Heroic Anti-Mountaintop Removal Activist Bo Webb Wins Prestigious Purpose Prize

Jeff Biggers Nov 12, 2010

The dude abides in one of the most breathtaking and besieged hollers in the nation. His courage, tenacity and strategic planning have inspired a generation of clean energy activists.After years of fearless and inspiring work to halt mountaintop removal strip mining, West Virginia activist Bo Webb, a Vietnam veteran and coal miner’s son, was awarded one of the 10 prestigious Purpose Prizes today by the Civil Ventures think tank.

Recognizing social entrepreneurs over 60, Prize co-founder Marc Freedman hailed the winners as “courageous, creative, passionate and strategic — all the qualities needed to make headway on some of our greatest challenges. It is the combination of these qualities, their decades of experience, and the sheer size of the baby boomer population that make social innovators in their encore careers a promising and invaluable asset in solve our most pressing problems.”

For Elder Webb, who celebrated the birth of a grandchild (and 7th generation to call the Appalachian mountains home) last month, the award comes at one of the most pivotal moments in the movement to end the destruction of his homeland, and the nation’s carbon sink in America.

“Bo knows mountaintop removal,” says Rob Perks, with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “His firsthand experience defending the mountains where he was born and bred has been invaluable to the valiant grassroots-led effort to end the world’s most rapacious coal mining. Bo is a warrior on the front-lines in this fight to preserve America’s oldest mountains, not just for his fellow Appalachians, but for all Americans. As a veteran he proudly served our nation; now he’s my hero for trying to save a special part of it.”

Thanks to Webb — and a fierce alliance of local activists like Ed Wiley, Debbie Jarrell, Judy Bonds, Lorelei Scarbro, Bob Kincaid, the Coal River Mountain Watch and the Annenberg Foundation — his grandchildren and other Coal River Valley students will be able to attend a new elementary school that is not threatened by a dangerous coal slurry impoundment or toxic coal ash.

Yet, despite regulatory crackdowns by the EPA on mountaintop removal violations, Webb’s community and Coal River Valley — like all areas impacted by strip mining operations in central Appalachia, and across the nation’s coalfields from Montana to Illinois to eastern Kentucky — still live in a virtual war zone of Big Coal destruction.

Nearly two years ago, Webb wrote President Obama a letter about his daily reality:

As I write this letter, I brace myself for another round of nerve-wracking explosives being detonated above my home in the mountains of West Virginia. Outside my door, pulverized rock dust laden with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate explosives hovers in the air, along with the residual of heavy metals that once lay dormant underground. The mountain above me, once a thriving forest, has been blasted into a pile of rock and mud rubble. Two years ago, it was covered with rich black top soil and abounded with hardwood trees, rhododendrons, ferns and flowers. The under-story thrived with herbs such as ginseng, black cohosh, yellow root, and many other medicinal plants. Black bears, deer, wild turkey, hawks, owls, and thousands of birds lived here. The mountain contained sparkling streams teeming with aquatic life and fish.
Now it is all gone. It is all dead. I live at the bottom of a mountain top removal coal mining operation in the Peachtree community.

Webb and his growing alliance and anti-strip mining movement are now taking their galvanizing efforts for a clean energy future to Washington, DC — and the American people.

A month ago, Webb led the Appalachia Rising action in front of the White House and the EPA, calling for an end to mountaintop removal, calling out the federal agency’s own scientists who have determined the reckless mining process as an irreversible and pervasive violation of the Clean Water Act.

Here’s a clip from the Appalachia Rising press conference with Webb:

Thanks to the Purpose Prize today, Webb’s great work will continue. Says Joe Gorman, the National Council Co-Coordinator for the Student Environmental Action Coalition: “Bo has a constitution of steel. Knowing him fortifies my courage to lay the truth out before sociopath CEOs and corrupt regulatory agencies — with the cameras rolling.”As Webb declares in the acclaimed film documentary, On Coal River: “We’re on a mission to save the planet.”This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.