Category Archives: Coal

Lummi Nation Chairman Ballew to Senator Daines: ‘That Day is No More’

Editor’s Note: An original, unabridged version of this article is available at Coal Stop.  You can read more and sign up for updates on the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at their website.

By  / Intercontinental Cry

United States Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) is on a mission to do whatever it takes to get the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT), a 48 million metric-ton-per-year coal export terminal, permitted and built. The GPT project is proposed in Whatcom County, Washington, and would be sited at Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point), along the shoreline, which is part of the Lummi Nation’s traditional fishing area. The company proposing GPT is Pacific International Terminals (PIT), a subsidiary created for the project by SSA Marine.

Tens of thousands of people who steadfastly oppose GPT are standing in the way of Senator Daines, SSA/PIT, and the coal companies like Cloud Peak Energy which have financial interests in seeing that GPT is built and operating. Also standing in the way is the Lummi Indian Tribe, a sovereign nation, standing tall in defense of its treaty rights.

On July 29, Senator Daines’ official website featured a press release about the senator and Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-MT), having led a group of sixteen senators and seventeen members of the House in sending two July 28, 2015 letters (one from the Senate and one from the House) to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The letters urged U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy, to complete the environmental review process for the proposed GPT project prior to the Corps making a determination whether impacts to any tribes’ U&A (usual and accustomed) treaty fishing rights are more than de minimis, or too trivial to warrant legal review.’

An August 3, 2015 Lummi Nation press release announced that Lummi Indian Business Council (LIBC) Chairman Tim Ballew II sent an August 3 letter to Senator Daines, cc’d to the thirty-two legislators who signed onto those letters, and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. In his letter, Ballew reminded them of the U.S. government’s obligation to protect and preserve the Lummi Nation’s treaty fishing rights.

BACKGROUND LEADING UP TO DAINES’ RECENT ACTIONS

In determining whether Lummi Nation’s treaty-guaranteed rights of access to its U&A fishing grounds and stations, and harvest of fish, would be adversely impacted by GPT, the Corps will be applying a de minimis threshold standard. Any impacts considered to be greater than de minimis by the Corps would warrant the GPT permit denial requested by the Lummi Nation.

The fact that the Corps “owes the highest fiduciary duty to protect Indian contract rights as embodied by treaties” is entrenched in case law. That solemn duty and obligation owed to the Lummi Nation by the U.S. federal government is something the agency takes extremely seriously, and addresses separately from any Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) the Corps is tasked with on proposed projects.

Treaty fishing rights of the Lummi are secured to them by the U.S. federal government in the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855. Article 5 of the Treaty provides that, “The right of taking fish from usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory. . .”

XWE’CHI’EXEN: WHAT IT MEANS TO THE LUMMI

 

Lummi Nation’s Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office Director Jewell James provided some important insight on the significance of Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) to the Lummi, in the August 2013 issue of Whatcom Watch:

The Lummi have usual and accustomed fishing grounds scattered throughout the San Juan Islands and on the mainland of Whatcom County up to the Canadian border. Not only were our (fishing) village sites located throughout the territory, but the associated burial grounds are located at these sites, as well. Among the most important of these cultural landscapes is Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point).

LIBC Chairman Tim Ballew sent a January 5, 2015 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking the Corps to take action and immediately deny SSA/PIT’s permit application for the proposed GPT project. Ballew wrote:

Review of the impacts associated with this project, including, but not limited to, those analyzed in the Gateway Pacific Terminal Vessell [sic] Traffic and Risk Assessment Study lead to the inescapable conclusion that the proposed project will directly result in a substantial impairment of the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation throughout the Nation’s ‘usual and accustomed’ fishing areas. The Lummi have harvested at this location since time immemorial and plan to continue into the future.

SENATOR ATTEMPTS TO BLOCK ARMY CORPS’ DECISION-MAKING PROCESS

It’s also not surprising that the legislators who signed onto the July 28 letters to the Army Corps, altogether, received over $400,000 in contributions in 2014, from the same GPT-related interests listed above.  It’s no surprise that Senator Daines is willing to be Montana coal industry’s point person on the proposed GPT project, because according to opensecrets.org, in 2014, Daines received over $50,000 in total campaign donations from the following contributors connected to the GPT project: Cloud Peak Energy, SSA Marine, FRS Capital Corp. (ultimate parent company of SSA Marine), Peabody Energy, BNSF, Boich Companies (part owner of Global Coal Sales Group, and the National Mining Association (an active advocate for the coal industry).

According to the August 3 Lummi Nation press release previously mentioned in this article, it turns out that the two July 28 letters sent to the Corps by the thirty-two legislators came after three failed attempts by Senator Daines to attach a specifically crafted amendment to various pieces of unrelated legislation. The amendments were designed to try to prohibit the Army Corps from making its determination regarding the Lummi Nation’s treaty fishing rights relating to GPT, before the final EIS would be completed for the project.

Excerpt of Senate Amendment (S.A.) 1809, proposed by Senator Daines on June 8, 2015
Excerpt of Senate Amendment (S.A.) 1809, proposed by Senator Daines on June 8, 2015

 

One of those amendments, Senate Amendment (S.A.) 1809, was proposed by Senator Daines on June 8. It was an amendment to Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) Senate Amendment (SA 1463) attached to a piece of unrelated legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1735) for fiscal year 2016.

Another example of Senator Daines’ attack on Lummi treaty rights was cited in LIBC Chairman Tim Ballew’s August 3 letter to the senator. His letter included a copy of the language that Daines apparently tried to insert as a proposed amendment to yet another piece of unrelated legislation (H.R. 22). The amendment text was the same language that was proposed in S.A. 1809.An excerpt from S.A. 1809 reads, “The Corps of Engineers shall not make any determination regarding usual and accustomed fishing places in connection with the Gateway Pacific Terminal project until after the Corps issues a final environmental impact statement. . .” S.A. 1809 never received debate as it was withdrawn, so it did not move forward to a vote.

Chairman Ballew admonished Senator Daines in the August 3 Lummi Nation press release:

Senator Daines has repeatedly sought to interfere in the Army Corps’ regulatory review process by seeking to attach legislative amendments to various bills moving through Congress. It’s unconscionable that, as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, he chooses to ignore treaty rights. He has repeatedly tried to diminish the rights of the Lummi Nation using “middle-of-the-night” stealth legislative tactics that have prevented stakeholders from weighing in.

BURYING AMENDMENTS IN UNRELATED LEGISLATION TO BURY TREATY RIGHTS

Amendments are often attached to unrelated bills, but riders that undermine treaties and sacred sites are particularly egregious. In December 2014, Senator McCain successfully buried an amendment he attached to the 1600-page 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4435). The must-pass NDAA legislation that Congress moves yearly was used as a vehicle by McCain to pass a morally suspect public lands exchange package involving land at Oak Flat, in Eastern Arizona.

Senator McCain’s “midnight” rider which disregards and diminishes treaty rights of the San Carlos Apache and other nearby tribes that he managed to sneak through in 2014, and the repeated legislative attempts by Senator Daines to trample Lummi treaty rights, illustrate the serious harm that can befall the Lummi Nation every single day that passes before the Army Corps makes its determination.

SSA Marine’s vice president Skip Sahlin, sent a May 12, 2015 letter to the Army Corps asking for an extension to respond to the Lummi Nation’s request to the Corps for an immediate denial of the GPT permit application because the terminal would interfere and impinge on the Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights. In that letter, Sahlin claimed that allowing SSA/PIT the requested additional time “will not harm the Tribe or its treaty rights. . .”

The treaty rights of the Lummi Nation are under attack, and their Nation has had to expend untold efforts to defend those rights secured to them in 1855 by the United States. Every day that passes as the Army Corps is making its decision on the fate of the GPT permit, is another opportunity for coal-backed legislators such as Senator Daines to craft legislation aimed at weakening Lummi Nation’s treaty rights. Reasonable persons would conclude that despite Mr. Sahlin’s claim to the contrary, harm has been done to the Lummi Nation each day that has passed since February 2011, when SSA/PIT first submitted the application for its proposed GPT project to Whatcom County’s planning department.

Chairman Ballew made it clear in his letter to Senator Daines that the Lummi Nation will fight resolutely to defend and protect its treaty rights: “I can assure you, that if the Lummi Nation’s Treaty Fishing Rights are jeopardized by any efforts to allow the project to proceed, we will fight vigorously by all means necessary. In times past, our Nation and its leaders did not have the resources and were unable to stop prior efforts to construct commercial terminals in our region. That day is no more.”

From Intercontinental Cry

Thomas Linzey: The Coal Trains’ Track to Nowhere

By Thomas Linzey / CELDF

Four years ago, as we were leaving Spokane to help rural Pennsylvania communities stop frack injection wells and gas pipelines, this region’s environmental groups couldn’t stop talking about “stopping the coal trains.”

After people in British Columbia – including NASA’s top climate scientist James Hansen – were arrested for blocking oil trains; and after people in Columbia County, Oregon have now proposed a countywide ban on new fossil fuel trains, one would think that both the Spokane City Council and the region’s environmental groups would have begun to take strong steps here to, well, actually stop the coal trains.

After all, there is now almost universal agreement that the continued use of fossil fuels threatens almost every aspect of our lives – from scorching the climate to acidifying the oceans and fomenting widespread droughts.

But it seems that both the Council and this region’s environmental groups have resigned themselves to being silent accomplices to this slow-moving disaster.

A few weeks ago, at a forum on coal and oil trains, rather than propose a citywide ban on oil and coal trains, those groups instead focused on the dangers of train derailments and coal dust – two real issues to be sure – but ones that fall completely short of recognizing the underlying problems posed by the trains.

If the problem is derailments and dust, then the solution is to reinforce and cover the railroad cars. That may or may not happen, but even if it does, it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem posed by the coal and oil trains. Instead, such a stance broadcasts the message from the City of Spokane and this region’s environmental groups that the coal and oil trains are okay as long as they are “safe.”

The real problem, of course, is that the fossil fuels that the oil and coal trains carry – when used the way they are intended to be used – can never be made “safe” because their guaranteed combustion is slowly boiling the very planet on which we live.

At the end of Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart’s presentation at the forum last week, he spoke about his dead-end meetings with state and federal officials, whose doors were open to the energy and railroad corporations but not to communities affected by the trains. Stuckart declared that he wasn’t sure that anything short of laying down on the tracks would stop the coal and oil trains.

For one brief shining moment, it seemed that the heavens had parted and what we’re really up against – a governmental system controlled by the very corporations it is ostensibly supposed to regulate – came shining through.

As I watched, people across the room began to shout and applaud; and then, just as quickly as it had come, it passed, as the hosts of the forum steered everyone back to their latest moving target – this time, urging people to write letters begging Governor Inslee to stop proposed oil and gas exports. In other words, now nicely asking the Governor to stop more oil and coal trains from invading Spokane.

I then realized why I stopped going to those gatherings – I stopped because the form of activism proposed by the groups actually strips us of the belief that we’re capable of doing anything by ourselves, as a community, to actually stop the trains. Writing letters reinforces a hopelessness of sorts – that we’re completely dependent on the decision by others to “save” us, and that we’re incapable of taking action to save ourselves.

It would be akin to the civil rights movement writing letters to congress instead of occupying the lunch counter or the seats at the front of the bus. Or Sam Adams sending a letter to King George urging him to put safety bumpers on the ships carrying tea, rather than having a tea party by dumping casks of tea in the harbor.
Until we confront the energy and railroad corporations directly, they will continue to treat Spokane as a cheap hotel. We need to ban and stop the trains now – using everything that we can – before future generations wonder why we spent so much time sending letters and so little time protecting them.

Thomas Alan Linzey, Esq., is the Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and a resident of the City of Spokane. The Legal Defense Fund has assisted over two hundred communities across the country, including the City of Pittsburgh, to adopt local laws stopping corporate factory farms, waste dumping, corporate water withdrawals, fracking, and gas pipelines. He is a cum laude graduate of Widener Law School and a three-time recipient of the law school’s public interest law award. He has been a finalist for the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award, and is a recipient of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union’s Golden Triangle Legislative Award. He is admitted to practice in the United States Supreme Court, the Third, Fourth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeals, the U.S. District Court for the Western and Middle Districts of Pennsylvania, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Linzey was featured in Leonardo DiCaprio’s film 11th Hour, assisted the Ecuadorian constitutional assembly in 2008 to adopt the world’s first constitution recognizing the independently enforceable rights of ecosystems, and is a frequent lecturer at conferences across the country. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, the Nation magazine, and he was named, in 2007, as one of Forbes’ magazines’ “Top Ten Revolutionaries.” He can be reached at tal@pa.net.

Under pressure, Castilla y León government ends mountaintop removal in northwestern Spain

By Amaranta Herrero / eJolt

On the 14th of February, the regional government of Castilla y León cancelled the plan for Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining (MRT) in Laciana Valley (Spain).

During the last twenty years, irreversible changes have been taking place in the Southwestern Cantabrian Mountains, in an area of ​​great ecological value, which is protected by EU environmental legislation.

The extractive technique known as Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining (MTR) has illegally modified during this time the topography and the life of people in Laciana Valley (León). Although it is literally an explosive industrial process, this mining activity developed in relative silence, away from public opinion. In general, MTR operations are remote, located beyond the landscape seen from city centers. At first glance, only a well-trained eye can detect the landscape morphological transformations involved in the amputation of the top of a mountain and its subsequent artificial reconstruction. But for the 10.000 inhabitants directly affected by this activity, mostly connoisseurs of mountain valley profiles, MTR is constantly visible and audible.

In the past two decades, Laciana Valley has fallen into severe socio-economic decline. Coal mining has gradually reduced, partially driven by EU liberalization measures of the energy market that reduce State subsidies for the extraction of coal. Since 1990, coal production has shrunk 67% in Spain. Surface mining in Spain began in the 1970s, but it was not until 1985 that MTR, much less labour-intensive, started replacing underground mining on Laciana’s private land. The number of coal mining jobs were reduced by 85,7% in the last 20 years in Spain. In 2010, the 6,429 jobs in the Spanish coal-mining sector included directives, technicians, administrative stuff and workers from underground mining and MTR.

The local population has been highly polarised with regard to the continued existence of MTR and the future of the valley. Coal mining has been for far too long an economic monoculture in Laciana, maintained by the very close relations between the political and the economic powers in the area. Suspicion of corruption has always surrounded the coal mining sector since the 90s. Victorino Alonso, the owner of Laciana’s MTR company, Coto Minero del Cantábrico, and the main Spanish coal entrepreneur was declared guilty of fraud in 2010. On the 10th of February 2014 all Spanish coal companies have been brought in front of the Court accused of fraud related to Coal Aid.

Laciana MTR mines have been active without the legally required environmental and planning permits. At the same time, these illegal activities have, curiously, been intensively subsidised by the Spanish government and indirectly by the EU. As a result of the illegalities, the biggest private mining company in Spain, Coto Minero del Cantábrico (CMC), was brought before a Spanish court by individuals and local environmental groups. In fact, some of the inhabitants of Laciana Valley together with regional environmental groups, autonomous activists and Members of the European Parliament, have spent twenty years opposing and struggling against this industrial activity. This heterogeneous ecological resistance movement has addressed the destruction of natural resources and environmental services and the residents’ future. They sued the company and the Town Council, appealed to the European Court, wrote articles and documents, tried to reach the media, organised talks, camps, and they have even put in more than one occasion their bodies in the middle to stop the mountain destruction. This movement has fought for a different future, based on economic activities that are truly compatible with the protection of the environment. This local environmental movement in Laciana has also faced an intense process of stigmatisation and scapegoating within the Valley.

In 2006, CMC received the highest environmental fine in the country’s history (approx. €170 million) and was ordered to stop activities by the regional Administrative Court. In November 2011, the European Court of Justice also recognised the environmental crimes in Laciana. Disregarding the legal verdict, the fine remaining unpaid, the company continued MTR activities and planned expansion. This expansion plan had been presented in 2008 by the regional government. It also represented a threat to Laciana’s inhabitants, ecosystems and future, until last 14th of Februrary. With the MTR expansion plan cancelled, Laciana’s people can start a promising transition towards different, diverse and environmentally lower impact economies.

Congratulations to everybody who fought against MTR coal mining in Laciana for their long and intense ecological resistance and their final victory. If we want to promote a new and sustainable energy model, as well as having a chance of avoiding runaway climate change, it is a must to challenge the coal industry, to end fossil fuels subsidies and to leave coal underground.

From eJolt: http://www.ejolt.org/2014/02/victory-no-more-mountaintop-removal-coal-mining-in-laciana-valley-spain/

Coal-processing chemicals spill into West Virginia river, polluting drinking water for 200,000 people

By Ashley Southall and Timothy Williams / New York Times

Nearly 200,000 people in Charleston, W.Va., and nine surrounding counties were without drinking water on Friday after a chemical spill contaminated supplies, the West Virginia governor’s office said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said early Friday in a statement that the federal government had approved a request of assistance in dealing with the chemical spill into the Elk River, which flows into the Kanawha River at Charleston.

“West Virginians in the affected service areas are urged not to use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing,” Mr. Tomblin said in declaring a state of emergency. The warning affected customers of the West Virginia American Water Company in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane Counties.

Many stores in the area quickly ran out of bottled water Thursday night as residents rushed to stock up, according to local news media reports. Restaurants and businesses closed, and The Associated Press reported that schools as well as the State Legislature had canceled sessions on Friday.

The spill was discovered Thursday at a storage facility about a mile north of a water treatment plant on the Elk River, where a 48,000-gallon tank began leaking 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, or MCHM, a compound used to wash coal of impurities, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The chemical leaked from a hole in the bottom of the tank and then filled an overflow container before spilling into the river, said Thomas J. Aluise, a spokesman for the agency.

It is not clear how much of the chemical flowed into the river, which Mr. Aluise said looked like “cooking oil floating on top of the water.”

The chemical, which smells like licorice, is not toxic, but can cause headaches, eye and skin irritation, and difficulty breathing from prolonged exposures at high concentrations, according to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

Freedom Industries, the company that owns the storage tank, has not responded to emails seeking comment.

Liza Cordeiro, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education, said schools in at least five counties would be closed Friday.

On the Facebook page of the West Virginia American Water Company, dozens of residents expressed concern that they had not been immediately told about the chemical leak or the potential for health risks.

“Yeah, so I’m six months pregnant and drank tap water at a restaurant about an hour before the notice was sent out,” one woman wrote.

From The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/11/us/west-virginia-chemical-spill.html?_r=0

Ben Pennings: THIS is how you Send a Message to Big Coal!

By Ben Pennings / Over Our Dead Bodies

Big Coal? We’re talking the biggest. The Galilee Basin is the biggest proposed coal complex in the world. The numbers are staggering, frightening; well past the point of insanity.

The great news is that the nine mines planned are very marginal economically. The ‘quality’ of coal is low, the price of coal is low, and the debt levels of many companies involved are high. However, a company called Aurizon is planning to bail out the debt-ridden company GVK, allowing them to dig up the first 2 mines. These mines alone would be responsible for carbon pollution 6 times that of the UK.

A broad cross-section of the mainstream environment movement have signalled their intentions towards Aurizon, but thus far been pretty much ignored. Millions of emails have gone unheard. Aurizon continues unabated towards investing billions to mine the Galilee Basin, before solar makes it completely economically unviable.

The Over Our Dead Bodies campaign is adding a new dimension to the decision-making processes of Aurizon, and has garnered significant interest from both the company and police. Aurizon now face sustained direct action and civil disobedience strategies, on top of the increasing pressure from mainstream groups. The campaign is blatantly honest, starting to document the number of activists in Australia and globally who will do whatever it takes to stop Aurizon.

Activists started the campaign by stealing a ‘carbon bomb’ from their offices, visiting the CEO’s mansion (twice) and messing with their football sponsorship. All in one weekend. While also hunger striking! But the real deal is still to come.

How can activists be honest with Aurizon about what may be on the way? Go along to their AGM of course! I was one of twelve activists who bought enough shares to attend and ask questions that were not the usual fare. For the first time in AGM history (as far as we know), activists asked audacious questions to directly challenge a company about the security, insurance, industrial action and recruitment costs related to direct action by environmental activists – providing an honest warning to shareholders of risks the company has thus far refused to disclose.

A multi-organisation protest was also held outside the AGM venue. Police inside and outside the AGM outnumbered protesters two to one – uniformed, plain clothes, photographers and high-ranking officers. Walking from our briefing to the venue, the anti-terrorism police made their presence known, greeting me by name. As did other officers throughout the morning. Nice to be loved! The leading image above shows one of the anti-terrorism police ‘Aaron’ (real name is Bruce) talking to an activist on the day.

Activists know they can’t stop Aurizon’s plans through appealing to their ethics or values. Those who have tried have failed. The chair of the board John Prescott confirmed this belief when answering the first question:

“The fundamental business of this company is transportation, the majority of it by heavy haul rail systems, and a key part of that is certainly the carriage of coal… it is a fundamental part of this company’s business to carry coal for interested customers. It is a perfectly legitimate activity and it is one that to withdraw from would not be in the interest of shareholders, customers, employees, and the communities in which we serve.”

He also admitted to shareholders in this first exchange that Aurizon “have not made any estimates” when asked about the costs of activism by organisations with many millions of members. This is an important admission but the point needed to be laboured. The next question about their security strategies got right to it:

“It seems to me that Aurizon are very vulnerable to direct action strategies from environmentalist groups. Given you have thousands of kilometres of rail line and have difficult to secure facilities around the country, what strategies do you have in mind to secure what seems to be in-securable?”

After questions about climate change, water and the future of coal, it got serious with a question about targeting the board and executives:

“As Aurizon’s planned investment in the coal mines in the Galilee Basin (involves releasing) truly massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, threatening life as we know it on this planet, such a radical step calls for a radical response. Are you aware that over two hundred activists from one group alone have thus far committed to use direct action against the Aurizon Board of Executives to remind them of their personal responsibility regarding runaway climate change; and given they claim to have home addresses of most of the board members and senior executives, and considering activists have already visited the CEO’s home twice, are you concerned that executives and board members will leave the company if they are seriously challenged in their homes and neighbourhoods about these responsibilities, their responsibilities beyond Aurizon, responsibilities to the future of all of our children, our grandchildren, the community, country and the world we live in?”

Despite protestations, a further audacious question was asked, this time about stopping trains with cardboard boxes:

“In 2011, an activist stopped a coal train in New South Wales using a lightweight box contraption. Now he was inside that box, but it’s easily conceivable that you could stop a coal train with an empty cardboard box. Now given you’ve got thousands of kilometres of track, how do you envisage oversight over those tracks and managing that; I can see it would be quite easy for activists to stop coal trains and get away with it scot free. So is there a cost each time a train is stopped like this, and have you factored those kinds of costs into your business plans?”

Just by chance, this happened to be outside the building when shareholders left the meeting. DSCF6847

You can imagine the company (and some shareholders) were not too happy with such questions. The chair of the board said repeatedly that they would not divulge security strategies, but it seemed reasonably clear such strategies did not exist. But the shareholders did respond with applause to the question about coal dust, public health, and the excessive salary of the CEO:

“My question is to Lance Hockridge, CEO, and my concern is about dust. I’ve been reading a bit in the media the last few months about coal dust coming from wagons and about the particles, and the doctors and health experts’ concerns about the dust particles; the larger ones and the smaller ones which can get lodged in the lungs and in the bloodstream and the concern, particularly for children… My question, given that Aurizon has so far refused to cover the coal wagons and that there is quite a bit of public outcry about this issue is, Lance, you earned $6 million more than the average Australian last financial year, would you personally be willing to donate some money to stop the damage to public health, and if not, would you personally live on a railway line and breathe in what you transport?”

That question was bound to be popular but this question hit a different nerve:

“Are you concerned that once environmental activists start direct action strategies that your unionised staff will undertake industrial action due to perceived safety risks? Have you factored in these potential massive costs to your investment in the Galilee?”

A shareholder responded to this, saying she was “absolutely appalled at the suggestion that lives would be put at risk because of ideological beliefs.” I jumped up to defend this activist before question time ended. It is Aurizon in fact who are putting millions of lives at risk over an ideological belief, the belief that profit by any legal means trumps ethical considerations, or a livable planet for that matter. After the AGM some shareholders spoke freely with activists. Many were concerned about climate change, coal dust, and the shortening future of the coal industry. Aurizon have since sent a strongly worded legal letter, threatening a Supreme Court injunction against Generation Alpha, Over Our Dead Bodies and their ‘members’. What a shame that Generation Alpha is a Facebook page, Over Our Dead Bodies is a website, and neither have members! Aurizon write that they are ‘disappointed’ in us, and if we do what they say we’ve threatened, we’re in big trouble! But now they just have to wait and prepare, knowing they can do little to stop the next move by the 221 (and counting) activists who have said “Over Our Dead Bodies”.

CEO confronts green activists during stunt at his mansion

By Generation Alpha

Environmental activist group Generation Alpha has released a video of their confrontation with Aurizon CEO Lance Hockridge. The group’s Over Our Dead Bodies campaign has started targeting Aurizon over their crucial financial and infrastructure role in mining the Galilee Basin in Australia.

The coal mining complex planned for the Galilee Basin is the biggest in the world, and will challenge the Tar Sands as the most damaging resource project on the planet. Mining the Galilee would produce 330 million tonnes of coal, enough to fill a train wrapped around the world one and half times.

The activists visited the CEO at his $4.5 million mansion to place giant carbon footprints coming from his front gate, to demonstrate his personal responsibility for what is seen by the environment movement as an impending environmental catastrophe. He saw the action and approached the activists, accusing them of trespass, even though they were clearly outside his property.

In the confrontation between Lance Hockridge and campaign coordinator Ben Pennings, Hockridge firstly denies the importance of Aurizon. However, when Pennings asks how the mining companies will transport the coal without a rail line the CEO simply says, “That’s a matter for them isn’t it”.  Afterwards, Pennings said:

Mining the Galilee Basin is like setting off a bomb. 700 million tons of extra carbon pollution each year is a deadly catastrophe, an environmental crime. CEOs shouldn’t be able to hide behind a corporate entity for their life threatening decisions. We will continue to target Lance Hockridge, to tell the truth about this crime to his neighbours, his community, the world. We will do this and much more till he considers what’s best for the future, not just his wallet.

Activists start public Hunger Strike by stealing ‘Carbon Bomb’

By Sarah Moles / Generation Alpha

Seven environmental activists today stole a ‘Carbon Bomb’ from the offices of transport company Aurizon (link www.aurizon.com.au) in Brisbane, Australia. The action signified the launch of their shop front hunger strike, pressuring Aurizon to withdraw planned capital from the largest coal complex in the world, planned for the Galilee Basin in their state of Queensland. Burning the coal from this complex is forecast to release over 700 million tons of carbon pollution each year, more than the total emissions Australia, the UK or Canada.

The hunger strike is part of the Over Our Dead Bodies (link www.OverOurDeadBodies.net) campaign, run by 40,000-strong Generation Alpha (link www.facebook.com/GenerationAlpha). Campaign coordinator Ben Pennings told the gathering media:

We’re here because Aurizon plan to bail out debt-ridden Indian company GVK, allowing them to dig up the first 3 coal mines in the Galilee Basin. Mining the Galilee is like setting off a bomb. This amount of carbon pollution is a deadly catastrophe, an environmental crime. So we’ve taken this carbon bomb from Aurizon to symbolize our intentions to stop them.

The campaign is designed to provide unique financial pressure on Aurizon, a rail freight company that specializes in coal. Activists in Australia but also internationally are committing to actions on the campaign website (link www.OverOurDeadBodies.net) that will cost Aurizon significant time and money.  These include direct action and civil disobedience aimed at delaying infrastructure, hampering day-to-day operations and even targeting the company’s CEO and board members. Mr. Pennings said:

Aurizon have been ignoring the legitimate concerns of the environment movement for too long. So activists around the country are getting ready for direct action, to make the precarious finances of this complex even more so. Governments aren’t protecting our future, so we will.

The activists included former Australian Senator Andrew Bartlett (link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Bartlett).  Andrew expressed his frustration with the lack of political engagement on climate change, saying:

We will be on a public hunger strike from today, engaging community members to understand that we can’t have the biggest coal complex on the planet, we can’t ignite this carbon bomb, and still avoid catastrophic climate change. We don’t want short-term mining projects that destroy communities and the environment. We want renewable power and long-term sustainable industries integrated into our communities.

For more on the Over Our Dead Bodies campaign, see http://www.OverOurDeadBodies.net

For the Hunger Strikers blog, see http://www.OverOurDeadBodies.net/blog

Generation Alpha’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/GenerationAlpha

International Energy Agency: Planet on track for 3.6 to 5.3C warming

By Associated Press

The world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to a record high of 31.6 billion tons, even though the U.S. posted its lowest emissions since the mid-1990s, the International Energy Agency said Monday.

In its annual World Energy Outlook report, the Paris-based IEA said top carbon polluter China had the largest emissions growth last year, up 300 million tons, or 3.8 percent, from 2011. Still, the increase was among the lowest seen in a decade as China continues to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

U.S. emissions dropped 200 million tons, or 3.8 percent, in part due to a switch in power generation from coal to gas, while Europe’s emissions declined by 50 million tons, or 1.4 percent, the IEA said.

The agency said the energy sector accounts for about two-thirds of global emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, which scientists say are fueling climate change.

Global climate talks are aimed at keeping the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) compared with pre-industrial levels. The IEA found the world’s on track for an increase of 3.6-5.3 C (6.5-9.5 F).

“Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities. But the problem is not going away – quite the opposite,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

Climate scientists have warned that the global temperature rise could have catastrophic consequences such as flooding of coastal cities and island nations, disruptions to agriculture and drinking water, and the spread of diseases and the extinction of species.

Read more from The Kansas City Star:

Residents shut down Alpha headquarters with support from Mountain Justice

By Mountain Justice

Three residents of Central Appalachia and supporters with Mountain Justice chained themselves to an industrial tank of black water in front of Alpha Natural Resources’ Bristol, Va., headquarters to protest Alpha’s mountaintop removal strip mining and coal slurry operations across the region.

“I’m risking arrest today because mountaintop removal has to end now for the future viability of Appalachia,” says Emily Gillespie of Roanoke, Va., whose work with the Mountain Justice movement is inspired by Appalachian women’s history of non-violent resistance. The tank of water represents coal contamination from affected communities across the Appalachian region.

The group called for Alpha to stop seeking an expansion of the Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment in Raleigh County, W.Va. “We want Kevin Crutchfield, CEO of Alpha Natural Resources, to produce a signed document expressing that they won’t seek the expansion of the Brushy Fork Impoundment before we leave,” Junior Walk, 23, from the Brushy Fork area said.

“I live downstream from Alpha’s Brushy Fork coal slurry impoundment on Coal River. If that impoundment breaks, my whole family would be killed,” Walk said, “Even if it doesn’t, we’re still being poisoned by Alpha’s mining wastes everyday. I’m here to bring the reality of that destruction to the corporate authorities who are causing it, but who don’t have to suffer its consequences.”

More than 20 peer-reviewed studies since 2010 demonstrate a connection between mountaintop removal coal mining operations and increased cases of kidney, lung, and heart diseases, as well as increased birth defects and early mortality. The ACHE act, currently in sub committee in Washington, calls for a moratorium on new mountaintop removal operations until a definitive, non-partisan study can demonstrate the reason for these community health emergency levels of health impacts.

The impoundment at Brushy Fork holds back almost 5 billion gallons of toxic sludge and is considered the largest earthen dam in the Western hemisphere. Recently leaked records show that coal slurry impoundments in Appalachia failed 59 out of 73 total structural tests performed by the Office of Surface Mining. “Alpha is only profitable because they’re allowed to gamble with our lives—and we’re the ones who pay the cost of their negligence and toxic pollution,” Walk said.

Alpha has lost numerous lawsuits relating to pollution from mining wastes in recent years, but they continue to violate safety regulations and expand their hazardous operations.

After refusing to take responsibility for the massive floods caused by the King Coal Highway and their destructive mountaintop removal mining practices, Alpha continues to push forward similar projects, such as the controversial Coalfields Expressway in Virginia.

From Mountain Justice: http://mountainjustice.org/events.php?id=245

You can support the Mountain Justice legal fund here: https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_flow&SESSION=rz2f3BpZzTXerYXJ2w8VcOfrYjnxsKfKZd8OHROTTFFg6xVKjvMCbhb8qh0&dispatch=5885d80a13c0db1f8e263663d3faee8d14f86393d55a810282b64afed84968ec

Cherine Akkari: Mercury a growing global concern

By Cherine Akkari / Deep Green Resistance

Mercury is an element which is naturally present in our environment. It is also known as quicksilver. It is a heavy, silvery-white metal which is liquid at room temperature and evaporates easily. Mercury is usually found in nature in the form of cinnabar, used in the past as a red pigment. Cinnabar, a natural form of mercury, can be found in metals, such as lead and zinc, and in small amounts in a wide range of rocks including coal and limestone. The other source of mercury comes from human activities. About half of the global anthropogenic mercury emissions come from the burning of coal, metals production and the production of cement. [1] About 2,600 tons are emitted from anthropogenic sources. [2]

Mercury mostly resonates to us, humans, through its organic compound ‘methylmercury’ (MeHg), which is only found is aquatic habitats. Around 1914, methylmercury became commercially important as a crop fungicide and its worldwide use has lead to several food poisoning incidents. [3] However, it wasn’t until the early 1950s that methylmercury became recognized as a well-known thread, after years of the chemical company Chisso discharging it into Minamata Bay, Japan. [3] Over 17, 000 people were certified as disease victims. Symptoms can range from ataxia, muscle weakness and damage to hearing and speech, to insanity, paralysis and death.

What is new about mercury?

In January 2013, more than 140 countries have adopted the first global, legally binding treaty, known as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, to prevent the release of anthropogenic mercury. Later on, in October 2013, Minamata will be in the news again to ratify the treaty.

Why is mercury hazardous?

Mercury is tasteless and odorless, so when it does get into the environment it’s not easy to spot. And as the only metal on Earth that can be found in a liquid form at room temperature, mercury is often used in barometers, thermometers and in any household items like cosmetics, antiseptics and skin lightening creams. It can also be combined with other metals to create special alloys called amalgams, which can be silver or gold. [5]

Moreover, mercury poisoning is not a local issue. Most of the world’s estimated 600,000 tonnes of mercury deposits are found in a handful of countries, including China, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Slovenia, Spain and Ukraine. [6] Of course, the US is not excluded. [5]

The biggest anthropogenic sources of mercury are coal fired power plants, and artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), together emitting a minimum of 1000 tonnes per year.

What about the treaty?

Unfortunately, the treaty only provides soft measures like awareness raising, advocacy, and the provision of information, so as to encourage reductions of anthropogenic mercury emissions. Although the treaty is ‘legally binding’, it encourages governments to set out strategic reduction schemes on the facility in Minamata rather than on a national basis

On top of this, the treaty does not require identification or remediation of contaminated sites, does not require polluters to pay for health damages or environmental clean-up, and does not provide protection from similar disasters occurring anywhere in the world. In fact, the treaty is not expected to reduce global levels of mercury in fish and seafood at all. [7]

A look into the future

With global warming at 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 1,199 new coal-fired plants are being proposed globally. [8] It seems our addiction to fossil fuels is not going to end.

Mercury emissions are not expected to fall until the 2020s, while the treaty itself is expected to increase anthropogenic emissions.

The rising global concern is methylmercury poisoning growing in combination with ongoing climate change and water scarcity – in particular with regard to coal fired power stations, with their high CO2 emissions and significant use of water for cooling.

Talking about clean coal (or clean coal technology)?  In the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Energy report honestly said: “There is no point in pretending that coal is what it is not, nor that it is not what it is. Coal is naturally endowed with the elements and minerals of the living organisms that define its primordial origins, and that means the carbon for which it is valued. But, to some degree, it also means sulfur, and nitrogen, and incombustible impurities. It is an incontrovertible fact that the uncontrolled burning of coal will release into the environment carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), particulate matter, and ash.

It is the business of the Clean Coal Technology Program to develop the means of burning this coal with attendant minimal emissions of these undesirable pollutants; we know that there can never be none. So, if not literally “clean” coal, then certainly we mean “cleaner” coal, and it is in this sense that the Program uses the shorthand term, Clean Coal Technology”. [9]

According to Rob Dietz, regular contributor at The Daly News, “clean coal means that miners have struck it rich — that they’ve found a seam of coal that, when burned, produces only a lemony fresh, green vapor”. [10]

The hard work lies in changing the current state of our economy. We need to be confronting the root causes of our environmental problems, which are population growth and a false economic paradigm triggered by capitalism, rather than simply the symptoms alone. As Albert Bartlett, the physicist and activist, has said: “Smart growth destroys the environment. Dumb growth destroys the environment. The only difference is that smart growth does it with good taste. It’s like booking passage on the Titanic. Whether you go first-class or steerage, the result is the same.”

[1] UNEP, United Nations Environment Programme, (2013). http://www.unep.org/PDF/PressReleases/Mercury_TimeToAct.pdf

[2] Honda, S., Hylander, L., & Sakamoto, M. (2006). Recent advances in evaluation of health effects on mercury with special reference to methylmercury: A minireview. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 11 (4), 171-176

[3] Barrett, J. (August, 2010). An Uneven Path Forward: The History of Methylmercury Toxicity Research. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Environmental Health perspective, 118(8): A352

[4] Schlein, L. (19 January, 2013). More Than 140 Nations Approve Global Treaty to Cut Mercury. Voice of America: http://www.voanews.com/content/first_global_legally_binding_treaty_on_mercury_adopted/1587234.html

[5] Griesbauer, L. (February, 2007). Methylmercury contamination in fish and shellfish. CSA Discovery Guides:

[6] USGS (2012). Mineral Commodity Summary. United States Geological Service. Available from http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/mercury/mcs-2012-mercu.pdf

[7] Kennedy, R., and Yaggi, M.(10 January, 2013). Mercury poisoning is a growing global menace we have to address. The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/10/mercury-poisoning-global-menace-treaty

[8] Yang, A., and Cui, Y. (November, 2012). Global Coal Risk Assessment: Data Analysis and Market Research. World Resources Institute: http://www.wri.org/publication/global-coal-risk-assessment

[9] Miller, L. (n.d.). Clean coal technologies, clean air legislation and national energy strategy. U.S. Department of Energy. Office of Fossil Fuel Energy (FE-22). Retrieved from http://web.anl.gov/PCS/acsfuel/preprint%20archive/Files/Merge/Vol-35_4-0003.pdf

[10] Moronic Oxymorons in the Age of Climate Change. Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (casse). The Daly News. Retrieved from http://steadystate.org/moronic-oxymorons-in-the-age-of-climate-change/