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Activism and Civil Conscience

By Billy | March 24, 2009

Three weeks ago (Early March, 2009) I began a new chapter in my life.  I attended the Capitol Climate Action (after Powershift 2009 came to a close) and participated in a HUGE act of Civil Conscience, protesting a particular Coal Power Plant in DC, as well as the entire institution of coal in our country.  The next week I attended Mountain Justice Spring Break, a ridiculously amazing program to help empower youth and help them empower their communities.  After a week of powerful conversations, workshops, community service, and trainings, the event came to a head with a massive march in around the Tennessee Valley Authority headquarters.  The TVA is responsible for a huge portion of the power in the US, granted, but they are THE BIGGEST buyer of coal, and the company most directly (in my definition of responsiblity) responsible for the decapitation of hundreds of mountains (Mountain Top Removal uses  3,000,000 pounds of explosives each day…), as well as the country’s LARGEST environmental disaster (not to mention the gross negligence of said disaster and the callous response they gave the people dying or physically sickened by the event) which was estimated to be 48 times worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

After an inspiring march around the building, my affinity group and I enacted what a moment that many of us had been waiting for all week, if not their entire life.  Some of us had put up with the dangerous, damning, and dirty practices surrounding coal for our entire lives.

Coal is dirty, we wanted to remind everyone, from cradle to grave.  “Clean Coal” is a myth; a lie.  The result of “Clean Coal” is cleaner smog, but the new addition of sludge ponds.  Fly ash, slurry, and sludge are the leftover toxic waste from the various proces by which coal becomes “clean.” We “clean” all the deadliness out of coal, we [read: they] (but you’re contributing!  So am I by using this computer right now) dump it into a pond high up in the mountains, and let it sit there.  There are no plans for removing the mercury, arsenic, or other heavy metals and toxins in the pond, just to let it stay behind the earthen dam (which frequently leaks) and fester.  The Appalachian Region, the region in which the most of this is happening, has the highest asthma rates in the country year after year.  One common alternative to sludge ponds is to dump the sludge into the abandoned mines in the area, and let the toxins slowly seep into the earth.

I will try my best to recall exactly what I said before the Nonviolent Direct Action at the TVA march.  I feel that explains why I did it.

“I have chosen today.  I have the opportunity to die here today, in representation of the people who had no choice in the matter.  TVA is killing people with it’s deadly practices and I’m doing what I feel is right to call attention to this.  I am dying today because this is bigger than I am or ever could be.  These mountains are my backbones, these rivers are my veins, and these people are my family members.  Violence against them is suicide.”

I hope you’ll watch the video so you can see for yourself what we did afterwards, but it’s called a Die In.  Myself and 13 comrades pretended to die and remained dead for a good while in front of the TVA Headquarters in order to call attention to the deadly practices of TVA.  Here is footage of the march, speeches, and dying-in.

First Speech Video:

Video 2:

Die In:

I’ll post Mountain Justice’s official press release here:

Local residents joined dozens of activists from across the country today in a demonstration at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s headquarters, which resulted in the arrest of 14 individuals, after participating in a “die in” in front of the building . This event was held to in solidarity with communities affected by the destructive impacts of Mountaintop Removal coal mining and the surivors of the recent coal ash disaster in Harriman.

“It is time for TVA to take full responsibility for its destructive behavior,” Eric Blevins said, an organizer with Mountain Justice. He continued, “They need to support the recovery of the community that is still being hurt by the ash disaster, and take an active role in the transition away from dirty and dangerous practices towards renewable energy and healthier jobs.”

Saturday’s demonstration began with a rally in Market Square, where organizers from United Mountain Defense, and Mountain Justice spoke about coal’s impact from cradle to grave on communities in Appalachia and the surrounding area. The crowd then marched through downtown Knoxville and ended at TVA’s headquarters. At the end of the march people interested in participating in Civil Disobedience gave a statement as to why they wanted to take this action. With the support of a singing crowd each participant fell to the ground representing the deaths caused by the coal industry. After a few minutes Knoxville law enforcement informed the participants that they were blocking the sidewalk, and that they needed to remove themselves from the area. All 14 people were arrested, and cited for loitering.

TVA owns and operates the Kingston coal plant, where last December an impoundment failed, spilling 1.6 billion gallons of heavy metal-laden coal ash waste over an area of 400 acres. The spill has been called the worst environmental disaster in US history, which disproves the energy industry’s recent “clean coal” smokescreen.

“The massive toxic fly ash disaster is just one more reason that coal is filthy. Coal fly ash, a byproduct of coal combustion, is an end result of the dirty life-cycle of coal,” explains Bonnie Swinford, full time volunteer for United Mountain Defense, “which often begins with surface mining and mountaintop removal, followed by a washing process that produces coal toxin concentrate known as slurry. Mountaintop removal coal extraction has destroyed almost 500 mountains, and, in addition to coal slurry, continues to destroy water sources across Appalachia.”

Mountaintop removal is the most destructive method of coal extraction, in which mountains are blown up to expose coal seams. This process destroys fragile mountain ecosystems, fills valleys and streams with waste, and leaves behind billions of gallons of toxic coal sludge that contaminates essential drinking water supplies for many cities surrounding Appalachia.

Today’s demonstration was part of an escalating series of protests across the country calling for immediate action on the coal industry’s destructive practices, including recent arrests in the Coal River Valley, WV on March 5th and the Capital Climate Action, where on March 2, nearly three thousand protesters closed all entrances to the Capitol Coal Plant in Washington, D.C. We need your help and support to continue this call out for immediate action to end the unjust practice of Mountaintop Removal, and push for a just transition to renewable energy.

Now that you are in the know about THAT… This just in!  Though this doesn’t make much difference, an inch is an inch, I’d say.

(Washington, D.C. – March 24, 2009) The United States Environmental Protection Agency has sent two letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality caused by certain types of coal mining practices, such as mountaintop mining. The letters specifically addressed two new surface coal mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky. EPA also intends to review other requests for mining permits.

“The two letters reflect EPA’s considerable concern regarding the environmental impact these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams,” said Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “I have directed the agency to review other mining permit requests. EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment.”

EPA’s letters, sent to the Corps office in Huntington, W.Va., stated that the coal mines would likely cause water quality problems in streams below the mines, would cause significant degradation to streams buried by mining activities, and that proposed steps to offset these impacts are inadequate. EPA has recommended specific actions be taken to further avoid and reduce these harmful impacts and to improve mitigation.

The letters were sent to the Corps by EPA senior officials in the agency’s Atlanta and Philadelphia offices. Permit applications for such projects are required by the Clean Water Act.

EPA also requested the opportunity to meet with the Corps and the mining companies seeking the new permits to discuss alternatives that would better protect streams, wetlands and rivers.

The Corps is responsible for issuing Clean Water Act permits for proposed surface coal mining operations that impact streams, wetlands, and other waters. EPA is required by the act to review proposed permits and provides comments to the Corps where necessary to ensure that proposed permits fully protect water quality.

Because of active litigation in the 4th Circuit challenging the issuance of Corps permits for coal mining, the Corps has been issuing far fewer permits in West Virginia since the litigation began in 2007. As a result, there is a significant backlog of permits under review by the Corps. EPA expects to be actively involved in the review of these permits following issuance of the 4th Circuit decision last month.

EPA is coordinating its action with the White House Council on Environmental Quality and with other agencies including the Corps.

More information on wetlands and the letters:

Topics: This is my life | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Activism and Civil Conscience”

  1. Dying to the Cause of Living | Rumbelow (rŭm’-bĭ-lō): A combination of meaningless syllables Says:
    April 19th, 2009 at 5:54 pm

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