Coal Crimes: Saving The Planet Or Blowing It Up

Today brings news of two acts of criminality on either side of the Atlantic Ocean involving coal, the fossil fuel with the highest global warming pollution intensity. In the United Kingdom, activists who shut down a coal plant have been acquitted by a jury of all charges of property damage. In the United States, right-wing coal company Massey Energy is planning to start illegally destroying a mountain to extract its coal. Our two nations are evidently separated by more than an ocean — one is breaking from the destructive dependency on fossil fuels, while the other is digging in deeper.

In the United Kingdom, a jury decided the threat of burning coal was much greater to the planet than the damage caused by six Greenpeace activists who painted a coal chimney with UK prime minister Gordon Brown’s first name:

Six Greenpeace climate change activists have been cleared of causing criminal damage at a coal-fired power station in a verdict that is expected to embarrass the government and strengthen the anti-coal movement.

The jury of nine men and three women at Maidstone crown court cleared the six, five of whom had scaled a 200m tall chimney at Kingsnorth power station at Hoo, Kent in October 2007.Kingsnorth chimney Greenpeace activists on the painted chimney.

The activists admitted trying to shut down the station by occupying the smokestack and painting the world “Gordon” down the chimney, but argued that they were legally justified because they were trying to prevent climate change causing greater damage to property around the world.

The defense, who called NASA climate scientist James Hansen, environmentalist Zac Goldsmith, and an Inuit leader from Greenland, cited coastal England, the Pacific island state of Tuvalu, areas of Greenland, the Arctic ice sheet, China’s Yellow river region, the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica, coastal areas of Bangladesh and the city of New Orleans as regions under immediate threat from global warming.


Meanwhile, as Kevin Grandia writes at the Huffington Post, Massey Energy is planning to “begin blowing up the mountains in the Bee Tree Branch area of Coal River Mountain, West Virginia” as early as today. At Grist, David Roberts explains that Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is ignoring his own environmental officers in greenlighting the illegal dynamiting of Coal River Mountain:

Massey wants to start blowing the mountain up as early as today, but according to state Department of Environmental Protection secretary Randy Huffman, “If they blast, they do so illegally in our opinion.” Seems they lack the requisite permits.

Despite the impending lawbreaking, WV governor Joe Manchin has refused to intercede, rejecting a request letter sent yesterday from citizen groups. Manchin, apparently not in touch with his own DEP, says Massey has the permits they need.

Locals have been trying to build a wind farm atop the mountain Massey plans to destroy. Roberts opines: “Massey is already the most evil company in the world, with the most evil CEO in the world. If they pull this off, they will have basically lapped the other evildoers.”

UPDATE: James Hansen spoke today on behalf of the Power Vote campaign to get one million young people to “cast their vote for the presidential candidate with the greenest energy record.” Hansen said:

Even in those places where we thought politicians were the greenest, in many cases it’s a case of green-wash, where they’re saying the right words but their actions don’t correspond.

Check out the Wonk Room’s interview with Jessy Tolkan, the head of Power Vote.