Maria Gunnoe: The Mountaintop Warrior
Big Coal awoke a monster when they fucked with Maria Gunnoe. In 2000, a coal company opened a mountaintop removal mine on the ridge above her home in Boone County, West Virginia. Virtually overnight, her quiet hollow became a war zone, with explosions, flying rocks and dust. The mountain stream beside her house was polluted with heavy metals. One night after heavy rains, a flash flood nearly swept away her family while they slept in their beds. The coal company told her the flood was an "act of God." "Mountaintop removal mining is against everything America stands for," says Gunnoe, who's now a community organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "They say it about jobs and the economy, but it is not. It is about exploitation and greed." Since she declared war on the coal companies, she's been assaulted, harassed and threatened (a few years ago, she was arrested for battery after shoving a six-foot-tall strip miner who pushed her at community meeting). But Gunnoe, who packs her grandfather's antique Colt 32-20 pistol when she travels around Appalachia, refuses to be silenced. In 2009, she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, known as the "Green Nobel," for her activism. Her message these days is that most activists play too nice. "Working with corporate America is a waste of time," she says, pointing out that despite all the fights over mining permits she's been involved with in Appalachia, she's seen only one denied. "Companies are going for the jugular now. They know they are running out of time and will be replaced – eventually – with renewable energy. It's time to go get 'em. We need to show the world we are serious about this."
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