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?”
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.
Stand with Elise and RAN by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal -- and come clean on climate change.
I just got this article from my friend, and amazing author and activist Jeff Conant. Got environmental health issues? Think some corporations and climate chaos might just give you some? Want to learn about how communities are fighting back? Check it out...
Hesperian’s New Book Supports the Struggle for Environmental Rights and Justice
By Jeff Conant
Aside from the damage to ecosystems, drilling, spilling, and burning oil cause an array of health problems, such as asthma, cancers, skin disease, and nerve damage. This is one of the reasons why the environmental justice movement tries to clean up and shut down refineries, why we campaign to protect the Amazon and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and why OilWatch and others call for a moratorium on oil drilling and a transition to just, clean energy alternatives.
Few resources exist to help community-based activists focus on oil’s immediate health impacts. Hesperian’s Community Guide to Environmental Health changes that. A popular education manual in the style of their widely used book, Where There Is No Doctor, the new Community Guide... provides an approach to health from the perspective of underlying social and ecological injustice.
Early in the book’s development, Ecuador’s Acción Ecológica shared with Hesperian a study of the health impacts of oil in the Amazon conducted ten years previously by lay health workers using the kind of popular methodologies that Hesperian promotes. Acción Ecológica, wanted to conduct a follow-up study to show the changes in health in the affected region in the intervening decade.
Hesperian accompanied a team of local researchers on a two-week trek through the misery of the oil-drilling zones from Lago Agrio south to Sucumbios and across the Cononaco River. What we witnessed was horrifying: one in three people with some form of cancer, household wells clogged with crude oil, livestock dead and swollen from toxics, and thousands of hectares of watershed and rainforest hopelessly destroyed. The native people of the area and the colonists who had migrated to the region were suffering from malnutrition, heavy metal poisoning, nervous exhaustion, reproductive health problems ranging from infertility to stillbirths to birth defects, and a deepening, inescapable poverty.
That experience became the chapter Oil, Illness and Human Rights. It discusses specific health impacts of oil development, the threats posed to people by oil from exploration through combustion, and the methodology used to conduct a health study (essential to the lawsuit against Chevron-Texaco, for which Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo recently won the Goldman Environmental Prize.
Early drafts of the chapter were sent for review to groundWork in South Africa and Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria. Their input further improved the material. Nnimmo Bassey, director of Environmental Rights Action, says about the Community Guide...:
“The community guide is more than just a book, it is a tool for change . . . and I say this from my experience testing the chapter on oil in local communities. By the time we concluded going through all the issues and exercises, the community people suddenly realized that the things they took for granted, things they thought were safe, were no longer safe. What they understood is that their entire body was filled with crude oil. They were so scared and so alarmed and they realized that, ‘look, we cannot just allow the companies to continue on as usual. They have to be responsible, they have to attend to the environmental safety, they have to do things in a way that is acceptable, that is transparent, they have to do things to the very best and highest standards.’ I think the book is a great inspiration for mobilizing communities to defend their environment.”
Activists need tools and information to combat damage caused by oil development, deforestation, resource abuse, and degradation of human rights and the environment. As you work to bring about change, be inspired by Acción Ecológica, Environmental Rights Action, and a host of other groups on the front lines whose stories and advice you’ll find in A Community Guide to Environmental Health.