Photograph by Steven Higgs

Indiana gets 96 percent of its electricity from coal-powered electric power plants like the IPL facility on Indianapolis's southwest side. Burning coal is a major cause of global warming and the catalyst behind planned civil disobedience in Washington, D.C., on March 2.

On Feb. 3, six citizens committed to nonviolent civil disobedience were arrested for trespassing on West Virginia's Coal River Mountain mountaintop removal site after they chained themselves to a bulldozer and an excavator. The same afternoon, eight more were arrested at a second protest in Pettus, W.Va.

Blasting off the tops of mountains is one way the coal industry obtains coal. It's a ruinous practice. According to Tara Lohan, writing on AlterNet, mountain top removal mining in Appalachia uses 3 million pounds of explosives a day to blow up the tops of mountains, dumping the debris into waterways and valleys and leaving behind mounds of toxic waste.

Instead of mountaintop removal, Coal River Mountain's residents and their supporters advocate a wind farm on the site as a safe alternative for clean energy and long-term jobs.

The Coal River Mountain arrests illustrate a new type of environmental movement that is building around coal. In this movement, civil disobedience is coming back as a tool for fighting climate change, specifically focused on the coal industry and its mining and burning of coal to produce electricity.

Not only are people taking action at local sites, as at Coal River Mountain, but national action is taking place in Washington, D.C., on March 2 to protest coal combustion in the United States.

The target of the Capitol Climate Action is the Capitol Power Plant, a government-owned coal-fired plant that produces the electricity for the Capitol, which is the home of Congress, and surrounding buildings.

The goal is not to shut down the plant for the day but to raise consciousness about the disastrous climate consequences of daily worldwide reliance on coal for power. Organizers expect thousands of people to engage in nonviolent resistance and to make the action "the largest mass civil disobedience for the climate in U.S. history."


Photograph by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

In West Virginia, coal companies blast the tops off mountains to facilitate coal mining, ruining the environment and local communities in the process.

Numerous organizations are handling the logistics of the action, among them the Energy Action Coalition, Greenpeace, the Ruckus Society and the Rainforest Action Network.

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Bloomington's Unitarian Universalist Church is organizing bus transportation for the Capitol Climate Action. And Steve Cotter and Marcia Veldman are two Bloomingtonians who plan to be on the bus.

"We are making the trip because our country, and especially Indiana, is still very dependent on coal, which is extremely harmful to people, the atmosphere and the planet as a whole,” Cotter said in an e-mail. “We feel it is so detrimental to our environment that it's immoral to continue using it as a fuel source. We think it's crazy to burn a fuel that poisons our bloodstreams, our rivers and our air. Especially when we waste most of the electricity we consume.”

The issue of coal combustion is critical in Indiana, which stores more coal plant fly ash than any other state, in lagoons like the one that failed in Tennessee on Dec. 22 and spilled 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash sludge into the surrounding area.

Indiana produces 96.2% of its electricity with coal, according to Purdue University. That makes it the leading emitter of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas.

"There is no such thing as clean coal, and the carbon sequestration technology being touted as the way to burn coal cleanly is expensive and experimental,” Cotter continued in his e-mail. “Even if it can be made to work, the mining, transportation, and disposal of coal, and its waste products, are so harmful that it should be banned as a fuel. When we burn coal, the toxins inherent in the substance have to go somewhere, whether it's out a smokestack or into a sludge heap like the one that is destroying a large swath of Tennessee.

"Lead and mercury are two coal ingredients I'm extremely concerned about. Every water body in Indiana has been contaminated by mercury fallout from coal plants. Lead has devastating impacts on brain function, especially in children.


Photograph by Graham Boyle, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

A growing number of environmental activists are getting arrested in protests against coal.

“Our state can hardly afford to continue causing brain damage to our kids. Smart companies locate their businesses in clean communities. Fouling our nest only makes it harder to attract the kind of jobs Indiana needs to attract to our state.

"The timing of this action is another reason we're going. With the change in administration, we feel it is possible to make the types of changes our country should make if we let our leaders know which direction we want to go. It's going to be a long trip, but we're really excited to be going."

Reserve a seat on the bus

A seat on the Green Sanctuary Task Force bus to the Capitol Climate Action costs $95. E-mail Marcia Veldman at meadowlk@bloomington.in.us or call 812.988.4956 and leave your name, phone number, e-mail address and city.

The bus leaves from the Bloomingfoods East parking lot at 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 1, and arrives back in Bloomington at about 6 a.m. on Tuesday, March 3.

The demonstration includes, but isn't limited to, civil disobedience. Organizers are working closely with the D.C. police to ensure that those who don't want to participate in civil disobedience won't be arrested.

Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us.

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For more information

  • Capitol Hill Climate Action
  • Look for an eyewitness report on the event in an upcoming edition of The Bloomington Alternative.