Actress and Activist Ashley Judd

Who she is: Throughout her career, actress Ashley Judd has been active with many organizations including the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Population Services International.

What she does: In addition to her acting honors, in November 2009 she received the fourth annual USA TODAY Hollywood Hero award for her work with Population Services.

Why she does it: Today, the 42-year-old, who recently graduated from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Governance with a Master’s degree in Public Administration, is on a new mission: She wants to end mountain top mining. Learn more about that below.


By Hope Katz Gibbs

Ashley Judd has led a star-studded life as the daughter and sister of the world-famous country western group, The Judds.

A success in her own right, Judd has been an actress for two decades, and has starred in blockbuster films including “Where the Heart Is,” “Someone Like You,” “Eye of the Beholder,” and “Kiss the Girls.” She is currently filming a comedy called Flypaper, co-starring Patrick Dempsey.

According to her official bio, actress Ashely Judd attended 12 schools in 13 years before entering college. She was a sister at the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Kentucky, where she majored in French and minored in cultural anthropology, art history, theater, and women’s studies. She left a few credits shy of graduating in 1990, when she decided to drive cross-country to pursue an acting career in Hollywood.

Since 2001, she has been married to to Scottish auto racer Dario Franchitt. They divide their time between a home in Scotland and their farm outside Franklin, Tennessee.

Ending the “Rape of Appalachia”

Today, however, Judd is determined to end mountain top coal mining — a practice that has devastated her homeland of Eastern Kentucky for decades.

On June 9, she spoke out about the problem when she gave a speech at the National Press Club (watch the video from the event here)

“I grew up in Kentucky, and like so many Appalachians, just seeing our beautiful mountains and valleys tells me I am home,” she said. “Our mountains are our heritage and our legacy to future generations. But big coal companies are using explosives to literally blow the tops off the mountains, extract the coal, and destroy Appalachia.”

Not only does this practice ruin entire watersheds and the water supplies of nearby communities, she explained, but according to the nonprofit group Mountain Justice, mountaintop removal coal mining can annihilate entire ecosystems and has already transformed some of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world into biologically barren moonscapes.

“Mountain-top mining would never happen in other mountains in the United States,” Judd insisted. “This would never happen in the Rockies. But in the last 30 years, 1,500 waterways in Appalachia have been lost. Every body of water is under advisement on contamination.”

Making a difference

Judd is working with several environmental organizations to raise awareness nationwide to stop the devastation. Among them is the Sierra Club.

“Ashley Judd brought great passion and intelligence to her National Press Club speech on the devastation that mountaintop removal coal mining causes in Appalachia,” says Sarah Hodgdon, director of conservation at the Sierra Club, who was on hand for the June 9 National Press Club event. “All of us fighting for clean energy are fortunate to have such a well-known and knowledgeable person working with us to bring more attention to and end such a destructive practice. Ashley clearly knows that we must stop the coal industry from destroying Appalachia.”

Earlier this year, the Sierra Club produced a video featuring Judd. (See that here.) And while these efforts are gaining traction, they have their work cut out for them. A panel of federal judges recently ruled in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a controversial legal case focused on mountaintop removal coal mining.

“The ruling threatens to open the floodgates on a new wave of mountaintop removal coal mines,” Hodgdon says. “This would allow coal mining companies to blow up mountains and bury neighboring streams with coal mining waste without acting to minimize stream destruction or conducting adequate environmental reviews.”

In fact, Appalachia could now be facing up to 100 new permits for mountaintop removal coal mining operations to bury streams, which would destroy huge swaths of the Appalachian Mountains.

Learn more about mountaintop removal at