The Appalachian Mountains lost a hero on Sunday, September 10. Larry Gibson, the face of the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, died of a heart attack while working on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia. His family ancestry on Kayford goes back to the 1700s and, since 1986, Gibson had fought tirelessly to stop the mountaintop removal mining that has desecrated the peaks surrounding his home.
Scores of mountaintops—more than 500 of them, according to environmental law firm Earthjustice—have been removed, literally, through this aggressive strip mining that starts by denuding peaks and then blasting away rock to get to the rich veins of coal beneath. After retiring early from General Motors due to an injury, Gibson had moved back home to Kayford and discovered that the land all around his ancestral home was essentially destroyed.
He started Keeper of the Mountains, an anti-mountaintop removal mining group, and fought this type of mining doggedly. His outspokenness earned him tremendous media exposure—he regularly gave tours of the mining areas to groups of reporters, and can be seen in a number of documentary films—but it also earned him numerous death threats. Gibson fully expected to lose his life during the battle to protect Appalachian peaks.
With the sudden passing of its 66-year-old leader, what will become of the fight against mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia and across Appalachia?