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Protest against mountaintop mining

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Mining for coal by mountaintop removal has long been known as an environmental and health hazard for the Appalachian communities surrounding the mines in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and eastern Tennessee. A big part of the reason the mining technique has been allowed to continue for the past decade are the banks that finance it, and one in particular, PNC Bank, has financed four of the five largest mountaintop mining companies in the country. PNC was in an earlier incarnation the Quaker affiliated Provident Bank, whose associates in the Quaker community have decided their values are not being properly represented.

Several years ago the activist group Earth Quaker Action Team began a movement to persuade PNC to divest itself of mountaintop removal companies, with members organizing peaceful demonstrations at PNC Bank locations around the country. This Saturday, Dec. 6, dozens of Yellow Springs Quakers and local residents will join similar groups at 20 PNC Bank branches in cities such as Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and New York to reiterate the opposition to the bank’s financing choice. The local group will meet at 9 a.m. at Antioch College’s Coretta Scott King Center for a final demonstration training before setting out to a regional PNC Bank location.

Local Quaker Neal Crandall will join the event and welcomes others, Quakers and non-Quakers alike, to oppose the environmentally destructive practices that he says, along with climate change, “are the defining issues of the 21st century.”

According to the Sierra Club, the mountain-top removal technique begins with the blasting of the mountaintops, which by 2012 had killed an estimated 1.4 million acres of native hardwood forests that will no longer regenerate, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (The Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1977 does not require coal companies to reforest the land as part their post-mining reclamation work.) The rubble is then dumped into neighboring valleys, where the headwaters of streams and rivers are blocked or polluted by the heavy metals and other toxins that leach from the exposed rock. The U.S. EPA estimates that these “valley fills” are responsible for burying more than 2,000 miles of vital Appalachian headwater streams, and poisoning many more.

Mountaintop mining also affects the already impoverished Appalachian communities that surround the activity. According to Appalachian Voices, an environmental group based in Boone, N.C., research from over a dozen universities has shown that “mountaintop removal coal mining contributes to significantly higher rates of birth defects, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases among individuals living in the region where it occurs.” Mountaintop mining communitites are also faced with contaminated drinking water, increased flooding, sometimes daily blasting with noise and “flyrock” injuries and deaths, and an estimated 1,000 toxic coal slurry retention pools.

Due to pressure from activists, some banks have begun to either stop financing moutaintop mining or institute policies of greater scrutiny of their practices. According to Rainforest Action Network, for instance, JPMorgan Chase recently committed to ending financial relationships with mountaintop removal coal companies. But other banks, such as Barclays and PNC, are still in the game, regularly financing some of the largest mountaintop removers, such as Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal and Patriot Coal.

To persuade PNC to stop this financial practice, the Earth Quaker Action Team has engaged in what local resident Pat Dewees called “nonviolent witness to reinforce truth telling.” Demonstrators, such as those on Saturday, plan to go to the bank to bear witness to the environmental and social destruction caused by the decisions of bank trustees and shareholders.

“Nonviolent direct action makes the truth of a problem more visible by doing something symbolic — it’s meant to be edgy and slightly disruptive, but still respectful,” DeWees said. “It’s trying to stay as much as possible in a worship space, to try to hold the bank in prayer and in light,” she said, referring to one action team’s approach of holding a worship meeting at a PNC stockholder meeting. (The bank’s response was to hold future stockholder meetings online.)

The actions are important because they continue to pressure large industries that need to hear from the public. Crandall for one feels the demands EQAT is placing on PNC are only reasonable. And they are consistent with his belief in living simply and sustainably enough to allow social and environmental justice to prevail.

“We believe that we are part of the world but not dominant in it,” Crandall said.


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