Set in Appalachian coal country, this “superb” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) legal drama follows one determined lawyer as he faces a coal industry giant in a seven-year battle over clean drinking water for a West Virginia community.
For two decades, the water in the taps and wells of Mingo County didn’t look, smell, or taste right. Could the water be the root of the health problems—from kidney stones to cancer—in this Appalachian community? Environmental lawyer Kevin Thompson certainly thought so.
For seven years, Thompson waged an epic legal battle against Massey Energy, West Virginia’s most powerful coal company, helmed by CEO Don Blankenship. While Massey’s lawyers worked out of a gray glass office tower in Charleston known as “the Death Star,” Thompson set up shop in a ramshackle hotel in the fading coal town of Williamson. Working with fellow lawyers and a crew of young activists, Thompson would eventually uncover the ruthless shortcuts that put the community’s drinking water at risk.
Retired coal miners, women whose families had lived in the area’s coal camps for generations, a respected preacher and his brother, all put their trust in Thompson when they had nowhere else to turn. Desperate is a masterful work of investigative reporting about greed and denial, “both a case study in exploitation of the little guy and a playbook for confronting it” (Kirkus Reviews). Maher crafts a revealing portrait of a town besieged by hardship and heartbreak, and an inspiring account of one tenacious environmental lawyer’s mission to expose the truth and demand justice.
Kris Maher has been a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal since 2005, writing about environmental issues, coal mining, labor, regional economics, and other topics. He has reported on the Flint water crisis, PFAS drinking water contamination, and Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. He covered the trials of Jerry Sandusky, Bill Cosby, and Don Blankenship and has also written features for the Journal’s front-page “A-hed” column on topics ranging from extreme pogo athletes to the coldest town in the US. He lives in Pittsburgh with his son and daughter. Follow him on Twitter @Kris_Maher.