End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington!

Last week was the 7th Annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington DC. I, as well as one other student sustainability employee had the opportunity to attend this event- and we still are recovering from the busy week of training, lobbying, rallying, and running around capital hill in some extremely uncomfortable shoes. The purpose of this event was to convince representatives and senators from all over the country to vote for a bill called “The Clean Water Protection Act”, which, if passed, will make mountaintop removal coal mining impossible. This type of mining, MTR, involves blowing off the tops of mountains in the Appalachian range to gain access to the coal beneath the surface of the mountains. This does irreversible damage to the mountains and kills the surrounding ecosystem. The streams are polluted with the waste and chemicals from the sites which include lead, arsenic, and mercury. To further persuade those who do not yet think that MTR mining is evil, I’ll add that these polluted streams are the source of the surrounding communities’ drinking water. The pollution gives these communities, some of the poorest in the country, a 42% higher chance of birth defects, and puts their cancer rates at 15%. Between the two of us from PLU, we met with Representatives from Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. We even talked with Representative Herrera’s intern who is a PLU alum! There were many people in our group from the affected areas, which are Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. They were the storytellers when we met with representatives. They had some horrendous experiences to share, including one women, who when trying to take a shower, was covered in black gunk that came out of the shower head instead of water. Another women spoke of a bear problem in the neighborhoods of her town because the bears habitat had been destroyed, giving the animals of the area no other place to go. Our last day in DC was the most memorable. The day started with the entire group walking through the legislature buildings and dropping off people in the affected states in their representative’s offices. These groups proceeded to do sit-ins in these offices until they could speak to their representatives face to face. The rest of us went on to a rally in front of the capital, complete with bluegrass music and Appalachian women shaving their heads. This was much more significant then it may initially sound, for part of Appalachian culture is women growing their hair to long lengths and taking much pride in this. Before the first woman shaved her head, she made a comparison to Joan of Arc, who shaved her head before going into battle. This rally ended our week in Washington, but not everyone’s. We later found out that at least six people were arrested in the sit-ins, because the police decided that singing a song about mountains was a demonstration. We left DC knowing that the bill we were lobbying for now had at least 124 cosponsors, and more to come.