James Hansen: Obstruction of Justice

Hello youth climate activists!

Earlier this week Dr. James Hansen, the well known, outspoken member of the not so youthful movement for climate action, coming off of an informative and inspiring, if less than exciting, appearance at Virginia PowerShift, wrote the following essay in defense of the brave Wise 11. These young folk stood with community activists from Southwest Virginia against the destruction of more mountains in Southern Appalachia, and against global climate chaos by locking themselves to the gates of Dominion Power’s planned power plant in St. Paul Va.

Like he did with the 6 Greenpeace activists in the UK recently, Dr. Hansen defended the actions of Rainforest Action Network, Blue Ridge Earth First!, Mountain Justice and sds as necessary steps to protect the global good, to halt climate and ecological degradation before it leaves an inhospitable planet. Maybe soon we will see Dr. Hansen out there with Al Gore?

Obstruction of Justice

“You’re Hannah, right?” Hannah Morgan, a 20-year old from Appalachia, Virginia, was one of 11 protesters in handcuffs early Monday morning September 15 at the construction site for a coal-fired power plant being built in Wise County Virginia by Dominion Power. The handcuffs were applied by the police, but the questioner, it turns out, was from Dominion Power.

“Mumble, mumble, mumble”, the discussion between police and the Dominion man were too far away to be heard by the young people. But it almost seemed that the police were working for Dominion. Maybe that’s the way it works in a company town. Or should we say company state? Virginia has got one of the most green-washed coal-blackened governors in the nation ( http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/20080529_DearGovernorGreenwash.pdf ).
It seems Hannah had been pegged by Dominion as a “ringleader”. She had participated for two years in public meetings and demonstrations against the plan for mountaintop removal, strip mining and coal burning, and she had rejected their attempts to either intimidate or bargain.
“Bargain?” What bargain is possible when Dominion is guaranteed 14% return on their costs, whether the coal plant’s power is needed or not. Utility customers have to cough this up, and they aren’t given any choice. The meetings and demonstrations were peaceful. Forty-five thousand signatures against the plant were collected. But money seems to talk louder.
Dominion’s “mumble, mumble” must have been convincing. Hannah and Kate Rooth were charged with 10 more crimes than the other 10 defendants. Their charges included “encouraging or soliciting” others to participate in the action and were topped by “obstruction of justice”. Penalty if convicted: up to 14 years in prison. [Why does this remind me of Jim Jobe in “Grapes of Wrath”?]
“Obstruction of justice??” My first thought was that this case might help draw attention to the inter-generational injustice and inequity of continued building of coal-fired power plants. Is the Orwellian double-speak in the charge of “obstruction of justice” not apparent?

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In echo of Kingsnorth Six, US climate change activists go on trial

In October 2007, six Greenpeace activists climbed a smoke stack at the Kingsnorth Power Station in the UK, and started painting “Gordon Bin It” to call out the UK Prime Minister on his plans to build more carbon emitting power plants. A few weeks back, with the help of James Hansen, the six were aquitted, on account of their action was in defense of the greater good, namely that coal fired power plants are a threat to the health of our planet and our society. Today the Dominion 11 go to trial, and James Hansen has got their backs too!

Original Article Here

The Guardian UK

Virginia coal-powered plant debate

In echo of Kingsnorth Six, US climate change activists go on trial

• Eleven face criminal charges after blockading $1.8bn plant
• James Hansen offers to lend support

Elana Schor in Washington
guardian.co.uk,
Friday October 17 2008 09.07 BST
Article history
Eleven climate change activists are due in court today on criminal charges after they blockaded a planned $1.8bn coal-fired power plant, providing an American echo of the Kingsnorth Six trial.

The activists were arrested last month in rural Wise County, Virginia, at the gates of a power plant being built by Dominion, the No 2 utility in the US. The 11 chained themselves to steel barrels that held aloft a banner, lit by solar panels, challenging the utility to provide cleaner energy for a region ravaged by abusive coal mining.

Charged with unlawful assembly and obstruction of justice, the group has been dubbed the Dominion 11 in homage to Kingsnorth. Dr James Hansen, the leading US climate change scientist, has followed his testimony on behalf of the Kingsnorth protesters with an offer of help to the Virginia activists.

The Americans have yet to attract the national attention won by their counterparts in the UK. But for Hannah Morgan, a member of the 11, her case is only one chapter in a long battle against the coal industry that has been raging under the general public’s radar.

“Civil disobedience is something that can be incredibly effective, but it needs to be part of a larger campaign,” the 20-year-old Morgan said.

In that spirit, opponents of the Wise County plant have staged more than a dozen demonstrations since the facility was first proposed 18 months ago. During the same week that a dozen activists protested outside Dominion headquarters, lawyers for the Sierra Club and other groups were pleading with state air quality officials to deny permits to the plant, which would emit 5.37m tonnes of CO2 every year.

Nine of the 11 face four misdemeanour charges at today’s hearing, each of which carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine, according to Michael Abbott, the county’s deputy commonwealth attorney.

The remaining two, including Morgan, have also been charged with criminal trespassing and encouraging unlawful assembly. Whether they plan to use climate change to defend their protest as necessary, as the Kingsnorth Six did, remains to be seen.

“It’s hard to say how the courts would react to an argument like that without making it,” Morgan said. “We thought we might be setting a precedent through this legal process, and we might be.”

If a climate-based defence is mounted, the odds are likely stacked against the Dominion 11. None in the group currently lives full-time in Wise County, where coal remains a way of life even as mountaintop-removal mining destroys the local landscape.

In addition, Dominion is one of the most powerful lobbying forces in Virginia, giving more than $1m in campaign donations on the local level since 1993. Tim Kaine, the state’s Democratic governor, received more than $135,000.

“It tells us something about where we are in the United States, where the public education is, the fact that special interests have succeeded in misinforming the public,” Hansen said via e-mail.

“That only emphasizes the fact that the wrong people were on trial in this case. It is the people on the other side of the docket who should be placed on trial. Especially those at the top of the heap.”

No matter what the outcome of today’s hearing, the group has succeeded in raising awareness of anti-coal activism in the US. Similar protest efforts are underway against planned power plants in the states of Colorado and Georgia.

Chris Johnson, 31, was impressed enough by the activists to drive 90 minutes on Virginia’s winding roads – and offer to serve as their lawyer.

“The fact that people were still willing to stick their neck out for a cause, I respect that tremendously, so for that reason I jumped at the opportunity,” Johnson said. “I really think their cause is a just cause.”

Another, more well-known supporter of the Dominion 11 – Al Gore – lent his voice to their cause three weeks ago in New York City. “If you’re a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants,” Gore told an audience at Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative conference, earning a shower of applause.

Morgan, one of eight in the Dominion 11 under the age of 25, declined to commit to any future civil disobedience against the Wise County plant. But she had a wry reply ready for the vice-president and Nobel laureate.

“If anything, Gore’s behind the times, because American youth have been standing up and taking action,” she said. “We don’t see him out on the front lines.”

Friend of Coal Becomes Victim

In the Lexington Herald Leader today.
http://www.kentucky.com/181/story/554476.html

No one is immune from the injustices of Coal. Maybe this is part of the turning of the tide, maybe when the coal pushers start getting burned by their own narcotic we’ll start to see real action. Some how I doubt it, but you never know, right?

Friend of coal becomes its victim

ABANDONED MINE IMPERILS HOME OF EX-LEGISLATOR

By John Cheves

jcheves@herald-leader.com

Howard Cornett took donations from the mine owner.

An abandoned coal mine is causing an Eastern Kentucky hillside to slide slowly onto the home of former state Rep. Howard Cornett, R-Whitesburg, who championed coal companies in the legislature.

The “continual flow” of water from the abandoned mine has saturated Cornett’s yard and the foundation of his home, according to Steve Hohmann, director of the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands. Parts of the hill are sliding down, putting the house at risk.

Long a defender of coal companies’ interests, Cornett lost his seat after he unsuccessfully pushed a bill to allow more overweight trucks on state roads, angering his constituents who considered such trucks dangerous. In fiery speeches, Cornett said his opponents wanted to destroy the coal industry.

“Howard Cornett wasn’t sympathetic when we asked for protection from overweight coal trucks or when we asked for protection from hazardous coal-mining practices. Now the shoe is on the other foot,” said Patty Amburgey of Letcher County, a former Cornett constituent who is active with the grassroots group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

The woman who replaced Cornett, Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said Monday that abandoned coal mine sites, including slurry ponds, pose environmental and safety hazards throughout Eastern Kentucky.

“It’s a real issue out here,” she said.

The mine threatening Cornett’s home was owned by Cook and Sons Mining Inc. of Whitesburg, which — before its 2003 bankruptcy — was a Cornett campaign donor.

To save his home, Cornett must rely on a reclamation plan being drawn up by state officials at the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands.

The state estimates that the Howard Cornett Reclamation Project — its official name — will cost $40,000 to $50,000, with contractors’ bids due Nov. 6. Funding has been secured from the remains of Cook and Sons, its bonding agent and the Bristol, Va., mining company that acquired much of Cook and Sons’ properties.

The work will consist of a reinforced concrete wall along the hill behind the Cornett home, off Ky. 3401 west of Whitesburg, and subdrains to catch water seeping from the hillside.

Cornett, who served in the Kentucky House from 1998 to 2006, did not return calls seeking comment.

Once a mining company declares bankruptcy and disappears, which is common, the government has to determine who is responsible for the mess left behind, when it happened and how to pay for it if there are not federal funds or sufficient bonds available, Combs said.

Amburgey, the citizen-activist in Letcher County, said her grandmother’s property had five abandoned mines on it that spilled waste into waterways and posed a threat to children who wanted to play inside of them. It took a decade for the government to properly close those mines, she said.

“These abandoned mines are all over Kentucky, and there isn’t enough money to take care of all of them, unfortunately,” Amburgey said. “I’m glad that we made a priority of protecting Howard’s place.”