Naoma, WV, United StatesAge: 28
Tell us a bit about yourself!
When I was seventeen years old, I went to work for the biggest coal company in my area, Massey Energy. The things I experienced there – safety problems, environmental problems, and more – pushed me to take action and try to forge a better future for my community. Since then, I've dedicated my life to shutting down the coal industry. I've used a diversity of tactics over the years, everything from lobbying to direct action and a lot in between. The coal industry has been gearing up to strip Coal River Mountain, the last intact mountain in my entire watershed, and I'd say that in less than five years’ time that entire lush forest ridge-line will be a toxic wasteland.
Through Coal River Mountain Watch, I currently monitor active coal mines for environmental problems that we can flag for regulators, costing the coal company money in fines and for repairing damage. Ideally, this tactic will make it economically unfeasible for them to continue their mining operations. In addition to monitoring mountaintop removal sites and reaching out to communities impacted by mountaintop removal, I also represent Coal River Mountain Watch by speaking at universities and activist events, and providing tours to visiting student groups and journalists. Recent examples from journalists and filmmakers include HBO’s Vice News’ “This guy is using his drone to fight a West Virginia coal mining company’s toxic lake,” Newsy’s “Revolt: Coal River Mountain,” and 3Point Productions’ Banff Film Festival selection, “Walk on the Mountain.” I also give regular tours showing mountaintop removal and other coal industry impacts to student groups visiting from New York to Florida, and this year he spent a month educating students on the Post Landfill Action Network Points of Intervention Tour.
What inspired you to become a champion for the environment and environmental education?
Aside from seeing the destruction and contamination brought onto my community, and the resulting cancer and sickness, I was incredibly lucky to get to know and learn from two amazing activists who really launched anti-surface mining work in this area, who both passed away a few years ago. Judy Bonds and Larry Gibson both took me under their wings and taught me an awful lot about how the coal industry harms our community and how we can fight back against them.
If you had to live in one place for the rest of your life, where would it be?
Right here in Raleigh County, West Virginia. This is where I was born and raised, and it's where I'll die. I've traveled all over the country and spoken at many colleges and conferences, but I have never felt at home anywhere else. My family goes back generations here – my grandfather taught me how to hunt and dig roots in these hills to make ends meet. My grandma and my mom taught me how to raise chickens and work in the garden. I have a lifetime of memories here that I'm not willing to give up on and move away from.
What pro-environmental behavior do you think would make a big impact if everyone in the world started doing it?
It would be for everyone to do the best they can to dismantle the system we all live and toil under. As long as there's an elite class that burns all the resources and power, then there won’t be justice in this world, environmental or otherwise.