by Bill Price, Regional Sierra Club Staff, Beyond Coal Campaign |
For the 7th year in a row we have descended on Capitol Hill to lobby, protest and proclaim the health and environmental devastation of mountaintop removal coal mining!
You often hear the phrase “walking the halls of power” when you’re in Washington DC trying to educate Congress and the Administration on health and other impacts of Mountain Top Removal mining. But from June 3 through June 5, residents from Appalachia and across the country traveled to DC to show the politicians where real power comes from.
Over 150 people (including several Sierra Club members) gathered for the 7th annual Week in Washington, sponsored by the member groups of the Alliance for Appala-chia. The week started with a day of training on Sunday that would prepare the attendees for the upcoming days. Over 120 visits were made to the offices of Members of Congress calling on them to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act and to stop attacking the Environmental Protection Agency
when they are doing the job they are supposed to do — protect the health of people!!
There were also meetings with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the National Park Service. These meet-ings were productive and the message was loud and clear. The people of Appalachia support the actions taken to keep the mining industry from destroying our health, land, homes and lives. We want an end to Mountain Top Removal and a transition to an economy that will lead to true prosperity and
not the destruction of our water. The staff of those agencies heard from residents of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, along with people from all over that people’s health is in jeopardy and they must continue to work for, and do more, to end Mountain Top Removal mining.
In addition to the Week in Washingtonevent, there was a day of action on Wednesday, June 6. It started with delega-tions from the four states representing Appalachia walking to the Rayburn House office building, where they paid a personal visit to their Members of Congress. Congress-men Rahall (WV), Rogers (KY), Duncan (TN) and Griffith (VA) were somewhat surprised by the visits and even more surprised when the delegations decided not to leave when
invited to do so. Twenty-two people made a personal decision to risk arrest by staying in the offices. Ultimately, the Capital Police did arrest those brave people who wanted only to be heard by their “Representatives.” They have now all been released and are on their way back to their homes to continue their fight.
At the same time those visits were being made, a rally was held at the Lower Senate Park where supporters celebrated the week. At that rally, people heard updates from the Rayburn building, while listening to good Appalachian music and continuing the ritual begun by women in Appala-chia on Memorial Day at the WV State Capital in Charleston. Six more people (including yours truly) shaved their heads to bring attention to the ongoing crisis brought about by Moun-tain Top Removal. Paula Swearingen, who was one of the women who shaved her head in Charleston, said it best “my hair will grow back, the mountains won’t. I’m doing this for my kids! I’d cut off my foot if I had to for them.”
The week was a powerful experience. Instead of “walk-ing the halls of power,” those in DC who want to allow the destruction of homes in Appalachia got a taste of what true power looks like. And this is just another step. More will come until the madness of Mountain Top Removal ends.