Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ky. environmental lawyer gets big foundation prize

For more than three decades, Louisville lawyer Tom FitzGerald, right, has fought battles for environmental protection and rural people in Kentucky. In honor of that work, he is the recipient of the 14th annual Heinz Award for the Environment from the Heinz Family Foundation, which puts its money where its mouth is with a $250,000 prize.

"FitzGerald's name is synonymous with environmental protection in Kentucky" and a natiuonal authority on the 1977 federal strip-mine law, writes Jack Brammer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "He's probably done more to protect the environment of Kentucky than any other individual," LaJuana S. Wilcher, who held Kentucky's top environmental post under a Republican governor and headed the water division of the Environmental Protection Agency, told Jim Bruggers of The Courier-Journal.

FitzGerald, a native of Queens, N.Y., told Bruggers that he came to Kentucky in the early 1970s "after eading Harry M. Caudill's Night Comes to the Cumberlands, a 1963 book that described corporate plunder of mineral wealth in Eastern Kentucky. He said he was inspired by people 'who had the courage to stand up against the ravages of strip mining.'"

Since 1984, FitzGerald, 53, has run the Kentucky Resources Council, "which provides free legal, strategic and policy assistance on environmental matters to individuals, organizations and communities," Bruggers writes. "With a budget last year of about $230,000, it has just two paid staff members, FitzGerald and an office manager, along with a stable of technical experts hired on a contract basis." (Read more)

Brammer writes, "Money from the Heinz award will 'be nice,' but the "most rewarding" part of his career, FitzGerald said, is 'the wonderful people I've met.' He mentioned the late citizen-activist Hazel King of Harlan County, who 'stood up to renegade elements of the coal industry,' and 'the thousands of people the council has represented, and my hero and mentor, John Rosenberg, and so many, many others." (Read more) Rosenberg is founding director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky, for which FitzGerald worked.

The Heinz Foundation will also announce today similar awards in arts and humanities, the human condition, public policy, and technology, the economy and employment. The foundation is headed by Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Its awards are in memory of her first husband, the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania. She called FitzGerald "a thoughtful and courageous voice on behalf of many communities, families and individuals whose environmental health would have otherwise been at risk," and "a ubiquitous and persistent leader" who has "tirelessly shouldered the causes of those without the resources or expertise to fend for themselves." For the foundation's page on the award, click here.

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