Last week shareholders of one of the nation’s largest utilities, Dominion, which serves Virginia and 13 other states, introduced several resolutions intended to move the massive energy company toward greener energy. The shareholder resolutions included one to get Dominion to commit to installing 20% renewable energy by 2024, another would stop the planned construction of a third reactor at the Lake Anna Nuclear plant in Virginia, another would decrease Dominon’s reliance on coal, yet a fourth would require Dominion to look into phasing out mountaintop removal mined coal from their fuel mix.
A few weeks ago Duke Energy in North Carolina committed to leaving mountaintop removal coal out of the mix when the price is the same as coal mined underground. Though Duke’s action was only a first step and won’t stop mountaintop removal, it will lead to less demand for coal from the morally deplorable, community destroying practice. This shareholder resolution was asking Dominion to at least consider this possibility.
The mountaintop removal shareholder resolution, introduced with the help of Sierra Club’s corporate accountability team and some awesome shareholders, received 9% of the vote whereas the breakdown of the others was as such:
– 20% renewable energy production by 2024-5% in favor
– Decreased reliance on coal-6% in favor
– No new nuclear reactor at North Anna, Va-4%
With 9% of the vote, It appears that among Dominion shareholders, mountaintop removal is becoming an issue of concern.
A group of over 40 people rallied on Charlottesville, Virginia’s Downtown Pedestrian Mall the day before the Dominion shareholders meeting and again showed up at 7:45 AM to make sure they could be seen holding signs asking for a clean energy future at the entrance to the Boars Head Inn where the meeting was held. Another group of shareholders and those holding proxies were inside the meeting to advocate for passage of these resolutions. Though we didn’t approach 51% we hope that Dominion begins to take notice of the increased concern over the use of mountaintop removal coal and other dirty energies. We will also be there again next year and hope to gain much more of the vote.
Below are the words I prepared for the rally before the shareholders meeting. I spoke to the crowd of dedicated activists ready to go inside, or to stand outside of the shareholders meeting, hoping to make change within one of the nations largest electric utilities.
Tomorrow shareholders of Dominion Power will introduce a resolution that, if approved, will require the company to look at purchasing coal from non-mountaintop removal sources.
Mountaintop removal coal mining is devastating Appalachian mountains, streams and communities. The mining method rips off mountains with explosives and machines to expose seams of coal. What was left of the mountain is pushed over into nearby streams, burying the waterways under thousands of tons of rubble.
The resulting landscape is not recognizable as Appalachia. Where a dynamic landscape of streams, hollers and mountains once stood is left a nearly barren moonscape often with the non-native grasses struggling to survive being the only vegetation. The water that runs out of the now buried valleys is often orange, latent with heavy metals like arsenic and lead, and the life they once supported can no longer survive.
To date over 500 mountains have been destroyed across Appalachia. 67 of those lost mountains are in Virginia, along with over 150 miles of buried Virginia streams.
My friends in the coal-bearing region of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee talk of the Appalachian Mountains as giving them a sense of security. Many of their families have lived in the same hollers for hundreds of years and they talk as though they can feel the rolling lush mountains holding them and keeping them safe, and provide them a physical connection to their rich history. These mountains and streams also provide places to swim, hunt, fish, and hike. The Appalachian Mountains provide for a beautiful landscape in which people want to build their lives; they provide for an experience that people from other regions long for and as a result they bring millions of dollars in tourism.
Consequently, when these mountains and streams are destroyed for coal they not only take away trees, earth and water but they disturb the Appalachian people’s deep connection with their land and their sense of home. They deprive the Appalachian people of an opportunity to diversify their economy to include industries that, unlike coal, put more into the communities than they extract. Mountaintop removal coal mining creates areas that lack clean water, workable land and natural beauty. Tourists don’t visit the coalfields where mountaintop removal is taking place. Population in these areas is declining rapidly as those who have lived there for generations, and can afford the move, uproot at great expense and pain to find a place more suitable to raise children or retire.
Mountaintop removal is also robbing miners of jobs. It is a plain fact that underground mining employs more people per ton of coal removed. That is why coal companies love mountaintop removal – they get to employ fewer miners, use more machines and make more money.
It is a strange twist in geologic fate that people in the coal-bearing region of Appalachia are being forced to flee their homes or to live with poisoned water, explosions, coal dust, and a depreciating landscape thanks to mountaintop removal. Meanwhile, people are moving to live work and play in Charlottesville, with the coal-free Blue Ridge as our backyard. If this were happening to Carter or Afton Mountain, if the Rockfish or Rivanna rivers were being unnecessarily poisoned for our electricity we simply wouldn’t stand for it. As good citizens of the United States, neither should we stand for this type of destruction of home-place happening to our neighbors in the mountains to the west.
Through the use of Dominion’s electricity we benefit from the destruction of Appalachia every day. We are implicated in mountaintop removal without our consent, as are Dominion’s shareholders. Through Dominion’s continued purchasing of mountaintop removal coal ratepayers and shareholders alike are involuntarily contributing to the destruction of Appalachia.
Much of our electricity comes from mountaintop removal coal mining which is a method that trades hard working Virginia coal miners for explosives and machines while leaving Appalachian mountains and streams in ruin. Dominion has the power, and the moral obligation, to put more coal miners to work, and to do its part to stop the exploitation of the Appalachian region by getting off of mountaintop removal coal.
Dominion is large enough that the company could demand to purchase coal mined in more responsible ways, that put miners to work and the extractive industry would have to comply. We urge shareholders to vote in favor of the resolution being proposed to explore this option. Tomorrow we call upon Dominion shareholders to do their part in righting this terrible imbalance that allows us in Charlottesville to thrive at the expense of the people of the coal bearing regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and southwestern Virginia.