Climate Ground Zero is at the West Virginia State Capitol outside Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office on day 2 of the Fast for the Mountains. Roland Micklem, 85, Mike Roselle, 59, Shenna Fortner, 33, and Vincent Eirene are fasting to stop mountaintop removal. How can you help? Show your support and join the effort to pass a moratorium on blasting mountaintops. http://acheact.org/the-legislation/
The April 9th spring chorus in Union Square was not melodious songbirds but a bunch of squawking crows jostling for attention and hoping to devour the entrails of Israel and the real issues be damned. What could be the point of this rally and all those that preceded it and those that will follow? “Anti-war” is the cry of the resistance but this hides a multitude of disparate causes and identity groups, each with a tiny constituency and little political currency.
Presumably all the disadvantaged and wretched of the American earth – minorities, immigrants, jobless, women, the poor, workers – will come together in a Millennium Development Goal in which all of them will be winners in an as-yet uncharacterized game with no rules and no goals. How you play the game is their motto. Those who still grip these fantasies have little to contribute to real-world problems beyond a shared resentment of just about everything American and Israeli, and even there the object of their resentment is rarely clear nor are the objectives necessarily congruent. There is just the usual laundry list compiled to please each identity group, comprised mostly of mismatched socks.
As just one example: there is a backlash against higher energy prices by the poor and their advocates, whereas the knowledgeable environmentalists know full well that they should and must go up, as part of a sane energy policy that must include stringent efficiency standards, full cost pricing for energy and goods and an end to federal subsidies and tax breaks for all sectors of the economy, not just fossil fuels.
Unions and workers, like corporations, don’t want higher energy prices because they raise the cost of goods and reduce consumer spending, thus impacting on economic growth, the basis for consumer society and capitalism. The issue of growth is the single largest stumbling block to developing a “broad based” movement for change, but it is stubbornly resisted by nearly everyone, especially those promoting “green” economies and technologies. These now include the leading climate change group350.org/1Sky, which has effectively abandoned citizen action so as to curry favor with big business for whom the “no-growth” paradigm is anathema.
Thus, the chance that social justice activists will find agreement with environmentalists is remote, and this does not even consider the side-lining of environmental emergencies by smaller side issues like Israel and the Palestinians. Despite the long history of failed coalitions, hope springs eternal even as rigorous thinking is dismissed as the province of “elites”. Environmentalism gets the short end of the stick as always, as their representative is allotted his three minutes at the podium to shout “No nukes”.
There is no such thing as “natural allies”, there never was, and there never will be. The movement and the future will be defined only by the movement that grasps ecological reality, sticks to a firm set of principles, articulates how these subsume all the other social and economic issues, rejects corporate cant, eschews false solutions and dilatory actions, and designs a substitute economy that starts with relocalization and other ecological precepts and rebuilds society on top of these. In brief, the only movement capable of doing this is anenvironmental movement modelled on the one that was born in the 1970s.
A recapitulation of its accomplishments is long overdue, not least because the only thing most people see today are the privileged establishment groups in Washington who long ago abandoned their grassroots constituents in favor of status and access to decision-makers and congress. These groups regard their work as a profession, not a cause, and are the mirror image of corporations. Where was there a group that was able to stop the Wall St. and bank bail-outs or force withdrawal from Iraq orAfghanistan or achieve decent universal health care or loosen the corporate grip on congress? Where was there a group or movement to stop Congress and Obama from decimating urgent social, health, education and transportation initiatives? And will there be one ready to eject Obama and his congressional lackies in 2012?
The peace movement has never prevented wars. Unions and workers have lost out to corporations. Liberals have rejected the kind of radical reform needed as witness their antagonism to Ralph Nader . And the Democratic Party retains its death grip on liberals only because of its more progressive stance on things like racial discriminationm abortion and women’s and gay rights.
But the environmental movement has strong accomplishments to its credit, in legislation, regulatory reform, habitat protection, worker safety, public health. It led to the creation of local and state environmental agencies, local laws and enforcement of federal standards. It busted a gut in organizing, educating,, lobbying, pressuring, demonstrating, resisting, against huge odds. And for the most part it succeeded and left us their legacy. For the short period of the 1970s decade it accomplished monumental things, while enduring attacks from the left and social justice activists who even today cannot see that environmentalism is a social justice movement par excellence and that it poses the greatest threat to capitalism extant —a realization that corporations and government came to long ago. And it did this without a leftist in its ranks, except for the anti-nuclear activists.
No other movement except civil rights has come close to this record of achievement, yet today the left and the greens are abandoning it, claiming that the deck is stacked against it (it always was). It is thus indefensible that climate activists like 350.org declare the game lost and are moving to an undefined arena with no declared allies, no goals, and no chance of success. They do not understand that a movement is not built by preaching only to the disenfranchised and the disadvantaged. While the “permanent government” may still call the shots, it still needs the legitimization from important sectors of society, not just business. It needs the media, the political pundits, the intellectual elites, the academics, economists, attorneys, etc.
The corollary is that if there is an influential (not necessarily large) dissenting group, a hole can be punched in the best laid plans. The anti-nuclear power movement is an example and a near-example was the opposition to cap and trade (aided though by Republicans for their own reasons). The anti-coal groups in Appalachia may with luck and perseverance step to the front of a new movement. As for the left, it looks for excuses for its irrelevance and ineptness at educating and organizing the general public (which it looks at with scorn anyway); it is now inventing rationalizations for abandoning the political process on the most urgent issue humanity has ever faced, and for abandoning all pretenses at citizenship. In this sense it plays into the hands of its adversaries by building a Tower of Babel that lacks form and ideological cement. Michael Berube is not far off the mark in postulating that the left actually welcomes defeat. So far they haven’t proven him wrong.
Latest online article in the Ecologist about Mike Roselle, Climate Ground Zero’s Director. The piece is about the state of mountain top removal coal mining, the politics of West Virginia’s coal apologists, and just why Roselle delivered blasting dust debris to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s mansion in Charleston on Thanksgiving last year. Then, just a few weeks later, Freedom Industries rusty, leaking chemical tank of MCHM leached into the Elk River, contaminating the downriver water supply of 300,000 residents of Charleston, after being “filtered” by American Water’s treatment plant.
Courtesy of www.theecologist.org
Photographs by Mike Cherin
When Mike Roselle tried to give his State Governor a sample of Mountain Top Removal dust for analysis, he was not expecting to be arrested at gunpoint and banged in jail for a week on suicide watch – all without charge.
A few seconds after he rang the doorbell, Roselle was surrounded by a dozen State Police officers, guns drawn.
A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving Mike Roselle decided he’d had enough.
Enough of the toxic dust in the air. Enough of the constant blasting that rattles his small house.
Enough of the poisoned well-water. Enough of the chopped mountains and buried streams. Enough of the forests, playgrounds and cemeteries plowed under for one more suppurating coal mine. Enough of seeing his friends sicken and die in the West Virginia county that has the highest mortality rate in the United States.
A straightforward mission
That November morning Roselle, the John Brown of the environmental movement, took a drive with his friend James McGuinnis up roads washboarded by the ceaseless transit of coal trucks to Kayford Mountain.
What used to be a mountain, anyway. Much of that ancient Appalachian hump has been stripped, blasted and gouged away by the barbarous mining method called Mountaintop Removal. Roselle’s mission was straightforward.
He aimed to collect some of the dust, the pulverized guts of the mountain, that showers down on the nearby towns and villages, streams and lakes, day after day, like deadly splinters from the sky.
Roselle scooped up a few pounds of that lethal dirt in a couple of Mason jars. He wanted to have the debris tested. He wanted to know what toxins it contained. Lead, probably. Arsenic, perhaps. Mercury? Who really knew. The mining companies weren’t saying. Neither was the EPA.
A dutiful servant – of Big Coal
Roselle got it into his head to take the mining dust to the one person in the state who might be able to give him some answers, to assure the folks who live under the desolated shadow of Kayford Mountain that there was no cause for alarm – the man who was charged with protecting the citizens of West Virginia from harm, the Solon of the Monongahela, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.
On Thanksgiving morning, Roselle went to Charleston with his jar of dust. He walked right up to the Governor’s mansion and rang the doorbell.
Earl Ray is what you might call a lifelong politician. A Democrat, Tomblin was elected to the West Virginia senate fresh out of college in 1974. He was 22 at the time and has held elected office ever since. Across those four decades, Earl Ray has been a dutiful servant of Big Coal.
Every time a coal mine caved in, a waste dam breached, or an explosion of coal gases maimed and killed some miners, Tomblin would be there to offer his comfort. Consolation to the afflicted coal executives, that is.
Tomblin has raged against the ‘war on coal’. His administration has repeatedly sued the EPA on behalf of coal companies, citing its “ideologically driven, job-killing agenda”. And he has assured the mountain people of West Virginia that the coal dust fog that shrouds their communities is safe to breathe, eat or drink.
An unexpected turn of events
Then Mike Roselle showed up on Tomblin’s doorstep to make the governor prove it. Roselle didn’t expect to see Tomblin that morning, so he’d slipped a note inside the jar asking the governor to test the dust and report back to him on what it contained.
But a few seconds after he rang the doorbell, Roselle was surrounded by a dozen State Police officers, guns drawn. Roselle was immediately arrested, hustled into a waiting police car. He was not told why, apparently because the cops couldn’t find a section of the state code that Roselle had transgressed.
They drove him to jail anyway, saying simply they “had orders to bring him in.” Orders from whom, they didn’t say.
Over course of the next six days Roselle was kept jailed without charges, including three days inside the Hole, the disciplinary unit. Why? Because Roselle had refused food until they could inform him of the charges against him.
Later he was transferred again, this time into a glass-enclosure, the suicide watch room, where he was forced to wear an orange medical gown for two days. Then, suddenly, he was released on a mere signature bond.
A few weeks after Roselle walked out of that Charleston jail, a storage tank at a chemical ‘farm’ owned by Freedom Industries ruptured.
Out of a one-inch hole in a white stainless steel tank, a stream of a licorice-smelling crude began pouring onto the ground and into the nearby Elk River and downstream directly into American Water’s intake and distribution center – the primary drinking water source for the Charleston metropolitan area.
The chemical that contaminated Charleston’s water supply, forcing 300,000 to go without drinking water, was a compound called MCHM – 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol.
It’s used in the processing of coal and another highly toxic compound marketed under the name of Talon, which is manufactured by Georgia-Pacific, a company owned by the Koch Brothers.
Authorities not alerted
Freedom Industries discovered the leak early in the morning of January 9th, but never alerted state authorities or the water company. Hours passed before any attempt was made to stem the flow of the chemical into the Elk River. In that time, more than 125 people were sickened by drinking fouled water and sought treatment at area hospitals.
The fiancée of one of Freedom Industries’ top executives claimed that the illnesses were probably induced by the media. She said that she’d showered and brushed her teeth with the contaminated water and was “feeling just fine.”
As for Governor Tomblin, he took pains to reassure the people of West Virginia the spill that had fouled the Elk and Kanawa Rivers had absolutely nothing to do with the coal industry:
“This was not a coal company incident. This was a chemical company incident. As far as I know there was no coal company within miles.”
Apparently, Tomblin was unaware of the fact that nearly all of Freedom Industries’ contracts were with the state’s coal industry.
Nor that one of the company’s top executives, J. Clifford Forrest, is also the president of Rosebud Mining, a Pennsylvania coal mining company – which was recently sued for illegally giving advance warnings to mine managers of impending safety inspections by regulators.
On the afternoon of the Elk River spill, state legislators were meant to convene in the capitol building for a special session geared at passing a resolution denouncing the ‘war on coal’.
But the statehouse was evacuated before the great debate could take place, with lawmakers scrambling out the exits, coats over their heads, in a vain attempt to shield their lungs from the sickly-sweet smell of MCHM.
And to this day no one in West Virginia is quite sure whatever happened to Mike Roselle’s jar of dust.