With recent news that utilities will transition off ten more coal plants, US activists can claim to have put 100 aging, dirty coal plants on the path to retirement. This is a milestone in what is becoming one of the most successful environmental campaigns in history: the push to clean our air and slash carbon emissions by phasing out the US coal fleet.
We’ve won victories of mammoth proportions. Now it’s time to make sure these wins are not undermined, and that coal kings don’t simply export their dirty product abroad. This won’t be easy, because they are even now pushing plans to ship coal from the Powder River Basin and other areas overseas. As a movement committed to the dream of clean power for all, we cannot let them succeed.
Inspired by last year’s Tar Sands Action and the Occupy movement, hundreds of people affected by coal exports will converge this August in the Montana state capitol. Using disciplined, non-violent, and creative direct action, we will do our best to bring an end to business as usual in the building where members of Montana’s State Land Board work.
The Montana Land Board (which includes the governor and four other officials) can stop the Powder River Basin from becoming an industrial mining zone by rejecting the proposal that makes vastly expanded coal mining seem feasible: the Otter Creek mine project. Unfortunately, a majority of Board members have chosen to side with the coal industry. They’ve turned their backs on ranchers fighting to protect their land from coal mines, working-class communities affected by pollution from coal trains, and college and high school students who demand a shift away from coal because we know our futures depend on it.
In the lead-up to the Land Board’s August 20th meeting, we will use the power of mass action to create a crisis of public conscience for members of the Land Board. Rather than ask them to do the right thing, we will create a situation where we clearly have the moral high ground, and Land Board members will have to act or admit they really are subservient to coal barons.
Some people will risk arrest at this action. That’s a choice I don’t expect anyone will make lightly, but it’s what it will probably take to keep Montana’s coal reserves (by far the largest in the 48 contiguous states) safely underground. Whether you’re able to risk arrest yourself, or want to support those who will be doing so, you can help make this action a success.
Personally, I’d like nothing better than to think we could win this fight without anyone going to jail. I’d like to think we could win purely by advocating for “solutions,” and hoping that enough energy efficient light bulbs will eventually, somehow, translate into no more coal. However I know, deep down, that neither of these approaches will work by themselves.
And I can’t help remembering what climate activist Tim DeChristopher said, immediately after being convicted for civil disobedience: “No one ever told us that this battle would be easy,” DeChristopher told a crowd gathered outside the courthouse. “No one ever told us that we wouldn’t have to make sacrifices. We knew that when we started this fight.”
I’ve been fighting the coal industry for almost three years, ever since graduating from college. I’ve seen how easily elected officials can cave to industry, unless they face the kind of public pressure it’s impossible to ignore. This summer, like hundreds of others, I’m committed to ending the rule of the coal barons. Hope to see you in Helena.