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Mr. King Coal's Neighborhood: Washington DC, Won't You Be My Neighbor?

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What does a Wyoming rancher, a Navajo elder, a Southern community organizer, a Latino immigrant organizer from Chicago, a young indigenous Ottawa woman from Michigan, and an Appalachian coal miner's widow have in common?

All of their neighborhoods are under deadly assault from King Coal. And all of these six American heroes have journeyed to Washington, DC this week, on their own dime--unlike the paid hacks from King Coal's payrolls--as part of the First 100 Days of the Power Past Coal movement to testify to representatives from Congress, the EPA and the Council on Environmental Quality about their outrageous living conditions under government regulated coal mining operations and coal-fired plants.

In Mr. King Coal's neighborhood, these are their daily burdens: Mercury poisoning, gall bladder disease, black lung disease, devastated and impoverished strip-mined communities, depleted and contaminated watersheds, and toxic-draped and ailing neighborhoods.

If Washington, DC doesn't have time to journey to the coalfield neighborhoods and toxic corridors of coal-fired plants, then the coalfield neighbors and coal-fired plant residents have journeyed to Washington, DC to bring a bit of truth and clarity to the clean energy debate.

In truth, it's time for top level public servants--like Nancy Sutley, Lisa Jackson and Ken Salazar--who are slowly determining the fate of our nation's oldest and most diverse mountain range and its abuse by one of the most scandalous human rights and environmental violations, to actually see firsthand the horrific impact of mountaintop removal on our nation's citizens in Appalachia, and stripmining operations and coal-fired plants in other parts of the country.

It's easier to compromise with King Coal representatives inside the comfort zone of the Beltway, than in one coal-slurry contaminated area around Prenter, West Virginia, for example, where 98 percent of the residents have had their gall bladder removed.

In the meantime, these are some of the stories Washington, DC representatives heard yesterday:

L.J. Turner is a rancher and member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), a network for grassroots organizations from seven states that include 10,000 members and 45 local community chapters. L.J. runs the ranch his family homesteaded in 1918, in Campbell County, Wyoming. Strip mines encroach on one edge of his ranch, while oil and coalbed methane development deplete and pollute the water resources vital to his operation. Aquifers have been destroyed and stock water wells impacted. The loss of water threatens the ranch's viability. L.J.'s story is far from unique in the west, as irresponsible energy development scars private and public lands in rural communities. Strip mine pits have displaced grazing cattle and shattered the western landscape's iconic imagery. L.J. is working to be part of the energy solution and is negotiating to develop a utility scale wind farm on his ranch. He is one of many cowboys who have been fighting to keep their way of life for over 30 years. For a virtual visit to LJ Turner's neighborhood, see: www.worc.org

Marie Gladue Dine comes from the Black Mesa region of northeastern Arizona, where she works with the Black Mesa Water Coalition to fight Peabody Energy's controversial Black Mesa coal mine and to promote green jobs and clean energy among the Hopi and Navajo communities. Peabody 's coal mining operations on Black Mesa have for more than 35 years been dependent on a sole source of drinking water for Navajo and Hopi communities. Between 1969 and 2005, Peabody pumped an average of 4,600 acre-feet of water annually from the Navajo Aquifer, resulting in significant damage to community water supplies. According to Gladue, the coal mining operations have taken sacred lands. Her Indigenous community recognizes Black Mesa as a female mountain, water as her lifeblood, and the coal as her liver. Respect for Mother Earth would mean leaving the coal in the ground. For a virtual visit to Marie Gladue's neighborhood, see: www.blackmesawatercoalition.org

Mike Cherin, a resident of Rutherford County, N.C., lives 16 miles from the Cliffside Coal Plant, the site of an 800-megawatt coal-fired facility currently under construction by Duke Energy. The plant, if allowed online, would emit 6 million tons of additional carbon dioxide annually, threatening the health of nearby residents, and causing significant environmental concern, including global warming and mercury contamination. Cherin and many of his neighbors are diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and oppose the Cliffside Coal Plant for its threat to public health. Cherin and his wife, an R.N. at the local hospital, are community organizers with the Canary Coalition, a clean air advocacy group in western N.C. which recently helped rally several hundred community members in opposition to the Cliffside Coal Plant, resulting in the highest number of arrests in protest of coal in American history. Recognizing that his region has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, Cherin is an outspoken advocate for green collar jobs to build solar panels and wind turbines, which could fill the region's empty factories. For a virtual visit to Mike Cherin's neighborhood, see: www.canarycoalition.org

Towana Yepa is 22 and a member of the Indigenous communities of Jemez Pueblo and The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. She is fluent in the Towa language and knows the traditional life ways of the Desert Peoples cultures and the Great Lakes cultures. Her tribes' lands are on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, where the deposition of mercury from coal-fired power plants across the lake has ruined the tribes' water supplies and rendered the water unusable for drinking or fishing. The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians fought off a proposed coal plant four years ago in Filer Township, MI. Now, the Indigenous Tribes in Michigan are facing eight more proposed coal plants.

Lorelei Scarbro is a community organizer at Coal River Mountain Watch. Lorelei is the granddaughter, daughter, and widow of West Virginia coal miners. The home in which she lives was built by her late husband, who passed away due to black lung. He was an underground coal miner for 35 years. He is buried in the family cemetery which is adjacent to their home. Lorelei's land, home, the family cemetery, and surrounding environment are now faced with the threat of mountaintop removal coal mining on Coal River Mountain. There is a 6,600 acre mountaintop removal site proposed above her home - but she is joining with local residents to promote a 328 MW wind farm instead. More than 15,000 acres in Lorelei's community have already been destroyed by mountaintop removal - Coal River Mountain is the last remaining mountain with wind potential in that area. The Coal River Wind project would preserve her family's land and history for generations to come, as well as prevent further destruction in her community. For a virtual visit to Lorelei Scarbro's neighborhood, see: www.crmw.net, and www.coalriverwind.org

Samuel Villaseñor is the Clean Power organizer with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), in the southwest side of Chicago. Samuel arrived to Little Village from Huerta Vieja, Iguala, Guerrero in Mexico, when he was two years old. Little Village, Chicago is the second largest Latino community in the nation outside of East L.A., with a population of 100,000 within a 5 mile radius. In Little Village alone, 40 deaths, 2800 asthma attacks and 500 emergency room visits annually are attributed to the two coal-fired power plants situated near the residential area. To bring attention to the health problems associated with coal burning, Villaseñor has helped to organize the Coal-Olympics, a creative community event that pressures the Mayor to invest in long term green jobs, public transit, and housing, instead of Chicago's Olympic bid. Villaseñor's campaign also trains young people in the community on weatherization and retrofitting, to help older residents make their homes energy efficient. The multi-generational activity promotes alternatives to coal and job creation in the city. LVEJO saw a major victory last year when the Chicago Mayor publicly recognized Little Village's two coal plants as responsible for half of the city's pollution. For a virtual visit to Samuel Villaseñor's community, see: www.lvejo.org

Or, check out the inspiring work of his companera Marisol Becerra at Little Village Environmental Justice Organization:

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