Penny Loeb

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Deep in the heart of the southern West Virginia coalfields, one of the most important environmental and social empowerment battles in the nation has been waged for the past decade. Fought by a heroic woman struggling to save her tiny community through a landmark lawsuit, this battle, which led all the way to the halls of Congress, has implications for environmentally conscious people across the world.

The story begins with Patricia Bragg in the tiny community of Pie. When a deep mine drained her neighbors’ wells, Bragg heeded her grandmother’s admonition to “fight for what you believe in” and led the battle to save their drinking water. Though she and her friends quickly convinced state mining officials to force the coal company to provide new wells, Bragg’s fight had only just begun. Soon large-scale mining began on the mountains behind her beloved hollow. Fearing what the blasting off of mountaintops would do to the humble homes below, she joined a lawsuit being pursued by attorney Joe Lovett, the first case he had ever handled.

In the case against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Bragg v. Robertson), federal judge Charles Haden II shocked the coal industry by granting victory to Joe Lovett and Patricia Bragg and temporarily halting the practice of mountaintop removal. While Lovett battled in court, Bragg sought other ways to protect the resources and safety of coalfield communities, all the while recognizing that coal mining was the lifeblood of her community, even of her own family (her husband is a disabled miner).

The years of Bragg v. Robertson bitterly divided the coalfields and left many bewildered by the legal wrangling. One of the state’s largest mines shut down because of the case, leaving hardworking miners out of work, at least temporarily. Despite hurtful words from members of her church, Patricia Bragg battled on, making the two-hour trek to the legislature in Charleston, over and over, to ask for better controls on mine blasting. There Bragg and her friends won support from delegate Arley Johnson, himself a survivor of one of the coalfield’s greatest disasters.

Award-winning investigative journalist Penny Loeb spent nine years following the twists and turns of this remarkable story, giving voice both to citizens, like Patricia Bragg, and to those in the coal industry. Intertwined with court and statehouse battles is Patricia Bragg’s own quiet triumph of graduating from college summa cum laude in her late thirties and moving her family out of welfare and into prosperity and freedom from mining interests. Bragg’s remarkable personal triumph and the victories won in Pie and other coalfield communities will surprise and inspire readers.

Winner of the Harry Caudill Award.

Named Book of the Year Bronze Medalist, in the Environment category, by ForeWord Magazine.

"Very effective . . . in pointing out the heartbreaking dilemma of these West Virginians: the industry that threatens their quality of life is also the lifeblood of their community.Loeb compassionately chronicles 10 years of grassroots efforts by citizens of southern West Virginia to protect their homes from coalmining damage."—Publishers Weekly

"Anne Shelby, author of Appalachian Studies For more than 20 years, investigative journalist Penny Loeb has shone the light of publicity in dark corners, first for newspaper readers, later for magazine readers. Her book, Moving Mountains, demonstrates that Loeb's investigative talents translate well to the most in-depth journalistic medium of all. Painstakingly reported and compellingly written, Moving Mountains is an unforgettable account of environmental degradation, those who cause it, those who suffer from it, and those who try to alleviate it."—Steve Weinberg, investigative journalist

"In Moving Mountains, Loeb provides an intimate look at the struggles of this housewife-turned-advocate who stood up against the largest coal mining company in the United States while trying to protect the safety and integrity of her coalfield community."—Kentucky Monthly

"This book is simply one of the most inspiring books of the last decade, a must-read."—Appalachian Heritage

"A good human insights supplement to venerable scholarship such as Henry Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands. Recommended."—Choice

"Loeb has written a sobering book that shines a bright light into some rather dark places."—Tucson Citizen

"The legal and grassroots fight to curtail the destruction continues, and Moving Mountains gives insight into the organizing and lawsuits where the fight began."—Earthjustice

"Loeb spent nine years chronicling the triumphs and setbacks of people in the West Virginia coalfields- people caught between the economic opportunities provided by coal and the detriments to health and to quality of life that are so often by-products of the coal industry. The result of her work is an account of the human and environmental costs of coal extraction, and the inspirational grassroots crusade to mitigate those costs."—Herald-Dispatch (Huntington, WV)

"Very effective . . . in pointing out the heartbreaking dilemma of these West Virginians: the industry that threatens their quality of life is also the lifeblood of their community."—Publisher’s Weekly

"Loeb, a former senior editor for U.S. News and World Reports, is cautious and sensitive in her portrayals of the individuals and incidents depicted in [Moving Mountains]. She balances extrapolations of the technical details and reasons for the lawsuits with well-documented information concerning local residents' cultural and emotional struggles, some of whom had generations of employment by the coal industry...[Loeb] provides a thorough, analytical account of the complexity of the situation as it evolved and the emotional turmoil."—Appalachian Journal

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Patricia Bragg, Corps of Engineers, Groundwater pollution, Coal mines, Coal mining, West Virginia


Environmental Law

Moving Mountains: How One Woman and Her Community Won Justice from Big Coal
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