Mountain-Hating Coal Lobby Trying to Tear Down "Proud Hillbilly" Ashley Judd


God bless Ashley Judd.  This Kentucky-born actress and social activist loves the Appalachian mountains and isn't afraid to speak out for the cause of safeguarding her beloved hills from what she herself calls the scourge of mountaintop removal coal mining.  Ashley has long been involved in this fight and most recently has lent her voice to a TV commercial that our friends at the Alliance for Appalachia plan to air on national television.  She came to Washington, D.C. last month to deliver an impassioned speech at the National Press Club on the need to stop mountaintop removal.  And she just published a moving blog in OnEarth magazine on this issue -- so near and dear to her heart -- referring to herself as a proud hillbilly hell-bent on saving the land she loves.

For all this, Ashley has angered some of her fellow Kentuckians (so-called friends of coal) who consider her a Benedict Arnold for dissing the destruction of the Appalachian Mountains.  A recent rash of critical newspaper commentaries and letters-to-the-editor in her home state have blasted Ashley for criticizing this extreme strip mining -- by those who argue that mountaintop removal is beneficial to local economies for the jobs provided by the mining industry and the flat land it leaves for economic development.  (For all the ways in which such claims are bogus, simply Google "mountaintop removal" or save yourself some time by visiting NRDC's website or reading my issue paper Appalachian Heartbreak.)

But the baseless personal attacks on Ashley's character have reached a shocking new low.  It seems coal supporters have hung a banner at a golf course in Floyd County, Kentucky -- located on a reclaimed mountaintop mine -- that cleverly yet crudely mocks Judd in the most offensive manner imaginable.  The sign depicts a photo of Ashley (from a Marie Claire magazine article profiling her philanthropy and social activism) topless with her arms crossed over her chest, with this message:  "Ashley Judd makes a living removing her top.  Why can't coal miners?"

According to the local TV news coverage of this controversy, an anonymous donor offended by Ashley's recent public remarks against mountaintop removal, paid for the sign to be displayed at StoneCrest golf course during a golf tournament for mining executives and local politicians. 

[UPDATE: The Associate Press covered the controversy, quoting me in the story.]

"Coming from a woman who makes movies most people wouldn't take their children too, I really don't think she has a lot to say about our industry or anything else that's worthwhile," said David Gooch, the President of the Coal Operator's Association.

Um, what movies would he be talking about?  Her recent family friendly film "The Tooth Fairy", maybe?  I'm left scratching my head over that strange comment.

Clearly, this offensive, sexist and juvenile protest against Ashley is a cheap shot by the mining industry.  I would venture to say that she has done more with her career and her life to make Kentucky proud than the Gooch or his crass cronies.  I'm not talking about her celebrity, as a beloved and critically acclaimed actor who has appeared in films --both independent and box office hits -- and on Broadway. 

As an 8th generation eastern Kentuckian, Ashley doesn't make her home in Hollywood but lives on a farm in rural middle Tennessee and maintains close kinship and cultural ties with Appalachia.  For several years she has devoted much time to studying the issue of mountaintop removal -- visiting the coalfields, viewing mining operations up close, and spending time with families and communities affected by this radical strip mining.  Last year she gave the keynote address at "I Love Mountains" day on the steps of the capital in Frankfort, KY.  Her writings on the subject have been published in books and as OpEds.  She continues to collaborate closely with NRDC and other national and local environmental organizations fighting to end mountaintop removal.  

Additionally, Ashley is well known internationally as a feminist activist and advocate who crusades passionately on behalf of the vulnerable and exploited.  She serves on the board of directors of Population Services International, a human-rights based, grassroots public health organization with programs in 65 developing countries.  In her capacity with PSI, she has visited a dozen countries -- spending her time in slums, brothels, hospices, schools, and youth drop-in centers, while also meeting with heads of state and extensively doing media.  She has filmed three documentaries, which have been viewed in over 150 countries world wide, with billions of viewers.  She has even testified about this cause before the Senate Foreign Relations committee.  Amongst the other issues Ashley focuses on is the modern slave trade, a topic on which she gave the key note address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2008.  She has also participated in many conferences, such as the Clinton Global Initiative, as both a panelist and a moderator, on a range of women's health issues.

Despite all this, the coal industry would dare stoop to the level of exploiting Ashley's fame and image to unfairly criticize her for fighting to safeguard the home -- and people -- she loves more than anything in the world.  I guess that kind of reaction is par for the course for outspoken celebrities.  But her fellow Kentuckians should know better -- and behave better. 

On the bright side, Ashley has certainly gotten under the skin of the callous coal industry hacks and now they're on the defensive.  For that, as well as her steadfast crusade to protect her beloved mountains from rapacious coal companies that have no compunction about blasting Appalachia's natural and cultural hertiage to obvlivian, consider me a fan forever of Ashley Judd.

And, heck, if Ashley wants to remove her top that's her choice -- and fine by me.  But let's keep the coal industry from tearing the tops off America's oldest mountains.