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Thomas J. FitzGerald recognized for work in advocacy and leadership

Heinz AwardsPITTSBURGH, PA, September 9, 2008 --/WORLD-WIRE/-- The founder and director of the Kentucky Resources Council, dubbed the “watchdog of the environment” in the Bluegrass state, has been selected to receive the 14th annual Heinz Award for the Environment, among the largest individual achievement prizes in the world.

Thomas J. FitzGerald, 53, of Louisville, Ky., an influential voice in improving the environmental landscape within his home state and across the nation, is among five distinguished Americans selected to receive one of the $250,000 awards, presented by the Heinz Family Foundation.

“For more than three decades, Tom FitzGerald has raised a thoughtful and courageous voice on behalf of many communities, families and individuals whose environmental health would have otherwise been at risk,” said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. “He has been a ubiquitous and persistent leader in advocating for the fair and equitable application of environmental laws and has generously and tirelessly shouldered the causes of those without the resources or expertise to fend for themselves. It is fair to say that Mr. FitzGerald is singularly responsible for the health and well-being of countless individuals – in Kentucky and throughout the United States – thanks in large measure to his vigilant commitment to seeing that environmental protections are enforced and the welfare of our citizens regarded as sacrosanct. We are indeed honored to recognize him with the 14th annual Heinz Award for the Environment.”

Mr. FitzGerald has dedicated his career to helping citizens and organizations within Kentucky and across the country secure full and fair implementation of policies intended to safeguard their health, safety and quality of life. He is an authority on the enforcement of the national Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977, the federal law designed to protect against the adverse environmental and societal effects of surface coal mining operations, as well as other regulatory issues affecting the environment. After earning his law degree, Mr. FitzGerald worked as a law clerk and environmental specialist for the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund, and in 1984, reshaped the Kentucky Resources Council, providing free legal assistance on environmental matters, pursuing environmental advocacy and making the name “Fitz” synonymous with environmental protection in Kentucky. Having worked to secure passage of a national mining law from 1972 forward, he was very active in the development of regulations under the 1977 law and in working with a handful of attorneys in the nation’s capital to defend those regulations against decades of industry lawsuits in the District of Columbia Circuit.

To preserve lands from the environmental consequences of mining, Mr. FitzGerald regularly leverages a generally ignored provision of SMCRA to persuade regulatory officials to declare areas of local or regional importance unsuitable for coal mining operations, a strategy that has proven more effective than litigation. It was a tactic that helped to save Black Mountain, Kentucky’s highest peak, as well as protected the watersheds that provide the drinking water for the cities of Middlesboro and Pineville, Ky., and the view shed of the Pine Mountain Settlement School, from mining.

Mr. FitzGerald’s influence extends well beyond issues related to coal. Working always on a pro bono basis and most often alone, he has helped draft ordinances to protect communities from sewage sludge disposal and factory hog farms as well as negotiated state statutes providing environmental protections related to brownfield redevelopment, the siting of new power plants, solid and hazardous waste management, renewable energy and energy efficiency. He has been a fixture in the halls of Kentucky’s General Assembly since 1978 and has lobbied to defeat scores of bills that would have lowered environmental quality and polluter accountability, including bills designed to strip local governments of their home-rule ability to regulate environmental problems, bills that would have prevented Kentucky’s environmental regulations from being more stringent than the minimum standards set by federal rules, and a bill that would have undercut Louisville’s Strategic Toxic Air Reduction Program. Additionally, Mr. FitzGerald continues to carry a caseload of individual cases where communities or individuals are threatened by air, land or water pollution, taking only those cases that the private bar would not take or which the citizen could not afford to bring.

Looking toward the future, Mr. FitzGerald has developed plans for an environmental leadership training program designed to cultivate the next generation of environmental watchdogs and create teams of volunteers, drawn largely from retired state environmental employees, to assist citizens and communities impacted by pollution. He also has been an adjunct professor of energy and environmental law at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law since 1986.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to have been nominated and selected as the 14th recipient of the Heinz Award in the area of the environment,” Mr. FitzGerald said. “I have been blessed many times over by family, by those whom KRC has represented, and by mentors who helped shape my unflagging belief that we each, working in good faith and with humility, can advance justice in all of its facets – environmental, economic, moral, generational. Kentucky, with 98 percent of our electricity generated by fossil fuels and an economy built on coal extraction and low-cost power, is ‘ground zero’ for climate change. In honor and in memory of the legacy of Senator Heinz, we at the council will continue to address these challenges and recommit ourselves to the unfinished work at hand of safeguarding our environment and creating healthy communities.”

Since 1993, the Heinz Family Foundation of Pittsburgh has recognized individuals whose dedication, skill and generosity of spirit represent the best of the human qualities that the late Senator Heinz, for whom the award is named, held so dear.

Presented in five categories, the other Heinz Award recipients are:

  • Arts and Humanities: Ann Hamilton, 52, visual artist and educator, from Columbus, Ohio

  • Human Condition: Brenda Krause Eheart, Ph.D., 64, founder of Generations of Hope and Hope Meadows, from Champaign, Ill.

  • Public Policy: Robert Greenstein, 62, founder and executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, from Washington, D.C.

  • Technology, the Economy and Employment: Joseph DeRisi, Ph.D., 38, molecular biologist, researcher and inventor, from San Francisco, Calif.
About the Heinz Foundation
The Heinz Family Foundation, one of the Heinz Family Philanthropies, began as a charitable trust established by the late Senator Heinz in 1984. His widow, Teresa Heinz, created the Heinz Awards in 1993 as the primary activity of the foundation. In addition to the Heinz Awards, the foundation directs a grant-making program that is active in a wide range of issues, principally those concerning women’s health and environment, health care cost and coverage, as well as pensions and retirement security.

Nominations for the Heinz Awards are submitted by an invited Council of Nominators, all experts in their fields, who serve anonymously. Award recipients are selected by the board of directors for the Heinz Awards upon recommendation by a blue-ribbon panel of jurors in each category.

Past recipients of the Heinz Awards include author Dave Eggers, personal computer inventor Steve Wozniak, energy authority Amory Lovins, gerontologist Robert Butler, medical anthropologist Paul Farmer, global warming scientist James Hansen, marine biologist Jane Lubchenco and Paul Anastas, a leader in the “green chemistry” movement.

In addition to the $250,000 award for their unrestricted use, recipients are presented with a medallion inscribed with the image of Senator Heinz on one side and a rendering of a globe passing between two hands on the other. The medallion symbolizes the partnership, continuity and values carried on to the next generation. The hands also suggest passing on the stewardship of the earth to future generations.

The Heinz Awards will be presented at a private ceremony in Pittsburgh on October 21.

Additional information is available online at

Jon Newman
The Hodges Partnership
(804) 788-1414

Russ Martz
The Heinz Family Foundation
(412) 497-5775