Dear Michael Bloomberg,
Climate hope is refreshed from time to time with actions of climate resistance.
While viewers across the nation tuned into a free airing last week of the Bloomberg Philanthropies-backed film on coal, “From the Ashes,” concerned groups in the coal country of southern Illinois were organizing meetings to contest the first permit application for natural gas fracking in a region bookended by two massive seismic zones.
From the ashes, that’s climate resistance. And from coal mining areas to fracking and pipeline zones across the country, that resistance has been led by local groups on a shoestring, not national organizations with big budgets, dedicated to a fossil fuel-free future and climate justice, not simply single issues.
The coal to fracking pipeline has never been so evident in our woods—or in Appalachia and other regions as now. Last week, the much ballyhooed “clean coal” plant in Kemper County, Mississippi announced it will officially switch to natural gas—billions of dollars of investment later.
Southern Illinois went through a coal mining boom during the Obama administration, with production soaring from 32 million tons in 2007 to 56 million tons in 2015. With virtually no support from mainstream environmental groups, farmers and grannies and retired coal miners and students courageously faced off against violation-ridden mining, deadly coal slurry and bankrupt-coal companies that dominated a boom-bust economy.
This kind of climate resistance is the bedrock of climate hope—just ask former coal miners like Chuck Nelson and veteran activists like Goldman Prize recipient Maria Gunnoe in West Virginia and long-time activist Kathy Selvage in coal country—the children and grandchildren of union miners who have led movements for over a century for workplace safety measures, water and environmental protection, and basic civil rights.
Living among the three coal miners who still die daily from regulated black lung disease, or with air and water contaminated by regulated toxic mining discharges and slurry leaks, this history of resistance should make one thing clear to you about fracking and mining: There is no such thing as safe regulatory oversight of extraction industries.
In two weeks we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the official federal sanctioning of mountaintop removal, showcased in “From the Ashes,” signed into law on August 3, 1977 by President Jimmy Carter and mainstream environmental groups, as a “water-downed” regulatory compromise in the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
Mountaintop removal, despite its criminal rap sheet, has never ended.
And mountaintop removal and strip mining, like fracking, should be abolished, not regulated.
Under the guise of climate hope, asks coal miner’s daughter Selvage from Wise County, in southwestern Virginia, are we now “merely facilitating the long and sordid switch from one fossil fuel to another that continues unabated and is causing irreparable harm in the Appalachian Coalfield region. The truth is that promoting gas is a double dunking of the Appalachian people, their environment, their health, and their lives and livelihoods.”
According to one recent study, the proposed Rover Pipeline with natural gas through the Appalachian region would produce emissions equal to 42 coal-fired plants.
I have written about my admiration for your indefatigable efforts for climate action through city leadership, recognizing that 70 percent of our carbon footprint comes from urban areas.
But your support for fracking in your book, Climate of Hope, as a “bridge fuel” and your assessment that the “negative effects of gas extraction can be dramatically minimized” undermine health facts from your own state of New York and a movement of resistance against devastating energy policies that continue to impede extraction-based communities from any hope for economic diversification or large-scale regenerative solutions.
Ideas for regeneration abound—high tech centers, regenerative agriculture, local food and hemp production, clean energy manufacturing, energy efficiency—but all require clean water and healthy communities to flourish.
Ideas for coal country “After Coal” abound, but they also require a shift of the narrative from all fossil fuels and a reckoning of an absentee outlaw industry that still needs to be held accountable for its violation-ridden operations.
From the ashes, charitable donations are relief funds, not start-up capital for real enterprises, as long as mountaintop removal explosives still detonate across the region, and above the home of Goldman Award recipient Gunnoe in West Virginia.
“I have fought the impacts of the coal in industry in Boone County, West Virginia all my adult life,” she says, “We are worse off now than ever. Sierra Club and Bloomberg bragged that they stopped mountaintop removal. Truth is, no, they did not stop mountaintop removal. We are ignored by these outsiders exploiting our pain for their own agenda.”
Dear Mr. Bloomberg, it’s time for your climate hope to join the climate resistance.