Obama: Its time to Power Past Coal

This week in the Little Village of Chicago, fifty high school students will hurdle over coal piles and race past power plants for the 2009 Coal-Olympics competition.  These respirator-clad youth aren’t just running for fun – they know that two coal plants in their backyards are making their families sick and causing global warming, and they want their President to do something about it. 

The Coal-Olympics are part of a nationwide, fledgling project called Power Past Coal, uniting hundreds of communities calling on their leaders to transition away from coal to clean and just sources of energy, like wind and solar. 

On the morning after President Obama’s inauguration, forty groups launched 100 Days of Action to highlight the efforts and strength of the grassroots movement to move the country away from coal.  Everyday since, participants have taken action by lobbying their congressmen to halt mountaintop removal, marching to stop new coal plants, and risking arrest in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.

Today, Power Past Coal celebrates its 50th day of action, having united 101 actions from every corner of the country – a number the project’s founders hadn’t imagined possible on inauguration day.

The nationwide effort began in November 2008 with a meeting of thirty-six grassroots activists from twenty-four different organizations and nineteen states.  “Before, I hadn’t realized how many people were fighting my same fight, hundreds of miles away,” said Elouise Brown, a Navajo army veteran who has camped for three years on the site of a proposed coal plant near Farmington, New Mexico.  

Among the other attendees were Chuck Nelson, a retired coal miner from Sylvester, West Virginia, and Teri Blanton from Harlan County, Kentucky, whose home was flooded when an abandoned sediment pond collapsed thirty-five years ago. 

The Power Past Coal project reached a crescendo on March 2nd when 12,000 students convened in Washington DC for Powershift 2009 and several thousand more shut down the capitol coal plant for four hours in the largest civil disobedience for climate in history. 

“You know it’s a movement when you see thousands out in the streets, waving Power Past Coal signs and putting their bodies on the line,” said Enei Begaye, an indigenous rights organizer in the Arizona coalfields. “Now we just need Obama to notice.”

With Obama’s recent efforts to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants and coal ash from slurry ponds, it seems like the President is beginning to listen. But in the communities directly impacted by coal, these statements have yet to make a difference. 

On Monday, citizens from Wise County, Virginia packed the Andover MethodistChurch to protest a 1,300 acre mountaintop removal permit that would allow strip mining on Ison Rock Ridge, threatening six adjacent communities and hundreds of people who live there. 

On Friday, New Hampshirites will convene at the Concord Statehouse to demand a cleaner alternative to an out-of-date coal plant.  Meanwhile, all across the country, organizations are gearing up for the 100th Day Action, which will unite all communities impacted by coal at every stage of its cycle. 

“How much yelling is it going to take us before Obama admits coal is just plain dirty?” said Judy Bonds, the director of Coal River Mountain Watch in Whitesville, West Virginia.  “We’re still fighting the same fight as we were ten years ago.  But now we have a chance to win.”

Halfway through the first 100 days and over 100 actions already taken against coal