Coal-Mountain Mama Julia Bonds Talks to the Tree-Huggers

What's an Applachian coal-mining foe doing in the GOP tea party stronghold of Orange County?

"She's red meat for the eco-nuts," said Ed Amador, co-organizer of Saturday's Treehuggers' Ball in bucolic Baker Canyon for the Canyon Land Conservation Fund. There was more vegan cheese than beef at this ball, but Julia "Judy" Bonds, a shotgun-toting West Virginia activist, didn't disappoint the human butterflies, leaf-adorned dancers and hundreds of others gathered under huge sycamores and live oaks.

(Bonds will also speak tonight, Mon., June 14, after a showing of the documentary "Coal Country" at 6:30 p.m. at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, 1201 Irvine Blvd., Tustin)

Courtesy of the Canyon Land Conservation Fund
Courtesy of the Canyon Land Conservation Fund
Judy Bonds (left) and Chay Peterson, TreeHugger's Ball coordinator (right)

She delivered a high-decibel barn-burner on Saturday night, describing checking her car for bombs and death threats from supporters of mountaintop coal mining, and wildlife and towns destroyed by daily explosions.

"I live in a war zone," said Bonds, to cheers, whistles and foot stomps of support. "They're blasting our homes and they're blasting our mountains every day. There is no clean coal. Coal has blood on it. It has my grandfather's blood on it, and my father's blood on it."

Bonds, winner of the Goldman Environmental Award in 2003, normally is back in West Virginia, taking on Massey Energy and other bad boys of mining who blow mountaintops to smithereens for coal. It's been forgotten in the gush of news about BP's disastrous Gulf of Mexico spill, but 29 miners died in April, trapped in the noxious fumes of the black stuff that keeps the lights on across the U.S. That includes Orange County, where Southern California Edison ships in a good chunk of electricity from a coal-fired power plant on the dirt-poor Navajo reservation. (Earlier this year, according to this news report, Edison announced that it would not continue its relationship with that plant once its current contract with the plant ends in 2016.)

"I dare you guys to say you're not part of the problem in California," said Bonds. She said most Americans are "fossil fools" living in "protected stupidity."

She compared the oil-drenched Gulf Coast to 1,200 miles of formerly clean streams now choked with coal waste. "As Americans, we have to stand up and scream for clean energy: wind and solar."

Event organizer Dennis McHale urged folks to write Congress in support of the Clean Water Protection Act, and the Appalachian Restoration Act. 

The audience ate it all up as fast as their tofu egg rolls.

"Great, so impassioned," said Maureen Voehl, a Modjeska Canyon resident and self-described liberal Democrat.

"I think it's terrible what's happening back there," said her friend Claudia Calligary, who lives on the border of Rancho Santa Margarita and Trabuco. "No one should have to go through that." Calligary, a Republican, was still in the right crowd--she sells trees.

Bonds said she and her Appalachia neighbors actually are cut from the same cloth as OC's mountain people.

"You guys call 'em canyons," she said, gesturing to the steep slopes on either side. "Back East we call 'em hollers. You know why? You can set right at the foot of the mountains in the valley and whisper something, and it reverberates off of this mountain top, and off of that mountain top, and that whisper turns into a holler!"

For more information on Coal River Mountain Watch, please go to


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