Pages tagged "'appalachia"

Mountains, Water and Community

Last week, Rainforest Action Network and three allies testified at Bank of America's annual shareholder meeting, urging them to drop coal, to stop profiting from environmental destruction and human rights abuses. In the next two weeks, we'll be posting the statements of our three allies. Add your voice by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal --  and come clean on climate change

My name is Elise Keaton. I am the Executive Director of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation and I am from southern West Virginia. I currently live in Charleston, West Virginia. I am here today to ask you to please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community.

On January 9 of this year, I came home from work, poured a big glass of water from my tap and drank it. As soon as I set my glass down I received a text message from my landlord stating, “Don’t drink the water! There has been a chemical leak!

Over the next hours, I experienced acute symptoms from exposure to the coal-processing chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), including irritated eyes, nose and throat, nausea, and stomach cramps. If the spill had been immediately lethal, I thought, the authorities would have sounded the chemical valley alarms. So I monitored my symptoms and concluded that I did not need to go to the emergency room that night. I figured that the next day, we would know more about what had happened.

What we learned over the next week was that a Freedom Industries facility storing coal-processing chemicals leaked MCHM into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water for 300,000 households. The first question a thinking human being should ask is, “Why are 300,000 households, spread across nine counties in a rural state like West Virginia on a single water source in the city of Charleston?” MTRQuote_720x720

The answer is: their local water sources have already been compromised by the mining industry. Their streams and springs have been destroyed or buried by mountaintop removal. Their wells have been compromised by blasting or polluted by coal slurry injections.

And instead of addressing the sources of this pollution, the political-industrial establishment in West Virginia decided that your quarterly profits were more important than clean water for our communities and they answered that loss of water by extending the municipal water source further and further out into those counties.

Four months later, we still lack access to guaranteed safe drinking water in West Virginia. Our esteemed congresspeople have insisted that they are drinking the water. But no public health official has declared the water safe to drink.

I am 34 years old and I am getting married this summer. I've waited a long time to start my family. Now, I have postponed my plans to have children indefinitely because no one can tell me the impact MCHM may have had on me and my reproductive ability.

I am here today to ask you to please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community. The minuscule profits you received as a result of mountaintop removal mining are incomparable to the catastrophic damage caused by the practice. It is killing us.

More than 20 peer-reviewed health studies have shown that living near mountaintop removal sites is deadly for the people of Appalachia. Please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community.

I will close with this: when you remove coal by blowing up a mountain to extract it you have destroyed a “water maker” for the equivalent of one hour’s worth of electricity for the United States. Let me repeat that. When you extract coal by mountaintop removal you kill a resource that will make water forever -- for the equivalent of one hour’s worth of energy for the U.S. How is that a good investment?

As shareholders of one of the largest financial institutions in the world, you are savvy investors and business minded individuals. How is destroying the mountains that create clean water for a very small, short term financial benefit a good investment? Please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and our communities. Your profits from mountaintop removal mean death for us.

Thank you.

Stand with Elise and RAN by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal --  and come clean on climate change

I'm Visiting Barclays Bank and I Need You to Back Me Up

Paul Corbit Brown MTR imageThis is a guest post by Paul Corbit Brown, president, Keeper of the Mountains.

Tomorrow, I’m visiting Barclays and I need you to back me up.

In 2013 Barclays gave $550 million in financial support, more than any other bank, to companies destroying my home of central Appalachia with mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR).

That's why I've traveled all the way to England to speak at Barclays' annual shareholder meeting. I want to ensure that the bank's leaders and shareholders know about the true scale of destruction caused by MTR.

Will you help make sure Barclays can’t ignore the devastation? Click here to tell Barclays to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining!

MTR is destroying everything I love. More than just leveling mountains, it will pollute our water for countless generations. The health of all those around me is already suffering. Cancer, birth defects, lung disease, heart disease, and dramatically shortened life expectancies have sadly become normal in the communities where MTR is practiced.

The coal industry could not do its dirty work without the help of banks like Barclays. We need to make sure the bank and its shareholders hear that no corporation and no individual has the ethical right to profit from the destruction and sickness caused by MTR.

When people like us hold banks responsible for financing destruction, we can make a difference. We've already persuaded JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and BNP Paribas to move away from MTR financing.

Barclays bank's executive team will be under tough scrutiny at their shareholder meeting. If we act in unison today, we can ensure that the message I'm going to deliver to the meeting packs a powerful punch—and demands responsible and ethical action from the bank.

Tell Barclays to take responsibility for its investments and stop financing mountain destruction!

GFC-Paul-HeadshotPaul Corbit Brown is president of Keeper of the Mountains, a West Virginia-based foundation that aims to educate and inspire people to work for healthier, more sustainable mountain communities and an end to mountaintop removal. He is a photographer who has worked in more than a dozen countries and exhibited throughout the United States.

Extreme Coal - No Longer Business as Usual

Extreme Investments

For the first time since we began publishing coal finance report cards five years ago, we have an encouraging trend to report: Major banks have begun making noise about the growing financial risk associated with climate change—and specifically associated with coal, the top global contributor to carbon pollution.

On top of that, major banks have begun to cut ties with the biggest mountaintop removal (MTR) coal companies. This progress has exposed a growing gap between banks that are still sinking billions into coal, and those that are cutting ties with the worst-of-the-worst in the coal industry.

Today, RAN, the Sierra Club, and BankTrack released our 2014 Coal Finance Report Card, “Extreme Investments, Extreme Consequences,” which grades U.S. banks on their performance and policies related to coal-fired power and mountaintop removal coal mining. We also uncovered the top financiers of contentious coal export schemes like those in the Pacific Northwest and coal trains that transport dusty coal across the United States.

All told, banks sank over $31 billion into the worst companies in the coal industry last year, with $6.5 billion coming from Citigroup, the top funder of coal-fired power. However, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo began to phase out financing for MTR, earning our first ever “B” grades, and marking a positive trend away from the extreme mining practice.

Meanwhile, UK-based Barclays increased its exposure to MTR, financing $550 million for mountaintop removal coal companies last year, more than any other bank.

Environmental damage from mining, transporting, and burning coal—including health hazards like air pollution and water contamination from spills—doesn’t just harm communities and the environment, it costs banks money. In the report card, we highlight examples of this in case studies about the rising cost of clean-up for water contamination at mine sites, increases in coal company bankruptcies, and money-losing coal-fired power plants.

Download the 2014 Coal Finance Report Card

Download the 2014 Coal Finance Report Card.

The report comes on the heels of analyst publications from Goldman Sachs, HSBC and Citigroup last year, each of which challenged the case for continued investment in the coal industry. These and other banks have acknowledged that power plant regulations, a potential price on carbon, and competition from renewable energy sources could “strand” assets such as coal mining, transport, and power generation facilities. With billions of dollars in loans on the line, it’s not a question of if climate risk will translate into financial risk, but when.

Ironically, these very same banks maintain deep financial ties to the riskiest and most environmentally destructive companies in the U.S. coal industry. As credit ratings for some coal mining companies sank farther below investment grade last year, banks continued to place bets on risky loans to the sector.

The report card warns banks that before the carbon bubble bursts onto their balance sheets, it will irreversibly destabilize the climate. So while we are happy to report that a few banks took the first steps to cut off financing to the worst-of-the-worst of the coal industry, the banking industry as a whole must now cut its losses and forge a path away from coal, before it’s too late for both them and us.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Barclays, the number one banker of mountaintop removal, to end its support of destroying mountains and poisoning communities for coal.

West Virginia Chemical Leak Poisons 300,000 Peoples' Water Supply


Since last Thursday's toxic spill, when a coal-processing chemical spilled into West Virginia's Elk River, roughly 300,000 people have lost access to tap water. Our friends at groups like OVEC, Keepers of the Mountain, Coal River Mountain Watch and Aurora Lights are volunteering and working long days to  drive clean water supplies to desparate and remote communities throughout the nine affected counties in West Virginia. A few dollars goes a long way to help. Click any of those links to donate. I just donated and want to urge you to consider making a donation to water relief efforts too. Yet again Appalachian communities are being disenfranchised. This industrial disaster is not getting much play in the national media, despite being just a few hours from the nation's capital. Meanwhile, West Virginia's Governor keeps insisting that this disaster has nothing to do with the coal industry. To be clear, the chemical that spilled (4-methylcyclohexane methanol) is a chemical that is produced for use producing coal (the "cheapest" form of energy in this country) and the reason that a relatively small spill was able to impact so many people's drinking water (16% of the state) is that decades of contamination from coal mining and processing means that many rural communities can no longer rely on well water, and instead have to connect the municipal water systems. Then the privatization of public infrastructure means that the business has been aggressively consolidated into even larger distribution networks. Combine all that with the regulatory joke that is West Virginia's "Department of Environmental Protection" (the site's last inspection was in 1991), and you have a disaster on your hands. Ken Ward (IMO the smartest journalist covering these issues) wrote this morning:

Plenty of West Virginia communities have watched their drinking water supplies be either polluted or dried up because of coal (see here, here and here). Me and my neighbors are getting a taste right now of what some coalfield residents live with all the time.

If you want to help spread awareness of this tragedy and the urgent need for support of the affected West Virginians, please share this post on Facebook. no such thing clean coal

Tell Banks to Stop Financing the Destruction of Blair Mountain

[caption id="attachment_20559" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Blair Mountain, West Virginia"][/caption] A Guest Blog by Brandon Nida, Organizer—Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance Many people have not heard of the Battle of Blair Mountain, let alone a place called Adkins Fork in Logan County, West Virginia. But in 1921, the Adkins Fork area was the scene of an intense battle between miners attempting to organize and a private army trying to stop them. It is part of the larger Blair Mountain battlefield that stretches 14-miles along Spruce Fork Ridge, the site of the largest labor battle in US history. Ten thousand miners fought for five days against the private army entrenched on the ridgeline, with both sides having high-powered rifles and machine guns. Three regiments of federal troops sent by President Harding were finally able to halt the conflict. Currently Adkins Fork and the larger Blair Mountain battlefield is threatened by an extremely destructive form of coal mining called mountaintop removal (MTR). This is a process where mountains are blasted and a huge amount of leftover material is pushed into valleys, filling them up and creating a flat moonscape where rolling hills and hardwood forest once were. MTR is a process that in recent years has increasingly been tied to health problems such as rare forms of cancer, respiratory illnesses, and birth defects. At the foot of Blair Mountain is the town of Blair, where I live and work. In the late 1990s, Blair was a community of about 700 people, and currently there are only about 70 residents left. Aggressive buyouts preceded plans to MTR mine around the town and led to the systematic depopulation of the area. The people who remained had to live with constant blasting behind the town, carcinogenic dust rolling off the site, and the contamination of drinking water with heavy metals. But people from Blair were some of the first coalfield residents to speak out against MTR, something that is hard to do in central Appalachia where the coal industry dominates the social and political landscape. Currently we are fending off six different permits that would impact the battlefield and the communities around it. Our biggest struggle is with the Adkins Fork permit, which is situated in the heart of the battlefield and right above the headwaters of the town of Blair. The Adkins Fork permit is currently up for renewal, and we have mounted a major campaign to block this permit. This campaign will be a tough one and will continue over the next few months. The Adkins Fork permit, which is being sought by Arch Coal, is symbolic of the increasing risk that investors and banks are taking by investing in companies (like Arch Coal) that have MTR operations. It is a permit that has multiple deficiencies, and is being contested by a wide range of concerned citizens, including: community members, retired coal miners, archaeologists, labor groups, environmentalists, and others across central Appalachia and the rest of the nation. If Arch Coal is able to proceed with the Adkins Fork permit, they would destroy one of the only areas we know for certain was occupied by the miners during the Battle. Along with this permit, there are currently 17,000 acres permitted or under review for the Spruce Fork watershed. It is comprised of geological strata high in selenium. Selenium is a bio-accumulative compound that is highly detrimental to the nervous system of animals and humans, and is extremely expensive to contain or remove from the ecosystems once it is released. This small compound is one of the reasons Patriot Coal, a major operator of MTR mining in Central Appalachia, was forced to publicly halt all MTR operations just last month. Streams in the Spruce Fork watershed have already been shown to have higher amounts of selenium than regulation allows. [caption id="attachment_20595" align="alignright" width="300" caption="MTR on Blair Mountain"][/caption] In addition to Arch Coal seeking a permit that has a wide coalition of people opposing it and which has high levels of selenium, the risk investors take when putting their money into companies like Arch continues to increase. The West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office refuses to sign off on this permit due to the destruction of major archaeological resources. Valley fills, of which the Adkins Fork permit has three, have been coming under increasing scrutiny by federal regulators. With the stripping of thousands of acres of vegetation and topsoil, the risk of flooding becomes more prevalent.  As more peer-reviewed science shows the link between MTR and severe health problems, companies such as Arch are finding it harder to externalize these risks onto communities such as the town of Blair. For these reasons and more, those who continue to invest in companies like Arch that conduct strip mining operations such as the Adkins Fork permit take on increasing risk. Right now, Arch Coal’s stock is down to around seven dollars per share from a high of around 73 per share in 2008. Arch Coal’s credit rating is Ba3 sub-prime, just one level above where Patriot Coal (NYSE: PCX) was before going bankrupt. The Adkins Fork permit is just one permit by Arch Coal that would impact the town of Blair and the Blair Mountain battlefield. Companies such as Arch are attempting to destroy not just the environment, but whole communities, heritage, and people’s health. Citizen groups and environmental organizations have become more proficient in being able to challenge and block these permits. In fact, one of the only operations to have been halted in mid-operation was in Blair – the Daltex surface mine operated by Arch Coal. In addition, the Spruce No. 1 surface mine, which is the largest MTR mine ever permitted in central Appalachia and which sits on another ridge above Blair, has been the subject of intense litigation for over a decade. For those of you who would like to take part in stopping companies like Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources (ANR) from destroying the Blair Mountain battlefield and other mountains in central Appalachia, there are definite ways you can help and join in our efforts. Even if you live far away, we need you to take a stand and join in our Adkins Fork campaign and the larger efforts to preserve Blair Mountain and stop MTR. The first step is working in solidarity with a group of community members, organizers, retired coal miners, archaeologists, historians, environmentalists, and others who will be taking part in a public conference with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection this Thursday. While we attempt to show the WV DEP why this permit renewal should be denied, we need as many people as possible to circulate and sign our petition directed at the banks and investors who enable companies like Arch Coal to engage in these destructive operations. This is not just about one permit, or one mountain, or one community, but is symbolic of the larger problem of destructive practices such as MTR, and the increasingly reckless investment and financing of these types of operations. Take a stand today, and join our team. Tell banks and investors to stop financing the destruction of our homes and health. Stand with us and stay connected as we move through this national campaign. Only together can we stop destructive extractive processes such as MTR.   Brandon Nida is a native West Virginian who currently lives in Blair, WV. He is an organizer with the Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance, a board member of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and a member of the United Auto Workers. He is currently finishing the doctorate program in Anthropology/Archaeology at UC Berkeley.

Patriot Coal to End Mountaintop Removal Mining

Good news for Appalachia: Patriot Coal recently announced its decision to end mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. Rainforest Action Network has been talking for many years about why this egregious form of mining needs to be ended immediately. For anyone who might want a reminder about what MTR is, watch this: [youtube XyzwCKoLhDo 550] This is significant news. Patriot is the third largest producer of MTR coal, responsible for almost 8% of the coal mined by this method in 2011. Most encouragingly, along with its commitment to end large scale surface mining in the region, Patriot also acknowledged the impact this destructive form of mining has on local communities and announced its commitment to reduce its environmental footprint. Patriot issued the following statement:
Patriot Coal has concluded that the continuation or expansion of surface mining, particularly large-scale surface mining of the type common in central Appalachia, is not in its long-term interests. Today’s proposed settlement commits Patriot Coal to phase out and permanently exit large scale surface mining and transition our business primarily toward underground mining and related small scale surface mining. Patriot Coal recognizes that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways, and we are committed to maximizing the benefits of this agreement for our stakeholders, including our employees and neighbors. We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint.
While this may sound like a change of heart, it is worth noting that Patriot was facing some tough economic challenges. The company had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June and was being sued by environmental and citizens’ groups in West Virginia federal court to stop polluting water with selenium, a metal released by large-scale strip mining, and clean up the pollution. Whatever their motivation, this news is a win for the mountains and communities of Appalachia.

"Stop Financing Nightmares and Begin Financing Dreams"

[caption id="attachment_20197" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="A mountaintop removal site."][/caption] I'd like to introduce my friend, Paul Corbit Brown. Paul is an exceptional individual, a human rights photographer who has spent his lifetime traveling the world documenting injustice. Paul is a native West Virginian, who grew up and lives in the heart of the Appalachian mountains where coal mining companies are systematically destroying mountains, communities and the climate. Paul is in Germany this week. He traveled there to speak to a meeting of bankers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, several of whom provide finance for the companies that are threatening his home. The following are the notes from his presentation:
Ladies and gentleman, I would first like to thank you for having me here. I am honored to have the opportunity to speak to you about this incredibly important situation. Indeed, it is so important that I have spent a week of my life to travel thousands of miles, knowing I will have only 15 minutes to speak to you. I hope I am up to the task. I regret that I cannot address you directly, in your mother tongue, for we do not share that. But I do hope to reach you as a fellow human being. I will not speak of the images behind me directly, but rather, I will let them play silently in the background as a witness to the irreversible devastation of my home in Appalachia, the second most bio-diverse ecosystem in the world, and the poverty, sickness, suffering and death of many people at the hands of the coal industry. Martin Luther King said, " We must all learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." First, I would like to propose a toast. I ask each of you to raise your glass with me and drink to our shared destiny. I know it isn't normal to toast with water, but in this case, I think it is highly appropriate because water is one of the few things that all humans, in fact all life on this planet, share. Our planet is 2/3 water and our bodies are more than 3/4 water. And so it is true that whatever any one of us does to the water on this planet, we do to everyone and to all life on earth. The bottle of water I am holding is water that came from a well in a community near where I live. You would be rightfully disturbed if I told you that you had just shared some of this water, unaware, just like the people in so many communities where coal is mined. Don't worry, even if I had shared this water with you, it's doubtful only one sip of it would harm you very much. But unfortunately, my people have had more than one drink. It is their daily reality. It is the water they use to drink, to cook with, and to bathe themselves and their children. I will pass this water around so you can see it up close and you can know what it feels like to hold death in your hands. You are even free to smell it, if you dare. I put it in a water bottle from here because it is symbolic of the very real fact that financing this industry anywhere, makes a problem for you here, because it makes your bank complicit in the system that creates this poison water. The effluents of mining, preparing and burning coal include mercury, chromium, selenium, cadmium, lead and arsenic- just to name a few. Heavy metal poisoning is forever. Once it is ingested into your body, it stays there and, like radiation, it accumulates until it kills you. And even worse, large amounts of this poisoning have begun to cause genetic mutations in aquatic wildlife near my home. These mutations will eventually work their way up the food chain to us, humans, who on our current course of environmental devastation, won't stay at the top of this chain for long. The good news is that we really needn't worry about saving the earth. She has been through several mass extinctions already. We aren't really destroying the earth, we are simply and rapidly making it unfit for human life. This is proven by the fact that 4,000 additional Appalachians die each year in the areas where coal is mined and burned. Death to my people doesn't come quickly from the barrel of a gun. It comes slowly from the simple act of drawing water from the kitchen faucet. There is no difference in killing me slow or killing me fast. Coal in general, and mountaintop removal mining in particular, is far more than an environmental disaster. The production and use of coal is an egregious human rights violation of epic proportions. It is a living, waking nightmare. The question in front of us today is, "Why should you not finance mountaintop removal mining?" If, after hearing me talk and seeing the photographs of the way my communities and our ecosystem are being destroyed, isn't enough, I will give you another reason. You represent the banking industry. Banks exist for one very simply reason: to make a profit. The science has finally arrived to prove what we in Appalachia have always known: coal is killing us. We now have more than 22 peer reviewed scientific studies that show how coal is irreversibly destroying our water and our health. These studies prove that people who live in areas around MTR are far more likely to suffer from heart attacks, cancer, respiratory diseases and are even more likely to have children with birth defects. The science is here and the lawyers will soon follow. Several large cases have already been heard in the courts, with tens of millions of dollars being rewarded to those who have suffered because of coal. This is only the beginning. The courts may finally force the coal industry to pay the true cost of its profits, the human cost- which until now, had been an externalized and hidden cost. Many in the coal industry point to the jobs that coal creates. "Look at all we've given you," they say. And I answer," Yes. I see all you've given me every day. I watch my father gasping for his next breath, just like my grandfathers did. All of them victims of Black Lung disease. I see children dying of brain cancer and my own mother suffering through two fights with cancer. I see the communities left in ravages after you make your profit and leave. I see the five counties in my state that produce the most coal are among the poorest counties in my entire country. And I see you pointing to the food you have laid upon our tables, for a time, as being merely a distraction to the fact that you have poisoned the vessel from which we drink." As human beings with a hearts and minds, we should not need to wait for government legislation in order to do the right thing. Financing coal is exactly and simply financing the poisoning of Appalachian people and our planet. Why do you need to wait for the government to tell you it's wrong? Coal is a barbaric and outdated method for producing heat and energy. There are ways as yet unimagined to do all that coal has done and more. Rather than mining our mountains and destroying our water, invest your best money and efforts in mining the human imagination and the untapped potential for human creativity. The energy in coal pales in comparison to the unlimited and inexhaustible fire of the human spirit. A good investment should be one for the future, rather than one of the past. In hindsight, can you imagine investing in chariots and stagecoaches when the automobile was first introduced? If you can't do it for my children, do it for your own. There is only one water and one air on this planet and, ultimately, it is shared by all of us. Would you want your children to drink this water and breath this toxic air? How would you feel to know that someone in another country was actually realizing a profit from the suffering and reduced life spans in your own community? I will not sit idly by, offering my life as a mechanism of sacrifice for anyone's profits. Stop financing coal. In closing, I would like to share this: Folks often confuse what they do, with who they are. Many people regard bankers as the greedy ones who only care about money and their profit. But I propose a different view, I suggest we look at bankers as those who sit at the right hand of the Architects of the Future. The architect can dream it, but the dream won't manifest unless you, the bankers, finance it. From this perspective, the future truly lies in your hands. What will you choose to make of it? You can choose who you are by what you do. My father, for instance, was not merely a coal miner. He was a man who chose to work hard, at any peril to himself, to provide for his family and see to our wellbeing. He and my mother always chose to give of themselves for what was best for us and our community. The world is a better place due to the kindness, devotion and generosity they shared. Although I don't know you, I have a great belief in each of you. I know each and every one of you has the capacity to change our world for the better. As I leave you, I will offer you this choice: At the end of your lives, as you say to your children of the world you are leaving them, "I built this world and I now leave it to you", will you look back with pride or will you look back in regret? The quality of our future will be measured in much more important terms than simply a financial return on our investments. It will be measured more by our ability to live peacefully with one another and in harmony with the planet that gives us life. As bankers, I challenge you to stop financing nightmares and begin financing Dreams.

“I Ain’t Collateral Damage. I Am Somebody”

[caption id="attachment_20158" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Larry at the Tar Sands Action with Teri Blanton from Kentucky and Texas landowner David Daniel"][/caption] This past weekend I went to West Virginia to say goodbye to my friend Larry Gibson. He passed away on September 9th on his home on Kayford Mountain, West Virginia. Hundreds turned out to Charleston’s civic arena to pay homage to this simple man who decided, 25 years ago, to take a stand against one of the biggest, most insidious industries in the history of the United States—Big Coal. My first visit to West Virginia in 2006 ended up on Larry’s home on Kayford, where he walked me around the property. The most devastating views were at Hell’s Gate. Hell’s Gate was the property line from where you could literally look down on massive mountaintop removal operations. It was stunning. I’ve seen clear cut forests, oil spills and an industry polluted lake near Butte, Montana, but nothing prepares you for mountaintop removal. It changed me. At that point, I wanted to do everything I could to stop it. Back in May, he and I both attended the Bank of America shareholder’s meeting in Charlotte, NC. He joined other shareholder activists inside to speak some truth to CEO Brian Moynihan’s power. That day Larry was especially fired up and fed up. His house on Kayford had just been burglarized by the opposition. He wasn’t in any mood to back down from any bankers’ double-talk on their support of the hate and violence in Appalachia. He didn’t. During that week, he told us: “They tell us we’re collateral damage. Well, I ain’t collateral damage. I am somebody. My name is Larry Gibson.” Larry was a fighter. He wasn’t always an activist and didn’t want to be. But when faced with mountaintop removal coal mining, he embraced these movements and fought with them shoulder to shoulder every day until he passed away. Larry realized that much of Kayford was lost to strip-mining by companies like Massey Energy and Arch Coal. He continued to work to prevent other environmental crimes in other communities in Appalachia and beyond. Larry continuously called for building bigger, more inclusive cross-issue movements. He’d talked about how everything needed to “get bigger.” He participated in last year’s Tar Sands Action in front of the White House. Last year, he joined US Uncut in a Bank of America branch in San Francisco. In his final days, he was outraged by Patriot Coal’s robbing of union retirees of their pensions and medical benefits and urged others to take action. When Goldman Prize winner and longtime mountain justice activist Judy Bond passed away last year, her parting words to us were “Fight harder.” Larry’s could have been “Fight together.” The week after I’d heard Larry died, I went to Texas to train and organize with the Tar Sands Blockade. TransCanada is cutting a monstrous gash in the East Texas countryside from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas to lay the Keystone XL pipeline. The company plans to flow billions of gallons of toxic bitumen (heavy tar sands crude) through communities and vital watersheds to line its executives’ pockets with more profits. In opposition, a diverse, unusual coalition of environmentalists and Texas landowners have banded together to resist the oil giant. It’s a bit in the spirit of what Larry talked about: diverse, unusual groups banding together in the face of corporate power and environmental destruction. Since July, the Tar Sands Blockade has launched action after action on TransCanada’s clear-cutting operations up and down the pipeline route. A tree-sit has lasted over four weeks. TransCanada has responded by allowing its employees to operate their heavy machines with reckless disregard for the safety of protestors and tree-sitters. Police have responded with brutal means such as pepper-spray and Tasers against peaceful protestors. Prosecutors have responded with elevated charges. TransCanada has now also filed lawsuits, aka Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), against activists and organizations to impede the progress of the campaign and begun to hire off-duty local police as private security at $30 an hour to protect its operations. When Obama and Romney’s debate around energy issues neglects to mention climate change and turns into a back and forth about who loves drilling and mining more, it’s obvious that the political system has failed the environment and the climate. Beyond politics as usual, we are now seeing popular uprisings to protect people’s homes and the natural world around them. The blockade is composed of youth and elders from across Texas and the country. Word is that more new activists arrive every day to join the blockade. Some have heard the call of mainstream environmentalists like Bill McKibben urging us all to take action. Some are from environmental networks like Earth First!, Rising Tide and Mountain Justice that have fought with frontline communities for many years on these issues. Some are from Occupy manifestations that popped up all over the world last year. Writer Chris Hedges recently remarked that the latest incarnation of Occupy “may not take place in city parks and plazas, where the security and surveillance state is blocking protesters from setting up urban encampments. Instead it could arise in the nation’s heartland, where some ranchers, farmers and enraged citizens, often after seeing their land seized by eminent domain and their water supplies placed under mortal threat, have united with Occupiers and activists to oppose the building of the Keystone XL tar sand pipeline.” It’s not just in Texas that action against extractive industry is happening. Over the summer, we saw climate activists embrace climate action with a new fervor in different parts of the country to challenge the fossil fuel industry. From mountaintop removal in Appalachia to fracking in the northeast to coal exports in Montana to this god awful pipeline in Texas and Oklahoma, a patchwork of anti-extraction fighters is growing and growing. Other events are happening in West Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. This weekend, Appalachian mountain fighters are bringing together more like-minded people in Rock Creek, WV in opposition to the continual destruction of Appalachia by the coal industry. Nearby in central North Carolina, environmentalists with Croatan Earth First! are convening the Piedmont Direct Action camp as momentum and energy builds in the state against natural gas extraction, aka “fracking.” A few weeks later, anti-fracking activists in Pennsylvania are holding the Shalefield Justice Action Camp. In New York City, a group called “Occupy the Pipeline” has launched a campaign against the Spectra natural gas pipeline. This is everywhere and it’s only getting bigger. Larry’s powerful voice guides us and I have no doubt that he watches over us from wherever he’s sitting with a smile and nod.

Remembering Appalachia’s Mountain Keeper, Larry Gibson

[caption id="attachment_19942" align="alignleft" width="252" caption="via"][/caption] "They tell us we're collateral damage. Well, I ain't collateral damage. I am somebody. My name is Larry Gibson." --Larry Gibson Politics in West Virginia always feel more real to me. Energy and economic policies have allowed coal companies to turn the state into a national sacrifice zone. Mountains are flattened by a surface mining technique called mountaintop removal, which buries rivers and streams in debris and poisons the ground water with the waste. Appalachians that fight back or speak out are often ostracized and viciously attacked by pro-coal partisans while officials often look away or side with industry. My friend Larry Gibson lived that reality more than most. Yesterday, after decades of fighting Big Coal, Larry passed away on Kayford Mountain. The first time I met Larry was like the first time lots of other people met Larry over the years. It was at his family home on Kayford Mountain. The “family home” was a small, simple house. The 54 acre property is surrounded by one of the largest mine sites in the state. When you look at the mine site from Larry’s property line, you see moonscape. When you look at aerial photos of it, you see an island of green surrounded by moonscape. Larry had decided early on that he wouldn’t sell out to the coal companies and allow them to strip mine Kayford, a place his family had lived on for generations. Larry spent a lot of his life in the past 20 years traveling the country speaking out powerfully, in his trademark bright yellow hat and t-shirt, about mountaintop removal and the coal industry’s war on Appalachia. He started a foundation called Keepers of the Mountain that has since educated and inspired thousands. Churches, schools, community groups: he never gave up. Larry kept fighting and spreading the gospel about his mountain home until the end. He was one of the most warmhearted people I knew and had a sweet sense of humor. No one was a stranger to him. He stayed at my house in the Mission district of San Francisco for a few days last year and woke up early every day to go just walk around the neighborhood and talk to people. Larry once said:
I never wanted to become an activist, but I had to. If I hadn't I would have been torn off this mountain a long time ago. There are thousands of people around the world who have heard me speak since I started this work, but honestly I wish to God no one knew my name. I wish I didn't have to leave my home and talk to people about mountaintop removal. Last year I traveled eight months out of the year talking to people about this stuff. But I know I have to bring this message to the world and I'm gonna fight for justice in every way I can. We have to have an uprising. This isn't an uprising that can be bought with money, but one that's coming from the hearts of honest and hardworking people.
[caption id="attachment_19943" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Larry sitting in at the White House with Teri Blanton and David Daniel, via Tar Sands Action"][/caption] RAN had a long history with him. The Coal Finance Campaign worked with Larry for years on campaigns to end mountaintop removal. Former RAN Senior Campaigner Annie Sartor remembers working with Larry around the Chase and Bank of America shareholder meetings in 2009 and 2012, respectively: “Larry spoke truth to power in a way that was unparalleled—when Larry spoke, all of the sterile formality, slick greenwashing and empty words of the bankers fell away. In their place was a man who was the living embodiment of integrity and resolve in the face of power. Larry was fighting to save his home.” He had a great impact on a lot of people. Lots of people are heartbroken and saddened by his passing. Gatherings, protests and Mountain Justice camps in Appalachia won’t be the same without Larry Gibson in his neon yellow hat and t-shirt sharing with us his truths about growing up in West Virginia, standing up to the likes of Massey and Arch Coal, and just putting his arm around you and listening to what you had to say. He changed us all and will be sorely missed.

Patriot Coal: Another One Bites the Dust

[caption id="attachment_19415" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Patriot Coal's Hobet MTR mine. Credit: Vivian Stockman /"]Patriot Coal's Hobet MTR mine[/caption] Big news this week in the coal industry: Patriot Coal, the third-largest Mountaintop Removal (MTR) coal mining company, is filing for bankruptcy. Bank of America is among the banks providing bankruptcy filing services for Patriot. This is a real opportunity for BofA to use its influence and environmental ambition to work with Patriot and forward-thinking politicians like West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller to close and clean up those MTR mines and transition the Appalachia region into a producer of clean, renewable energy. Email Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan right now and tell him not to bail out Patriot Coal's MTR coal mines. Patriot joins Massey and ICG on the roster of large MTR producers who have fallen into trouble in recent years (Massey and ICG were bought-out by Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, respectively). Patriot hasn’t received the quantity of negative press that Massey and ICG were awarded, but their operations still left a devastating impact on the communities and ecosystems surrounding their mines: significant selenium pollution. Selenium is a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life. In 2010, in the most significant judicial decision to date to address selenium pollution from coal mines in Appalachia, a federal judge ordered Patriot Coal to prepare $45 million in secured credit to cover the costs of treating the pollutant at two of its coal mines in West Virginia. In January 2012, attorneys for the Sierra Club and other groups filed a major lawsuit settlement that will require Patriot Coal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to treat selenium pollution from three of the company’s major MTR mines in West Virginia. The deal required Patriot to build and operate new treatment systems for 43 water discharge outfalls on 10 different permits. The deal also requires Patriot to drop any future plans for mining a major permit — and creating significant selenium pollution — at its Jupiter-Callisto Mine in Boone County, WV. The sad story of Patriot reinforces the bold speech by West Virginia’s Senator Rockefeller last month. He said that West Virginia coal operators must stop shrugging off climate change and pollution-related health problems and "face reality" about the future of coal.

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