Monday, January 30, 2012

Gainesville Loves Mountains is Moving Forward!

Post Written by Gainesville, FL resident Jason Fults

Since Larry Gibson's successful visit to Gainesville, FL last March, we have been hard at work pursuing an official policy to end the purchase of Mountaintop Removal coal by our municipally-owned utility.

We started a Facebook page for our group, “Gainesville Loves Mountains,” and asked citizens to contact their Commissioners and the utility to speak out against Mountaintop Removal. We received lots of positive media attention and it was clear that the Commission was hearing from people. I've seen firsthand that the more people learn about Mountaintop Removal, the less they want to be connected to it.

While we are having an impact on our Commissioners, the technocrats at our utility's fuels division have been steadfast in their opposition to any sort of restrictions on where they purchase their coal. As recently as last week, the Assistant General Manager of the utility was stating publicly that they remain “...reasonably agnostic on where the coal comes from, other than we prefer deep-mine coal for performance reasons.” Yet as we continued our campaign, other forces were at work.

As it turns out, the growing availability of natural gas, resulting partly from the controversial gas drilling practice known as “fracking,” has driven fuel prices so low that in recent months the bottom appears to have come out from under the coal markets. Whereas our utility had previously considered deep-mined coal a luxury it could only sometimes afford, and had been using approximately 60% Mountaintop Removal coal, we were able this year to sign 1-year contracts for nearly 100% deep-mined coal and still come in under budget.

It is an awkward position to be in, to have “won” our local campaign against purchasing Mountaintop Removal coal, thanks in large part to another highly destructive mining practice. This “victory” is obviously inadequate, and our campaign will continue. Our goals for 2012 include:

• Continuing to discuss Mountaintop Removal at every opportunity. We'll host more film screenings and Appalachian activists this year, and continue to build public support in advance of the next round of coal contract negotiations later this year.

• Building a bridge between Gainesville and the Appalachian communities that provide our coal. One definitive victory that our campaign has had is a line item in all new coal contracts that requires the companies to disclose any major environmental violations. We'll be watching.

• Educating ourselves, our community, and our Congressional representatives on any federal efforts to ban Mountaintop Removal mining.

• Supporting a local effort for a more aggressive energy conservation ordinance that will move our community closer to a future free of electricity generated from fossil-fuels.

We want to hear what folks up in Appalachia have to say about our efforts, and want to encourage other communities that consume Mountaintop Removal coal to duplicate our campaign. Please contact us with any feedback, questions, or resources you have to offer.


Jason Fults, on behalf of Gainesville Loves Mountains