Maria Gunnoe Deserves a Public Apology from Rep. Doug Lamborn
Child Porn Charge Against Activist an Attempt to Sidestep Discussion on Environmental Impact of the Proposed Spruce Coal Mine
In case you missed this outrageous bit of absurdity, noted anti-mountaintop removal mining activist Maria Gunnoe was investigated for child porn recently because she tried to show Congressmen a photo of a little girl sitting in a bathtub of polluted water.
Photo courtesy Goldman Environmental Prize
Gunnoe, who was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2009 for her efforts to fight mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia, was scheduled to testify to the House Committee on Natural Resources on the adverse impacts of the Spruce No. 1 coal mine, the largest proposed strip-mining operation in central Appalachia.
This was to be her fourth testimony before the committee. This time, in order to underscore her point, she decided to display a photograph of a five-year-old child sitting in a tub of brown, arsenic-laden water as an example of how runoff from mountaintop removal sites contaminates the local water supply.
The image, shot by award-winning photographer Katie Falkenberg, was part of a photo essay about the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining and had been taken with consent from the child’s parents. In the caption accompanying the photo Falkenberg wrote: "The coal company that mines the land around their home has never admitted to causing this problem, but they do supply the family with bottled water for drinking and cooking." (Falkenberg has since removed the image from her website claiming that the child’s family "has declined media request to use" the photo. However copies are still a simple Google search away.)
Gunnoe, who says the committee member have avoided looking at her during past hearings, hoped the photograph would get committee members look her in the eye for a change. (Read the text of her testimony here.)
But on the day of the hearing, June 1, Representative Doug Lamborn – a Colorado Springs Republican and the subcommittee’s chairman – not only barred Gunnoe from showing the image, but he went as far as accusing her of being a child pornographer and had his staff call the cops on her. Coal, incidentally, is a billion-dollar industry in Lamborn’s home state.
After the censored hearing, Gunnoe was taken aside by Capitol Police and questioned for 45 minutes. The cops later said they had "discovered no criminal activity," related to the photo, but that the case is still open to prosecution.
Photo by Ian Umeda
This is not the first time Gunnoe has faced harassment for her activism. She has received several death threats in the past, her daughter’s dog was shot dead, and pro-mining goons have plaster wanted posters with her photo in local stores.
But that doesn’t meant we should let pass this unscrupulous effort to intimidate Gunnoe, and to obfuscate the real issue – the environmental and health impact of a 2,278 acre mountaintop mining project that would bury 6.6 miles of streams. Studies have shown that people living by mountaintop removal cites are 50 percent more likely to die of cancer, have higher risk of kidney disease, and are more likely to have children with birth defects than other communities in the Appalachia region.
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the grassroots group Gunnoe works with, wants a public apology from Lamborn and his staff. It’s asking those outraged by what happened Gunnoe to turn on the pressure on Lamborn by submitting letters, documents, and information to the Congressional record of the June 1 hearing. This is a public record, and according to House rules, the public is free to submit comments and information on this particular hearing. until 5 p.m. Eastern Time this Friday, June 15.
The coalition has some good ideas for messages we can send, including “sending a bathtub photo of your own kids.” I don’t have any children of my own, but when I told my sister about Gunnoe’s ordeal last evening, she immediately told me I could post a bathtub photo of my two nieces instead.
Borrowing the coalition’s idea, here’s my message to Mr Lamborn and the Congressional subcommittee:
“Dear Sirs, If you think this photo of my beloved little nieces is also pornography you can tell the Capitol Police how to find my sister and me.”