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Cormons named App Voices executive director

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Article Published: Feb. 21, 2013 | Modified: Feb. 21, 2013
Cormons named App Voices executive director

Tom Cormons

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Tom Cormons, who established the Virginia office of Appalachian Voices in 2007, has assumed the role of executive director of the regional nonprofit organization.

The organization, according to its mission statement, seeks to protect the land, air and water of the Appalachian mountains and transition the region to a clean-energy future.

Cormons' background includes intensive wildlife research, stints with a variety of national nonprofit groups, a leadership role in the Wise Energy for Virginia Coalition and, most recently, as the deputy programs director for Appalachian Voices, where he helped develop the organization’s long-range strategic plan.

“Under Tom’s leadership, our Virginia office has grown to six staff, and Appalachian Voices is front-and-center in some of the most pressing environmental issues in Virginia,” said board chairwoman Christina Howe of Boone, where the group is headquartered. “We are very fortunate to have a man of his vision and talent at the helm as we embark on the next chapter of Appalachian Voices’ journey.”

Established 15 years ago, Appalachian Voices has evolved from a small organization focused mostly on forest and air quality issues into a regional force tackling major issues, including ending mountaintop removal coal mining, reducing air and water pollution associated with the coal cycle and transitioning Appalachian states to clean energy.

It has 20 full-time staff members and four offices and works mainly in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Appalachian Voices combines grassroots organizing, policy expertise and communications innovations to develop powerful campaigns for positive environmental change in the region.

“I joined Appalachian Voices as a member 12 years ago, inspired by its mission to protect the mountains that I love, and I am honored to now lead this organization, whose staff, board, members and partners continue to inspire me every day,” Cormons said. “I’m very motivated to help our region transition to cleaner energy and to ways of supporting people’s livelihoods that respect our natural heritage. What we do to the mountains, forests and creeks has tremendous implications for people living here now, as well as for what we’ll be passing on to our children and their children. With three young kids myself, this is always on my mind.”

Cormons said Appalachian Voices is uniquely positioned to leverage major societal shifts now under way. While destructive forms of coal mining and processing continue to cause untold devastation and heartache in the region, he said, Appalachian coal is in decline as the most accessible reserves are mined out.

At the same time, he added, renewable energy and smart investments in energy efficiency are emerging as viable alternatives that can generate thousands of jobs.

“The whole country needs to make this transition, but in many parts of Appalachia, everything is at stake — from the fate of ancient mountains and the purity of streams and drinking water to the health and economic well-being of families and communities,” Cormons said.

“As I've worked with Tom over the years, I have witnessed his thoughtful, contemplative, and intelligent work mature and shine,” said Kathy Selvage, a coal miner's daughter in Wise County, Va., who has worked with Appalachian Voices to end mountaintop removal and currently serves on the board. “His love of the Appalachians, its flowers and fauna, and its people and culture will be the lynchpin of his guidance. Appalachian Voices is in good hands.”

Cormons takes over from former executive director Willa Mays, who led the organization over the last four years. Mays is returning to work with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, where she had worked for just a short period in 2008 before taking several years away to guide Appalachian Voices through a period of expansion.

Cormons said he fell in love with the mountains after leaving Virginia’s Eastern shore to attend the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he received his B.A., with distinction, in political and social thought, and his J.D. from UCLA Law School with a concentration in public interest law and policy.

He clerked for the U.S. Department of Justice and the Southern Environmental Law Center before opening the Virginia office of Appalachian Voices. Before law school, Cormons conducted intensive field research on terns in Brazil with the Great Gull Island Project in New York over the course of six years and was also a full-time whitewater and climbing guide in southern West Virginia for four seasons. He lives in Charlottesville with his wife, Heather, and their three children.

For more information on Appalachian Voices, visit http://www.appvoices.org.

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