Today we mourn the passing of a true Appalachian hero. Harvard Ayers was the founder of Appalachian Voices and a leading voice for many environmental causes. In the earliest days of Appalachian Voices, he helped call national attention to the ravaging effects of acid rain on the health of Appalachian forests, and later the devastating impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on the mountains and communities of Appalachia.
Harvard was instrumental in passing North Carolina’s Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002, the first successful effort to curtail pollution from coal-fired power plants in the Southeast. That same year, he also played an instrumental role in hosting the first-ever Coal Summit in Charleston, West Virginia. This event played a crucial role in giving a platform to local people opposed to mountaintop removal coal mining and connecting them with national organizations who were able to draw the attention of major media networks and legislators in Washington to the issue. In more recent years, he played a key role in forming coalitions to stop construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and brought attention to the urgent need to tackle climate change.
Harvard Ayers was a true visionary and leaves behind a powerful legacy for the people and environment of Appalachia. That legacy includes cleaner air in the mountains, healthier forests and streams, and thriving organizations like Appalachian Voices that will continue to defend the mountains and communities of the region that he dedicated his life to preserving.
Appalachian Voices’ current staff and board members offer our condolences to his family.