Uprising in Montana: Activists Take a Stand Against Coal Exports

This was originally post on Alternet.

By Scott Parkin

Uprising in Montana: Activists Take a Stand Against Coal Exports

Five days of civil disobedience took place in Montana to protest the coal industry’s latest scheme to save itself from obsolescence.

August 21, 2012  |

It wasn’t as big as we’d hoped. These things never are, until, well, they are.

It didn’t really matter though: Hundreds converged from across the country for the Coal Export Action and 23 participated in five days of civil disobedience in protest of the coal industry’s latest scheme to save itself from obsolescence. The message we sent reverberated around the state capitol here in Helena, MT: We will not sit idly by while King Coal attempts to export coal from the Powder River Basin through port towns in Oregon and Washington to Asian energy markets.

Every day, people sat-in in the middle of the Montana statehouse until it closed at 6 pm. At 5:30, the nervous facilities manager, Marv Eicholtz, would awkwardly give the larger group the first dispersal order. At 5:50, he’d issue a second one with Helena policemen standing in the background. At 6 pm, Eicholtz would approach and say, “I’m giving you the third and final dispersal warning. Anyone refusing to leave the building will be turned over to the Helena Police Dept.” Those not risking arrested would circle around those sitting in and ask them why we were going to jail, sing civil rights songs, or chant. They’d then quickly leave and wait outside as the police brought the arrestees out to idling sheriff’s vans and took them to the Lewis and Clark county jail.

Every day for five days this routine happened over and over. By the end of the week, 23 had been arrested. Most of the arrestees were from Montana, Oregon and Washington—all states expected to be impacted by coal exports, coal trains and expanded western coal mining.

On the fourth day, I joined the sit-in with my friends Griff (an Episcopal minister from Portland), Jasmine and Gloria (who are Rising Tide organizers in Portland and Chicago, respectively), and younger activists Mia and Kai’l (both from Portland). Every day was a theme day, and on our day it was “climate change day.” Quite fitting since everyone arrested that day had worked on climate campaigns from Appalachia to the South Side of Chicago to Oregon port towns at one time or another. All six of us opted not to pay the $340 bond and be bailed out. We spent the night in the Lewis and Clark county lock up in general population, a small sacrifice for making a statement against coal exports.

Montana Rising

The Coal Export Action was initiated and led by grassroots, youth, and student organizers from Montana, Oregon, and Washington, most of them affiliated with the Blue Skies Campaign and the Cascade Climate Network. It was also supported by a number of environmental and climate groups like Rainforest Action Network, 350.org, and Rising Tide North America. It was inspired by the Tar Sands Action called for by writer Bill McKibben at the White House in 2011, which resulted in over 1,200 arrests. Some of the 23 arrested in Helena last week were also participants in the actions at the White House.

For months, we’d organized, done outreach, and built a buzz calling on people from the coastal and mountain regions of the West to join the Coal Export Action. It was eight days of rolling sit-ins and protests at the Montana statehouse designed to pressure the state’s land board to deny Arch Coal’s permit application to mine Otter Creek and create a new source of greenhouse gas emissions.

While not the same size as the Tar Sands Action, the Coal Exports Action was not lacking in spirit. Noted Montana environmental writer and poet Rick Bass sat-in and was arrested on the first day with six others. On the second day, three Montana men sat in and were arrested. On the third day, a group of women called “Montana Women For” led a ladies-only occupation of the capitol rotunda. On the fourth day, our climate crew was arrested. On the last day, three men were taken away.

More importantly, the Coal Export Action turned a spark of grassroots climate activism in the Northwest into a blaze. “We are here to demonstrate mass citizen opposition to big coal corporations’ dirty plan to export millions of tons of Powder River basin coal each year to the international energy market,” said Lowell Chandler, a construction worker and volunteer with the Blue Skies Campaign. “We’re here to pressure the state Land Board to stand with us against these massive coal export proposals.”

Every day the Coal Export Action transformed the Montana statehouse into participatory space where people from around the country held teach-ins and strategized the next steps for coal export campaigns in the West. A No Coal Exports grassroots coalition is coming out of Helena fired up and ready to fight.

The Coal Industry is Dying

In the middle of the week, Arch Coal issued a press release stating that they’d officially applied for the permit to strip mine Otter Creek. Otter Creek is a tract of land in southeast Montana sitting between two national forests and on top of over a billion tons of coal. The permit spreads over 7,639 acres of state, federal and private land. Arch paid the state of Montana $86 million for the coal and will also build new rail lines to get the coal transported out.

It became obvious the tension we’d hoped to create was working. The day after Arch’s announcement, we picketed the Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality’s offices and began a dialogue with the agency’s amiable director, Richard Opper. He was obviously sympathetic but also said he had to abide by state laws and regulations.

The coal industry is dying. Coal has peaked in Appalachia. Environmental regulation, litigation, community-led campaigns, and the price of natural gas have all drastically reduced the amount of electricity generated by coal nationally, from 50% to 35%. The shrinking demand has led to large layoffs and fading quarterly profits for the biggest coal companies.

Now the coal industry is moving into an endgame scenario and coal exports are its last hope.  Coal reserves in the Powder River Basin area of Montana and Wyoming are still abundant and the industry is hoping to export coal through proposed mega-ports on the Oregon and Washington coast to international energy markets in China and India.

At the end of the Coal Export Action, I traveled to Missoula to unwind for a few days. On one of those days I took a six-mile hike into the Bitterroot Wilderness. Sharing a name with Montana’s state flower, the Bitteroot is populated with majestic trees, diverse wildlife and flowing waterways. Along the trails I encountered fellow hikers, fisherman, and horse packers. It was an opportunity to reconnect, if only for a moment, with the forests and mountains I’d spent a night in jail to preserve.

In the late 1990’s and the early part of the last decade, Wild Rockies Earth First! fought fierce campaigns in the Bitterroot against timber sales initiated by the forest service and logging companies. Many of these activists spent weeks and months in Montana jails for using escalated tactics like blockades and tree-sits to protect thousands of acres of Montana forests. As the anti-coal and climate movements resist fossil fuels with harder and harder campaigns and actions, it’s best to remember that the more we escalate, the more we will sacrifice.

Scott Parkin is an organizer with Rainforest Action Network and Rising Tide North America.

Mountain Mobilization shuts down largest mountaintop removal mine

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 28, 2012

Contact: Charles Suggs, 304-449-NVDA (6832), media@wg.rampscampaign.org
Talking Points document: http://rampscampaign.org/key-messages-of-mountain-mobilization/

“Mountain Mobilization” shuts down Logan Co. strip mine

Call for end to strip mining and a just transition for the region’s families

Charleston, W.Va.—More than 50 protesters affiliated with the R.A.M.P.S. Campaign have walked onto Patriot Coal’s Hobet mine and shut it down.  Ten people locked to a rock truck, boarded it and dropped banners: “Coal Leaves, Cancer Stays.”  At least three have been arrested, with another in a tree being threatened by miners with a chain saw.  Earlier in the day, two people were arrested at Kanawha State Forest before a group of protesters headed to the state capitol.

“The government has aided and abetted the coal industry in evading environmental and mine safety regulations. We are here today to demand that the government and coal industry end strip mining, repay their debt to Appalachia, and secure a just transition for this region,” Dustin Steele of Matewan, W.Va. said.  Steele was one of the people locked to the rock truck.

Mounting scientific evidence shows that strip mining negatively impacts community health and miner health.   Recent studies have found a 42 percent increase in risk of birth defects around strip mines, and miners who spend at least 20 years as strip-mine drillers have a 61 percent chance of contracting silicosis, a virulent form of black lung.  “The coal companies are poisoning our water and air, and they’re treating the workers no better than the land – fighting workplace health and safety protections to get the most out of labor as they can,” said Junior Walk of Whitesville, W.Va.

As coal production declines, protesters are concerned that the region will be left with only illness and environmental devastation as the industry pulls out of the region and companies file for bankruptcy to shed legacy costs.

Patriot Coal is currently going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, in which union contracts and pensions could be on the chopping block.  Both UMWA pensions and the state’s Special Reclamation Fund are funded through a per-ton tax on coal.  With Central Appalachian coal production in the middle of a projected six-year, 50 percent decline, this funding stream is increasingly unsustainable.  Protesters are calling on the coal industry and government to ensure that funding is available both to honor commitments to retired workers and to restore the land.

“Coal companies must employ their surface mine workers in reclaiming all disturbed land to the highest standards.  Instead of arguing about the ‘war on coal,’ political leaders should immediately allocate funds to retrain and re-employ laid off miners to secure a healthy future for the families of this region,” said R.A.M.P.S. spokesperson Mathew Louis-Rosenberg.

Appalachian communities, from union miners to the anti-strip mining activists of the 1960s, have a proud history of confronting the coal industry and demanding an end to its exploitive practices with direct civil disobedience. R.A.M.P.S. and other campaigns have returned to this tradition to eliminate strip mining once and for all. Since its founding in 2011, R.A.M.P.S. has organized a range of actions, from tree-sits to blockades of coal trucks.

Today’s protesters are among the hundreds of people across the country who are joining this summer’s National Uprising Against Extraction, using radical tactics to fight oppressive extractive industries and demand a transition to a sustainable economy.

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Rising Tide North Texas Announces North Texas Keystone Convergence, July 27-29

Rising Tide North Texas Announces North Texas Keystone Convergence, July 27-29

Register Here!

On July 27th-29th, Rising Tide North Texas and the Tar Sands Blockade are hosting a 3-day training in North Texas for anyone hoping to engage in nonviolent direct action against the Gulf Coast portion of Keystone XL pipeline.

It’s strongly suggested that local activists interested in taking part in the Tar Sands Blockade, or creating their own direct actions, attend this training.

Participants will focus on learning, implementing, and imagining new tactics for non-violent blockades and other forms of direct action. This camp will take place outdoors in the Texas summer, people should come prepared for very hot weather. Participants will be camping on site, and while special arrangements may be available, people should understand that the nature of this camp may make it difficult for those with physical conditions that limit their ability to be in hot environments for long periods of time.

With this convergence, organizers intend to take a very large step towards implementing the most effective and sustained blockade this country has ever seen. If you are passionate about the environment and want to be a part of an unprecedented blockade action, we urge you to attend this camp and throw your energy and talents into the mix.

The afternoon hours of the day will be filled with informative workshops while folks escape the heat:
Nonviolent Direct Action
Anti-oppression
Community organizing
Dealing with police
First-aid
Environmental Justice

If you want to help make the Tar Sands Blockade bigger and better, and to do that you must participate! But the bigger picture in this fight involves inspiring others to take action for themselves. One of the primary goals of the Keystone Convergence, aside from preparing folks to participate in our action, is to collaborate with people who want to design an action of their own. This is the most exciting part, and we want you to be there!

Friday the 27th will be a travel and welcoming day. Trainings will begin the 28th and continue for two full days. Those who want to stay and continue helping us organize the blockade are welcome to do so! Details of camp location will be released to those who have signed up a few days prior to the camp. We will also be sending a list of recommended items to bring.

We are making every effort to make this camp free and no one will be turned away due to lack of funds. We will be accepting donations for food, water, and materials on a sliding scale. Tents and other camping gear will be provided for those who are unable to bring their own.

See you in North Texas!

Register here.

Rising Tide Chicago Disrupts Heartland Institute’s Climate Denial Conference

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Contact:  Josh Trost, 312 343-8259 email:thisperfectworld@yahoo.com

Rising Tide Chicago Action Video

“HEARTLAND’S LIES DESTROY OUR PLANET,” CLIMATE ACTIVISTS SAY
Activists protest “climate denier” mis-information at Heartland
Institute’s annual climate change conference

CHICAGO—Today, two climate action advocates with the group Rising Tide
Chicago challenged the nation’s biggest climate denier organization on its
home-turf – a national conference taking place in Chicago organized by the
now infamous Heartland Institute. The two activists displayed a banner
during the Conference which read “Heartland’s Lies Destroy Our Planet.”
The Protesters were escorted out of the building by security while
chanting.

The action came at the end of the second day of Heartlands “6th Annual
Climate Conference.” The fossil-fuel industry-funded Heartland Institute
is a self-proclaimed “think tank” fueling the climate change denial
industry to work against the public interest.

“I’m willing to risk my arrest, because if Heartland Institute gets its
way, it could be the end of civilization as we know it,” stated Alice
Coffey an activist who risked arrest at today’s event.

“Anyone who can deny climate change has never been to Texas where there is
an historic record drought caused by the climate crisis,  or Arizona,
where we no longer have monsoon season, but haboob season – just wind, and
dirt and heat, but no rain,” said Ian Fecke-Stoudt, who also participated
in the climate confrontation.

A second group held a rally outside the event earlier in the day.  Scores
of activists demonstrated outside the Hilton Hotel protesting the
Institute and the Conference while a banner was dropped from a hotel
window.

“The Heartland Institute exists to spread climate disinformation to
protect the profits of the few,” said Josh Trost of Rising Tide Chicago.
“Climate Deniers have no right participating in policy discussions.
Daily, the global scientific consensus strengthens as planetary health
indicators decline. Each lie is a theft from the remaining time we have to
act to limit escalating climate chaos.

“For the sake of the future of humanity, we demand the Heartland Institute
to respect the global scientific consensus and stop disseminating climate
lies,” Trost said.

James Hansen quoted in The Guardian said, “[Climate change] can’t be fixed
by individual specific changes; it has to be an across-the-board rising
fee on carbon emissions,” said Hansen. “We can’t simply say that there’s a
climate problem, and leave it to the politicians. They’re so clearly under
the influence of the fossil fuel industry that they’re coming up with
cockamamie solutions which aren’t solutions. That is the bottom line.”

In May 2012, DeSmog Blog reported that the Heartland Institute had added
the Illinois Coal Association (ICA) as a new “Gold Sponsor” for its 2012
ICCC-7 climate conference. ICA joined following the Heartland’s leaked
documents and Unabomber billboard campaign. In Heartland’s leaked 2012
Fundraising plan, Murray Energy gave $100,000 in 2010 and was expected to
give $40,000 in 2012; the company’s subsidiary, The American Coal Company,
is a member of the ICA.

The Heartland Institute has lead many mis-information campaigns which have
included:

  • Denying the harmful effects of tobacco
  • In 2010 the Institute defended BP during its infamous oil spill in
    the Gulf of Mexico
  • The Institute opposes the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact,
    which was signed into effect in December of 2005 by the governors of eight
    states that border the great lakes, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois,
    Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York, and the premiers of
    the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The compact was proposed in
    light of the unprecedented low levels of water in the lakes, which are now
    at the bottom end of the historical fluctuation range of 4-6 feet. In
    order to mitigate diminishing water levels, the compact will limit the
    consumption of water from the Great Lakes to areas within these eight
    states, or to areas outside of the boundary only by petition subject to
    strict regulation.

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Rising Tide is an international, all-volunteer, grassroots network of
groups and individuals who organize locally, promote community-based
solutions to the climate crisis and take direct action to confront the
root causes of climate change.