Locking Down Big Coal

Today (Monday, March 2), I am likely to get arrested because I intend to help shut down the nefarious Washington, D.C. Capitol Hill coal plant.

The ancient plant burns filthy coal, once lodged in now destroyed mountains in Appalachia, to provide steam and heat for the myriad federal offices on Capitol Hill. Coal is not the plant’s only option. Indeed, it is equipped to burn cleaner fuels, but still relies on 19th century coal technology because coal state senators like Mitch McConnell, R-KY and Robert Byrd, D-WV throw hissy fits if progressive officials seek to use anything cleaner.

Those senators understand the symbolic importance of an antiquated coal plant on Capitol Hill. They know that if the Capitol rejects coal, it will not be long before other regions follow suit. And since they are the beneficiaries of huge volumes of campaign cash from the coal and utility industries, they have chosen to side with their well connected buddies who reap fortunes by blowing up mountains for their own personal greed.

Unfortunately for them, we also see the symbolism in a Capitol Hill coal plant and we intend to disrupt its operation, even for a few minutes and hopefully attract the attention of federal officials who make laws just down the street.

Sure, some people, after being told for years that coal is our only option for economic survival, will say we are crazy for accepting arrest and whatever that brings with it. But, the patriots who will join me, thousands strong, see it as a necessary act if we are ever going to get a handle on climate change and poor health that coal burning exacerbates.

Sending this message is exceptionally vital for people in Kentucky and Indiana which both rely on dirty coal for more than 95% of our electric generation. In fact, my research indicates there is nowhere else on Earth that has more coal burning capacity than the tri-state. For that dubious distinction, we get ill health and fouled water and air while the areas served by the many power plants around here think they are getting clean economic growth. They get good jobs and we get their waste.

We know that coal is not going to disappear overnight. But we also know that its day has passed. Its mining methods destroy entire ecosystems, burning it fouls our air and water and disposing of its waste creates huge environmental problems for anyone downstream.

Utilities and regulators are figuring those things out, as well. In the last two years, organizations like Valley Watch have successfully challenged the construction of new coal plants and just this month, the governors of South Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan imposed what amounts to a moratorium on new coal plants in their states. They are opting for increased energy efficiency, conservation and a spate of renewable energy options, knowing that coal is the cause of global warming and will never be its solution.

I am proud to have been one of the first people in the nation to see the necessity of eliminating coal from our energy mix. But I am more proud to be a part of a movement that is willing to do what it takes to alter our destructive course and put us on the right track. I am doing this because I truly believe in Valley Watch’s purpose-“to protect the public health and environment of the lower Ohio River Valley.”

Of course, your support for Valley Watch has and will continue to be appreciated. See us at: http://valleywatch.net

JOHN BLAIR is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer who serves as president of the environmental health advocacy group Valley Watch in Evansville, IN. He is a contributor to Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance from the Heartland, edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank. (AK Press) His email address is ecoserve1@aol.com

JOHN BLAIR is president of the environment health advocacy group, Valley Watch and earned a Pulitzer Prize for news Photography in 1978. He can be reached at: Ecoserve1@aol.com