Environmental Watchdog Honored With $250,000 Heinz Award For The Environment

Heinz Award for the Environment, considered one of the world’s biggest awards for individual achievement, has been awarded to the founder and director of the Kentucky Resources Council.

As one of five outstanding Americans selected to receive a $250,000 award presented by the Heinz Family Foundation, Thomas J. FitzGerald, 53, of Louisville, Kentucky, is a leading voice in improving the environmental landscape in his home state and throughout the country.

Heinz Family Foundation chairman Teresa Heinz says Tom FitzGerald has been speaking out courageously and thoughtfully for more than three decades on behalf of countless communities, families, and individuals who otherwise wouldn’t be protected from hazardous environmental conditions. Throughout his career, he has been a relentless advocate for ensuring that environmental laws are applied fairly and consistently, and has tirelessly advocated for those without the resources or expertise to defend their interests. As a result of his vigilant commitment to ensuring environmental protections are enforced and our citizens’ welfare regarded as sacred, Mr. FitzGerald has a significant impact on the health and well-being of countless individuals in Kentucky and throughout the United States. It is truly an honor for us to award him the 14th Heinz Award for the Environment.

With his career, FitzGerald has served citizens and organizations throughout Kentucky and the country by ensuring that policies intended to protect their health, safety, and quality of life are fully implemented. An expert in the enforcement of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977, a federal law intended to protect society and the environment from the adverse effects of surface coal mining operations, he also has extensive knowledge of environmental regulatory issues. Upon earning his law degree, Mr. FitzGerald worked for the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund as a law clerk and an environmental specialist. He later reshaped the Kentucky Resources Council in 1984, providing free legal advice on environmental issues, advancing environmental advocacy, and making the Fitz name synonymous with Kentucky’s environmental protection efforts. In addition to achieving passage of a national mining law in 1972, he was involved in developing regulations under the 1977 law as well as defending those regulations against decades of industry lawsuits in the District of Columbia Circuit in conjunction with a handful of attorneys in the nation s capital.

Mr. FitzGerald regularly uses a provision of the SMCRA that has been generally ignored to convince regulatory officials that local or regional areas are insufficiently suitable for coal mining, a strategy that has proven to be more effective than litigation in preserving lands from the environmental consequences of mining. As a result, the watersheds that provide the drinking water for Middlesboro and Pineville, Ky., and the Pine Mountain Settlement School view shed were not mined, saving Black Mountain, Kentucky’s highest peak.

The influence of Mr. FitzGerald extends well beyond coal issues. In addition to drafting ordinances to protect communities from sewage sludge disposal and factory hog farms, he also negotiated state laws to protect the environment regarding brownfield redevelopment, new power plant siting, solid and hazardous waste management, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. He works always pro bono and mostly alone.

In his years in the General Assembly, he has fought for defeating scores of bills that would have decreased environmental quality and polluter accountability. He has been a fixture in the Kentucky General Assembly since 1978. The legislation was designed to strip local governments of their ability to regulate environmental problems at home, as well as bills that would have undermined Louisville’s Strategic Toxic Air Reduction Program and prevented Kentucky from setting environmental regulations that exceeded the minimum standards set by federal laws.

As part of Mr. FitzGerald’s practice, he continues to handle individual cases of air, land, and water pollution for communities and individuals who cannot afford to hire a private attorney, thereby creating a niche for himself from which to work.

To prepare for the future, Mr. FitzGerald has developed plans for a program to train environmental leaders so that they can cultivate a generation of environmental activists. To assist communities and citizens affected by pollution, he has created teams of volunteers largely drawn from retired state environmental employees. In addition, he has been an adjunct professor at the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville since 1986, teaching energy and environmental law.

As the 14th recipient of the Heinz Award in the field of the environment, Mr. FitzGerald said, “I am deeply honored and humbled.”. The blessings I have received from my family, from those whom KRC represents, and from mentors have helped me form a strong belief that, when we work in good faith and humility, we can advance justice in all its facets, including economic, moral, and generational justice. The economy of Kentucky is built on coal extraction and low-cost electricity, which makes it ground zero for climate change as 98 percent of its electricity comes from fossil fuels. As we continue our efforts to safeguard our environment and create healthy communities in honor and memory of Senator Heinz, we will recommit ourselves to these challenges.

In 1993, the Heinz Family Foundation of Pittsburgh established the Heinz Family Award as a way to identify individuals who embody the qualities that Senator Heinz, for whom the award is named, cherished.

  • These other recipients of Heinz Awards are presented in five categories:
  • 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

Founded by the late Senator Heinz in 1984, the Heinz Family Foundation is one of the Heinz Family Philanthropies. The foundation’s primary activity is an annual award named after him. The foundation is also involved in a number of grant-making programs that deal with a wide range of issues, including those related to health care, pensions, and retirement security, besides the Heinz Awards.

A Council of Nominators, who are all experts in their fields and serve anonymously, submits nominations for the Heinz Awards. Each category’s award recipients are selected by the board of directors upon recommendation by a blue-ribbon panel of jurors.

There have been many recipients of the Heinz Award, including 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 green chemistry pioneer Paul Anastas.

As well as the $250,000 award for unrestricted use, recipients also receive a medallion engraved with Senator Heinz’s image and a rendering of a globe passing between two hands. The hands also suggest that the stewardship of the earth is passed on to future generations. The medallion symbolizes partnership, continuity and values passed down from generation to generation.

A private ceremony will be held on October 21 in Pittsburgh to present the Heinz Awards.

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