This morning, three residents of Central Appalachia and two supporters with Mountain Justice chained themselves to an industrial tank of black water in front of Alpha Natural Resources’ headquarters in Bristol, VA, to protest Alpha’s mountaintop removal strip mining and coal slurry operations across the region. All five blockaders have been arrested.
“I’m risking arrest today because mountaintop removal has to end now for the future viability of Appalachia,” said 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, WV. “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,” said Junior Walk, 23, from the Brushy Fork area.
“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 Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, currently in subcommittee in Washington, D.C., 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.
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By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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