Philly Rally Against MTR
Sierra Club volunteers and staff rallied with coalition allies in Philadelphia last week, calling for the EPA to use its powers to end mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) and enforce the laws that state agencies like the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection are unable or unwilling to enforce.
Let's let Pennsylvania Sierra Club volunteers Karen Melton and Sue Edwards, who spoke at the rally, describe what went down:
More than 75 chanting, singing people braved the single-digit wind chill on January 29 to rally outside the EPA regional office in center city Philadelphia, calling for action to end the destruction of Appalachia's mountains, streams, and waterways. EPA Region 3 covers the Mid-Atlantic, including Virginia and West Virginia, where coal companies have leveled more than 500 mountains using millions of tons of dynamite, polluting thousands of miles of rivers and streams in the process.
Activists from Sierra Club in West Virginia, Southwest Virginia and Pennsylvania joined with members of Rising Tide, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), the Alliance for Appalachia, Occupy Sandy, Swarthmore College Mountain Justice, Protecting Our Waters, and veterans from a Philadelphia vet's service center to pressure the EPA to take action to protect Appalachian waterways.
The rally included Marley Green, Sierra Club field organizer from Virginia, who spoke about the importance of getting EPA action to end the practice of mountaintop removal. Junior Walk from West Virginia described the nightmare of destruction in his community, showing jugs of brown well water contaminated by mountaintop removal. He reported on a meeting with EPA officials earlier in the day, which he said left the Appalachian activists unsatisfied. "They think the answer is to allow more coal mining!" he said.
Confronting a large puppet representing the coal industry (with dollar signs for eyes) were people in EPA hazmat suits, and a "die-in" representing people poisoned by their water. A large black chain represented the way communities are locked into dirty water and its health impacts. As the names of the heavy metals and other pollutants were read out, people "died"by falling onto the frigid sidewalk.
Gulf War veteran Thomas Freeman spoke about having defended his country and still needing to defend its people from environmental destruction.
Eli Schewel of Rising Tide talked about the importance of combating environmental injustice and the positive development of unity among the variety of forces that went into planning this demonstration.
Sue Edwards (below with microphone), a volunteer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, talked about how it takes an act of faith to come out in the cold trying to change decisions that seem beyond our control. She cited how each step we take builds our capacity, shows us our hidden talents, builds our skills, firms up alliances, and brings us closer to winning, "because we're on the right side of history."
MTR mining, one form of "extreme fossil fuel extraction," is particularly devastating to communities. Once mountains are cleared of trees and reduced to rubble, the coal is extracted (using chemicals such as the one that leaked into the Elk River in West Virginia recently), and the remaining soil and rock is dumped into surrounding river valleys. The streams in those valleys become dead zones and well water becomes unfit for use as large quantities of poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, mercury and lead leach into waterways at toxic levels.
The EPA and independent scientists have repeatedly documented that waters downstream of mountaintop removal are harmed by high levels of pollution. In 2010, the EPA issued a guidance to protect Appalachian streams. But this guidance is non- binding and states have shown repeatedly they are unable or unwilling to enforce the provisions. Coal industry influence smothers democracy.
Editor's note: Marley Green gives a "big shout-out" to Sierra Club volunteers Jim Wylie, Sue Edwards, and Eli Schewel and staffers William Kramer, Bill Price, and Kim Teplitzky for their work organizing the rally.