By Nicole Ghio of the Sierra Club International Climate Program, and Neha Mathew, the executive coordinator of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.
Wherever there are coal mines, coal shipping ports, and power plants around the globe, local communities are fighting back against deadly pollution and economic destruction. Today, the Sierra Club released its fourth annual report on some of the world’s major, ongoing grassroots coal fights. Pitted against unimaginable wealth and power and too often facing violence and intimidation, these are the people that refuse to be silent.
This year, the danger coal poses to local communities has never been more apparent.In January, a chemical used to wash coal was leaked into the water supply in West Virginia, causing drinking water to be shut off to over 300,000 Americans across the state. Just weeks later, a coal ash dam pond failed in North Carolina, dumping up to 82,000 tons of toxic material into the Dan River, and again, forcing the shut off of local drinking water. In February, a fire broke out in Australia’s Hazelwood mine, which would last for 45 days and force residents of the nearby town of Morwell to endure weeks of smoke laden with dangerous materials. In May, 301 miners were killed in an explosion in Soma, Turkey.
These are just a few of the reports that grabbed international attention in the past year. What was less reported though were the daily fights in these locations and other places around the world as affected communities worked to protect their air, their land, their water, and their health. Here are their stories.
In September, the Indian Supreme Court cancelled almost all the coal blocks that would be life threatening to several communities in the Madhya Pradesh region of India. Following intensive local campaigning, even the Mahan forest coal block -- which would threaten the livelihoods of over 50,000 people -- was cancelled. Local communities continue to fight against re-allocation of these coal blocks.
Similarly, the island of Palawan in the Philippines also faces the threat of having two coal-fired power plants built in the region. A state university and a catholic church are leading the fight against the coal industry in Palawan. A huge network of anti-coal activists in Krabi, Thailand, are fighting against a planned 870-megawatt coal-fired power plant. Over the past few months, non-profit organizations, community groups, research scientists, and local fisherman have all come together and denounced the destructive power plant project. Finally, the people of Kosovo, along with several organizations, are pressuring the government to ensure clean energy future free from dependency on dirty lignite coal. This year, the government of Kosovo and the World Bank were pressured to begin the first steps at assessing the environmental and social impacts of the Kosovo Power Plant.
These communities are proving that all the wealth and power of the coal industry is still not enough to silence the dedicated people who are standing up for their right to breathe clean air, drink uncontaminated water, and live on safe land. They will not give up, and every year more people from around the world join in the fight.