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01/04/2011

West Virginia environmental activist Judy Bonds dies at 58

January 4, 2011 | 12:05 pm

West Virginia environmental activist Julia "Judy" Bonds, who garnered national attention for her homespun opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining, has died, the environmental group Coal River Mountain Watch said Tuesday. She was 58 and had cancer.

Bonds died Monday evening at a hospital, Coal River Mountain Watch co-director Vernon Haltom said.

A descendant of generations of West Virginia coal miners, Bonds became known as a passionate and fearless opponent of mountaintop removal mining that she blamed for devastating the environment and the lives of coalfield residents. The mining practice involves blasting and scraping away mountaintops to expose multiple layers of coal.

In 2003, Bonds won the $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for her activism. The international prize is awarded annually to one person each from Africa, Asia, Europe, island nations and North, South and Central America.

"The thing about Judy, she never backed down from anything," Haltom said, recalling a story about Bonds chasing away a bear armed only with her grandson's track shoe. "That's the kind of courage she had and the kind of courage that she needed to stand up to great odds with only her courage and conviction to back her up."

A prime target of her activism was Massey Energy Co. Bonds blamed the Richmond, Va.-based mine operator for the devastation in the Coal River Valley's Marfork Hollow and other Appalachian communities.

Bonds regularly testified against the practice at regulatory hearings, filed lawsuits against surface mining and led protests against Massey. In 2009, she was slapped by a Massey supporter while marching alongside actress Daryl Hannah and NASA scientist James Hansen to protest the presence of a Massey coal slurry dam and storage silo near a West Virginia elementary school.

Massey is among the region's largest coal producers and operates numerous mountaintop mines.

But Bonds labeled Massey an "outlaw" after Coal River Mountain Watch, the Sierra Club and other groups filed a lawsuit last April accusing the company of violating the Clean Water Act.

Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater offered condolences Tuesday.

"We extend our sympathies to the family and friends of Judy Bonds," he said in an e-mail to the Associated Press.

After winning the national Goldman Prize, Bonds told the Associated Press that her activism arose from the day her grandson stood in the stream her family had enjoyed for six generations with his little fists full of dead fish — and dead fish floating all around.

" '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 said.

-- Associated Press

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