We, the Wesleyan Mountain Justice Coalition, appreciate Sylvia Ryerson’s article in last Friday’s Argus (“COAL WHAT?!?” Sept. 19, 2008, Volume CXLIV, Number 6). The immediate goal of our chalking was to start a conversation about Bank of America and its role in coal extraction, specifically mountaintop removal (MTR). We hope we were successful.
Mountaintop removal is one of the most destructive forms of coal mining, but it is largely unknown outside of the affected areas. First, the coal corporation clear-cuts the forests on the mountain. Second, heavy explosives are used to destroy the top few hundred feet of the mountain, often launching boulders into the valleys and communities below. Third, huge machines push the rest of the rubble off the top of the mountain, filling the valley below, damming streams and destroying ecosystems.
After that, the coal extraction begins, when a dragline (a machine that can weigh up to 8 million pounds) is brought in to pull the coal from the mountain, again dumping debris into the valley below. This whole process is highly mechanized, and does not provide anywhere near as many jobs as it did 50 years ago. An entire mountain can be destroyed by a crew of 30 or less. If you’re interested in what this looks like, do a Google image search for mountaintop removal. It’s not pretty.
Bank of America is the single largest funder of the coal corporations that practice mountaintop removal. Despite the bank’s pledge to address global climate change, it continues to spend more than 100 times as much money funding dirty energy than clean energy.
“Clean Coal,” despite the name, is a myth. “Cleaning” has absolutely no impact on the carbon emissions from burning the coal. It simply removes the most toxic elements (such as sulfur dioxin) responsible for acid rain. These chemicals are then placed in multi-billion gallon lakes of toxic sludge which leach into the ground water. In some parts of Appalachia the well water runs black and is so corrosive that it eats through metal. So what does “Coal Kill”? Ecosystems, communities, miners and our climate.
To make matters worse, many of the mountains destroyed for coal could be used for sustainable wind energy. Wind power could meet our energy needs and provide sustainable industry for Southern Appalachia.
Our goal on campus is to educate people about mountaintop removal, voice our opposition to Bank of America’s irresponsible investments and replace the Bank of
America ATM in Usdan with a more socially responsible bank by the end of the school year. Many students coming to Wesleyan switch to Bank of America only because the terminal is there, so removing it would deprive Bank of America of a crucial demographic: young college students who will most likely make a lot of money after graduating.
The goal of the national campaign is to force Bank of America to stop funding MTR coal extraction, and instead fund the future: renewable energy. Last November, Michael Roth signed the President’s Climate Commitment with the goal of addressing climate change and sustainability at Wesleyan. We believe Wesleyan’s commitment to sustainability must go beyond making Wesleyan itself sustainable. Wesleyan must also not support or endorse unsustainable practices around the world.
Although originally associated with Students for a Democratic Society, the Mountain Justice Coalition has split into a wholly autonomous group to allow for campus-wide ownership of this campaign. The Mountain Justice Coalition has recently begun to function independently as a larger coalition of groups on campus to help remove the ATM and take steps towards building a just and sustainable world. We believe that we must rapidly transition away from burning fossil fuels and towards a sustainable, renewable and just energy economy.
We will meet at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 1 in the 200 Church Lounge to discuss our next steps in this campaign. We are eager to continue this conversation; for any questions or concerns about the campaign, e-mail Petrie.email@example.com.