Celebrations took place around the globe last week for the winners of the Goldman Prize, the largest award in the world given for environmental activism by grassroots leaders. One person is selected from each continent to receive this huge award--the Nobel Prize for today's green innovators and brave citizens who are willing to risk their lives to protect our communities and environment.
This award has nothing to do with politics. In 2006, conservative Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) lavished praise on his state's recipient Craig Williams in a beautiful tribute in the Congressional record.
Will Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) do the same? Or will he snub West Virginia heroes Maria Gunnoe, winner of the 2009 Goldman Prize, and Judy Bonds, the 2003 Goldman Prize winner, who have drawn national and international attention to the most egregious environmental and human rights violation in our country today.
This year's Goldman Prize winner Maria Gunnoe will hold a press conference tomorrow, April 28th, in Charleston, West Virginia.
"This is really everyone's victory. We will not continue to sacrifice our culture, our people and future for energy," says Gunnoe, who serves as a community organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "We are asking the Obama Administration to give back some of what has been taken away from the people of the coal-bearing regions of Appalachia. It's time to ban mountaintop removal coal mining and give Appalachia good paying renewable energy jobs with a real future."
For the second time in six years, a West Virginia patriot has been recognized for her work to halt the devastating practice of mountaintop removal on American mountains, streams and communities--and for the second time in six years, West Virginia politicians remain strangely quiet about recognizing the extraordinary accomplishments of one of their fellow citizens.
On April 26, 2006, in congratulating Williams for the renowned award, McConnell delivered this statement on the importance of the Goldman Prize:
"Mr. President, I rise today to congratulate a distinguished Kentuckian who has been honored with a very distinguished award. I understand that philanthropist Richard Goldman got the inspiration for the Goldman Environmental Prize after reading about the winners of the Nobel Prize, and wondering why there was no equivalent for extraordinary efforts to conserve our natural environment.
"Now, less than two decades since its inception, the Goldman Environmental Prize has risen to rival the Nobel as a marker of achievement. Every one of this year's winners fought to protect the environment in a way that affected the lives of thousands, if not millions, of others, often alone and at great personal cost. All of them have my admiration. And I am grateful the Goldman Environmental Prize will continue to recognize and reward conservationists who protect the land, and promote the well-being of the people who use it."
Rockefeller, on the other hand, made a nice tribute last week to the Edward M. Kennedy Service America Act, "designed to inspire more Americans to serve their communities and their country."
"Of all the issues that I highlight as a Senator, this is one of the closest to my heart," said Rockefeller. "Serving as a VISTA worker in West Virginia changed my life and I want to help others learn about themselves and about the profound needs of our fellow Americans by serving their community and their country. Everything that I have done in public office has been grounded in the things I learned in Emmons, W.Va., and I am so grateful for that experience."
Sen. Rockfeller: Don't you think Maria Gunnoe and Judy Bonds have been serving their country for decades, and should be recognized for their service?
In his first campaign in West Virginia, Sen. Rockefeller was defiantly against strip-mining. At the Morris Harvey College, on January 15, 1972, he delivered a still legendary speech--here are some excerpts:
"Government has turned its back on the many West Virginians who have borne out of their own property and out of their own pocketbooks the destructive impact of stripping. We heard that our Governor once claimed to have wept as he flew over the strip mine devastation of this state. Now it's the people who weep. They weep because of the devastation of our mountains, because of the disaster of giant high walls, acid-laden benches, and bare, precipitous out-slopes which support no vegetation at all but erode thousands of tons of mud and rocks into the streams and rivers below.
"Strip-mining must be abolished because of its effect on those who have given most to the cause--the many West Virginians who have suffered actual destruction of their homes; those who have put up with flooding, mud slides, cracked foundations, destruction of neighborhoods, decreases in property values, the loss of fishing and hunting, and the beauty of the hills...
"We can be a powerful force toward both halting the destruction of our state and also toward coming up with economically sound alternatives that will demonstrate best to all people that we have long-term economic interests of the state at heart."
Sen. Rockefeller: Thirty seven years later, your words are still true and powerful.
It's time for you to join Marie Gunnoe and Judy Bonds, return to your true cause, call for an end to mountaintop removal and lead a campaign for green energy transition in Appalachia.
In the meantime, here is a film documentary narrated by Robert Redford on Marie Gunnoe's incredible work to save your state: