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June 09, 2010

Ashley Judd - A Powerful Coal Opponent

Sarah and Ashley4

I had the pleasure of attending a National Press Club luncheon today that featured Ashley Judd speaking about the sad, horrible, and grim realities of mountaintop removal coal mining.

If you're not familiar with the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, you should be. It's when mining companies blow the tops off mountains to reach a thin seam of coal and then, to minimize waste disposal costs, dump millions of tons of waste rock into the valleys below, causing permanent damage to the ecosystem and landscape.

Mountaintop removal coal mining, has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of land by 2020. The mining poisons drinking water, lays waste to wildlife habitat, increases the risk of flooding and wipes out entire communities.
Let me tell you, I never thought Ashley Judd would be a slouch on this topic, but she still really surprised me and just nailed her speech. She clearly knows the topic extensively - everything from the history of the destructive process, to what actions must be taken right now to help stop it, and much more. Judd also brought it home because the topic is very personal to her: She grew up in eastern Kentucky, an area home to many mountaintop removal coal mining sites.

Judd started off her speech by stating that she's very proud of her Kentucky heritage, even exclaiming, "I'm proud to be a hillbilly!" and then choking up when talking about family memories from growing up.

"There is no better home than Kentucky," she said. Really, that's what helped make it very powerful to me, her descriptions of the effects of the endless destruction mountaintop removal has on Appalachian families and the environment were fairly breath-taking and frequently caused her to tear up.

Judd pushed clean energy as an alternative, and admitted that while she does not have all the answers, she does know that mountaintop removal coal mining is wrong and unjust, and she would be more than happy to sit down with coal supporters to have a conversation with dignity and respect about the future of it, why it must end, and why clean energy will help Appalachia.

The Sierra Club even got a shout-out during her speech. Not only was Sierra Club Conservation Director Sarah Hodgdon invited to sit at the head table with Judd (she is seated at the right in photo at the top of this post, and below you'll see her smiling next to Ashley Judd), but Judd also recommended to the audience, "If you want to know more about how bad coal is, then read the 'Dirty Truth About Coal' report from the Sierra Club." Not bad!

Sarah and Ashley2

Judd also had two good quips when asked about the coal industry. When asked her thoughts on "clean coal," she responded with, "Oxymoron." And then asked about what role carbon capture and sequestration played in making coal clean, she responded, "CCS exists, it's called a tree."

Mari and Phyllis

I got a lucky seat out in the audience - I was at the same table as Mari-Lynn Evans and Phyllis Geller (pictured L and R in the above photo), the amazing filmmakers behind the phenomenal documentary "Coal Country." They are fascinating women, and Mari-Lynn had one great quote when our table was chatting before the speech started: "After making that film, I don't ever turn on the lights without thinking of mountaintop removal coal mining anymore."

Finally, Judd closed her speech with something really amazing. She read from a letter one of her aunts wrote to another in 1975. The excerpt was about the aunt's fear of a local coal company taking over their land for strip-mining, and the aunt said she wished someone would stip strip-mining before the whole area was gone. Very poignant.

So if you ever get a chance to hear Ashley Judd speak, go for it. We can at least offer you a small example here in this 2009 video of her speaking at a rally about coal in Kentucky.

Want to take action against mountaintop removal coal mining? Learn more here.


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