|Donna Branham stands with (from left to right) Paul Galley of RiverKeeper, Manna Jo Greene of Hudson River Clearwater, Wes Gillingham of Catskill MountainKeeper, Herself, Kathy Noland of Catskill MountainKeeper, and event planner Sue Rosenberg|
On April 23rd at SUNY New Paltz over 120 people gathered at the Extreme Energy Forum, sponsored by Frack Free Catskills, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Clearwater and SUNY NYPIRG to learn about the impacts and consequences which the "extreme energies" of mountaintop removal, fracking, nuclear power have on the the air, water and the communities in which they are extracted and used.
One of the major highlights of the evening was Donna Branham from the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation in West Virginia. Filmmaker Peter Bull, whose film Dirty Business-"Clean Coal" and the Battle for our Energy Future was screened that evening, wrote: "Donna Branham's testimony from the front lines in West Virginia was very powerful indeed." Donna has deep family roots in the extraction communities of Southern West Virginia - growing up in a coal mining town, her family were farmers and miners and her husband a retired underground miner. Donna moved the audience as she first described the process of mountaintop removal mining where a mountain is clear cut; the extraordinarily rich and bio-diverse land is dumped into the valley and streams below and then the mountain is blasted and the seam of coal scooped out - leaving a scarred landscape and poisoned streams and waterways, flooding, toxic sludge behind. Water is poisoned and communities like the one she grew up in destroyed. She shared both her great love for the beauty of the mountains and the culture of WV and her outrage at the devastation caused by mountaintop removal mining and irresponsible mining practices and the power and greed of Big Coal.
Her gentle voice and her easy manner might initially be deceptive, but people quickly saw the strength and determination of a fighter who has been organizing and fighting for land and her community for over 20 years, often at great peril to herself and her family. She brought an important message to this forum. She sees a great parallel between fracking for natural gas and surface mining and brings a warning to New Yorkers - don't sit by and wait until the gas companies take hold of NY and the destruction of air and water has begun. The audience was clearly both moved and inspired by her presentation.
Earlier in the day Donna took part in an initial meeting to plan a "summit" of grassroots organizers working in the areas of coal, natural gas, nuclear power, tar sands etc. to find ways for our movements to learn from and support one another and find a common voice.
On Tuesday Donna spoke before a small but interested group of students who were taking part in an all day "Environmental Day" at SUNY Albany. Though most had heard of mountaintop removal coal mining, it was the first time that they were able to put a face and a personal story to the issue.
The forum was filmed and will air on the local public access TV stations in the area as will an interview with Donna in which she was able to talk both about the issues of strip mining and irresponsible coal mining practices in WV and her personal experiences as one who has been willing to stand up for her community and her mountains.