While combating dirty fossil-fuel energy sources like coal and shale gas, activists can sometimes find themselves so intensely focused on one issue that they lose track of important developments in other related fossil fuel campaigns.
Mountain Justice Spring Break (MJSB), March 21-28 in northern West Virginia, seeks to build bridges between the long-established anti-mountaintop removal (MTR) campaign in Appalachia and the fast-growing anti-fracking campaign.
College students and young people on their spring breaks from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, New York and other states will attend MJSB for a week of trainings, skill-sharings, workshops, documentary films, speakers from the mountains and the hollows -- learning about Appalachian music and culture through bluegrass, folk and old-time music in the evenings. A special emphasis at MJSB is connecting activists in the anti-MTR campaign with the "Fracktivists" in the anti-fracking campaign.
Mountain Justice Spring Break will offer site tours to see mountaintop removal and fracking sites in Wetzel County, West Virginia, plus tours of a coal slurry impoundment and a strip mine near Morgantown, West Virginia.
MJSB participants will also hear from citizens who live close to coal-burning power plants with air pollution and ground water contamination from multiple large power plants and large coal ash impoundments.
Other MJSB workshops will focus on anti-oppression, community grassroots and campus organizing, listening projects, coal slurry impoundments, non-violent direct action, tree-sits, media skills, fundraising, citizen air monitoring, and coal ash.
The MJSB camp location in northern West Virginia is surrounded by drilling sites for oil and natural gas, and large fracking equipment and tanker trucks constantly thunder up and down the main highway.
The dual focus of MJSB 2012 is significant, because while natural gas drilling is booming in places like northern West Virginia, coal continues to decline as a source for America's electricity: According to the US government's Energy Information Authority (EIA), from 2007 to 2011 coal declined from 49% to 43% as a share of the nation's electricity supply. The EIA projects that coal will continue to decline over the next 25 years to 39%.
Yet the Sierra Club's Bruce Nilles, Senior Director of the club's Beyond Coal campaign, calls these numbers conservative and predicts that the percentage of electricity supplied by coal will fall even farther. "For many years the EIA has exaggerated coal's prospects for the future, and every year has had to downgrade its projections," said Nilles. "We know coal's future is even darker than EIA is predicting." For example, in 2010 the EIA predicted it would take 25 years for coal to drop to 44% of the electricity supply -- it actually took only two years.
The EIA attributes this decline in coal to "slow growth in electricity demand, continued competition from natural gas and renewable plants, and the need to comply with new environmental regulations."
While the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign has been very successful in opposing new coal plants and helping shut down dirty, older power plants, the club formerly referred to natural gas as a "bridge fuel" -- a transitional source of energy until more renewable sources of energy come on line.
A Feb. 2 story in Time magazine's Eccocentric blog points out that the club had in the past accepted donations from the natural gas industry and notes that "mainstream environmental groups have struggled to find the right line on shale natural gas and the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process." Since 2010, the Sierra Club has refused any further donations from the natural gas industry, even turning down a promised $30 million donation, but the issue has caused concern among club members in states where fracking is underway. The Sierra Club no longer uses the term "bridge fuel," and in 2010 launched a Natural Gas Reform priority campaign.
Environmental groups combating fossil fuels are facing titanic energy industries and a congress that is deeply indebted to them for big campaign contributions. There are many difficult choices and difficult decisions. No one has all the answers, but building stronger bridges between the campaigns against coal and fracking -- as Mountain Justice Spring Break seeks to do -- seems like a good start.
For more information about Mountain Justice Spring Break, go to www.mjsb.org