The Alliance for Appalachia hosted an event this past weekend called “Our Water, Our Future.” I was surprised and tickled pink to be invited and to receive a scholarship/sponsorship which covered all my expenses. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was told to bring one business appropriate outfit. I went to the event open to learning and willing to go with the flow.
Saturday was our traveling day. Driving through the West Virginian and Southern Virginian mountains. I discovered that I’ve gotten much better at spotting a Mountaintop Removal Mine from a distance. Generally, they hide them from highway travelers. But as coal becomes scarcer they are being permitted to mine closer to the public. One such mine is the Pax mine. You can see portions of it from the highway. The tell-tale perfectly flat silhouette, seeing through a line of trees where once a mountain stood. A “reclaimed” area of patchy grass, small bushes and a scrubby pine tree here and there where a hardwood forest had been before. Sobering.
Sunday was totally about training. I had a lot to learn and people to meet. One of our first training sessions we worked with the Value/Problem/Solution or Action/Vision formula. I discovered that my own “formula” looks like this:
Value – Our homes and our lives are NOT the cost of business
Problem – Polluted Streams; Wells Destroyed; Watershed Changed/Flooding; Health Concerns; CITIZENS DO NOT MATTER
Solution/Action – Stop Mountaintop Removal; Stream Protection Rule; Re-funding Health Studies; MAKE CITIZENS MATTER
Vision – A Real Plan for a Sustainable Economic Transition; Coal/Gas/Oil Companies truly Held Accountable
Then I attended training for meeting with the Council on Environmental Quality. I had never even heard of them.
We had four “asks” of the CEQ:
- Promulgate a Strong Stream Protection Rule
- Promulgate a Strong Conductivity Rule
- Promulgate a Selenium Standard
- Promulgate a Strong Minefill Rule
The various organizations represented (The Alliance for Appalachia, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices and the Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment) had been working for six months to organize and schedule this meeting, which was a continuation of meetings that have been going on for years.
They had requested three hours and specific Administration personnel to continue the work that had been done at previous meetings. While we were preparing Sunday afternoon we discovered that we had ONE hour. This gave each of us only 1-2 minutes in which to present our concerns! I was asked to speak last on the topic of Public Engagement.
Monday was our meeting with CEQ. We had another pre-meeting planning session. We timed our speeches and honed our messages.
Other participants in the event met up with a Quaker group to go picket and protest at PNC bank. PNC, BB&T and other banks provide loans for Mountaintop Removal and Fracking projects. They succeeded in closing that branch of the bank and bringing awareness to the public of how their money is being used to pollute and destroy Appalachia.
The meeting was frustrating. Not only had it been cut back to one hour, but none of the participants we had requested were there. No one from the Administration had been in their positions for more than a year. They referred to our meeting as an “opening dialogue”. One of our members pointed out that this had been a five year dialogue. They heard our concerns, politely, and offered nothing. I left wondering if we had achieved anything at all.
Tuesday was our Day of Action. We donned our “Appalachian Water Rescue” vests and grabbed our buckets and signs and marched to the Metro. While on the Metro we sang and answered questions about who we were and what we were doing.
Several of us gave speeches. There was a bucket brigade from the fountain to our water barrels – Clean Water for Appalachia.
We wanted to deliver a report card to the Administration on environmental issues, giving the Administration an “incomplete” in all categories. The people working in the CEQ building refused to accept our report card. They refused to acknowledge our presence. Even when we treated them to some music and dancing:
A few of us blocked the entrance to their federal building, risking arrest. I nearly lost it when I felt bullied by a Homeland Security officer. So disrespectful. I felt, once again, betrayed by people I thought were there to protect my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I met some of the most amazing people with heart-rending stories. They made me cry. They made me laugh. They made me feel welcome. They made me feel like fighting.