The fight to end mountaintop removal will not stop until mountaintop removal stops, but yesterday we lost one of the most beloved heroes and leaders of the movement. Larry Gibson, the Keeper of the Mountains, died on Kayford Mountain, a sacred place he fought for three decades to save. He recalled how, 30 years ago, some people told him that the destruction caused by mountaintop removal and strip mining would be “fixed” in six months.
I first met Larry in 1999 after just joining Earthjustice when Judge Haden in West Virginia ruled, for the first time ever by a federal court, that mountaintop removal was illegal. A huge political and Congressional fight ensued, especially over the Clean Water Act. Larry’s effort in Appalachia and around the country—reaching out to young people, members of Congress, non-profit groups and others—was an inspiration. He never gave up.
Not long ago, he said:
I first set out to save my mountain, Kayford Mountain. Now, I fight to save all mountains and all the people living in them. 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.
That pretty much sums it up. Larry fought for his family and Kayford, but also for everyone living with the abuses caused by mountaintop removal and was a national figure known to practically everyone around the country opposed to mountaintop removal.
Larry Gibson at Kayford Mountain, earlier this year.