Virginia environmental attorney, activist takes helm of Appalachian Voices

Tom Cormons, Executive Director

Contact: Cat McCue, Communications Director
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Charlottesville, Va. – Tom Cormons, who established the Virginia office of Appalachian Voices in 2007, has assumed the role of executive director of the regional nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect the land, air and water of the Appalachian mountains and transition the region to a clean energy future.

**NOTE: Cormons will be available for interviews today and throughout the week. His contact information is: Office: 434-293-6373; Email**

Cormons brings a wealth of experience to the job, including intensive wildlife research, stints with a variety of national nonprofit groups, a leadership role in the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition, and most recently as the deputy programs director for Appalachian Voices, where he helped develop the organization’s long-range strategic plan.

“Under Tom’s leadership, our Virginia office has grown to six staff, and Appalachian Voices is front-and-center in some of the most pressing environmental issues in Virginia,” says Board Chair Christina Howe of Boone, N.C., where the group is headquartered. “We are very fortunate to have a man of his vision and talent at the helm as we embark on the next chapter of Appalachian Voices’ journey.”

Established 15 years ago, Appalachian Voices has evolved from a small organization focused mostly on forest and air quality issues, into a regional force tackling major issues including ending mountaintop removal coal mining, reducing air and water pollution associated with the coal cycle, and transitioning Appalachian states to clean energy. It has 20 full-time staff members and four offices, and works mainly in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Appalachian Voices combines grassroots organizing, policy expertise and communications innovations to develop powerful campaigns for positive environmental change in the region.

“I joined Appalachian Voices as a member 12 years ago, inspired by its mission to protect the mountains that I love, and I am honored to now lead this organization, whose staff, board, members and partners continue to inspire me every day,” Cormons says. “I’m very motivated to help our region transition to cleaner energy and to ways of supporting people’s livelihoods that respect our natural heritage. What we do to the mountains, forests, and creeks has tremendous implications for people living here now, as well as for what we’ll be passing on to our children and their children. With three young kids myself, this is always on my mind.”

Cormons says Appalachian Voices is uniquely positioned to leverage major societal shifts now underway. While destructive forms of coal mining and processing continue to cause untold devastation and heartache in the region, Appalachian coal is in decline as the most accessible reserves are mined out. At the same time, renewable energy and smart investments in energy efficiency are emerging as viable alternatives that can generate thousands of jobs. “The whole country needs to make this transition, but in many parts of Appalachia, everything is at stake — from the fate of ancient mountains and the purity of streams and drinking water to the health and economic well-being of families and communities,” he says.

“As I’ve worked with Tom over the years, I have witnessed his thoughtful, contemplative, and intelligent work mature and shine,” says Kathy Selvage, a coal miner’s daughter in Wise County, Va., who has worked with Appalachian Voices to end mountaintop removal, and currently serves on the board. “His love of the Appalachians, its flowers and fauna, and its people and culture will be the lynchpin of his guidance. Appalachian Voices is in good hands.”

Cormons takes over from former executive director Willa Mays, who led the organization over the last four years. Mays is returning to work with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, where she had worked for just a short period in 2008 before taking several years away to guide Appalachian Voices through a period of expansion.

Tom fell in love with the mountains after leaving Virginia’s eastern shore to attend the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he received his B.A., with Distinction, in Political and Social Thought from the University of Virginia, and his J.D. from UCLA Law School with a concentration in Public Interest Law and Policy. He clerked for the U.S. Department of Justice and the Southern Environmental Law Center before opening the Virginia office of Appalachian Voices. Before law school, Cormons conducted intensive field research on terns in Brazil with the Great Gull Island Project in New York over the course of six years, and was also a full-time whitewater and climbing guide in southern West Virginia for four seasons. He lives in Charlottesville with his wife, Heather, and their three children.

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2012 Accomplishments

In partnership with our partner groups and supported by grassroots activists, Appalachian Voices:

  • Played a major role in securing more than 130 congressional co-sponsors on the key Clean Water Protection Act, which would virtually end mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, and also in thwarting the so-called “war on coal” legislation that would have gutted oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency; and garnered almost 25,000 views of our “No More Excuses” video featuring Appalachian children calling for an end to mountaintop removal;
  • Secured a landmark legal settlement in Kentucky with state regulators and one of the region’s largest coal companies based on data uncovered by Appalachian Voices showing a years-long pattern of false reporting by the companies on water quality reports that amounted to more than 10,000 violations of the Clean Water Act;
  • Vanquished what would have been the largest coal-fired power plant ever built in Virginia when the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative officially stopped seeking permits for the plant;
  • Organized across Tennessee around the Scenic Vistas Protection Act that led to the first state ever to advance a legislative measure to ban mountaintop removal coal mining; and
  • Continued strengthening citizen support in North Carolina for strong rules to protect clean water, including organizing a Clean Water not Coal Ash rally in Asheville with over 200 attendees, and launching the interactive website, which garnered more than 60 press stories.

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Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C., with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.