Sunday, March 01, 2009

Wear a dark suit and march down to the coal-fired protest

Another weekend of big confabs and protests in Washington, D.C....

Some 10,000 college students are in D.C. this weekend for Power Shift '09, an event meant to energize young people (and at some future point, their elders) into making the big switch from coal- and gas-powered energy to alternative energy. I took a look at the Power Shift '09 web site map to see if any Wyoming students were registered. The map showed two registrants from Laramie, presumably from UW. After attending the creativity conference at UW this past week and hearing about scores of innovative student projects (Evolve Revolve, Pokes Vote, etc), I'm a bit surprised more didn't travel to this D.C. event. But it's expensive to travel and with spring will come more and numerous opportunities to network and protest in our nation's capital.

There is a protest on Monday on Capitol Hill against the coal-fired plant that powers Congress. It was organized by environmental writer Bill McKibben and well-known Luddite essayist Wendell Berry. This event is sponsored by Capitol Climate Action. McKibben had asked protestors to dress less like, well, hippie-dippy protestors and more like Congressional reps. I like the idea. Imagine the impressive sight of thousands of men and women in dark suits (not yet time for spring wardrobe changes) marching in cadence, swinging their laptop cases.

Some of the air was let out of the protest when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid ordered the Capitol Power Plant to finish its switch from coal to natural gas. But the protest will go on, according to McKibben writing on the Grist web site:

We'll still be protesting on Monday in D.C., but it looks like the protest may be half victory party too! Late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter off to the Capitol Architect -- the guy in charge of buildings and grounds, as well as the century-old, mainly-coal-fired power plant that Congress owns and which is located just a few blocks from the fancy dome and the National Mall. The two leaders told him to stop shoveling coal into the power plant's boiler and finish the switch to natural gas. Now, it just so happens that this is the same coal plant targeted for the first mass civil disobedience in the history of the American climate movement.... It didn't take much of a push to convince Congress that the time for change had come. It's an almost giddy feeling -- sort of like what most of America felt on election night when the voters actually chose to elect the smart guy. It feels like the system is working (sort of) the way it's supposed to.

Not to be outdone, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank, has announced a counter-protest to the Capitol Climate Action, the biggest civil disobedience on climate issues in U.S. history. It's called the "Celebrate Coal! and Keep Energy Affordable" rally.

As a veteran of protests and counter-protests, I'm not fearful of collisions between warring energy factions. It is possible that the day could erupt into a melee when one group of dark-suited protestors collide with another. Laptops could get switched, Blueberries Blackberries lost, Blu-Ray headphones knocked from skulls. But who knows? Maybe some common ground will be found, some blend of goals and ideas.

I think not.

Here's McKibben:

This is one small power plant. We need to start shutting down the whole vast coal archipelago that provides half the nation's electricity. That's going to be a tough, grinding job that requires a huge movement. And it's somehow going to have to stretch around the world, to China and India and everywhere else where coal is commonplace. (That's why we've got up and running; we're not going to solve this one city at a time).

Here's part of a press release from the Competitive Enterprise Institute:

CEI has applied to the U. S. Capitol Police for a permit to hold the rally in front of the Capitol Power Plant on the south side of E Street, S. E., between South Capitol Street and New Jersey Avenue, S. E. The District of Columbia Metropolitan Police have also been notified that the rally will be held on the north side of E Street if the Capitol Police deny the permit. The anti-coal protest group, Capitol Climate Protection, has apparently not applied for a permit to protest around the Capitol Power Plant.

“The goal of Celebrate Coal! is to publicize the colossal benefits of coal-fired power and the need for access to affordable energy. If the anti-coal zealots are allowed to prevail politically, electric rates will skyrocket for most Americans and many jobs will be lost in energy-intensive industries as a result of higher power prices,” said Myron Ebell, Director of Energy and Global Warming Policy at CEI and one of the event’s organizers.

Taxes on Wyoming's coal, gas and oil pay my salary. That makes me a bit conflicted. I won't be at the D.C. protest or counter-protest, but I think it's terrific they're happening. But the real battleground on this issue will be in Wyoming. We dig millions of tons of coal out of the ground each year and send it to power plants across the U.S. and overseas. We burn some of that coal in colossal plants and send most of the power out of state. How in the world are we going to deal with that -- and find alternatives?

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