At noon on Saturday, February 7, approximately fifteen individuals identifying themselves as 'Billionaires for Coal' assembled in front of Dominion Power's downtown offices to ostensibly voice their praise for the company's many coal-fired power plants. Dressed in formal attire and sipping lemonade from Martini glasses, the group chanted pro-coal, anti-environment slogans and held signs expressing similar sentiments. In addition to rousing recitations such as, "Up with sea levels, up with profits," the mid-day merriment included a live bluegrass performance by 'The We Love Money String Band' who frequently reassured their audience that they're "only in it for the money."
Addressing recent displays of opposition to Dominion's proposed Wise County coal plant as well as the escalating presence of anti-coal activism on an international scale, Stan Sneezley, an alleged billionaire from Harrisonburg said. "I feel offended and assaulted by all of these people talking about asthma and climate change and their children's future. These people obviously don't care about me and my money at all! I say if a few million kids have to wheeze a little for me to breath easy, then so be it! I'm rich!"
The theatrical display at the corner of 8th and Cary bewildered and amused passing motorists and pedestrians. Though the group's signs and chants kept on message with the façade of billionaires celebrating their controversial investments, leaflets distributed to on-lookers shed a different light on the events of the day. These half-paged documents revealed that the demonstration was in-fact organized by Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!), the same environmental organization that twice erected blockades of Dominion's Tredegar St. headquarters in the Spring and Summer of last year, and participated with a number of groups in a blockade at the construction site of Dominion's newest coal-burning power plant in Virginia's mountainous southwest corner last September. Citing the impacts of mountain-top removal mining operations on Appalachian communities and coal's role as the chief cause of climate-change among other grievances, the leaflets declared that BREF! holds a no-compromise opposition to all new coal-fired power plants. The leaflet also stated that the organization will continue it's efforts to halt the Wise County plant, now in construction and planned to be operating by 2012, using "every tool in the activist tool-box" including civil disobedience and other forms of non-violent direct intervention.
Breaking character, Luis, an Earth First! activist from Charlottesville put it plainly, "Coal is dirty, dangerous and deadly. The public knows it and our political representatives are beginning to reflect our concerns on the matter. The one and only reason that companies like Dominion are still pushing for new coal plants is money. We know that from the mining, to the processing, to the burning and waste storage, coal is hurting people and the environment. By continuing to pursue a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County, Dominion is saying that the wealth of it's investors is more important than the health and well-being of that area's residents."
Rainforest Action Network uses people power to challenge business as usual.
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