Moving Mountains: How One Woman and Her Community Won Justice from Big Coal

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Deep in the heart of the southern West Virginia coalfields, one of the most important environmental and social empowerment battles in the nation has been waged for the past decade. Fought by a heroic woman struggling to save her tiny community through a landmark lawsuit, this battle, which led all the way to the halls of Congress, has implications for environmentally conscious people across the world.

The story begins with Patricia Bragg in the tiny community of Pie. When a deep mine drained her neighbors' wells, Bragg heeded her grandmother's admonition to "fight for what you believe in" and led the battle to save their drinking water. Though she and her friends quickly convinced state mining officials to force the coal company to provide new wells, Bragg's fight had only just begun. Soon large-scale mining began on the mountains behind her beloved hollow. Fearing what the blasting off of mountaintops would do to the humble homes below, she joined a lawsuit being pursued by attorney Joe Lovett, the first case he had ever handled.

In the case against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Bragg v. Robertson), federal judge Charles Haden II shocked the coal industry by granting victory to Joe Lovett and Patricia Bragg and temporarily halting the practice of mountaintop removal. While Lovett battled in court, Bragg sought other ways to protect the resources and safety of coalfield communities, all the while recognizing that coal mining was the lifeblood of her community, even of her own family (her husband is a disabled miner).

The years of Bragg v. Robertson bitterly divided the coalfields and left many bewildered by the legal wrangling. One of the state's largest mines shut down because of the case, leaving hardworking miners out of work, at least temporarily. Despite hurtful words from members of her church, Patricia Bragg battled on, making the two-hour trek to the legislature in Charleston, over and over, to ask for better controls on mine blasting. There Bragg and her friends won support from delegate Arley Johnson, himself a survivor of one of the coalfield's greatest disasters.

Award-winning investigative journalist Penny Loeb spent nine years following the twists and turns of this remarkable story, giving voice both to citizens, like Patricia Bragg, and to those in the coal industry. Intertwined with court and statehouse battles is Patricia Bragg's own quiet triumph of graduating from college summa cum laude in her late thirtie and moving her family out of welfare and into prosperity and freedom from mining interests. Bragg's remarkable personal triumph and the victories won in Pie and other coalfield communities will surprise and inspire readers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Very effective... in pointing out the heartbreaking dilemma of these West Virginians: the industry that threatens their quality of life is also the lifeblood of their community." — Publisher's Weekly

"Loeb, a former senior editor for U.S. News and World Reports, is cautious and sensitive in her portrayals of the individuals and incidents depicted in [ Moving Mountains]. She balances extrapolations of the technical details and reasons for the lawsuits with well-documented information concerning local residents' cultural and emotional struggles, some of whom had generations of employment by the coal industry...[Loeb] provides a thorough, analytical account of the complexity of the situation as it evolved and the emotional turmoil." — Appalachian Journal

Joan Quigley
Loeb is not the first author drawn to mountaintop removal. Erik Reece chronicled the impact of a similar practice on a Kentucky slope in his book Lost Mountain. But Loeb, a former Newsday investigative reporter and editor for U.S. News & World Report, focuses primarily on residents of the affected communities, including those who joined the litigation as plaintiffs: housewives who battled dust, cave-ins and errant boulders from the above-ground blasting; retirees who grew up hunting and fishing near their mountain homes, only to watch the wooded hollows disappear…Loeb devoted nine years to this insightful portrait of the contemporary coal industry, and her text resonates with telling details, the reward for her dedication and patience.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Investigative reporter Loeb compassionately chronicles 10 years of grassroots efforts by citizens of southern West Virginia to protect their homes from coal-mining damage. The story centers on the efforts of Patricia Bragg, who in 1998, together with attorney Joe Lovett, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection for their failure to regulate the waste from mountaintop mining, a practice in which hundreds of feet are sliced off mountaintops and the leftover rubble is dumped into streams and narrow valleys. This case, which resulted in a ruling for a two-year moratorium on mountaintop removal by a judge who had not previously favored environmental causes, is the high point of the book. Though the judge's ruling was later overturned on appeal, the Bragg case led to some improvements in coal-mining procedures. Unfortunately, Loeb overloads her account with too many stories of other people struggling for fair treatment by the coal company. She's very effective, however, in pointing out the heartbreaking dilemma of these West Virginians: the industry that threatens their quality of life is also the lifeblood of their economy. Photos not seen by PW. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813124414
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 9/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

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  • Posted March 21, 2010

    This horror story is non-fiction

    Time and again when reading Moving Mountains, I found myself exclaiming, "They can't do that!" The "they" in this case being the state regulators and politicians that we assume are acting in our best interests, or the 300-pound gorilla in West Virginia, King Coal.

    By the end of this epic living history, you find yourself wondering if it was really written in the United States, with our cherished principles of rule of law and every man being equal, or if Penny Loeb wandered into a Third World country and forgot to tell us. But no - it's all true in every sickening detail.

    Until you see the complete evisceration of the land that is mountaintop removal/valley fill mining, or see and hear firsthand the wanton abuses of King Coal on the land and the people, it's hard to believe that some of the things in this book actually happened.

    But they did (and still are). Loeb relates them in vivid and most excruciating detail, by telling the stories of a small handful of West Virginians who had finally had enough of King Coal's daily abuses, affronts to their dignity and assaults on their health, homes and families. If she has a fault, it is that she tries to be too fair to all sides, which dilutes the power of the opposing viewpoints; and her drive to be all-inclusive of all the individuals and groups involved in the fight against King Coal and for social justice of necessity leaves out or minimizes the roles of some key players (the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition is a good example of the latter).

    Moving Mountains is both a gripping, deeply person narrative about the underdog going up against the corporate behemoth, and a cautionary tale about what our nation's insatiable hunger for energy is doing to one state, West Virginia, which truly is becoming America's National Energy Sacrifice Zone.

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