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Day of Action Against Coal

Michael Brune

In a stirring column in Monday's New York Times, editorial writer Lawrence Downes urged former Obama campaign volunteers to enlist in another tour of duty.

The country is not in the best shape to simultaneously fix a sinking economy, a withered government and an ailing planet. But it has no choice, and not much time. So why wait until January to get started?

Downes is right -- we can't wait. That's why the citizens of Coal River Mountain, West Virginia are already working on building their own future with clean power. I can't think of another place anywhere in the U.S. where such clear distinctions can be drawn between America's energy past and future.

Nearly 500 mountains have been destroyed throughout Appalachia by mountaintop removal coal mining. Now, West Virginia-based Massey Energy plans to blow up Coal River Mountain piece by piece over the next 14 years so it can extract the coal underneath. When it's all done, another mountain will be destroyed, ten square miles devastated, at least 18 miles of streams will be buried or contaminated, and Massey will have supplied less than a quarter of one percent of U.S. annual electricity demand, as estimated by Coal River Mountain Watch.

The citizens of Coal River Mountain have a very different vision: to stimulate the local economy with investments in clean, renewable wind power. Coal River Mountain is blessed with high wind speeds that offer the potential to produce up to 440 megawatts of power without a single stick of dynamite or a whiff of greenhouse gas emissions. Hundreds of jobs would be created; county tax revenues would increase by up to $3 million, and more than a million tons of CO2 would be kept underground each year.

Although Massey has received permits to commence mining, pressure is mounting to consider alternatives, as evidenced by a recent demonstration at the state capitol and a lawsuit to stop the project before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


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The battle in West Virginia is a microcosm of what is happening across the country. Communities from Appalachia to Arizona are organizing to resist destructive mining practices, stop the construction of new coal plants, and promote a "just transition" to clean energy. As Time's Bryan Walsh reported in the magazine's special election issue:

Environmentalists are fighting new plants with every weapon in their arsenal, from launching lawsuits over CO2 regulations to lobbying financiers to stop investing in coal.

Walsh wrote how Americans are learning lessons from history:

For many green activists, climate change is fundamentally a moral issue. To accept a new generation of polluting coal plants is to doom future generations to an impoverished planet. So the response should be fundamentally moral as well, using the same tactics--civil disobedience, nonviolent protest--as those of the civil rights movement.

If the citizens of Coal River Mountain can do it, so can the rest of us.

Here's how. Today, thousands of citizens are taking action in cities across the country to tell Wall St. -- the financiers of coal-fired power plants and mountaintop removal mining sites -- that this is no time to throw good money after bad. It's time for Bank of America, Citi, and the country's largest banks to invest in a clean energy future, rather than perpetuate our dependence on dirty energy. As noted scientist, Dr. James Hansen said in promoting the day of action, "The science is clear: a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, and phase-out of existing coal plants, is essential if we want to preserve creation, the life on our planet, for young people and future generations."

The election of Barack Obama does not absolve us of the responsibility to be forceful agents of change; to the contrary, it should serve as a continual reminder that change comes to those who are willing to work for it. Please join us.

Michael Brune is the executive director of Rainforest Action Network (RAN), and is a founding Board member of Oil Change International. His book Coming Clean will be published by Sierra Club Books and Counterpoint this September.

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