After writing about Earth Quaker Action Team’s recent success in forcing PNC Bank to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, I received a number of strong reactions. Mingled with the congratulations, based on my involvement in the campaign, was a tone of surprise: How can a small group take on the seventh-largest bank in the country and win? Underneath that, I sensed the despair that unconsciously dims people’s sense of power in the United States. Americans can express rage or righteousness by protesting, but most don’t really expect to change anything. The reactions made me realize I left out an important part of the story that proves the victory was no fluke and that U.S. activists can actually be producing far more victories in the current political landscape.
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On Monday, February 9, Earth Quaker Action Team demonstrated their love of the mountains and the earth with a Valentine’s Day themed protest at PNC Regional Headquarters, 1600 Market St, Philadelphia. The group called on PNC Bank to stop financing companies engaged in mountaintop removal coal mining, a horrific practice that poisons Appalachian communities and contributes to climate change. The protest, which prompted the bank to lock down for several hours, was in conjunction with the 10th annual I Love Mountains Day(1). The forty-two people present ranged in age from 8 to 86. Some had traveled from Miami, Pittsburgh, and New York for a weekend training, intending to prepare for further action back home.
The process of mountaintop removal mining has made accessing coal seams easier and less labor intensive. It’s also blighted the Appalachian landscape of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia where it’s taking place, destroying 10 percent of the land in central Appalachia, ravaging forests, burying more than 2,000 miles of streams in debris and polluting water supplies with coal ash and chemicals. And it’s helped decimate employment in the coal industry, dealing another blow to one of the country’s poorest regions. It’s great for Big Coal, not so great for ordinary citizens. The report stressed the urgent need for federal action in light of the failure of state agencies to adequately oversee the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. It pointed to the revelation that Fraser Creek Mining in Kentucky appears to have violated the Clean Water Act more than 28,000 times. . .
Fast forward to 2014, the crisis surrounding the fossil fuel industry’s exploitation and destruction of the earth has only worsened. According to climate scientists, April, 2014 became the first month that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million further pushing us towards a climate catastrophe that includes floods, droughts, mega-storms and greater social and economic inequity. Another recent report states that the earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past forty years due to unsustainable killing for food practices and habitat destruction. Studies have also found that people living near mountaintop removal mine sites are twice more than likely to suffer from cancer than people from other parts of Appalachia. Furthermore, mountaintop removal has been linked to high rates of birth defects.
While some in the Democratic Party acknowledge that the climate crisis is real, human-made and requires action, there has been no significant action taken by Democratic party officials. Instead, there is widespread support for hydrofracking for methane gas, mountaintop removal for coal and extraction of tar sands bitumen as well as seismic testing and drilling for off-shore oil. Democrats continue to financially support nuclear energy even though it adds to climate gases, is the most expensive source of energy, takes years to come online and creates environmental problems at every step, i.e. extraction of uranium, processing of uranium, production of energy and radioactive waste. At the same time, there has been inadequate support for wind, solar, ocean and other clean energy alternatives as well as decreasing wasted energy by improving efficiency.