Thursday, February 19, 2009

Western Coal: Low in Sulfur, High in Oppression

cross-posted from The Wesleyan Argus

The first promise I made to myself when I agreed to have an online column in the illustrious Blargus, was that I would write my own articles and not respond to other columnists, no matter how much they angered me. Admittedly, I thought I would have to resist responding to Mytheos, but that was before I read Jonah Blumstein’s latest response article. Aside from referring to my “reflexive liberalism” (I promise you, I am not a liberal), Jonah’s article amazed me in its ability to make absurd assertions and miss the point of my article entirely.

Jonah’s thesis, as much as one was detectable, was that clean coal exists. Blumstein’s clean coal is different from the clean coal that the coal industry talks about. He does not refer to the process that cleans some chemicals out of coal emissions, which also creates toxic coal sludge. Jonah’s clean coal is western coal, which contains less sulfur. He believes that a conspiracy between the United Mine Workers Union and Senator Robert Byrd has forced coal power plants to buy and burn high sulfur coal from Appalachia. Whether or not this conspiracy exists is utterly irrelevant. Low-sulfur coal is not clean, it just has less sulfur. Jonah failed to address the three major points of my column: coal mining is extremely and inherently destructive, any coal burning will release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and we do not have time to waste waiting for fantasy technologies to fix these two major problems. Jonah’s low-sulfur coal is not lower in mercury or lead and, obviously, is not lower in carbon. Just to make sure no one believes Jonah’s western coal is a sensible alternative, let us explore one of the largest western coal mines in Black Mesa, Arizona.

Since 1968, Peabody Coal has been exploiting Hopi and Navajo land in northern Arizona. The Black Mesa coal mine is one of the largest strip mines in the United States and has been the subject of indigenous anger and resistance since its inception. Due to Peabody’s mining more than 12,000 Navajo have been removed from their land, the largest removal of native people since the 1880s. Additionally, Peabody coal has been responsible for draining more than half of the Navajo Aquifer in the extremely dry region. In an average year of the mine’s operation Peabody was responsible for more than half of the water taken from the aquifer.

Mining at Black Mesa stopped in 2005 because the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada, which bought all of the Black Mesa coal, shut down because it violated the Clean Air Act. The plant emitted 40,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per year from Jonah’s low-sulfur western coal. However, last December the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) allowed Peabody to restart mining, and continue destroying Navajo and Hopi communities until 2026 or the water runs out, whichever comes first. (Side note: The OSM is an absurd bureaucracy that gives out awards for the best strip mine reclamation. Reclamation is a euphemism for planting grass after destroying an ecosystem to mine coal.) All this oppression for Jonah’s low-sulfur coal!

Regardless of its sulfur content, or the fantasies of Jonah Blumstein, coal will never be a clean energy source. Coal mining, like all fossil fuel exploitation, destroys local environments, oppresses local (often indigenous) people, and contributes to climate change. Our fossil-fuel economy is based on the exploitation of land and people from Appalachia, Arizona, Alberta, Ecuador, and many more. Exploiting new sources of coal in the West would simply expand the destruction of Appalachia to the rest of the country. It clearly would do nothing to slow climate change or stop environmental destruction.

The only way to stop the exploitation of these communities and to stop the worse effects of climate change is to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Mountain Justice Spring Break 2009!

9 days of training, service and action
for environmental justice in the coal fields
9 more nails in the coffin of dirty coal!

In less than five weeks, you'll have a chance to get totally plugged into the growing movement to end mountaintop removal and bring justice to the coal fields. Come to Eastern Tennessee, March 7-15 for Mountain Justice Spring Break, where we will share the skills and knowledge needed to fight back against dirty coal. This will be an amazing opportunity to meet and join the good people who make up Mountain Justice, gain grassroots organizing skills, and learn the dirty truth about coal, with your own eyes. Stand up and take action at the site of the TVA coal ash disaster and stand in solidarity with the impacted communities.

You can visit right now and register for what is bound to be a life-changing experience.

Building upon the success of Mountain Justice Spring Break (MJSB) 2008, this year's camp will be full of workshops, speakers, community service, direct action, hiking, music, great food, camp fires, fun times and more. Not only will you leave with a refined understanding of mountaintop removal and the dirty coal cycle, you will learn to organize in solidarity with coal-impacted communities to maintain their land and culture and end our dependence on dirty energy.

(Check out this video/slideshow from MJSB 2008! )

MJSB 2009 is will be held at a beautiful camp (with cabins) near the Cumberland Plateau, allowing us to explore and appreciate the land we are working to protect. The camp is only miles away from the recent TVA ash disaster, the single worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. History. We will have the unique opportunity to meet with and act in solidarity with the local people, who's lives have been turned upside-down by the colossal one billion gallon spill of toxic coal ash. (And TVA Headquarters will only be a few miles away, in Knoxville... )

At spring break, Mountain Justice will also be recruiting volunteers to join the struggles in coal-impacted communities of Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. Internships for college credit can be set up for a wide range of areas of study. You can come work for Mountain Justice and get college credit for it!

This event is being planned largely by college students and full-time volunteers, so if you're interested in joining in on the final stages, please email Marty to get involved!

If you have break between March 7th and 15th (or even if you don't...), please consider coming to Eastern Tennessee and joining in on the fun and educational experience that will be Mountain Justice Spring Break. We're looking forward to making lots of new friends and pushing the movement that much closer towards critical mass. The time for Mountain Justice is at hand, and you can be part of it!

Please visit for more information, and register by February 18th!

Can't make it to MJSB 2009? Then maybe you can come to DC for the 4th Annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in DC, March 14-18th. Check out this event and many more at

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Arch Coal CEO talks up "clean coal" at Harvard lecture: Epic Fail

This rough week for coal continued yesterday, as Rising Tide Boston (RTB) acted in solidarity with those who took a stand at Coal River Mountain, earlier that day. Steve Leer, CEO of Arch Coal, the second largest coal supplier in the U.S., attempted to deliver a public lecture on "clean coal technology" at Harvard University last night. Not only was the crowd less than receptive to the coal baron's sad defense of coal, the final word was delivered by members of RT Boston.

The Arch Coal rep was a guest speaker in a special series of lectures entitled "The Future of Energy." As if its some sort of cosmic joke, the lecture series is funded by none other than Bank of America, the largest financial sponsor of coal extraction, and a predominant investor in Arch Coal. Not surprisingly, the lecture contained very little discourse on the feasibility of carbon capture, and served mainly as a defense for maintaining the status quo of centralized and dirty energy production (including nuclear!!!).

After a hour-long excretion of predictable arguments for keeping us addicted to dirty coal, the evening was ended with an enlightening Q&A session. Every single person in line at the mic made a critical comment as part of their question, the first being delivered by a young woman from the coal-fields of Kentucky, who brought attention to the conveniently overlooked issue of coal extraction in Appalachia.

You could almost see the CEO shrink in his cocoon of avoidance and denial, his voice dropping to near inaudible as he delivered each sidestepping non-answer. After getting nailed one question after another, a member of Rising Tide Boston got to ask the last "question," which ended, "...what gives us the right to gamble the future of civilization on a magic technology that doesn't exist?". Oh snap.

As he tried to control the damage, and fashion some sort of response, two other members of RTB walked to the front of the lecture hall and unfurled a banner which read, "The coal bubble is bursting - Clean Coal is a Dirty Lie," before proclaiming a list of statements on Arch Coal's investments in "every dirty energy practice in the country." (Note that the banner included both the Arch Coal logo, as well as Bank of America's.)

That was the end of the evening's failed attempt at disinformation. Don't quit your day job, Steve. No wait, quit your day job.

The whole debacle served as yet another blow to King Coal, a one-two punch after the morning's inspiring action at Coal River Mountain. And with the capital action and others across the country on the horizon, things are only heating up for Steve and friends. Rising Tide Boston isn't letting up on Bank of America either, and will continue to stick it to them come Valentine's day.

The press release, from the laptop of Rising Tide Boston:

Rising Tide Boston crashes talk by Arch Coal CEO

February 3, 2009

Boston, MA - Seven activists from Rising Tide Boston disrupted a lecture at Harvard University being delivered by Arch Coal CEO Steve Leer, who was speaking on the future of "clean coal" technology. The activists attempted to enlighten the coal baron and the lecture attendees on the true cost of coal extraction.

"Arch coal is participating in the destructive practice of mountaintop removal," says Tyler Kinser, a member of Rising Tide Boston. "How can coal ever be clean when entire communities are being poisoned and displaced by coal extraction?"

"This Harvard lecture series is funded by Bank of America, the single largest financial sponsor of mountaintop removal," said Kinser, "so it's no surprise that Harvard is hosting this lecture of disinformation on coal. We decided to balance out the lies." Bank of America has invested billions of dollars in Arch Coal, according to the website

Read the full press release, here.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Time Magazine celebrates monkewrenching; plugs Capitol Climate Action

cross-posted from It's Getting Hot in Here

Another momentous article in mainstream media! Check out this recent feature in Time Magazine. It’s truly inspiring to perceive this sort of shift in the political climate. To have an article like this, in a publication like Time, without any allusion to the Green Scare or use of the “T” word, says something. The article even gives a nice plug to the upcoming mass civil disobedience in DC on March 2nd.

To Protect Public Land, Eco-Protesters Get Creative

By Bryan Walsh Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009

Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher tainted an auction of oil and gas drilling leases by bidding up parcels of land by hundreds of thousands of dollars without any intention of paying for them.
Courtney Sargent / Deseret News / Rapport

You may have never heard of the Monkey Wrench Gang—unless you read the 1975 novel by maverick writer and nature lover Edward Abbey, who introduced the world to a fictional collection of green misfits waging a guerrilla war against industrialization in the American West. They sabotage bulldozers and construction sites, burn billboards and destroy dams, all to keep their beloved Southwestern desert pristine. Think of it as muscular environmentalism, a world apart from the wonky work on climate change that now defines the mainstream green movement.

Still, the outlaw spirit lives on in the work of contemporary monkeywrenchers like Tim DeChristopher, a 27-year-old college student who singlehandedly disrupted a multi-million-dollar land auction that would have put hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands in southern Utah in the hands of oil and gas companies. But DeChristopher didn’t use sabotage or homemade bombs—just chutzpah.

Read the full article, here

Sunday, February 1, 2009

George Monbiot places Shell Oil CEO over a barrel

Guardian columnist George Monbiot sticks it to Jeroen van der Veer, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell. Watch this hilarious video of the CEO squirming in his seat as Monbiot blows up his spot.

NYT: Collapse of the Clean Coal Myth

Cross-posted from the Climate Progress blog
read the full post here

The NY Times had a strong editorial this week on the painful reality that trumps the industry greenwashing — coal ain’t clean:

A month of negative news for the Tennessee Valley Authority could lead to positive changes in national policy, including federal regulation of toxic coal wastes and new legal constraints on coal-fired power plants. More broadly, the authority’s recent travails may help persuade the public that coal is nowhere near as “clean” as a high-priced industry advertising campaign makes it out to be.

Hear! Hear! (see The day ‘clean coal’ died). The whole piece is worth reading.