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May 2, 2014

Hillbilly Heartache



In the fight to end mountaintop removal, where is Big Green?


If there is one thing we have learned over the last three years here on the Coal River is that what is responsible for the increasingly high rates of cancer, lung and heart disease, birth defects and other serious health problems is not the water. It won’t kill you. Today, most people in West Virginia are drinking tap water that meets or exceeds EPA standards.

The surface water, well, that is another question.

blasted-mountain-from-on-coal-river_MTR blasting_image from trailer for On Coal River_oncoalrivercom

Not long ago most West Virginians drew their water from a well. The water was so good that people visiting their families from would fill up bottles and bring it back to the cities where they had moved to. They ate fish from the creeks and rivers and their children swam in the deep pools in the hollows. That was before the coal companies began blowing up the mountains, burying streams, processing the coal and pumping the sludge into empty mine shafts and abandoned oil and gas wells.

Many of the rivers and streams in West Virginia now exceed legal levels of toxic chemicals like selenium, heavy metals and many other toxic substances, including 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), the chemical that was released into the Elk River last January and poisoned the water  of 300,000 West Virginia residents in nine counties, including Charleston, the state capitol. During this event, many people got sick even after government officials declared the water safe to drink. Over a thousand people complained of symptoms stemming from the exposure. Now levels of MCHM are below one part per billion, yet many people in Charleston are still not drinking the water.


The contaminated water was supplied by the American West Virginia Water Company. Formerly a publicly held utility it is now owned by a multinational corporation that is buying up water companies across the country. There are also many smaller water companies in West Virginia. Since the well water is no longer drinkable, water has become a booming business.


As bad as it was, the Elk River chemical spill did not kill anyone, and only time will tell if there are going to be long lasting health effects. The citizens of Charleston have gone back to taking showers and appear ready to elect the same politicians who allowed this to happen in the first place. Business as usual returns to Appalachia as if it had just gone outside to have a smoke.


In recent years it has become fashionable to drink bottled water, and now of course they sell it in Walmart. You can choose the water you drink and even though it can cost more than gasoline most people can still afford to drink it. When it comes to the air we breathe, however, we don’t have a choice. We can’t have air shipped in by the National Guard or the Red Cross. And the air we are breathing now is killing us.


Since mountain top removal by definition occurs in the higher mountains, the columns of dust and debris from the blasting will rise high in the atmosphere from each mine site at about 4:30 every day except Sunday. The dust and particles will settle wherever the wind will blow them. Most of the heavy particles settle nearby, on roofs, cars, churches, playgrounds, gardens or in the forest. The lighter particles can travel much further, and are just as deadly. They contain heavy metals, poly aromatic hydrocarbons, silica and other toxic substances. Even indoors you can see the settled dust on every surface, a stubborn greasy film that resists easy cleaning. In some places on the Coal River, residents are cautioned to not eat anything from their gardens, not even an apple from a tree. Yet another reason to go to Walmart.


The mass poisoning of 300,000 people, which was covered as a major news event, has led to a few changes in water policy. A few. A new law was passed and the rusty tanks and leaky pipes will be painted and perhaps checked more often. But the chemical that was spilled, MCHM is still being used to wash coal and winds up in the sludge which is still dumped upstream. Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the leak, was shipping millions of gallons of MCHM each year, and it is but one company that distributes it. The new law may keep it out of the tap water but it is still going into the aquifer and into the streams and rivers mixed with the industrial waste produced in the coal cleaning process, which also involves many other chemicals. Billions of gallons of this slurry is disposed of behind earthen dams located throughout the region. These rivers supply drinking water to many more millions of people downstream.


Measuring chemicals in your tap water tells you little about what is happening upstream. If we want clean water downstream we have to look up river where our water comes from. Appalachia is the roof of Eastern North America, and the rains that come off the Gulf and the Atlantic are caught here, absorbed in the rugged forest covered hills and delivered to the sea via many rivers to both coasts. Chemicals introduced up here travel downstream due to the magic of gravity, and any damage to the headwaters will affect river flows. This is about much more than the economic and ecological health of a handful of poor rural counties. If you want to see what is really causing climate change get out of your house and go look up your roof.


And this is what is happening upstream. Two million acres of forest irreparably destroyed, more than a thousand miles of stream buried, dozens of communities bulldozed, thousands forced to flee their homes, and five hundred mountains turned into gravel to produce a fuel we don’t need and that is killing the planet. Shutting down coal fired power plants and convincing banks to divest from the coal industry is drawing much needed attention to the effects of MTR but it will not be enough to stop it as long as the export market remains strong. Coal production in Appalachia has slowed a bit from recent historic highs, but is poised to rise again due to increasing natural gas prices and the idling of less profitable mines elsewhere.


Many environmental groups have been heralding the decline of coal in the production of electricity as proof of the imminent death of Big Coal citing hundreds of power plants have been cancelled, shut down or switched to natural gas and the fact that some banks are getting nervous about investing in the industry, but this is a big mistake. The coal companies themselves cherish the fantasy that they are the underdog as it helps them position themselves as struggling against a much larger, more powerful, well-heeled and better connected environmental movement, who don’t understand where energy really comes from. David Brower, founder of the modern Sierra Club, always cautioned against seeing ourselves as bigger or more powerful than our opponents. “If we all merged” he’d say, “They could buy us all for lunch money.” We can only succeed if we have the public on our side. Our combined budgets are less than the advertising budget for Doritos.


We simply cannot surrender our underdog status to the Coal Barons. Even with less money we have many other ways to reach out to the people. Even pooling all of our resources, we could never afford a big media buy anyway. When you hear these large professional outside groups say that we have Big Coal on the run, that we have turned a corner, that we are making tremendous progress in our efforts to end MTR, don’t be deceived. Get out of the house and look on the your roof. You will see that little has changed and that there is still much work to be done.


What can be done?


With our tiny planet succumbing to the proverbial death by a thousand cuts, with so many people in so many places suffering from the extraction, processing and delivery of fossil fuels, and so many others who are suffering the effects of climate change, why should what is happening now on the Cumberland Plateau be so important?


I will give you the short answer….unfinished business.


It is no big secret that Appalachia has for over a hundred years been a natural resource colony and an ecological sacrifice zone. A hard fought campaign against strip mining that began in the 60′s was concluded with the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977. Signed by Jimmy Carter, he lamented publicly at the time that it was not the bill he wanted to sign. It was a compromise and the Big Green groups had been willing to give away the store because they wanted to pass a Wild and Scenic River Bill. They made some deals with the Yellow Dog Democrats representing the coal fields and the fix was in. Nevertheless, the Sierra Club would claim victory and walk away, leaving their members to conclude that the hills had been saved, when they had been sold down the river.


Just over ten years ago I was to learn this story as I was standing upon Cherry Pond Mountain in Raleigh County, West Virginia. My guide, the late Judy Bonds informed that next year this mountain would be gone. Using the Surface Mine Reform and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), Massey Energy had obtained a permit to blow it up and push it into the valleys below. While illegal under federal law elsewhere, West Virginia is one of the few places exempted from the Clean Water Act. While in the past it would have been fair to blame this situation on the coal companies, at this point one could be forgiven for blaming it on the Sierra Club. Ten years ago the Club was not evening running any coal related campaigns on the national level although some local chapters had taken on a few power plants. They were very bullish on natural gas back then, but have again reversed themselves as they had with nuclear power twenty years earlier. Slaves to consistency they are not.

sundail-june-09-protest_Pro_Anti-MTR crowds meet at Massey Goals Coal processing plant during anti-MTR march rally_ Sundial_WVa_June-29-09_Chris Dorst_The Charleston Gazette_blog_wvgazettecom           nightvigilcapitol

The uprising in Appalachia that began in the Spring of 2005 would change everything. The sight of hundreds of people being arrested blockading the mine entrance and dozens of others chaining themselves to the giant excavators on the mine itself had put mountain top removal on the national radar screen. The executive directors of most every environmental group parachuted in and pledged their support. They were photographed with the late Judy Bonds and the late Larry Gibson, (both of whose deaths were likely from breathing the toxic air), and the selfies were duly posted. Unfortunately the promises made during those years have not been kept, and once again the attention of Big Green has shifted to another region and another crisis. If I were an oil or mining company I might take this to mean that if you can withstand the force of a campaign for a few years you will be rewarded when the big groups eventually roll up their tents and declare victory.

judy-at-mine_Judy Bonds place  date unknown_TED_blogtedcom                           wvhighlands_orglarrygibsonDaveCooperp1-500x280

Ten years ago the Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA) was introduced in Congress by a broad coalition of environmental groups. The bill would restore what has become known as the “buffer rule” and would prevent dumping overburden or other mining wastes within 300 feet of a stream. It seemed a simple and easy solution at the time, but has proved to be anything but, yet the most serious problem is that the Clean Water Restoration Act will not end mountain top removal.


It will not end MTR because it simply tells the mining company where they can and cannot put the overburden and says nothing at all about the blasting. Even under the unlikely event that this amendment to the current law is passed, unlikely because not only coal miners but developers, loggers and even some farmers oppose it we would simply go back to taking out our tape measure and to measure three hundred feet from the creek and tell them to put the waste over there. Then we can go back to counting the minnows and mayflies in the creek and maybe even get back into court where we will be bogged down for years on each and every permit.


We don’t want to go back to that. We need a new law, a real law, and a very simple law to end MTR. A number of groups in the region have become convinced that now is the time to go to Congress with a real mountain top removal bill and as a result The Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (ACHE Act) has been introduced in Congress. This calls for an immediate moratorium on new blasting permits until the federal government conducts testing to confirm the results of testing done by the ACHE Team, the organization which wrote the bill, which has collaborated on over twenty peer reviewed medical studies confirming the deadly effects of the blasting.


A major fault of the Clean Water Restoration Act, and the main reason it languishes in committee, is that it unites many interested parties in opposition. All mining companies, oil companies, land developers and even some farmers do not want stricter enforcement of the  stream buffer rule. By focusing only on the blasting and its noted link to adverse health effects the ACHE Act will be introduced not in the Energy and Natural Resource Committee but the Health and Public Service committee and will be debated as a human health issue and not simply a water quality issue. It has nothing to do with rewriting SMCRA. It doesn’t cost the taxpayers much money. It is not even a ban, but a moratorium. Congress is under pressure to pass some legislation to deal with climate change and this may be something they can do without feeling much pain.

Judy Bonds, Debbie Jarrell & Ed Wiley state capitol announcement funds to build new Marsh Fork Elementary School_ Charleston_WVa_April 30_2010_Rick Barbero_The Register-Herald_ register-herald                 Bo-and-Rufus-Webb-300x262CourtesyBoWebb

The ACHE Act is a grassroots effort led by residents of the communities who live near the MTR mines. It is their response to the frustrations of the past few years with the national groups, many who opposed the idea when it was first being discussed. Their position seemed to be that they work in Washington, that they know what can and cannot be done, and this cannot be done. Well, three years later not only has it been done, but it has already more sponsors and a better chance of passing than the CWRA which the Washington groups have been supporting for ten years. For the Big Greens, it appears now as if they believe changing strategies would be an admission of defeat. Yet they understand that a strategy is exactly what is lacking. Why not back the ACHE Act and take another run at it, this time listening to the voices of the elders of our community?

Today, the climate movement desperately needs a victory. I watched as many climate leaders came to the Coal River and promised to stay until we got one. Have they given up? If we cannot stop mountain top removal we cannot say that this country is doing anything about climate change. How do we point our fingers at Canada and say don’t develop the tar sands or tell the Russians to stay out of the Arctic? And if the environmental movement cannot keep its promises here why would anyone believe they will keep future promises made elsewhere? If Big Green wants to get back in the game, they need to support the communities who are fighting everyday to end MTR and support the ACHE Act, the only bill that will do that.

Mike Roselle, Climate Ground Zero

March 16, 2014

One State, under Coal by Jeffrey St. Clair

Latest online article in the Ecologist about Mike Roselle, Climate Ground Zero’s Director. The piece is about the state of mountain top removal coal mining, the politics of West Virginia’s coal apologists, and just why Roselle delivered blasting dust debris to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s mansion in Charleston on Thanksgiving last year.  Then,  just a few weeks later, Freedom Industries rusty, leaking chemical tank of MCHM leached  into the Elk River, contaminating the downriver water supply of 300,000 residents of Charleston, after being “filtered” by American Water’s treatment plant.

Courtesy of

Photographs by Mike Cherin

When Mike Roselle tried to give his State Governor a sample of Mountain Top Removal dust for analysis, he was not expecting to be arrested at gunpoint and banged in jail for a week on suicide watch – all without charge.

A few seconds after he rang the doorbell, Roselle was surrounded by a dozen State Police officers, guns drawn.

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving Mike Roselle decided he’d had enough.

Enough of the toxic dust in the air. Enough of the constant blasting that rattles his small house.

Enough of the poisoned well-water. Enough of the chopped mountains and buried streams. Enough of the forests, playgrounds and cemeteries plowed under for one more suppurating coal mine. Enough of seeing his friends sicken and die in the West Virginia county that has the highest mortality rate in the United States.

A straightforward mission

That November morning Roselle, the John Brown of the environmental movement, took a drive with his friend James McGuinnis up roads washboarded by the ceaseless transit of coal trucks to Kayford Mountain.

What used to be a mountain, anyway. Much of that ancient Appalachian hump has been stripped, blasted and gouged away by the barbarous mining method called Mountaintop Removal. Roselle’s mission was straightforward.

He aimed to collect some of the dust, the pulverized guts of the mountain, that showers down on the nearby towns and villages, streams and lakes, day after day, like deadly splinters from the sky.

Roselle scooped up a few pounds of that lethal dirt in a couple of Mason jars. He wanted to have the debris tested. He wanted to know what toxins it contained. Lead, probably. Arsenic, perhaps. Mercury? Who really knew. The mining companies weren’t saying. Neither was the EPA.

Photo by Mike Cherin

Collecting blasting dust debris for testing.                                Photo by Mike Cherin

A dutiful servant – of Big Coal

Roselle got it into his head to take the mining dust to the one person in the state who might be able to give him some answers, to assure the folks who live under the desolated shadow of Kayford Mountain that there was no cause for alarm – the man who was charged with protecting the citizens of West Virginia from harm, the Solon of the Monongahela, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

On Thanksgiving morning, Roselle went to Charleston with his jar of dust. He walked right up to the Governor’s mansion and rang the doorbell.

At the Governor's Mansion.  Photo by Mike Cherin

At the Governor’s Mansion. Photo by Mike Cherin


Earl Ray is what you might call a lifelong politician. A Democrat, Tomblin was elected to the West Virginia senate fresh out of college in 1974. He was 22 at the time and has held elected office ever since. Across those four decades, Earl Ray has been a dutiful servant of Big Coal.

Every time a coal mine caved in, a waste dam breached, or an explosion of coal gases maimed and killed some miners, Tomblin would be there to offer his comfort. Consolation to the afflicted coal executives, that is.

Tomblin has raged against the ‘war on coal’. His administration has repeatedly sued the EPA on behalf of coal companies, citing its “ideologically driven, job-killing agenda”. And he has assured the mountain people of West Virginia that the coal dust fog that shrouds their communities is safe to breathe, eat or drink.

An unexpected turn of events

Then Mike Roselle showed up on Tomblin’s doorstep to make the governor prove it.  Roselle didn’t expect to see Tomblin that morning, so he’d slipped a note inside the jar asking the governor to test the dust and report back to him on what it contained.

But a few seconds after he rang the doorbell, Roselle was surrounded by a dozen State Police officers, guns drawn. Roselle was immediately arrested, hustled into a waiting police car. He was not told why, apparently because the cops couldn’t find a section of the state code that Roselle had transgressed.

They drove him to jail anyway, saying simply they “had orders to bring him in.” Orders from whom, they didn’t say.

Over course of the next six days Roselle was kept jailed without charges, including three days inside the Hole, the disciplinary unit. Why? Because Roselle had refused food until they could inform him of the charges against him.

Later he was transferred again, this time into a glass-enclosure, the suicide watch room, where he was forced to wear an orange medical gown for two days. Then, suddenly, he was released on a mere signature bond.

Whose freedom?

A few weeks after Roselle walked out of that Charleston jail, a storage tank at a chemical ‘farm’ owned by Freedom Industries ruptured.

Out of a one-inch hole in a white stainless steel tank, a stream of a licorice-smelling crude began pouring onto the ground and into the nearby Elk River and downstream directly into American Water’s intake and distribution center – the primary drinking water source for the Charleston metropolitan area.

The chemical that contaminated Charleston’s water supply, forcing 300,000 to go without drinking water, was a compound called MCHM – 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol.

It’s used in the processing of coal and another  highly toxic compound marketed under the name of Talon, which is manufactured by Georgia-Pacific, a company owned by the Koch Brothers.

Authorities not alerted

Freedom Industries discovered the leak early in the morning of January 9th, but never alerted state authorities or the water company. Hours passed before any attempt was made to stem the flow of the chemical into the Elk River. In that time, more than 125 people were sickened by drinking fouled water and sought treatment at area hospitals.

The fiancée of one of Freedom Industries’ top executives claimed that the illnesses were probably induced by the media. She said that she’d showered and brushed her teeth with the contaminated water and was “feeling just fine.”

As for Governor Tomblin, he took pains to reassure the people of West Virginia the spill that had fouled the Elk and Kanawa Rivers had absolutely nothing to do with the coal industry:

“This was not a coal company incident. This was a chemical company incident. As far as I know there was no coal company within miles.”

Selective unawareness

Apparently, Tomblin was unaware of the fact that nearly all of Freedom Industries’ contracts were with the state’s coal industry.

Nor that one of the company’s top executives, J. Clifford Forrest, is also the president of Rosebud Mining, a Pennsylvania coal mining company – which was recently sued for illegally giving advance warnings to mine managers of impending safety inspections by regulators.

On the afternoon of the Elk River spill, state legislators were meant to convene in the capitol building for a special session geared at passing a resolution denouncing the ‘war on coal’.

But the statehouse was evacuated before the great debate could take place, with lawmakers scrambling out the exits, coats over their heads, in a vain attempt to shield their lungs from the sickly-sweet smell of MCHM.

And to this day no one in West Virginia is quite sure whatever happened to Mike Roselle’s jar of dust.



Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of NatureGrand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He is on the board of the Fund for Wild Nature. He can be reached at:

This article was originally published on Counterpunch.

March 4, 2014

“We Aren’t Merchants” Dancing Around the Collapsing Edges of Industrial Civilization by Michael Donnelley on

Michael Donnelly’s pithy report on about the 32nd Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, aka E-LAW.


“It has never been our job to create solutions to these environmental problems, and we were never very good at it anyway. Why, in 1986 I spent four months in jail for demanding scrubbers for coal fired power plants, the very scrubbers responsible for these mountains of coal ash all over the place. There are plenty of people who want to propose alternatives, but most of them simply want to preserve the level of comfort they now enjoy. The environmental movement has lost its voice in this crowd. Boldness has vanished, truth is hidden and we seem to be moving about like ducks in a pen when a hawk flies over. The only possible solutions, and we all know this, involve sacrifice. That is a hard sell, but then again we are not merchants”

— Mike Roselle, Climate Ground Zero

Kim and I rode our bikes in the rain over to the Student Union building; locked them along with the hundreds of other bikes clogging the racks. We went to the stairway to the Ballroom where the Keynote Speaker presentation was about to happen. We were intercepted and told we had to check our packs to gain entry. I wanted to get some photos, so we balked. Kim knew the back stairs and elevator entrances to the second floor ballroom, so we checked them out as a way to gain entry with my camera. At every door, stair and elevator, there were “No Entry” signs and a guard. Outside on the rooftop, there were guards; as if someone was going to rappel down to the balcony and crash through the windows a la Bruce Willis.

Who was I hoping to photograph speaking? Henry Kissinger? Angelina Jolie? No, it was Lierre Keith of the group Deep Green Resistance (DGR) who was about to speak. Her appearance was being hotly protested by a loose-knit group of green transsexuals and their supporters who set up a wet vigil outside. The cult-like DGR has been relentless in denouncing male-to-female trans women. DGR claims to be “Radical Feminists” and that Genitalia is Destiny – that being born with a penis somehow locks one in the Man Box and men just can’t help themselves from being dicks – a bit of misandry insulting to all men. But that’s their reasoning behind their exclusionary view that male-to-female women just aren’t welcome in activist circles. While I don’t want to give this bizarre distraction much more energy, both sides’ arguments can be seen here: and, here.

The setting is the 32nd Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, commonly known as E-LAW. This year’s conference – themed “Running into Running Out” – got off to this surreal start and just kept getting weirder given our existential crisis and the fact that this, the first such conference, started as a place where grassroots activists rubbed up with policy wonks, attorneys, laws students, scientists, bureaucrats…to examine the state of the planet and what was being done about it and who as doing it. Of course, a major part of it was/is always employment opportunities for graduating baby lawyers.

As portrayed in John Sayles short story The Anarchists’ Convention, it’s a truism that if you assemble a lot of activists; activism – often silly – will occur. That still happens at E-LAW, but on a far more minor scale. Some of what passed for this year’s actions were decidedly lame – like the ossified non-profit Oregon Wild (Mild) organizing a forty-person march to the Eugene branch offices of Rep. Peter DeFazio and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley – all (D-Big Timber) – to protest their recent Bills that greatly expand logging on Public lands in Oregon under the rubric of using chainsaws to remove Biomass and that somehow will bring the forests to better “health.” These are the very same offices where Oregon Mild first met with the same phony “progressive” career politicians to sell the concept of “Restoration Forestry” - THE “Forest Health” justification for the timber plans the same “activists,” err, paid staffers now oppose. The politicians were thousands of miles away, a la Obama during’s mortifying invite-only White House Feb. 2013 “our Lunch Counter Moment” vanity protest.  (The main protest activism was Anti-Nuclear this year. I’ll get into that later.)

The Consumption Elephant, err, Mammoth in the Room


Let’s get back to this year’s theme: “Running into Running Out.” Perhaps the first clue that this wasn’t going to lead to what I thought it would was that the hourglass used as logo with the theme was upside-down – 95% of the sand was still in the top chamber.

I perused the agenda for panels and Keynote addresses on just what strategies and sacrifices we were going to have to commit to in order to effectively address that “Running Out.” Out of 138 panels, just one was on Population and Consumption – the underlying cause of it all: “Advocacy in the Anthropocene: How to Talk about Population to Save the Environment.” The excellent presentation was organized by the Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Population and Sustainability wing. And, there is no denying just how needed their population program is, especially when the other big greens studiously avoid this elephant. CBD has given away over 500,000 condoms tying it directly to species conservation, using info on the packaging to sell the link. Alan Weisman, author of the fine thought experiment book “The World without Us” was on the panel. His new book “Countdown” examines population reduction efforts around the world. (The shocker? Iran has achieved a birth rate lower than replacement…due to religious edicts, however.) Stephanie Feldstein, CBD’s Population and Sustainability Director, took on Consumption, noting that if all 7.2 billion Clever Apes lived the same life-style as the typical North American, we’d need 4.5 Earth’s worth of resources.

{Though the organization has many very good people doing very worthy work like this, I have never been a fan of CBD, ever since they were one of the collaborating groups behind the flawed Restoration/Forest Health model and how they demeaned others (yes, myself included) who opposed the concept from the beginning. I also take issue with CBD’s non-democratic/no voting membership closely-held corporate organizational model. While PIELC prefers that nomenclature over E-LAW, CBD staffers hubristically self-reference as “The Center.”}

One panel was on “Federal Forest Litigation in the Context of Collaboration” and another one was “New Science on Fire, Water and Forests” which looked into how the actual results of Collaborative Restoration Forestry’s chainsaw surgery does far more harm than good for forest ecosystems. As with Oregon Wild, no groundswell of grassroots membership ever directed any of these groups to “collaborate” with industrial forestry on yet another excuse for stump-creation. That directive came directly from their funders and Democrat Party allies. That hoodwinked CBD, like duped Oregon Wild, is also now opposing huge Southwest timber sales that the Forest Service claims are based on Restoration precepts bodes well. (Though it does remind me of when the 1940s Vichy French “collaborators” whined when the Nazis arrested 11 of their top leaders AFTER said leaders had “collaborated” and sent 65,000 Jews to Germany.)

Anything at all, but Sacrifice

I heard a lot over the weekend on what’s wrong. Yet, every “solution” I heard proposed all weekend was as bad, or worse, as the one I heard before it. Trees converted to jet fuel!!; Nukes, small-scale Nukes, Carbon fees and dividends, Sabotage, Forest Health/Restoration logging “collaborations,” Cascadian Secession, Socially Responsible Investing, all sorts of minor policy tweaks, “We the People against Corporate Personhood,” multiple panels on “Crushing Patriarchy” “Misogyny & Ecocide,” Revolution,…it was surreal. Cascadian Secession was the sole pipedream “solution” I could get behind, though there may be hope for yet another Teamsters and Turtles coalition with labor.

Yet, there was nothing at all about sacrifice…about drastic reductions in consumption. NOTHING!

Also conspicuously missing were presentations on the on-going poisoning of Appalachia for coal, though Appalachian-based Mountain Justice did have an info table amongst the hallways lined with group presentations. Being the West Coast, coal issues addressed were about mining coal in Wyoming and sending it overseas to China and other nations via rail and barge hauling to export docks; and the shipping and building of such dock facilities were focused on.

Mike Roselle of Climate Ground Zero was supposed to come and get recognition for CGZ. But, Mike was scheduled to be arraigned in West “by coal” Virginia on the 3rd for his Thanksgiving Day taking of a sealed jar of toxic coal-blasting dust to the Governor and demanding it be tested. He was arrested and jailed for it and awaits trial; which is being pushed back, understandably, by the authorities given the unending toxic news from WV of late.

Deadly Energy

Of course, the main indicators that we are “Running Out” of time is Carbon Pollution and resultant Climate Chaos and Extinctions. So, also of course, one would expect that that and strategies on how to combat it would be THE major focus of the conference and indeed a large presence was climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, who appeared on various panels and gave a Keynote address.

I arrived early for his first panel “Merging Climate Science with the Law and Communication” figuring it’d be packed. It was. Anti-nuke activists were handing out info at the doors on Hansen’s pro-Nukes position.

A very good reporter for the good local Eugene Weekly asked what she should ask Hansen a few days ago before he arrived. I asked her in the hall before the panel if she had asked my question “what is your personal carbon footprint and where does it come from?”

In a great irony, after flying into Beijing, Hansen was hospitalized in China two days before flying to PIELC due to foul air quality and couldn’t respond to any of her list of questions!

Hansen delved into the science and then trotted out a cockamamie “solution” he and fellow scientists (and funders, no doubt) concocted. It would have a Carbon Fee collected on carbon at its source. Some sort of new bureaucracy would be set up to collect the fees and instead of the fees going into the Federal Treasury; they would then be redistributed as Dividends to consumers. This preposterously unworkable idea then purports to be the driver behind lowering carbon use and pollution; so much so that the increase in planetary temperature would be then kept below 1.5 degrees Centigrade before 2080, instead of a more disastrous 2 degrees or more.

It wasn’t long before the crowd got dazed and confused by that line of thought and someone brought up Nukes. Hansen responded with “No one has ever died from a nuclear accident.”

“That’s not true” rang out from the crowd and it was on. The rest of the time was a debate on the merits of Nukes. Hansen noted that “one million people die from coal in China every year.” Others countered with deaths from radiation.

As soon as the panel ended, a group of his questioners approached Hansen and started in on the topic. I went up to get a photo. As I snapped the shot, Hansen told the stunned group, ”More people have died installing solar panels on roofs than have died in nuclear accidents.”

One wag said, “I’ve said it all along; this is the epicenter of Greenwashing in North America this weekend.”
Dr. James Hansen tells a group of mind-blown anti-Nukes activists, “More people have died installing solar panels on roofs than have died in nuclear accidents.” That’s Oregon hero Lloyd Marbet in the plaid shirt. And, Chuck Johnson is next to him. They doggedly/successfully fought for the end of the Trojan Nuke Plant. 

False Solutions squared

Mind blown myself, I rode off to another part of campus to attend a panel with a title right up my alley: “False Solutions: The Flaws of Green Energy.” Two guys from something called the Fertile Ground Environmental Institute had the facts down as to how “Renewable” Energy is really reconstituted fossil fuel and , thus, more inefficient than just burning the fossil fuel for electrons in the first place. They examined the vast amounts of coal that go into making solar panels, wind towers, steel, cement, etc. They had photos of massive mines, including the huge Rare Earth metals mine in China that provides batteries/magnets for 80% of our iPhones, iPads, wind power generators, Pius batteries, etc. – the basis for this form of industrial energy. They claimed that 1.2 million Tibetans have died in the forced labor (slavery) of the mines – 20% of all Tibetans alive! (Yes. I’m checking into that.)

I’ve been waiting for a solid analysis of “Renewable Energy” and this was the first time I’ve seen such a panel discussion on it at a green event. Even with massive subsidies to wind and solar, these provide fewer than 2% of overall power in the US grid and even that is unusable without base-load steam-generated power – coal, nukes, Biomass or natural gas. What really passes for “renewable” under the odious “25 x 25 renewable portfolio” plans adopted by most states is Biomass – the burning of trees for electrons. Getting those trees to the steam plants is the real underlying purpose of the many new logging plans that Oregon Wild and others now oppose.

As my buddy Jeff notes, “And since 90% of “clean energy” is the biomassacre, every time I hear someone want to deal with “climate” I hear the march of the bio-suicides: Bio-char, bio-mass, bio-fuel.  Therefore, I despair every time I hear anyone talking about climate, because I see it as a symbol of the environmental movement, if there ever really was one, having lost its mind, and its way, and only being comfortable with nothing that will make any difference at all, as intended.

Right now from Michigan to Vermont to Wisconsin to California THAT is the suicide of the planet being most ramped up, and despite the lies of those pushing renewable energy, is going to double, triple, ten times more as we promote “getting off fossil fuels” to save the climate; thereby assassinating nature in the name of green.

So for me, when I hear “climate” concern, I hear the trees and orangutans and tigers and wolves and life I love being slaughtered even faster.  The planet and the climate are being destroyed even faster in the name of preventing climate change.”

Sabotage, then what?

Well, the False Solutions panel devolved quickly enough. Admitting their ties to DGR, the panelists then trotted out their “solution.” It was Sabotage! Take down the grid! They praised efforts that have damaged the grid and other energy supply routes. No talk at all of how, if that succeeded, then what? As the Population and Consumption panel noted; 60% of our food is grown with natural gas-derived fertilizers, it’s delivered via fossil fuels…cutting off fossil fuels cold turkey means genocide. The great irony of Industrial Civilization is that we cannot live much longer with it and billions cannot/will not live without it.

Best Things about PIELC

There has always been a commitment to Indigenous Peoples at E-LAW. The UofO Student Longhouse is right behind the Law School and a full slate of activities happen there during the conference. In addition to the annual honoring of elders; this year, most of it was about the 1000 Yellowstone Buffalo that are being killed right now – over 300 already down.

Native people from around the world always are given Keynote slots to present their plight. E-LAW sets out how to interact with Native people, especially revered elders, in the brochure. The event is quite multi-cultural. I see more people in traditional clothing than I see all year combined.

Ecological Social Justice is always on the agenda.

Upon registration, people are asked about how they traveled to the conference in an attempt to calculate the event’s carbon footprint. Paper coffee cups are banned.

Activists attend for free. Lawyers pay a fee.

Gender balance on panels is a goal.

Best Things this Year

The top event for me was the honoring of my friend, the great activist attorney Lauren Regan and her superb, skilled group – the Civil Liberties Defense Center on CLDC’s Tenth Anniversary. In those ten years, CLDC has represented 900 activists of all causes, though mainly Native and Eco-activists, for free. Lauren and her allies are indispensible to the movements. CLDC is my top activist group…they are my “The Center!”

Regan is also part of a new effort – the Global Climate Convergence, which is another Teamsters and Turtles attempt to ally Greens and Labor in conservation and social justice efforts. She, 2012 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, sociologist Dr. Jamil Jonna and labor organizer Richard Monje made several presentations on GCC. After the Teamsters and Turtles experience, no one could blame Eco-activists for being shy about any new such efforts – it foundered when the “Teamsters” felt the need to cut the trees for jobs when the “Turtles” sought to protect them for habitat.

This time I have some hope. Monje isn’t some Pollyanna and Regan and Jonna certainly are not; and Stein impresses me more and more. Monje knows full well the tough sell on either end. He’s a veteran of the bi-lingual education efforts and citizen safety campaigns in his native East LA neighborhood. He was shot by the police at an anti-Vietnam War protest. As someone who grew up in Flint, MI and joined the UAW and worked for GM starting at age 18 and who later worked in NW lumber mills before becoming a forest protection advocate, this effort strikes close to home with me.

Regan gave a lunch Keynote and noted Population and Consumption as a root cause of every issue being addressed at the conference. And, then at the end of Saturday, after Hansen gave a stodgy Keynote address, Prof. Mary Wood of the Law School, followed and gave the long-awaited speech that finally seriously addressed Consumption.

Another, more inclusive group organized a Trans and Womyn’s Action Camp and made a presentation at the conference about it.

Dancing on the Ruins of Industrial Civilization

Speaking of Industrial Civilization, the annual Earth First! OutLAW Party was held in a run-down warehouse district, outdoors, in the rain amongst a vast array of the debris of industry. The bands were quite good this year. The rain never stopped. Mud and cracked cement was the dance floor. The traditional effigy burn went well and even the ten-person naked pyramid next to the fire held up…the big guys on the bottom getting only a little muddy.

But as I looked around the 250-person crowd, I saw but a couple dozen of the “old guard.” It was a passing of the torch, so to speak, event this year, as long-time EF! pyro master Mick Garvin is recovering from yet another eye operation and wasn’t in attendance.

Mick recently came up with a proposal to hold an Earth First! Rendezvous in an abandoned Detroit factory and actually dance on said ruins (and to lend support to the many young urban pioneers now resettling Detroit.)

As David Brower used to say, the real action at these events takes place in the halls and bars and any effective actions that come out of it are concocted there – the camaraderie is one of the best, if not the best, part of it.

Where DO We Go from Here?

One activist declared that despite all the distractions and buffoonery, “at least they are talking about the Climate Crisis.” It’s a start.

As Mike Roselle points out, we aren’t merchants and our job is not to sell windmills (or Nukes, rare earth-derived solar panels or “Forest Health” logging schemes)…it is to lower our planet-destroying habits – to Power Down this Industrial experiment and People Down before it’s too late. Our job is to resist extinctions caused by 7.2 billion Clever Apes consuming the life support system. It’s how to provide for Gaia to carry on with Her full complement of species.  It’s how to humanely get the population of us primates down to a number that begins with an “M,” not a “B,” so that those other species – and ultimately we – can thrive in harmony with this beautiful, magical planet we are blessed to occupy.

THIS is what Running into Running Out really means. We may already be beyond the critical tipping points. 600 species went extinct over the course of the conference! Ignoring consumption and focusing on techno-policy tweaks around the edges and an array of false “solutions” may well provide full employment for Eco-attorneys and Eco-collaborators…but not for long.

MICHAEL DONNELLY has attended 30 E-LAW Conferences. He has presented panels on activism and forest protection over the years. He was Plaintiff in the first successful Old Growth lawsuit. He can be reached at