Skip to content or view screen version

Anti-Coal Protesters Blockade Washington Power Station

usa | 03.03.2009 16:50 | Climate Chaos | Energy Crisis | Social Struggles | World

Thousands of demonstrators braved icy winds and snow to march on the US capitol's coal-fired power plant on Monday to demand a more sane approach to energy policy. Organized by Capitol Climate Action thousand blockade the five main gates to the Capitol Power Plant in southeast Washington, not far from Capitol Hill.

The blockade lasted nearly four hours, forming what organizers called the largest display of civil disobedience on the climate crisis in U.S. history. Police were out in force, but no one was arrested.

The 99-year-old coal fired power station is responsible for an estimated one-third of the legislative branch's greenhouse gas emissions. It is no longer even used to generate electricity but instead acts as a glorified boiler providing steam for heating and chilled water for cooling buildings for the legislative buildings of the Capitol Complex.

Environmental and climate celebrities led the protest action, including NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen, who released a video on You Tube in February urging people to join him March 2 at the demonstration to send a message to Congress and the President that, "We want them to take the actions that are needed to preserve climate for young people and future generations and all life on the planet."

"What has become clear from the science is that we cannot burn all of the fossil fuels without creating a very different planet," Hansen said. "The only practical way to solve the problem is to phase out the biggest source of carbon and that is coal."

Congressional Democrats have already moved to convert the Capitol Power Plant to cleaner-burning natural gas. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid released a letter asking the Capitol Architect to switch the Capitol Power Plant from coal to 100 percent natural gas by the end of 2009.

"The switch to natural gas will allow the CPP to dramatically reduce carbon and criteria pollutant emissions, eliminating more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and at least 50 percent of carbon monoxide," wrote Pelosi and Reid in their letter to Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers.

"We strongly encourage you to move forward aggressively with us on a comprehensive set of policies for the entire Capitol complex and the entire Legislative Branch to quickly reduce emissions and petroleum consumption through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean alternative fuels," they wrote.

"While the costs associated with purchasing additional natural gas will certainly be higher, the investment will far outweigh its cost," wrote Pelosi and Reid. "The conversion will also reduce the cost of storing and transporting coal as well as the costs associated with cleaning up the fly ash and waste."

"Eliminating coal from the fuel mixture should also assist the City of Washington, D.C., in meeting and complying with national air quality standards, and demonstrate that Congress can be a good and conscientious neighbor by mitigating health concerns for residents and workers around Capitol Hill," the leaders wrote.

"We've been fighting to clean up the Capitol for years - it's an important symbol for the whole nation," said Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder on Thursday.

Last week, Blackwelder and representatives of Earthjustice and the Sierra Club sent letters to Reid and Pelosi asking that they stop using coal at the Capitol power plant.

"Dirty coal plants all over the country continue to release heat-trapping gases and pollute the air we breathe, so there remains much work to be done, but today's announcement is a signal of a major change in direction," Blackwelder said.

"People in D.C. have been fighting against the plant for years, it is very dirty and located in a poor neighborhood. They haven't had much success until now," said Adrian Wilson, a San Francisco-based environmental organizer with the Capitol Climate Action coalition. "The fact that three days before the action, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid wrote letter for plant to be switched from coal to natural gas shows the power of direct action to make change quickly."

Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, said, "Stopping the use of coal at the Capitol Power Plant will help local residents breathe easier, but the positive impacts will stretch far beyond the District. Bold measures are needed right now to reduce global warming emissions and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress and the new administration to send a clear signal to cities and states across the country that after eight long years, America is serious about clean energy and green jobs."

The Capitol Power Plant demonstration was part of a larger movement in the nation's capital on the weekend that lasted through this evening - Power Shift 2009. Some 12,000 college and high school students traveled to DC for the second Power Shift conference, a meeting of students confronting climate change, and business-as-usual attitudes in Washington.

Energy Action, a coalition of 50 environmental groups, organized the Power Shift weekend conference and lobby day. For three days, students attended seminars on the histories of coal power, direct action and uranium mining, media and leadership training sessions, grassroots organizing and anti-oppression workshops.

- Homepage:


Attempts to bury global warming protest

03.03.2009 17:30

An online newspaper called 'The Australian' tried to dismiss both the mass protests in the US capital and climate change itself with a story headlined 'Big chill buries global warming protest'. It talked of there being two storms in the capital on monday, referring to the protests and the major winter storm which the article claimed had 'blew away' the protests.

"As Washington was blasted with its heaviest snowfall of the winter, politicians cancelled appearances and schools and businesses were closed. The storm also buried under 15cm of snow any hope of global warming activism."

Deliberate use of the phrase 'global warming' rather than 'climate change' set the tone of the article which would go on to attempt to imply that winter weather somehow disproved concerns about climate change.

"Fox News said the scene was reminiscent of a day in January 2004, when Al Gore made an address on global warming in New York -- on one of the coldest days in the city's history."

Of course the extreme weather didn't stop thousands of people from marching on the hundred year old relic of coal power near capital hill and it didn't stop them from blockading all five of the plants gates for over four hours.

Suggesting that the cold weather disproves climate changes (or global warming as those using this pathetic argument prefer to call) is obviously a complete nonsense. For as long as there have been people trying to highlight the issue of climate change it has been made clear that the results of warming the planet would be greater extremes in both hot and cold weather.

The storms across the USA these last few days have been some of the most severe on record. In Washington the authorities were forced for the first time to close all the schools for 1.1 million children. Elsewhere the storms have been blamed for 500 car crashes in New Jersey. A Maryland official counted about 50 cars in a ditch on one stretch of highway. Travelers have been stranded with almost 1,000 flights cancelled at the three main airports in the New York area and nearly 300 flights cut in Philadelphia.

The Australian itself reports, "The south was hit by record snowfalls, with thick ice and hundreds of thousands of power outages in a region not accustomed to such weather."

Still in denial
- Homepage:,25197,25135000-2703,00.html

Pro-coal counter protest

03.03.2009 17:32

A small counter protest of pro-coal advocates opposed Monday's rally from behind barricades, protected by Capitol Police officers.

Phelim McAleer of Ireland flew into Washington to promote a new documentary taking on Al Gore's claims about global warming.

"What they don't realize is if you remove coal from the equation, you hurt the average worker," McAleer said. 'It's beyond belief" they would try to hurt struggling families at this time.

Still in denial
- Homepage:

More reports, photos and videos

03.03.2009 17:34

You can find loads more info about Mondays protests, along with photos and video from the Capitol Climate Action website

- Homepage:


Hide the following 3 comments

A Washington Power Shift - Twelve thousand activists hit the capital to demand a

03.03.2009 17:03

Every once in a while, this activism stuff is easy—you gear yourself up to push hard on a door, and the door turns out to be unlocked.

For months we’ve been gathering people from around the country for a big protest Monday—the first mass civil disobedience action about global warming in the nation’s history. Thousands are headed to Washington, to block the streets around the coal-fired power plant owned by the US Congress that powers Capitol Hill. It’s the perfect symbol of how dirty coal is: for those who have to breathe the DC air, for those who have to live by the scalped mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky, and for those who happen to live on a rapidly heating planet.

And now it’s the symbol of something else: how easy it would be to change.

12,000 Climate Activists Can't Be Wrong

Late last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released a letter to the Architect of the Capitol, which is what they call the guy who runs the physical plant. It told him to figure out how to switch the plant over to natural gas. Just like that.

It wasn’t just the demonstration they feared--it was also the 12,000 young people now flooding in to Washington for Powershift ’09. (I’m writing this from the city’s convention center, surrounded by college kids busy networking, sign-making, and otherwise demonstrating what a movement looks like). Pelosi had promised to speak to the throng, and she was smart enough to figure out one thing that would be on their minds--she’ll get a well-deserved cheer when she appears. (UPDATE: Due to weather conditions in Washington, Pelosi canceled her appearance at the Monday rally.)

And not just for closing down the power plant, but for energizing the anti-coal movement with a quick and sweet victory. We’ll still be out there on Monday risking arrest, but it will be partly a victory bash. And partly a reminder that when you push on doors they swing open--sometimes even before you push.

It’s not usually this simple. But we’ll take it. (On Sunday, The Washington Post did report that the Architect of the Capitol has estimated that converting the power plant will cost $7.78 million and that this office did not know how quickly it could be done; congressional Republicans are asking the architect to determine if the plant could continue to burn coal but more cleanly.)

Meanwhile, we’ve had an interesting weekend here in DC. The cable news channels have been focused on covering CPAC, the conservative political action conference at the Shoreham Hotel. And sure, it’s kind of fun—the retreat of the dominant political ideology for the last three decades back into its cave, with the puffy figure of Rush Limbaugh still bellowing. But it’s also the past. The future—largely uncovered, but endlessly more exciting—was just a few blocks away, in and around Washington’s convention center. It’s been an activist heaven the last three days—a collection of incredibly talented people, most of them young, busy figuring out how to make the next few decades actually work.

Twelve thousand is a large number—I don’t know the last time in America that 12,000 activists gathered for anything. Much less anything as well-organized and determined as this. Panel after panel has covered everything from the efforts by to find a precinct captain for climate change in every corner of America to our campaign at to make October 24 the biggest single day of global protest ever. At night the big name entertainment (Santigold!) has mixed with the big name speakers: Van Jones, new EPA head Lisa Jackson, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. It is—I can testify personally—something of a trip to talk to 12,000 people at a time.

Powershift was big when it started in 2007—6,000 kids gathered at the University of Maryland—but its doubling in size reflects the fact that the Obama campaign was no fluke. Young people really are ready to lead the way, which is a good thing since we have to clear so much wreckage from the last few decades. Jessy Tolkan and Billy Parish—and a crew of dozens and dozens of other young activists—have orchestrated this growing wave for years now, and managed to keep it simultaneously tough and yet open to reality. These kids are not devoted to cultural revolution—they’re busy figuring out how to use Twitter and Facebook to carry out the very real tasks of accelerating the switch in our energy system.

But everyone’s pretty brave, too. Across the street from the Convention Center, in a warren of converted warehouses, people were busy preparing for Monday’s protest. Many of the young people here are facing a tough job market—and so they listened soberly as an incredibly level-headed Greenpeace lawyer explains the ins and outs of being arrested. No one knows what the police will do, so it’s hard to gauge the exact risk. But suffice it to say, in the winter of 2009 it takes courage to risk an arrest record.

To keep that courage flowing, teams of artists next door were busy knocking out signs and banners—and also neckties, because the organizers have made it clear from the start that they hope protesters will turn out “dressed to impress.” Not just because they’ll seem “respectable.” But because it will remind anyone who’s looking on that the real radicals are those determined to keep pouring carbon into the atmosphere. The real radicals have been at the Shoreham cheering Rush Limbaugh. It’s odd to think of people collecting bail money and painting placards as the responsible middle, but as we move into the new post-Reagan world that’s how it works.

Bill McKibben - Mother Jones
- Homepage:

A New Epoch for Environmentalism: Massive Climate Change Action Proves a Turning

03.03.2009 17:14

Climate change -- for many years the concern of scientists and policy wonks -- has finally birthed a broad-based citizens movement.
Blaine O'Neil believes he and his friends are on to something big -- namely, saving the world.

"Climate change is more than a life-or-death issue -- it's a life-or-death issue for the next infinite generations," says the 19-year-old, a biology major at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. "We need to show Congress that we need climate legislation now and that green jobs are the way to go. We can't keep living off of this short-term fossil-fuel energy. We need immediate and aggressive change; it's simply the only choice we have left."

O'Neil, along with 30 others from Swarthmore, was among an estimated 12,000 people -- mostly college students -- who descended on Washington over the weekend to demand sharp cuts in the country's greenhouse gas emissions. For environmentalists, the three-day-long mobilization was a convergence of superlatives.

Organizers called a grassroots lobbying drive on Monday "the biggest lobbying day on climate and energy" in the country's history as they enlisted some 4,000 students to visit nearly every congressional office. And later that day, in what activists dubbed "the largest mass civil disobedience on climate" in the U.S., some 2,500 people blockaded the gates of the Capitol Power Plant, which burns coal to provide heat to the senators' and representatives' offices, a symbol of the nation's reliance on fossil fuels.

The grassroots energy displayed in the Capitol appears to mark an important turning point for the environmental movement. Climate change -- for many years the concern of a narrow circle of scientists and inside-the-Beltway policy wonks -- seems to have finally birthed a broad-based citizens movement. The numbers prove the point: Powershift, the 12,000-person conference that organized the lobbying day, attracted 5,000 students at its 2007 gathering 14 months ago; the first such meeting of campus climate activists, in 2005, had fewer than 200 attendees.

For author-activist Bill McKibben -- whose seminal book about global warming, The End of Nature, was published before many of the Powershift participants were born -- the emergence of a muscular social movement demanding carbon-dioxide reductions is long overdue.

"I've been waiting 20 years to see what the climate change movement would look like, and it looks great," McKibben, one of the initiators of the power plant action, told AlterNet. "We've got a lot to do. And the reason we're doing this protest is to give [President Obama] the political space he needs to maneuver, to show him that people care. Because the fossil-fuel industry doesn't want to give him any space."

The popular pressure is coming just in time. In December, leaders from around the world will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, to negotiate an international treaty to replace the Kyoto Accords. With greenhouse gases continuing to accumulate in the atmosphere, and ecosystems already showing stress from rising temperatures, environmentalists warn that the Copenhagen negotiations will be a do-or-die.

And there is unlikely to be any meaningful progress at the talks unless the U.S. plays a leadership role. Green groups, therefore, believe it's essential for Congress to pass some kind of ambitious climate legislation before the world's leaders arrive in Copenhagen.

Gus Speth, a former environmental advisor to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and now dean of the Yale School of Forestry, says that 2009 will be a "hinge of history."

"Far too many members on the Hill don't feel sufficient political pressure," he told AlterNet. Speth was among the prominent environmentalists -- along with farmer-writer Wendell Berry and climatologist James Hansen -- who risked arrest at the power plant protest. "They [Members of Congress] get the science, that's not difficult. I think what we've been missing is a protest movement in this country, a powerful welling of grassroots support. Real citizen power: That has been the missing ingredient."

The recent actions in Washington, then, are a crucial test of eco-muscle. Will green groups succeed in persuading politicians to put strict limits on greenhouse gases? Or will entrenched fossil-fuel industries be able to successfully defend their longtime privileges?

The student swarming the congressional offices, and the protestors surrounding the Capitol Power Plant on Monday, seemed determined to prove that they are ready to make the sacrifices demanded for success. The night before, the sky had dumped three inches of snow, and temperatures throughout the day were frigid, punctuated by occasional flurries. But the climate activists were undeterred by the storm.

Despite the icy weather, the people surrounding the power plant were jubilant, dancing and bouncing to keep themselves warm and chanting slogans, such as: "Climate change / What's the solution? / A green jobs revolution" and the elegantly simple, "Coal stinks."

Many of those at the protest seemed heated by a feeling that the political dynamics are turning in their favor. Last year, for example, environmentalists scored a major victory when Democratic lawmakers removed longtime auto industry ally Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., from his chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The December coal slurry spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant has put the coal industry under heightened scrutiny and is raising new questions about coal's dangers from extraction to ignition to disposal. And President Barack Obama has signaled that his administration will play a leading role in crafting any agreement that comes out of Copenhagen.

In yet another sign that lawmakers are feeling they have to respond to environmentalists' demands, four days prior to the Capitol Power Plant protest, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called for the plant to stop burning coal within a year. Even coal country's Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., a longtime defender of the plant, said he would agree to a coal phase-out. Before a single banner had been unfurled or a placard raised, environmentalists had scored a win.

Although emboldened by the victory, the newly invigorated climate movement recognizes that it isn't going to stop global warming by protesting one coal plant at a time -- mostly because there simply isn't enough time. The very urgency of the issue means that, unlike social campaigns of the past -- which perhaps could tolerate incremental change -- climate justice groups are desperate for immediate action. As McKibben points out, "we're running out of years."

At the same time, the fossil-fuel industry is preparing for a major political fight. An alliance of utilities, coal and mining companies has pledged $40 million to influence any climate-change legislation. And some 770 companies have hired more than 2,300 lobbyists to work on climate issues, which means that there are four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

"Yes, it's an uphill climb, but we believe the tide has turned," says Jessy Tolkan, executive director of the Energy Action Coalition, the main force behind the Powershift convergence. "We know the polluting industries will always have more money to put lies on television and to stuff money into politicians' pockets. But we have something more powerful -- we have numbers."

Tolkan notes that 23 million members of the millennial generation voted in the last election and were a key force in bringing Obama and a fortified Democratic Congress into power. Of those, 340,000 people signed the "Power Vote" pledge setting climate change and green jobs as their top political priority.

During the Monday lobbying day, students used those statistics to warn legislators that they if they ignore climate change, they could lose their jobs.

"We are flexing our political muscle, and we are telling them how many young people voted in their district," Tolkan says. "We have a chance right now to make it clear that we have the ability to vote these people in and out of power."

Tolkan's optimism will be tried later this year when Congress and the president turn their attention to climate policy. The economic crisis appears to have moved climate lower down on the agenda (a recent Pew poll showed it dead last among the public's priorities), which could siphon off support.

Even more challenging, climate politics threatens to fracture the Democratic caucus. Otherwise-progressive legislators who come from coal-producing states will likely oppose legislation that goes too hard against coal -- the single largest source of the U.S.' greenhouse gas emissions. They will probably demand government support for (so far unproven) "clean coal" technologies, such as carbon sequestration.

Yet for many of the organizations behind the power plant rally -- national groups such as Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network and local ones like the Black Water Mesa Coalition and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network -- the very idea of "clean coal" is anathema. One of the most popular signs on Monday was "Clean Coal is a Dirty Lie."

"When I hear about 'clean coal' it just breaks my heart," says Enei Begaye, a Navajo and Tohono O'Odham woman, who has fought coal mining on her reservation in northeastern Arizona and who was at the power plant protest. "There's no way we can support [climate legislation that includes coal]. Because coal is tearing our communities apart and is the root of our suffering."

These kinds of disputes over tactics and strategies will only become more acute as environmentalists get closer to federal climate legislation. But the hundreds of skills-sharing sessions, trainings and workshops that occurred over the weekend show that organizers are ready for the long struggle that is coming. Without exception, environmentalists said they were excited to return to their communities and put pressure on their legislators, on their home turf, for climate action.

"Climate change and its unpredictable effects on our planet scares me so much," said Emily Pappo, 18, as she blockaded the south gate of the Capitol Power Plant. The protest was the first for Pappo, a New York University student majoring in environmental studies. "I think that it's beautiful, the fact that so many people are here for one important cause. I'm so happy I could be a part of it. Each of us learned so much. We have to take the skills we learned here and take them back to our communities and our campuses."

Jason Mark, AlterNet
- Homepage:

Was the plant really shut down?? Or the campaign hijacked by liberals??

06.03.2009 19:37

See video

"Hear PowerShift organizer claim they never really intended to shut down the plant: "Just kidding". Hear blockaders call attention to fact that they "haven't done anything disobedient," and that the plant is still operating.


PS Astroturf organizer: “All right. Now we need to march back to Spirit of Justice Park”

Grassroots activist: “We haven’t done anything disobedient yet”

PS Astroturf organizer: (inaudible)

Grassroots activist: “But its open, its open, its running” [referring to the power plant] “Why didn’t we get here earlier” “Why are we saying we shut the plant down if we haven’t”

GR Activist #2: “I don’t understand why we would come and just threaten to shut down the plant and why we would say we had a victory when nothing has ever happened…”

Grassroots activist #1: “We haven’t shut down any plant”

GR Activist #2: “…and the plant will be back up before we even leave”

PS Astroturf organizer: “Because we were never intending to stay overnight and we don’t have the support systems for you guys to be able to do that”

Grassroots activist #1: “Why didn’t we get here early in the morning….(covered, inaudible) …”

PS Astroturf organizer: “ How do you feel that way?”

Grassroots activist #1: (response inaudible)

GR Activist #2: “The point of civil disobedience is forcing the issue. And we have forced nothing on anybody.”

PS Astroturf organizer: “I think that the real question is that we really need to think about what our goal was. And for this action the goal was not getting arrested. The goal was raising awareness about coal and the coal plants. And raising awareness in congress”

GR Activist #2: “I absolutely disagree the goal was civil disobedience….”

PS Astroturf organizer: “Actually the organizers of this, that’s never been the advertised goal”

GR Activist #2: “It’s on the web site”

Grassroots activist #1: “You put Gandhi on the homepage….”

PS Astroturf organizer: “Yep and Gandhi also, yep, did civil disobedience and we all did civil disobedience”

Grassroots activist #1: “No we didn’t do anything disobedient”

PS Astroturf organizer #2: “Getting arrested was never the end goal”

GR Activist #2: “This is not about getting arrested”

PS Astroturf organizer #2: “I completely understand where you guys are coming from….

Grassroots activist #1: “But we didn’t shut down the power plant”

PS Astroturf organizer #2: “….No one is here to tell you that we guys have to leave. We can’t make you do that. You say ‘we’re going to wait you out’ our response is we’re not going to wait you out, because we have a lot of work to do. I have to fucking get up to another day and fucking do the same thing tomorrow.”

GR Activist #2: “But we’ve totally capitulated to them. If the idea is that we were forcing an issue and then they [the police] say ‘OK we’ll wait you out’ and then you say, ‘oh just kidding’.”
PS Astroturf organizer #2: “I actually don’t agree with you, but I’m not on the tactical team…[covered by PS Astroturf organizer #1 addressing camera person]

PS Astroturf organizer #1 to Cameraperson: “Can ask you a question?, We are trying to deescalate this. Could you back up some? Just back away.

Cameraperson: “Sure”

[Cameraperson backs away and audio of the conversation is lost]


Sounds like a classic hijacking by those who think putting one foot in front of the other in a road outside the plant is not only civil disobedience, but also "shutting down" a plant down.

The pacifists strike again?

dc indy reader