Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships
Regional Programs: Central Appalachia Activist Profiles
Maria Gunnoe | Larry Gibson | Carl "Pete" Ramey | Charles Blankenship
For Maria Gunnoe, one of the best parts of living in Bobwhite, WV was the fact that nothing had changed much in her lifetime.
Part Cherokee, Maria is the fifth generation of her family to live there. Her grandfather and father made a living in
the nearby underground coal mines, and two brothers still do.
But the family's way of life was forever changed in 2000 when her new neighbor Jupiter Coal Company moved in. Jupiter
Coal is now operating a 1183 acre mountaintop removal coal mining strip and creating 5 massive valley fills. And Maria's property
is in the valley that the mine company is filling. Maria and her two children have suffered greatly since then.
In the past four years they have been flooded four times, once with no rain. The worst flooding took place in June 2003- within 45
minutes, the 30 foot wall of water that washed down from the mine site destroyed what Maria's family had worked for for
four generations. It wiped out access to her house, decimated the orchard, and contaminated the ground water.
Maria's property is now worthless- it is too damaged to sell- and she can't afford to rent another house. Her children were traumatized so much that they still will not sleep if it’s raining. And Jupiter Coal Company refuses to accept any liability, calling the tragedy an "act of God.”
Maria realized this same devastation existed throughout her community. She saw that mountaintop removal had made Boone County a war zone, and gave up her regular waitressing job to organize her neighbors to halt the destruction. Since then, she has worked with many organizations to bring about the abolition of mountaintop removal mining.
Many Americans feel a strong connection to their homeplaces; but Larry Gibson puts up with antagonism and bullying in order
to protect his- the last 50 acres of green on top of Kayford Mountain.
Larry has lived on Kayford Mountain for 18 years- but the property has been in his family for over 200 years. Things
have changed a lot during Larry's lifetime. From his cabin, he guards over the only 50 acres on the mountaintop that have
not been mined. Outside of this area lies a wasteland caused by the blasting and destruction of the mountaintop removal
mining that began in 1986.
Larry is determined to halt the destructive process of mountaintop removal so others don't have to see their homes blasted to
bits as he has. He works with the Keepers of the Mountain foundation, the Sierra Club, and other organizations to accomplish this
goal. He gets many visitors to his cabin who want to experience the effects of mountaintop removal firsthand, and in 1999 he
walked across West Virginia - 500 miles - to bring attention to the necessity of stopping MTR.
Carl "Pete" Ramey
A former miner, Pete Ramey began speaking out against mountaintop removal mining when the blasting of the peaks surrounding his
home near Appalachia, VA, started impacting his daily life. In the five years since, he has been so persistent and vocal
in his opposition that a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) was filed against him.
These suits have been used throughout the coalfields to discourage public protest against mining abuses, and are often very effective, but occassionally, as Pete did, the citizen announces that losing the suit will not affect his or her right to free speech. Pete continues to speak out and organize against the poorly regulated coal industry in Southwest Virginia and throughout the Appalachians.
A miner for more than 37 years and a member of the United Mineworkers Association for twenty, Pete supports underground
mining. However, personal experience led him to the conclusion that mountaintop removal mining is too destructive to continue.
Five years ago, Pete and his wife Juanita were forced to move from their home in Appalachia because of the dust, blasting,
and constant truck traffic near it.
Pete is motivated by his religious beliefs and the strong conviction that if one is truly Christian he or she must oppose
the destruction of God's mountains. He works with many local groups to fight mountaintop removal mining, including the Lions
Club, hospitals, hospice groups, and other area residents.
Charles Blankenship's family has lived in the area of Campbell County for over 250 years. Charles now owns a livestock
farm on Zeb Mountain, and will be directly impacted by the strip mining operation National Coal Corporation is proposing there.
The operation of the strip mine will likely contaminate the watering ponds and springs that serve his farm and make them undrinkable by livestock.
Charles was born and spent his young life in Elk Valley, TN. When he was ten, Elk Fork Creek was clear, clean and offered plenty of fishing- then strip mining started in Campbell County. Within five years the creek was contaminated with acid mine drainage and silting, all the fish were killed off and swimming holes were filled with silt.
The changes Charles has seen during his life in Campbell County have convinced him that strip mining there must be stopped.
He has seen neighbors and family members lose well water from blasting, and now mining on Zeb Mountain threatens his own livelihood.
He has filed violations with the local Office of Surface Mining and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
He joined Save Our Cumberland Mountains and now serves on its Strip Mining Committee, speaking out in the community against
the devastating impacts of strip mining.
Charles hopes his activism will protect the rights of his grandchildren to enjoy the same natural wonders and recreational activities that he experienced as a child.