PORTSMOUTH NH — Kim Richards’ mom scrubbed out her swimming pool before a recent family party at her home in Eliot, Maine. “By the end of the day,” Richards said, “the pool was full of this.” She showed us a photo showing lots of black soot, which she said comes from the Schiller Station coal-fired power plant just across the Piscataqua River in Newington, New Hampshire.
Richards, founder of a grassroots group called Citizens for Clean Air, was one of several speakers who addressed an August 10 rally in Portsmouth’s Market Square calling for a shut-down of the region’s few remaining coal-fueled power plants. “Residents of Eliot have long been suspicious,” she said, of Schiller’s atmospheric outputs. She finally got fed up and started a petition calling for an EPA investigation and got a resolution critical of Schiller adopted by the town.
“We will not stand idly by and let big corporations determine our living conditions,” she called out to the crowd of several dozen people outside Portsmouth’s North Church.
It’s not just soot and sulfur that motivated the turn-out, though. Mostly it’s the carbon, which is also emitted by Schiller, that aroused people concerned about changes in the earth’s climate. “A coal-free future” was the focus of the rally, the first organized by 350 NH, an affiliate of the global activist group 350.org.
“Shut down Schiller. It’s a killer. Wind is clean. Let’s be green,” participants chanted.
Schiller is the region’s oldest and least efficient power plant in New England, “the baddest of the bunch,” said long-time activist Doug Bogen, “It deserves to be shut down,” he said.
Moreover, the potential of wind power is not just some green fantasy, Bogen insisted. Construction of wind turbines off the coast of New England could generate as much as 150,000 megawatts of power, enough to electrify the entire East Coast, he said, citing reports from the federal Department of Energy and the State of Maine. Construction of the turbines—800 could be used off the coast of Maine—would also generate lots of jobs, twice as many as the coal industry.
Bogen is promoting a concept that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard be re-tooled for manufacture of offshore wind turbines. As a major industrial facility with a skilled workforce, located at a deep-water port, the Navy Yard would be an ideal site, he said, noting as well that an economic future built on wind power has other advantages over one dependent on the overhaul of the Navy’s nuclear submarines.
Bogen’s statement that we are either at the “sunset of a declining society or the dawn of a new one” may have been a tad apocalyptic, but his point was well taken. It is past time for commitment to a post-coal economy.
Jay O’Hara spoke of an aquatic route to the dawn of a new society. On May 15 he piloted a lobster boat named “Henry David T” into the path of a freighter delivering 40,000 tons of Appalachian coal to the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts. He and his colleague, Ken Ward, were arrested. Now facing five charges (negligent operation of a vessel, failure to act to avoid collision, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and conspiracy), O’Hara told the rally “our job is to make it clear what the moral ramifications of our actions are.”
It will take many kinds of actions to make a serious dent in fossil fuel use. Petitions, research, engineering proposals, rallies, leaflets handed to Market Square tourists, and dramatic nonviolent acts of civil disobedience are all called for. To its credit, 350.org and its offshoots take an all-of-the-above approach. Its leaders also appear to respect the role of culture and humor. That’s why the Market Square rally concluded with a skit pitting Mother Earth against Mean Mister Coal.
Yes, it may have been a bit ironic to hear the Leftist Marching Band performing “Which Side Are You On,” an anthem of Appalachian coal miner unions, at a demonstration calling for the shut-down of the coal industry. That song’s spirit, which deals with resistance to corporate domination, was not out of place. But it also stands as a helpful reminder that the climate movement would do well to devote more attention to the transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar and what will happen to actual workers along the way. There are moral ramifications, as well as political and economic ones, to the choices we have before us.
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