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Protestors hang a giant banner to protest UBS's financing of mountain-top removal coal mining. Photo: Hands off Appalachia.
Protestors hang a giant banner to protest UBS's financing of mountain-top removal coal mining. Photo: Hands off Appalachia.
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'UBS Eight' still in jail for fighting mountain-top removal

The Ecologist

27th November 2013

The battle against coal mining by Mountain Top Removal has been fought by the people of Appalachia over generations. The campaigners' target is now Swiss bank UBS, the main financier of the destruction.

This is my limit, I will suffer no more.

Eight activists from Hands off Appalachia are still in jail after hanging a huge banner reading "UBS. Stop Funding Mountaintop Removal" off of a construction crane opposite the Stamford headquarters of Swiss banking giant UBS, on Monday.

Later in the day two activists entered the UBS headquarters for the northeastern US in Stamford, locking themselves to a bannister and hanging a banner reading "UBS. Divest from Mountaintop Removal". Others locked themselves to the outside doors of the building, bringing the Bank's normal operations to a halt.

"Over the last two years, I have visited UBS's offices over 30 times pleading with them to stop the destruction of Appalachian communities", said Ricki Draper of Knoxville, Tenesee prior to his arrest.

"Today, I'm not asking anymore. I'm demanding an end to UBS's financing of mountaintop removal. To executives at UBS, the devastation of strip-mining might just be another set of numbers on one more piece of paper. To the people of Appalachia, it is a matter of life and death."

In all 14 protestors were arrested, of whom six were released on bail of $14,000. With the next court hearing scheduled for 8 January, Hands off Appalachia (HOA) fears that the remaining eight will be held in jail over Christmas.

Mountaintop removal (MTR) is an extreme form of strip-mining in which coal companies blast up to a thousand feet off the top of a mountain to extract thin seams of coal below. The resulting rubble is often dumped in the valleys below burying headwater streams, and acidifying runoff.

Over 1 million acres of forest in Central Appalachia have been destroyed and over 2,000 miles of streams have been buried. Recent research has linked mountaintop removal to increased rates of cancer, birth defects and cardiovascular disease in communities near these mining operations.

UBS is the top funder of companies that conduct MTR such as Alpha Natural Resources, Patriot Coal, and Arch Coal. Following the withdrawal of PNC Financial Services Group from financing MTR in 2009, UBS and GE Capital are the only major banks that still finance MTR operations.

On Friday last week, HOA representatives met with UBS executives at their offices in Stamford to discuss UBS's policy on mountaintop removal. The UBS policy claims to "recognize the potential environmental, social, and human rights impacts of this industry sector" and take into consideration "concerns of stakeholder groups".

But according to HOA, UBS officials have never so much as travelled to Appalachia to witness the impacts, or met with impacted community members until last Friday.

Among those representing HOA at the meeting was Adam Hall of Glen Daniel, West Virginia, who later joined other protestors to block the entrance to UBS's headquarters on Monday. He says UBS executives assured him that UBS's policy on mountaintop removal provided local people with sufficient protection.

"I wholeheartedly disagree", says Hall. "The reality is that their policy is nothing more than an excuse to remove themselves from the truth that as UBS profits, my people suffer."

UBS's policy on MTR also claims to take into account regulatory compliance. Yet UBS financed Massey Energy and oversaw their merger with Alpha Natural Resources - even after Massey was fined $20 million by the EPA for over 4,600 violations of the Clean Water Act.

Dustin Steele, one of the arrested protestors, issued a Statement prior to the action which explained that the history of resistance to mountain top removal coal mining in Appalachia is a multidimensional struggle - involving health, environment, the fight for fair wages, stolen pension funds and disappearing access to health care. 

"My action is informed by the past. By understanding the history of resistance in Appalachia. I carry the scars, and the lessons of these Appalachian struggles as I try to advocate for a more equitable future for my family, my homies and myself.

"The financiers, institutions like UBS, have been the force in the shadows. They are the grease that keeps the wheels of industry turning. UBS, and others, are the force that facilitates the destruction of Appalachia.

"They supply the capital to Arch that allows Arch to attempt to destroy the site of the largest labor uprising in American history at Blair Mountain. They funded Patriot Coal, who was just successful in stealing pensions and health benefits from the very people who broke their back in their mines; they broke their backs for the capitalist system that UBS serves.

"At least for a day that stops. I am going to bring the ugly truth directly in UBS's face, All of the grief, pain, and disappointment. I am going to bring the disappointment of my grandfather's broken Union. I am going to bring the grief that comes with my friends dying because a coal company has decided to poison their water.

"I am going to bring the determination of six generations of activists, Union workers, and troublemakers who have looked the ultra rich directly in the eye, and said 'This is my limit, I will suffer no more'."

Following a protest action on 28 July 2012 organised by Radical Action for Mountain Peoples' Survival (RAMPS) Dustin Steele was arrested, beaten up, and denied access to medical care. This summer, HOA escalated their campaign against UBS when three organizers blocked the entrance to the Knoxville UBS branch, the point of inception for the campaign. This action was the 33rd time in 16 months that campaign organizers had visited that office.

Last week, dozens of organizers converged in rural Eastern Connecticut for the HOA / Mountain Justice Fall Action Camp. Residents of Appalachia and Connecticut and allies from around the region trained in campaign strategy and nonviolent civil disobedience. This camp is just the beginning of sustained resistance in Connecticut to UBS's destructive policies.

Newsflash - one more activist released - seven still in jail.


 

Founded in Knoxville, TN, the Hands off Appalachia Campaign is an urban-based movement opposing MTR. It has spent two years engaging with UBS about their funding of the destruction of Appalachian through this extreme form of strip mining. HOA has organized dozens of actions and protests at local UBS offices all over Appalachia and the Southeastern USA.

Mountain Justice has set up a legal fund to support the legal costs faced by campaigners arrested for anti-MTR actions. It can accept Paypal contributions at http://bit.ly/Ltg4zF.

The Mountain Justice Spring Break 2014 takes place Sunday March 9 - Sunday March 16 2013 in Northern West Virginia. Participants will:

  • Learn about the dirty, destructive, dangerous life-cycles of coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy;
  • Stand in solidarity with the communities in Virginia, West Virginia, SW Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee facing the ongoing destruction of coal mining, fracking and nuclear energy;
  • See mountaintop removal coal mining and natural gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing up close;
  • Take direct action to end the reign of King Coal!

 

 

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