Photo by Kat Wallace
Corporate influence from industries like coal and inaction in government dominate Capitol Hill creating a climate difficult for citizens to lobby in. While this might be a deterrent for some Americans, there are citizens who find this an incentive to lobby Congress even more.
Last week, hundreds of citizens came to Washington to participate in iLoveMountains' 2010 End Mountaintop Removal Week. Citizens held meetings with senators and congressmen to inform leaders of the Applachian people's and, in fact, the American people's need to bring to an end to the industrial practice of mountaintop removal.
Parson Brown and Kat Wallace, members of the Topless America Project, traveled from Illinois to the nation's capital. After months of preparation, weeks of research, hours of analysis of each politician's career and records of contributions, the two were ready to discuss the Clean Water Protection Act and the Senate version of the bill, the Appalachia Restoration Act.
"Over 150 appointments [with political leaders] were made and participants spent an entire day in training, reviewing the intricacies of mountaintop removal, as well as tips on how to lobby effectively," said Brown.
The goal was to convince senators and congressmen to sign on as co-sponsors of this bill, which would help put an end to mountaintop removal mining. And, those lobbying primarily met with senators and representatives from places where they were born or where they currently live. (Since Brown is from Virginia and now lives in Illinois, he and Wallace met with senators and representatives from those states.)
Brown said one of the best experiences of the week came when Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL5) expressed his support for ending mountaintop removal.
"We walked into Representative Quigley's office and he was on his way out the door. He stopped briefly to chat and told us that he has spoken against mountaintop removal on the House floor and that if there was anything he could do to help us to let him know," said Wallace.
Quigley explained that he had spoken out against mountaintop removal on the House floor before and also indicated his opposition to the practice of carbon sequestration, which is being pushed by Illinois coal companies.
In contrast, Brown and Wallace met with Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL8) and Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-IL11) who both were not very interested in adding their name to the list of 165 leaders co-sponsoring the Clean Water Protection Act.
Rep. Bean is a member of the FutureGen for Illinois task force. The task force is comprised of many Illinois politicians, representatives of Illinois colleges and universities, and individuals from coal or energy companies in Illinois.
According to FutureGen for Illinois, FutureGen is "the first of its kind coal-fueled power plant that will link state of the art technologies to produce electricity and hydrogen with near-zero emissions." But, contrary to myths spread by coal companies, there is no such thing as "clean coal."
Rep. Halvorson's indifference could be because she takes the position that "regulating coal ash as hazardous material would impose "steep costs' on Illinois energy consumers, who draw much of their power from coal."
In February of this year, the Chicago Tribune reported on a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, which expressed this sentiment and was supported by four Democrats and four Republicans from Illinois.