Activists from Sierra Club in West Virginia, Southwest Virginia and Pennsylvania joined with members of Rising Tide, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), the Alliance for Appalachia, Occupy Sandy, Swarthmore College Mountain Justice, Protecting Our Waters, and veterans from a Philadelphia vet's service center to pressure the EPA to take action to protect Appalachian waterways.
The rally included Marley Green, Sierra Club field organizer from Virginia, who spoke about the importance of getting EPA action to end the practice of Mountain Top Removal (MTR) coal mining. Junior Walk from West Virginia described the nightmare of destruction in his community, showing jugs of brown well water contaminated by mountaintop removal. He reported on a meeting with EPA officials earlier in the day, which he said left the Appalachian activists unsatisfied. “They think the answer is to allow more coal mining!” he said.
Confronting a large puppet representing the coal industry (with dollar signs for eyes) were people in EPA hazmat suits, and a “die-in” representing people poisoned by their water. A large black chain represented the way communities are locked into dirty water and its health impacts. As the names of the heavy metals and other pollutants were read out, people “died”by falling onto the frigid sidewalk.
Gulf War veteran Thomas Freeman spoke about having defended his country and still needing to defend its people from environmental destruction.
Eli Schewel of Rising Tide talked about the importance of combating environmental injustice and the positive development of unity among the variety of forces that went into planning this demonstration.
Sue Edwards, Sierra Club Beyond Coal volunteer, talked about how it takes an act of faith to come out in the cold trying to change decisions that seem beyond our control. She cited how each step we take builds our capacity, shows us our hidden talents, builds our skills, firms up alliances, and brings us closer to winning, “because we're on the right side of history.”
MTR mining, one form of “extreme fossil fuel extraction,” is particularly devastating to communities. Once mountains are cleared of trees and reduced to rubble, the coal is extracted (using chemicals such as the one that leaked into the Elk River in West Virginia recently), and the remaining soil and rock is dumped into surrounding river valleys. The streams in those valleys become dead zones and well water becomes unfit for use as large quantities of poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, mercury and lead leach into waterways at toxic levels. The EPA and independent scientists have repeatedly documented that waters downstream of mountaintop removal are harmed by high levels of pollution. In 2010,
the EPA issued a guidance to protect Appalachian streams. But this guidance is non- binding and states have shown repeatedly they are unable or unwilling to enforce the provisions. Coal industry influence smothers democracy.
-- Karen Melton and Sue Edwards
The Alliance for Appalachia is a regional coalition with the goals of ending mountaintop removal mining, putting a halt to destructive coal technologies, and supporting a sustainable, just economy in Appalachia.
Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) is a Quaker organization working to build a just and sustainable economy through nonviolent direct action. The EQAT project BLAM! (Bank Like Appalachia Matters!) is a strategic effort to get PNC Bank out of the business of financing mountaintop removal.
Rising Tide is an international grassroots network organizing actions against the causes of climate change and towards a just transition to a non-carbon society. It was organized in 2000 to coordinate responses to the UN Climate Conference.
The Sierra Club is America's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2 million members and supporters nationwide. The Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation.
Press Coverage:Metro, Jan 30., 2014 on Page 4
WHYY Radio and Newsworks.org on Jan. 30, 2014