfoot Indian of the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia, has spent much of his life organizing his fellow American Indians to fight for human rights and against social and environmental injustices—including mountaintop removal mining.
Goldman Prize recipient Maria Gunnoe’s home was destroyed by a flood, a common effect of mountaintop removal mining. The coal company told her it was an "act of God." Her experiences transformed Maria from an everyday person into a courageous, outspoken organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
Earthjustice Campaign Manager Liz Judge talks to fellow activists at the Foundry United Methodist Church prior to the rally.
Twenty current, peer-reviewed scientific studies measuring the public health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining have found that mountaintop removal coal mining is endangering people’s health and destroying communities across Appalachia.
Mortality and chronic heart, respiratory, kidney disease rates are markedly higher in Appalachian coal mining areas than non-mining areas. (Source: Hendryx, “Mortality from heart, respiratory, and kidney disease in coal mining areas of Appalachia,” 2009.)
Signs and photos depicting statistics, slogans and people from the Mountain Heroes campaign are prepared prior to the “Stand with Appalachia” Solidarity Rally.
Most people in Appalachia don't want mountaintop removal mining. Opposition to mountaintop removal dwarfs support, 57% to 20%, across Appalachia. (Source: Lake Research Associates and Bellwether Research, Poll on Mountaintop Removal Mining in Appalachia, 2011)
250 million cubic yards of toxic mining waste goes into one valley fill. That's equal to the amount of debris generated by 2.5 Hurricane Katrinas. (Source: Copeland, “Mountaintop Mining: Background on Current Controversies,” Congressional Research Service, 2010.)
The Mountain Heroes photo petition was delivered to the White House Council on Environmental Equality. The petition is a mosaic of personal photos submitted by more than 13,000 people.
In 1971, Time magazine said of mountaintop removal mining sites, “the bleakest landscape in the U.S. can be found where miners have torn away the earth's surface to get at coal deposits.”
Yet, for all of this destruction, a relatively small amount of coal is produced. Best estimates for the percent of U.S. coal produced by mountaintop removal range from 5% to 10%. (Source: “Environmental Regulations To Curtail Mountaintop Mining,” The Washington Post, 2010.)
Hundreds of people gather to protest against mountaintop removal mining in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, September 13, 2012.
The gathering was called “Stand with Appalachia” Solidarity Rally, and brought community activists and environmental organizers together for the cause.
Following the rally, the community delivered the Mountain Heroes photo petition to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Teri Blanton of Harlan County, KY says a prayer before the start of rally.
Scientific studies reveal 26% to 42% more birth defects near mountaintop removal mining. (Source: Ahern, et. al., "The Association Between Mountaintop Mining and Birth Defects Among Live Births in Central Appalachia," 2011.)
Cancer rates are higher for people near mountaintop removal: 14.4% as compared to 9.4% elsewhere. (Source: Hendryx, Wolf, Luo, Webb, "Self-Reported Cancer Rates in Two Rural Areas of West Virginia With and Without Mountaintop Coal Mining," 2011.)
Maria Gunnoe holds a photo of Larry Gibson during the event in front of the White House. Gunnoe, a long time community organizer and mountain advocate, was a close friend of Gibson, who passed away just days before the rally.
Larry Gibson worked tirelessly for three decades to secure justice for communities across Appalachia. He’d been threatened, brutalized, burglarized and vandalized for his outspoken activism, and he lost most of his beloved home place, Kayford Mountain, to mountaintop removal mining.
He hung on to a small patch of green verdant land, but more than that, he hung on to his hope for a better future for others, and he never stopped working, fighting and sacrificing for it.
Junior Walk of West Virginia speaks at the rally. His path to activism was not an easy one.
From living with contaminated water in his own home as a child, to being kicked out of the house for speaking out against the coal company, and being threatened by relatives and neighbors, Junior mustered courage at every step along the way.
He was a keynote speaker at the 2011 PowerShift conference in Washington, D.C., and recipient of the prestigious Brower Youth Awards in 2011. Watch a video about Junior Walk's story and his fight against mountaintop removal: "Stand Up and Join My Fight"
Advocates who stand against mountaintop removal listen to speakers during the rally in front of the White House.
In the foreground is a tribute to the late Larry Gibson, who had planned to attend and address the rally.
Larry had said: "I first set out to save my mountain, Kayford Mountain. By establishing a land trust, we saved our piece of it forever.
"Now, I fight to save all mountains, and all the people living in them. Because this movement can’t be about just me. It can’t be about just this mountain. It has to be about the people who don’t have a say, like our children and grandchildren."
Hundreds of rally participants from across the United States march through Washington, D.C. to deliver a photo petition to stop mountaintop removal mining to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Mountaintop removal mining is decimating the nation's oldest and most biodiverse mountains, the Appalachians. (Source: Braun, "Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America," 1950.)
1,408,372 acres of rich forest have been cut down already by Appalachian surface mining operations. That's 2,200 square miles, or roughly the size of Delaware. (Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010.)
Rally participants march behind the Mountain Heroes photo petition banner, a mosaic of thousands of photos.
The photo petition banner is created from more than 13,000 photos of individuals who submitted their image in support of ending the destructive practice.
A close-up of the photo petitions included in the mosaic banner that was delivered to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Each of these people participated in the Mountain Heroes online petition campaign, using their photos to show that they speak out against the devastation of mountaintop removal mining.
Rally participants march behind the Mountain Heroes photo petition banner.
The rally participants were chanting in front of the White House and later delivered the petition to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Earthjustice Campaign Manager Liz Judge delivers the Mountain Heroes photo petition to a staff member at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Timothy Bolton, 10, of Berea, KY, meets with another White House Council on Environmental Quality staff member to deliver electronic copies of the more than 13,000 photo petitions that were submitted to the Earthjustice Mountain Heroes campaign.
Behind Bolton is the late Larry Gibson’s Mountain Heroes photo. His photo was just one of thousands from around the United States that were submitted as part of the campaign to finally end mountaintop removal coal mining.
In front of the White House, hundreds of rally participants stood behind the Mountain Heroes photo petition banner.
The photo petition was a mosaic of more than 13,000 people who had participated in an online campaign to show their support for ending mountaintop removal mining.
It is the largest photo petition ever to be delivered to the president, and is about ending the nation's most destructive mining practice, protecting Appalachian families and communities, and standing up for clean water, healthy communities, environmental justice, and beautiful mountains and wildlife.
Explore the interactive online Mountain Heroes photo petition. Read, watch and listen to stories of Mountain Heroes who are fighting to end mountaintop removal mining.