Pittsburgh: Still a Company Town

On September 18th, 2009, a week before thousands of people descended on Pittsburgh to protest the International Coal Conference and the G-20 Summit, Pittsburgh police, under the direction of the FBI, ATF and the Secret Service, began systematic harassment of the Seeds of Peace mobile bus kitchen and anyone who housed or supported them. Authorities jailed one member of the merry band of cooks for five days with $5000 bond just for giving a nickname that did not match her driver’s license.

Next, Federal agents and Pittsburgh police stormed the home of the urban Landslide Farm and following searches for explosives and weapons, used the threat of an obscure zoning ordinance to force the landowner to remove the bus and its roving chefs.

Just a day later, a 16 police vehicle convoy blew into the quiet Larimer neighborhood to stop the bus as it moved into its new location – the future home of a sustainable jobs center. While terrorizing the neighborhood, they gave the bus a two hour vehicle safety inspection, complete with street blockades and snarling K-9s, for the innocent act of a tire driving a foot onto the sidewalk while parking.

At the very same time across town, the city used the cover of night to discreetly remove the property of the Three Rivers Climate Convergence Camp from sprawling Schenley Park despite the camp being permitted, and permission granted by the City of Pittsburgh to leave the tents and educational materials in the park over night. Three Rivers Convergence had planned a living educational and cultural demonstration of sustainable practices and alternative energy. Plans changed.

Why was the environmentally conscious Three Rivers Climate Convergence and its peaceful allies so thoroughly harassed by authorities before the G20 demonstrations even began? Occam’s razor points in one direction. Coal.

Seeds of Peace feeds the climate change activists who were here to protest not only the G20 but also the International Coal Conference. Community-based food production was just one critical message in the Three Rivers Climate Convergences’ plan for getting out a message in regard to the relationship between coal and climate change. And it is hardly possible to have a climate camp without the capacity to feed the people in that camp. It is also impossible to effectively hold a Climate Camp without tents and educational displays.

Climate Camp was planned for the entire week, Monday through Friday September 21st through 25th. It was intended to coincide with the International Coal Conference Monday through Wednesday and the G20 Summit on Thursday and Friday. The coal companies held their conference the same week as the G20, so that they would be prepared and present to influence world leaders in the months leading up to the December Copenhagen Accord, which will replace the Kyoto Agreement on climate change.

Let us say that again because it is worth repeating.

Later this year, a new climate accord will be negotiated by many of the world leaders who were at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh. They will be in Copenhagen on December 18th to discuss the replacement of the Kyoto Agreement. It is not an accident that the International Coal Conference was in Pittsburgh the same week as the G20. They were here to lobby the G20 on behalf of substantial coal industry interests going into Copenhagen. In 2008 alone, the Coal Industry spent more than 35 million dollars in the media to green-wash so-called “clean coal”. The stakes are high.

And in spite of Mr. Obama’s declaration that all G20 protesters are generic anti-capitalists without a clear message, the message of Three Rivers Climate Convergence could not have been more timely or more clear. Phase out coal as an energy option; its price is too dear in terms of climate change and environmental destruction.

What Three Rivers had intended for the Climate Camp in Schenley Park was a community-oriented learning experience with solar power and permaculture demonstrations, workshops on deep ecology long wall mining and mountain top removal mining, as well as literature from Rain Forest Action Network, Sierra Club and Mountain Justice among others. The camp was meant as a family friendly place where protesters and Pittsburghers alike could learn about alternatives to climate destroying consumption patterns and meet people who live in the impacted communities.

Here are some of the facts that people would have learned at the Climate Camp had there been one, about how the coal industry contributes to climate change and environmental degradation in Appalachia:

· Coal contributes 30% to the United States share of carbon emissions.

· Mountain top removal mining has leveled 470 mountains in Appalachia and has filled in between 1200 and 2000 miles of creeks and streams with the waste.

· There are at least 40 coal fly ash waste dams in Appalachia just like the one that broke and buried the town of Harriman in the Tennessee Valley.

· There is a coal fly ash dam in Shippingsport PA, just west of Pittsburgh, which is 30 times larger than the disasterous Tennessee Valley dam. If the Shippingsport dam were to break the fly ash would flow into the Ohio River and effect the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of people.

· According to the Center for Coal Field Justice, there are dozens of reports of long wall mining damaging property in Greene and Washington Counties in Pennsylvania and estimates of total properties affected in those counties are in the hundreds.

· PNC Bank owns controlling shares in Blackrock investment firm which owns equity in Massey, Peabody, Consol and Arch, the four biggest energy companies dealing in coal extraction.

· Coal mining often poisons water tables and renders wells undrinkable in Appalachia.

· Duquesne Light purchases its power from the Cheswick power plant which purchases its coal from Reliant Energy Inc. That coal is mined by mountain top removal in the Laurel Creek area near Kirk West Virginia.

Considering that the naming rights to the new Hockey Arena in Pittsburgh were purchased by Consol Energy, the largest coal company in the US, and the baseball arena is named after PNC, Pittsburgh should not be surprised that the Three Rivers Climate Convergence was harassed in Pittsburgh for planning to expose the environmental and climate dangers of the coal industry. After all, Pittsburgh is and has always been, a company town with big money and political connections. Recall that it was Pittsburgh financial tycoon Andrew Mellon who was Secretary of Treasury under three Presidents in the years leading up to the stock market crash of 1929. Today BNY Mellon is the largest securities trader in the country, managing $928 billion in assets. PNC is the fifth largest deposit bank in the country with $291 billion in assets and its coal-invested subsidiary, Blackrock, which controls $1.37 trillion, is the largest money management company in the world.

The Coal Industry has both the means and the motive to silence alternative voices. Powerful Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato was brazen in admitting as much at Monday’s post G20 press conference when he boasted, “It [the G20] was a huge success because minimizing any of the disruption that could have happened like other cities, it allowed us continue to get out the positive message overall.”

With Pittsburgh so firmly rooted in the power of coal and its dirty money, its fair to wonder whose “positive message” he meant.

Three Rivers Climate Convergence continues to call for the phasing out of coal as an energy option and advocating for clean, renewable, decentralized energy production to power Pittsburgh. We also call for an end to long wall mining and mountain top removal mining in this country as well as the experimentation on rural and Indigenous communities for carbon sequestration. The City of Pittsburgh and the Obama Administration have gone to extreme lengths to silence this message. If one wonders why City and Federal officials have worked so hard to disrupt and criminalize the Three Rivers Climate Camp, the answer is found by tracing the relationships between the coal industry, its financial allies and the influence that their money has with elected officials at every level. But if you follow the money, prepare for a dirty trail.