Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Women Shave Heads to Save God's Mountains - by Rev. Robin Blakeman

Why are shaved heads appearing in the anti-mountaintop removal movement? The reasons given by individuals who participate in the two organized actions so far are varied; they include: 
“For my kids to have a better future;”
 “Because this seems to be a powerful – some would say spiritual - statement which might be heard by those in power;” 
“Because we are grieving for the lost mountains, destroyed communities, and degraded streams.” 
Whatever their reason, more than 30 women and men have participated so far in shaving their heads as a visible sign of their opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining. I am one of them, having shaved my head last week during an Appalachia Rising rally in Upper Senate Park in DC.
Shaving their heads in mourning and protest of the impacts of mountaintop removal.
I want to speak to this from a faith based perspective, although that is not the only reason I, or anyone else engages in this type of action. From my perspective as an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister, mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining is the epitome of abusive power structures exploiting marginalized people and God’s good Creation. Results of MTR include the following:
•    thousands of miles of buried and polluted headwater streams
•    hundreds of mountain eco-systems destroyed forever
•    depopulated communities
•    decimated family cemeteries and cultural sites
•    steady decrease of mining jobs, especially Union jobs
•    severe health effects – including higher cancer and birth defect rates – amongst populations living near MTR sites

For all these reasons, the phrase: “desperate times dictate desperate actions” could apply to the Central Appalachian region states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee where MTR coal mining is taking place.

Citizens of these states have attempted to talk civilly with their elected representatives about these grave problems, but are feeling unheard, unrecognized, and unrepresented. 
Shaving Their Heads in Protest and Mourning of MTR

My personal experience with this process is recent; some have been fighting the battle against MTR for almost two decades. I have been lobbying for change for three years, with at least one annual visit to DC. When I attended the NCC Ecumenical Advocacy Days event last March, I was asked to accompany NCC eco-justice reps as they went to elected officials’ and regulatory agency offices in DC. In one day, we visited the offices of Congressman Rahall, Senators Manchin and Rockefeller, and the Obama administration CEQ office. We were only granted meetings with staffers in the elected officials’ offices, but we took that opportunity to make them aware of the NCC position on MTR. Since two of those elected representatives are PC(USA) members, I also gave them the PC(USA) statement of opposition to MTR (from our 2006 General Assembly).
While in the office of Senator Rockefeller, I asked his staffers directly to seek a response from the Senator on various peer reviewed health studies, which show – among other things – highly elevated risks of cancer and birth defects amongst populations living near MTR operations. Fast forward to June: I returned to DC for the annual Alliance for Appalachia’s Week in Washington and went with a group of West Virginia residents to Senator Rockefeller’s office. Senator Rockefeller is known for his good and important advocacy on health issues, so his silence up to that point on the growing scientific evidence of the links between serious health issues and MTR operations confused and frustrated me. I also reached another conclusion: If Senator Rockefeller won’t listen directly to people being harmed by MTR operations, then who – amongst powerful people - will? As a member of the same faith community he claims membership in, I had to wonder: had he forgotten Jesus’ mandate to care for the least among our communities? Who is it that he now recognizes as his neighbors? 
On the day after this meeting, a group called “Appalachia Rising” held a rally in Upper Senate Park. One of the actions happening at the rally was the shaving of heads. This type of action was initiated by a group of women in West Virginia on Memorial Day 2012. Some of those women were present at the Upper Senate Park rally, and had been in the meeting with Senator Rockefeller’s staff the day before. Other West Virginia residents were sitting in Congressman Rahall’s office this day – due to similar frustrations I felt in Senator Rockefeller’s office.

Congressman Rahall is also one of my PC(USA) brethren. At the moment when I knew people in that office would be speaking to Congressman Rahall, trying to persuade him to end his blockage of the Clean Water Protection Act – a bill which would end the Valley Fills associated with MTR – I made an announcement about their efforts, and then sat down and allowed my head to be shaved. It was an act of grief – over what I know we have lost in Central Appalachia, and can never get back, and over the fact that our elected officials will NOT listen to those who are most affected by these radical mining practices.
Shaving their heads in mourning and protest of the impacts of mountaintop removal.
An embrace of support is shared among those who shaved their heads in mourning and protest.
On June 6th, 2012, seven West Virginia residents got arrested in Congressman Rahall’s office because the meeting with him did not result in his agreement to stop blocking the Clean Water Protection Act. Others – from Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee – engaged in similar actions in the offices of their stubborn congressmen. Seven people – including me - shaved their heads in Upper Senate Park.

My action was an act of solidarity with those who are suffering from pollution and other effects of MTR. I am now wearing this visible sign of my grief and frustration. Doing so has given me the opportunity to talk to many, many people regarding my stance on, and opposition to MTR. I have also felt humbled by the loss of my hair – the part of my body I have always been most proud of. In that way, I believe I am doing what Jesus would do if faced by this problem today: weeping, mourning, yelling, screaming – driving the money changers out, perhaps - comforting those afflicted, and doing whatever we can to end the madness that is MTR. As I told my daughter, losing my hair is a small thing that I can do to raise awareness about a BIG problem. I hope you will join me – with hair or without – and do what you can to learn about and raise awareness of MTR issues, too.

An update on this story: on Wednesday, June 20th
– West Virginia Day, no less – Senator Rockefeller delivered an amazing and moving speech on the U.S. Senate floor, in opposition to a bill that would have severely curtailed the EPA’s ability to regulate air and water quality. In his speech, he called on coal industry executives to stop fear mongering, and to start embracing a future in which there will necessarily be a more diversified energy economy. He did so while expressing his concern for miners and their families, and for the health and safety of all West Virginians. This was an amazing speech to those of us who are used to getting a cold shoulder from most of our elected officials. I have sent my thanks to Senator Rockefeller for these brave and wise words. I hope you will join me in doing the same, and encouraging other elected officials – especially those from Central Appalachian states – to follow his example. For now, and hopefully for the foreseeable future, I am proud to identify him as one of my Presbyterian “brothers.” 

Rev. Robin Blakeman is ordained in the PC(USA) and is a member of the Environmental Ministry Action Network.
#AppRising #StopMTR

Join Rev. Robin Blakman in solidarity and call your member of Congress: http://ilovemountains.org/call-your-rep

Why I Got Arrested in DC - by Mary Love

Occupying Hal Rogers' Office
Rev. Mary Love walking out of Hal Rogers' office
On Wednesday, June 6 in Washington DC, I was arrested at the age of 67 and for the first time in my life. I was arrested with 5 other Kentuckians—three of whom are his constituents—for refusing to leave the office of Kentucky 5th District Congressman Hal Rogers.

Twenty of us went to his office that morning to speak with him about the problems with Mountain Top Removal coal mining in his district. We did not have an appointment because he has consistently refused to meet with constituents who want to talk about the MTR issue. When we were told that he was too busy to see us, we told his staff that we would just wait in his office until he was able to speak with us. Eventually, his chief of staff called the Capitol Police and seven of us were arrested for refusing to leave.

I don’t live in the 5th district, so why was I willing to be arrested? I am a Kentuckian, and what Hal Rogers does affects me as well as the people in his district. The non-profit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has hailed him as the most “corrupt member of Congress” and the Lexington Herald-Leader has called him the “Prince of Pork” for all of the money that he has brought into his district. Yet his district ranks at the bottom of the nation in virtually every quality of life indicator and contains four of the five poorest counties in the nation.

As a person of faith, I went to Washington to speak truth to power. The Old Testament Biblical story is filled with courageous men and women who stood before kings and rulers and spoke on behalf of the poor, widows, and orphans who had no voice. I have added my voice to this prophetic tradition.

The grip of King Coal on eastern Kentucky—and all of central Appalachia—is loosening every day. We are already in another downward phase of the boom and bust cycle that has been the history of coal in the region. But this bust phase will not be followed by another boom.

Government studies and projections have shown that the amount of mine-able coal in the region has reached its peak and is rapidly declining. Natural gas is fast replacing coal as the fuel of choice for our nation’s electric power plants. Coal mines are being shut down and workers are being laid off, and the coal companies are admitting to their shareholders that this is due to market conditions, not EPA regulations.

And when the coal jobs are gone, what has been put in place to replace them? Basically, nothing. Central Appalachia is based on a mono-economy—coal. It is almost too late to begin building economic alternatives for the region, and our politicians—state, federal, and local—seem unable or unwilling to address the issue.

I am fighting for an end to Mountain Top Removal coal mining. It destroys God’s creation in our beautiful mountains, any chance for a vibrant tourism industry, the quality of our water and air, and most importantly the health and welfare of the people of the region.

I am also fighting for a transition to a just and sustainable economy for our mountain communities. Without this effort, the mountain communities will ultimately die and become a deserted wasteland.

And I will continue to speak truth to power—in the tradition of the prophets of old—even if it means risking arrest!

Mary Love is an ordained pastor in the PC(USA). 

 * * *
Join Rev. Love, the 22 people who were arrested in June, and thousands of Appalachian people suffering from Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining. 

Act now and call your representative. Ask for an end to mountaintop mining: http://ilovemountains.org/call-your-rep

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Coal Exports: 2012 PEC Advocacy Brief

By Jenny Holmes, PEC Advocacy Committee Co-chair and Former PEC Moderator
When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”  
Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, January 1998

When social and environmental costs are not considered, coal is the cheapest fuel for generating electricity in the United States, but coal industry plans of the past several years for a massive expansion of coal-burning plants for electricity have been thwarted.  Increasingly, wind power is price competitive with coal.  Citizen action and better regulation are also key reasons for a decline in coal consumption. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, domestic coal consumption during the fourth quarter of 2011 was down by 18.8 percent from the third quarter of 2011 to 227.1 million short tons.

Rather than allowing coal to stay in the ground, coal companies see a growth opportunity in exporting coal, especially from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. The plan is to transport it on long coal trains and massive cargo ships through Washington and Oregon, and sell it overseas. Some ports on the East and Gulf Coasts currently export coal overseas, but the proposals for West Coast terminals would exceed their volume.  In April 2012, Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden stated that a “timeout” is needed on coal exports to consider the implications. PEC strongly agrees. The agency with federal  jurisdiction over coal leases in the Power River Basin is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Currently, there is no national policy on coal exports, but clearly the time has come. 

The Powder River Basin (PRB) represents one of the largest coal reserves in the world. According to the BLM, coal from the PRB used in power plants accounts for nearly 14% of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. The nation's two largest coal companies, Arch Coal and Peabody, and the Australian-based Ambre Energy, are working on massive coal export terminals at Longview, WA and Cherry Point, north of Bellingham, WA. There are also potential proposals for many other communities, including: Grays Harbor, WA, Boardman, OR, Coos Bay, OR and St. Helens, OR.

Shipping up to a hundred million tons of coal a year to primarily to Asia through West Coast ports would spread toxic coal dust in rail communities and clog  railroads and ports, disrupt traffic at at grade crossings, risk health, pollute  air and water, and contribute to climate change. Trains will go through low-income and people of color communities already facing disproportionate environmental injustice. 

Investment in infrastructure to ship strip-mined PRB coal through Northwest ports translates into decades of carbon emissions and toxic pollution from new coal plants across Asia built to take advantage of cheap coal. The pollution would come right back to the West Coast by winds across the Pacific Ocean.

Although new jobs are touted as a reason to export coal, committing shorelines, rail lines, and port communities to coal export would foreclose options for more robust and sustainable economic development. Also, the Northwest is known as a leader in sustainable energy and establishing the area as the center of US coal export flies in the face of that image. 

Proposals to ship coal to Northwest communities to be burned in Asia are in conflict with  with eco-justice norms of sustainability, participation, sufficiency, and solidarity and the 12 ethical guidelines. The guidelines of  equity, efficiency, risk, cost, appropriateness and flexibility are especially relevant.  By further entrenching the use of coal through exports God's creation and God's people are put risk, especially the poor and vulnerable and future generations. The moral and spiritual costs of coal export are too high too move ahead without participation and consideration of all that is at stake.  

Programmatic Environmental Impact Statements (PEIS), under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are needed to adequately assess the environmental and health impacts of coal export terminals and rail transport before any permits for building or expanding use of existing infrastructure are approved. A PEIS considers all of the cumulative impacts on communities and land.  Federal policy around the use of coal from the Power River Basin under the Bureau of Land Management and coal exports in general are called since impacts of coal export proposal are so significant. 



Campaigns and Organizations
Thanks to Dr. Bob Stivers for initial framing and drafting of the introductory section of this document.

The Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline: 2012 PEC Advocacy Brief

By Jenny Holmes, PEC Advocacy Committee Co-Chair  and former PEC Moderator

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk
- Dr. James Hansen, New York Times, May 10, 2012

“People of faith strongly believe that we need an urgent response to the climate crisis through continued implementation of better clean air safeguards, construction of a renewable energy grid, and more robust energy efficiency and renewable energy standards. The Keystone XL would only slow the pace of this clean energy transition, continue with business worse than usual, and hasten global warming. We can and must model a way forward for the world, create jobs, and care for God's Creation. 
- The Rev. Sally Bingham, Interfaith Power and Light, January 2012
image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon using EO-1 ALI data courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team. Caption by Holli Riebeek.
2009 image from NASA of the Athabasca oil sands in Canada

Tar sands  are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy black viscous oil. Tar sands can be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is then refined into oil. Canada has the only large-scale commercial tar sands industry and   Alberta's Boreal forest, downstream for the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains, is its center. Currently, tar sands represent about 40% of Canada's oil production. Approximately 20% of U.S. crude oil and products come from Canada, and a  significant portion of this amount comes from tar sands. To extract all of the 2 trillion barrels of oil in tar sands, an area larger than the state of Florida would be destroyed. 

Transcanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline would transport heavy crude oil from Alberta's tar sands to refineries in the Gulf Coast. Most of this crude would be made into diesel and other products for export to Europe and Latin American. The argument that the Keystone XL pipeline reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil is not valid. The best way to improve energy security is to reduce demand. A U.S. Department of Energy report found that the only way to reduce mid-east oil imports was through reducing demand through fuel efficiency. Rainforest Action recommends redirecting “the $70-100 billion dollars the United States is set to invest in tar sands infrastructure into research and development of sustainable energy alternatives such as electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and solar and wind energy. “ PEC strongly agrees. The more invested in fossil fuel infrastructure of any kind, the less is available for development of sustainable energy and the harder, and more expensive, the needed transition to renewable resources will be. 

Pollution from mining and processing tar sands is significant. The processing of tar sands releases air pollutants that can increase asthma and respiratory diseases, cancer and cardiovascular problems. Drinking water has been polluted by tar sands activity. First Nations people who derive subsistence from the land are disproportionately affected by the toxic products of tar sands mining and processing. Oil contamination has increased the level of arsenic to 33 times above acceptable levels in moose meat, a dietary staple for First Nations people. 

A strong grassroots movement to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, led by Bill McKibben's 350.org and Tar Sands Action was vital in President Obama's January 2012 rejection of  it, at least in its original route. This route took it directly over one of the 174,000 square mile Ogallala Aquifer which underlies portions of eight states from South Dakota to Texas and over the  environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region of Nebraska.   Other routes are now being considered, but  much larger issues are at stake-- the most significant being the massive amount of greenhouse gases released by exploiting the tar sands. Climate change is a threat to national security and the U.S. State Department, the agency responsible for permitting the Keystone XL pipeline, knows this and it should figure significantly in its analysis. The U.S. State Department admitted in October 2011 that its environmental review of Keystone XL was conducted by a contractor paid by the pipeline company itself, a potentially illegal conflict of interest.  

As with MTR, all 12 ethical guidelines are violated by tar sands mining, processing and transport. The guidelines of  equity, efficiency, risk, cost and aesthetics are especially relevant.  

Faith Based Resources

Organizations and Campaigns

Mountaintop Removal: 2012 PEC Advocacy Brief

By Sharman Chapman Crane, Member of the PEC Advocacy Committee, and from Kentucky

Powerful explosives blast open mountains for stripping.
Plainly stated, mountaintop removal (MTR) is the extraction of coal by stripping the mountain of its trees, setting explosives in the rock, blowing up the mountain – sometimes up to 400 feet down to reach a four foot seam of coal. If there is another seam of coal further down the process will be repeated using over 5 million pounds of explosives every day. The blasted soil, rocks, everything living in the soil, and often the trees are bulldozed into the valley and streams and then compacted. Currently 72% of the Appalachian coal is being shipped to China.

The blasting releases trace minerals like selenium, arsenic, mercury, and aluminum in toxic amounts into our air and water. This is what we breathe. The burying of the streams destroys and poisons our waters. The southern Appalachian Mountains supply over 25% of the United States’ surface water. Already over 2,000 miles of streams have been buried.

Mountain permanently destroyed by mining
The coal corporations have been mining coal in Appalachia for over 100 years; surface mining for the past 50 years. Before the mining came in, we were considered the most self-sufficient people in the U.S. Today – the least self-sufficient with the poorest emotional health, physical health, highest mortality rates. We suffer higher rates of birth defects, heart disease, asthma, and auto-immune diseases. We have the highest drug abuse rate per capita in the nation. This type of mining requires 90% fewer employees and 50% of our people have left.

The water carries death. The air carries death. The land has lost its diversity. The people are losing their lives. Our young people struggle to vision a future here. The jobs have left. The people have lost their voices. There is great fear. The people have no options. Many have lost hope. 

MTR violates just about all of the twelve ethical guidelines, especially, renewability, equity, appropriateness, risk, flexibility, participation and aesthetics. A Commissioner’s Resolution opposing MTR was passed by the 217th General Assembly of Presbyterians in Birmingham in 2006. EPA ‘s authority to regulate this devastating practice must be strengthened, not undermined as some in Congress are attempting.
The Agony of Gaia, sculpture by Jeff Chapman-Crane



Billboard commissioned by LEAF
Faith Resources

Organizations and Campaigns

Hydro-Fracking: 2012 PEC Advocacy Brief

By John Preston, PEC Steering Committee Member and Advocacy Committee Co-Chair

Marcellus Shale Drilling tower
As a new technology, fracking provides a good illustration of how the accounting system of our political-economic system is rigged in calculating the balance of costs and benefits in justifying the social and economic good of energy technology. 

The only costs counted in the marketplace are the costs of extraction, production, and distribution.  What economists call “external costs” which are the uncounted social costs, are not counted in assessing the overall benefit of the technology.  In the case of hydro-fracking, some of the costs NOT being counted include the following: 1) Road building and road maintenance for the heavy truck traffic, 2) Management and transport of the fracking fluids that return to the surface, 3) Water treatment costs, including building new infrastructure able to clean these fluids 4) Public and private health costs from toxicity and radiation that cause illness 5) Loss of green space and the ecological services provided, 6) Loss of the historic and rural character of place and 7) Costs related to the global warming and climate change caused by the unintended  release of methane. Some of these costs can be estimated, but many of these costs are unknown.

Generally, the political-economic system socializes the costs, making the public pay through taxes and through degraded life-style and health.  Yet, the benefits are privatized and flow to the wealthiest in our society.

Hydro-fracking site "man camp" for workers.
Because shale gas is a fossil fuel that adds to greenhouse gas emissions it is not utimately sustainable.  Because it takes advantage of corporate domination in the market place it avoids the norm of participation.  Because it socializes a hidden part of the cost of energy and privatizes profit it looks mainly to the sufficiency of the wealthy and violates the norm of solidarity with all peoples, and those people with the earth.

The policy stance of PEC is to place a moratorium on further fracking operations until the overall social and economic costs can be known and paid for by the industry, sufficient regulation can be deployed, and home rule (i.e. local government) participation guaranteed.  Following the wisdom of the precautionary principle, PEC believes that the burden of proof of the harmlessness to public health, the environment, and local communities and municipalities should fall upon the industry.  This burden of proof should meet certified independent scientific standards, prior to governmental regulatory permits to proceed with this technology.  It is also the burden of government to assure that regulation of this technology is technologically sufficient, affordable, and effective.

Must we choose between energy and clean drinking water?
An overarching step that needs to be taken in the natural gas industry to lessen its impact is to reduce leakage of methane. According to Natural Resources Defense Council, methane, a potent greenhouse gas which makes up as much as 90 percent of natural gas, is leaked or vented to the atmosphere when natural gas is extracted by hydro-fracking and other techniques, processed, and transported. Problems include poorly sealed equipment and losses during compression of natural gas. There are ten technically proven, commercially available, and profitable methane emission control technologies that could collectively capture 80 percent of the wasted methane emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), other federal agencies, and the states should require use of these technologies for methane control.

US Department of  Energy  2009  Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States  Primer - http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/doeshale/Shale_Gas_Primer_2009.pdf
Fractracker, a clearinghouse of shale gas information.  http://www.fractracker.org/
Fracking Resource Guide http://frack.mixplex.com/fracking
Sourcewatch has a helpful history of fracking and policy background at http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Fracking
Study of drinking water contamination from fracking in North Carolina by Duke University . http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/methane-contamination-of-drinking-water-accompanying-gas-well-drilling
Leaking Profits (reducing methane gas leakage), Natural Resources Defense Council, http://www.nrdc.org/energy/leaking-profits.asp
Interfaith Power and Light Policy on Natural Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing.    http://interfaithpowerandlight.org/public-policy/

Organizations and Campaigns.  
Note: Endorsement is not applied by listing in this section. These are starting places for PEC members to connect with local and national campaigns and are not exhaustive. Please e-mail PEC at jehrestore@aol.com to let us know about campaigns you are involved with.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Hydrofracking Center. (New York)  http://www.citizenscampaign.org/special_features/hydro-fracking-center.asp