Wise Up Dominion!

Written by joshua kahn russell

Topics: Coal, Finance

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The Beginning

We woke up at 3:30 am, but few of us had slept the night before. You’d think we’d be groggy, but the adrenaline and excitement propelled us into action. By 5:30am two trucks holding steel barrels reading “good jobs, healthy communities: we deserve a clean energy future” and “prosperity without poison” pulled into the rendezvous point. My heart was pounding as I pulled a van full of concerned citizens and young activists to meet them, two more cars trailing me. A half hour later we all jumped out at the entrance to Dominion’s new $1.8 Billion coal-fired power plant in Wise County VA. Within seconds we had a blockade. Nine people were connected to concrete-filled barrels, two of which donned six large solar panels illuminating the sun in the background of a large banner reading “Renewable Jobs to Renew Appalachia.” Two more chained themselves to gates, keeping them closed. Our solar lit banner stretched out above the rosy smiles of visionaries young and old. It was a true privilege to work with such skilled organizers and help coordinate one of the most fluid, tight, and positive Nonviolent Direct Actions I’ve ever been a part of.

We watched the sun rise together.



I’m not from Appalachia. I’m here because I’ve been deeply inspired by coal-field residents who have spent their lives standing up for clean air and water, good green jobs and a better future for their families. And it’s made them subject to intense harassment and intimidation. Wise County citizens have been fighting this Dominion plant for over two years; they’ve spoken out at every public hearing, filed ever paper and lawsuit possible, and gotten 45,000 people to sign a “mile long” petition to the governor. And now many took the next step and invited friends from around the region and country to join them in solidarity for the first ever protest at this plant. Nonviolent Direct Action is about risking one’s own personal safety for the greater good. It is an act of courage that can come with some severe consequences. That people travel from all around to support this local struggle is emblematic of the world we are fighting for – one in which we look out for one another and support each other, even when that comes at personal cost. 11 of the activists today were arrested and are currently navigating their way through the labyrinth that is the U.S. legal system. We have a prayer vigil setting up for them as I type this.


Alongside those who chose to put their bodies on the line, came a contingent of intergenerational cheering protesters, including a nun, veterans, schoolteachers, and students. The positive energy was infectious: there was a sense of agency and empowerment shared among all of us, even as we choreographed an elaborate and potentially dangerous dance between police and Dominion employees. The action was courteous, respectful, and residents who were new to this type of action kept remarking about how it was a “class act.” The words “classy,” “beautiful,” “reasonable,” and “respectful” were constantly heard both from Wise County residents, passers-by in cars and trucks, and even the police.

It’s no surprise people were ready to take such a step – and to take it so seriously. Wise County has already had 25% of its historic mountain ranges destroyed forever to mountaintop removal mining. We’re not just talking about saving the environment here, we’re talking about cultural survival for one of the poorest regions of the country.


Our action was visually striking. Our banners said things like: “Rise Above Dirty Energy,” “Jobs or Clean Water? We Deserve Both!” and many of us wore shirts saying “Invest in Appalachia, Don’t Destroy It. Today’s Destruction is not Tomorrow’s Prosperity.” Our positive energy and solution-oriented approach clearly had resonance, demonstrating that we were in the overwhelming majority. Most cars on the highway visibly reacted to our scene, and in a community so divided over such a controversial topic, over 85% of the reactions were enthusiastic and supportive. A record by most standards for demonstrations of any kind.

Solidarity was clearly a theme of a day. Not only did people from surrounding communities come together to take a stand, but there were actions in support organized from Coast (NYC) to Coast (CA). In San Francisco more Rainforest Action Network activists infiltrated the Bank of America annual investors’ conference and managed to secretly swap out Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell’s presentation with our own – full of photos from this morning’s Virginia action. It stayed up for fifteen minutes, much to his dismay.


So many of us chose to engage in this action because it made good movement-sense. Beyond the campaign itself, actions like this help move the coal conversation forward – locally, regionally, and nationally, shifting the spectrum of the political debate. Local groups declared that actions like this offer them bargaining chips – upping the ante in negotiations on a wide range of coal fights, compelling other residents to action, and most importantly raising the profile and visibility of people who are often unseen in the rest of the United States. Locals sent a clear message: we will not be silent. All of this within an international context in which a recent landmark court case determined that Climate Change was so urgent that it justified breaking the law.

It’s only been a few hours since we left Dominion, and there is already a steady stream of media – one sure to grow as the day progresses. For such a small-town action, with the nearest media outlets over an hour away, in addition to front page articles in all the local papers, we’ve already had articles in:

The Associated Press (AP) Wire

Washington Post

National Public Radio (NPR)

The Richmond Times Dispatch

Democracy Now!

Kingsport Times News


Bristol Herald Courier

Virginia News


Daily Press


DC Indymedia

Guerrilla News Network

Mobile News Network



And that’s just the beginning!

This was the first action of RAN’s ACTION TANK, a project to incubate new strategies for change.

21 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. donovan says:

    your right we deserve both and francly I thinke that we should save the rain forest.

  2. Joanna says:

    Good work on coal. Having seen this:

    and this:

    I can’t help wonder why you would be for ending coal use but not for ending ancient forest logging? Could you please provide some response, if only to avoid protests against RAN at revel which I have heard are being organized.

    I am not sure I can continue supporting a group that not only support ancient rainforest logging, but refuses to say why.

  3. Matt says:

    Why are you censoring comments? This is outrageous.

  4. coalminingman says:

    you just put on here in your comments what you want the world to see there are thousands in support of this power plant you bunch of cowards

  5. coalminingman says:

    I thank you all are foolish and trying to knock people out of work in this area you all need to go back where you come from and let southwest virgina miner’s mine america’s energy and this future plant turn the coal into america’s energy I SUPPORT THIS POWER PLANT 100%

  6. Jennifer Krill says:

    Hi there, a quick response on the above posts –

    First, Joanna, RAN is committed to protecting ancient forests. The link you include in your post says that we negotiated a deal with the Ontario government – we did not. RAN was not at a negotiating table. Along with Ontario’s First Nations, other NGOs, the general public, were were surprised by the announcement. The post also says that logging in other parts of Ontario will go on unimpeded with the RAN seal of approval – this is not true. In particular, RAN stands by the Grassy Narrows First Nation in southern Ontario, a community whose struggle we have been supporting most closely over the past four years. (For more coverage of the Northern Ontario plan, check out http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?id=1096417744).

    RAN believes that a commitment to protect an area twice the size of Minnesota deserves some praise. After all, Minnesota’s most famous old growth forests exist as hardwood paneling in its oldest richest homes. Isn’t it a good thing to seek protection for large tracts of ancient forest?

    That said, RAN has been cautious in our praise, raising many of the same issues that other critics raise with the Ontario deal. We joined with a broad coalition of NGOs to call on the government of Ontario to fully implement their promise. (http://understory.ran.org/2008/07/24/broad-coalition-writes-to-ontario-premier/). We have worked to bring the voices of Indigenous leaders from the affected region in Northern Ontario to the forefront of the debate. (http://understory.ran.org/2008/07/18/ki-chiefs-statement-on-youtube/).

    Protecting 50% of the land base of a region is good news. Globally, such victories are few and far between. (http://understory.ran.org/2008/07/29/the-biggest-environmental-victory-you%E2%80%99ve-never-heard-about/) We don’t believe that RAN or anyone else should stop fighting for the remaining, unprotected areas in the far north of Ontario, or anywhere else in Ontario and beyond. I hope you agree, and will join our effort.

    Second, Matt – We deleted no comments, there is an automatic delay before posts go up. Sorry for any inconvenience.

    Third, coalminingman – RAN stands with allies, including a lot of people from Appalachia, who believe renewable energy such as wind and solar power offers a better future then coal power does. As in the case of Coal River Mountain (http://understory.ran.org/2008/09/09/massey-prepares-to-blast-away-proposed-coal-river-wind-farm/#comments), we have seen King Coal push clean, renewable energy off the table. For the sake of our climate, our health, and for more and better jobs in our economy, wind and solar power offer a safer and cleaner future.


    Jennifer Krill
    RAN Program Director

  7. energyaction says:

    Great job guys!

    Love the video. It’s scary watching corporate America move in spite of overwhelming public disapproval. We’ve gotta just keep pluggin’ away and spreading the message; that alternatives are feasible and available.

  8. Tim Mullins says:


    When the mountains, coal, land, water and air are gone where will we be ? We need renewable green energy, jobs and industry in Southwest Virginia. What are we leaving our future generations in Wise County, VA ?

  9. Steve Larkin says:

    In our small town near the Navajo Generating station in northern AZ we had to fight a proposal for a fly ash transfer station, and got the following from a local retired Ph.D. formerly with the World Health Organization, speciallizing in toxic materials. Fly ash is a very toxic material that has been “greenwashed” as a renewable product, ignoring all of it’s dangers. Another bullet in your fight against coal-fired power… use it.

    Fly Ash Exposure Concerns

    Fly ash is the residue from the combustion of coal. Depending upon the source of the coal being burned, the components of the fly ash produced vary considerably but all include substantial amounts of silica (silicon dioxide, SiO2) both amorphous and crystalline (~18-70%) and lime (calcium oxide, CaO 1-30%) which are the major components of exposure concern. Understanding these concerns will help communities make informed decisions concerning the transport and use of this material in their midst.

    In and of itself, fly ash is neither toxic or poisonous, nor is it considered hazardous EXCEPT when it becomes airborne! When released into the atmosphere, fly ash can be extremely dangerous to humans as well as all other animals.

    To understand how and why this happens we need to “look” at these particles, particularly “crystalline silica” and the calcium oxide. Common “blow sand” with which we are all familiar, is made of “amorphous silica” which, if you could see one particle of it would look a little like a potato, rounded, smoothed and uneven. So, when you breathe a bit of it, it does not cut or scar the lungs. However, “crystalline silica” has a regular, repeating shape that is very sharp and pointed if you could see a part of the crystal. As an example, quartz crystals are composed of silicon dioxide and they are extremely hard, just behind diamond and corundum in hardness! So, when you breathe in “crystalline silica” it will cut the air sacs in your lungs forming scar tissue which reduces lung capacity. How small must something be before it is respirable? At 7 microns, particles can be breathed into the lungs. To put this into perspective, one micron is one one-thousandth of a millimeter which you can imagine if you could cut a pencil point into one thousand slices! One of the slices is a micron. About 20-40% of fly ash is in this 7 micron range including all of the crystalline silica. Now, how much of this must there be present to be considered unsafe? Sorry, but more numbers are required to make this understandable! OSHA and EPA list allowable crystalline silica in the atmosphere as 0.10 mg/m3. This is one tenth of one one-thousandth of a gram of crystalline silica in one cubic meter of air! Again, to “see” this imagine a normal raisin that weighs about one gram. Cut it into 1,000 pieces! Now, cut each of those pieces into ten more pieces. This gives you ten thousand pieces each of which is the stated 0.10 mg listed in the regulation. It takes the weight of just ONE of these raison pieces when it’s crystalline silica in a cubic meter to reach the allowed amount. Could you see the silica dust created by this amount? Of course not! So, you can’t know when the danger exists. If you could see the fly ash dust you are in severe danger as this is over 50 times the allowed limit!

    What are the consequences of breathing this silica dust? As mentioned, it will cut and scar the delicate tissue of the lungs which could lead to bronchitis, silicosis and lung cancer. How long would this take? Allowable limits are based upon healthy adults, for the most part, where 5-20 years are required. But, children, asthmatics of any age, allergy sufferers and the elderly all of whom have reduced lung capacity can be affected in shorter periods of time. Further, exposure to silica dust is not limited to the lungs. It is irritating to the skin causing contact dermatitis by abrasion. Similarly, silica exposure causes eye irritation resulting in tearing and redness.

    Now, as if that were not enough, lets look at the effects of contact to the other fly ash ingredient of concern, lime which is calcium oxide, CaO. This chemical reacts with water, H2O to form calcium hydroxide Ca(OH)2 which is a base. This causes fly ash to be very alkaline in nature with a pH somewhere between 10-12, a medium to strong base. What does this mean? When you breathe in calcium oxide (its dust is well under 7 microns) it combines with the water in your air passages and lungs causing a burning sensation as it can dissolve the sensitive tissues in these regions. Remember Draino? It is simply a strong base used to dissolve grease, fats, hair, etc.! Calcium oxide has the same effect upon your eyes and skin causing burning and irritation.

    Again, the same groups listed above, children, asthmatics, allergy sufferers and the elderly are most at risk.

    In summary, fly ash is not your normal dust. When it is airborne, it is a significant health hazard to those that become exposed. OSHA lists safety glasses with side shields, respirators with standards level marked, gloves as well as clothing that covers all skin for workers in an airborne fly ash environment. Communities can not provide this for its residents. Therefore, if a community decides to include fly ash based industries in its economic plan, then community leadership can require that fly ash bulk pumping operations be accomplished with closed pumping systems and that storage and handling have approved automated spill containment equipment. In the event of a major release of fly ash into the atmosphere, warning equipment for alerting all affected residents must be in place.

    Peter Gillespie, Ph.D.
    May 17, 2003

  10. We have a US technology (catalyst) that can reduce emissions 38 to 60% while increasing fuel efficiency about 15 to 20% on fossil fuels. For coal it will increase fuel efficiency 300% !!! while reducing emissions (including mercury) by 82%.

    Please have someone contact us urgently. We seek your help with labs that can do further testing, partners and industry willing to use our technology.

  11. Anni says:

    The people in the video’s faith in wind energy is disturbing, as well as their belief that coalminers started out feeling honored to work in a mine. In most places of the world people were forced into mining as a result of the increasing economy, and in a lot of places – Appalachia especially – people took it on as seasonal work when their other means of support started to dry up, but did so not identifying as “miners”, but still as people of the land.I would to those of you who believe in the myth of the happy miner to read The Battle of Blair Mountain or almost any radical labor history like Dynatmite.

  12. Andy C. says:

    Dear Dominion Power Plant Activists.
    I am writing to express my thanks for the blockade that you waged against this new coal fired power plant. I am unfortunately in a situation where I do not have the liberty to get arrested for any circumstance. I must say I am torn over the debate between using civil disobedience or the glacially slow pace of the legal system to STOP the use of coal as an energy source. I applaud your efforts and expect to see more civil disobedience, and environmental law used to secure our clean energy future. The myth of clean coal is so insulting to anyone who follows the issue. I can see the conviction on the face of the protestors as they sit beside each other at the blockade. This situation is so depressing, but I must say I have a revived sense of hope knowing that acts of peaceful civil disobedience are being used at an increasing rate to stop what we know to be one of the biggest issues of our time…Global Warming. I currently live in Southeast British Columbia, Canada where we share many of the same problems related to coal, and coal-bed methane development.
    Please keep the resistance alive and peaceful, and let’s achieve clean energy and good jobs for America.

  13. una says:

    Did you guys ever really look into renewable energy? Even if we max out all wind, solar, and thermal power available it would still not provide enough to satisfy the wants of the masses. Wind is great unfortunately it is very unreliable during peak hours which is critical for stability on the grid. Solar is too pricey and reduces the availability of land. Unless a massive breakthrough in large scale battery storage takes place, these renewable technologies will not be viable. But I do agree that we should still utilize them despite the cost. The real key is diversity, increasing renewables and nuclear and reducing coal. Also, teaching the masses to conserve is a major key. Utilities won’t build new plants if the demand isn’t there. The only reason new construction occurs to prevent the major blackouts which greatly reduce reliability of the system costing the economy billions of dollars

  14. Stanley says:

    @una Hmmm… Where are you getting that “even if we max out wind, solar, and thermal” stat? My understanding is that Texas alone has enough sun and wind to power 8x the US energy consumption.

  15. LuBlue says:

    Is there a contact number or email address regarding actions toward Dominion, or others in SW VA? I’d like to get involved, but can’t find anything.

  16. LuBlue says:

    Is there a contact number or email address regarding actions toward Dominion, or others in SW VA? I’d like to get involved, but can’t find anything…

  17. Scott Williamson says:

    Wow, how different your view can be depending on what you take a picture of and at what angle. I moved to Wise County from Eastern North Carolina, to get a teaching job @ UVA-Wise. Yes this county like any other county has areas of depressed and poor communities, but as a whole has more wealth than any non-metro area I have lived. Wise County has not one, but two colleges (UVA-Wise & Mountain Empire Community College), has not one, not two, but THREE hospitals, the county also contains the 2nd largest regional library systems in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It also contains a very impressive airport (I’m working on my pilot’s license), some very fine museums, the “State Outdoor Drama @ The Trail of the Lonesome Pine in Big Stone Gap, and I just checked the department of labor’s website, currently enjoys below the state & national levels of unemployment. Also, if you enjoy the “Great Outdoors” like this website seems to want to protect, Wise County also contains nearly 50,000 acres to hike, hunt, fish, boat/raft and enjoy @ The Jefferson National Forrest.

    If this is poverty, please help keep the secret so we can keep living here!

  18. stop raping earth………

  19. Deilyn Berdichevskaya says:

    Stop killing our planet!

  20. Steve says:

    The thing that I find funny is that they will lay off so many of a certain craft and hire in moreof the craft without calling back the ones that were laid off first… must be due to the NEW site supervisor… hint hint. I say protest all you wanna…..

  21. Dave Roberts says:

    “”una says: Did you guys ever really look into renewable energy? Even if we max out all wind, solar, and thermal power available it would still not provide enough to satisfy the wants of the masses.”

    It sounds to me that you are caught up the corporate propaganda. THINK about the advantages that the power energy industry is trying to achieve by getting you to buy into the BS. It’s all about their “money & power”. There is new technologies that produced synthetic oils from coal stacks with zero emissions. The oils can then be produced to be turned into gasoline, fuels, lubricants, plastic, etc.. These farms can take the US off of foreign oil dependence with a couple of years of being on line.

    “BUT”, The power industry is not interested in this. WHY NOT! Those are the questions that should be asked. They are willing to build this plant for 1.8 Billion dollars, to only provide power to 148K homes. That is only a small city. There is technology to provide free electicity, but there is no profit in that. IT IS ALL ABOUT THE PROFIT, but at what expense to our people.

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