Coal meeting canceled after student-led protest

| News Editor

A National Coal Council meeting in downtown St. Louis was canceled following a protest from Washington University Green Action.

Directly after council members had finished taking roll call on Tuesday, students from Green Action and Missourians Organized for Reform and Empowerment entered the meeting at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark. The students unfurled a banner proclaiming, “Coal is never clean” and sang, “Clean coal is a dirty lie.”

“Clean coal doesn’t exist, and we’re opposed to the lie that there’s any way to use coal safely without hurting communities,” said Green Action member Harry Alper, a senior.

The group was escorted from the hotel by two officers from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. The Hilton’s head of security had not yet arrived at the event.

According to Officer Mana, the situation was “no big deal,” and students were polite and peaceful as they left the building.

Following the disturbance, the council chose to cancel the meeting, but members stayed to enjoy the private lunch they had already ordered.

The National Coal Council is a federal advisory committee to the U.S. secretary of energy. The meeting, which was open to the public, was intended to review an ongoing study on the use of Carbon Capture and Sequestration technologies.

The CEOs of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are both on the council and are members of the University’s board of trustees.

Sophomore Claire Christensen of Green Action urged students in an e-mail to join the rally.

“[T]here is NO SUCH THING AS CLEAN COAL and the coal industry should not be operating AT ALL,” Christensen wrote. “As students of Washington University, we need to ‘clarify’ our position to our Board of Trustees members and let them know we condemn their actions.”

Because of an error on the Federal Register, Green Action arrived to the Hilton more than an hour early and arrived back at campus later than expected.

“I missed the first half of my class on the civil rights movement, but my professor knows I’m there to learn from that movement and apply it to the climate justice movement,” Alper said. “There are other people who have to make much bigger sacrifices than being late for a class.”

After being escorted out, Green Action members continued their protest outside of the Hilton, where they engaged with passersby and various news outlets.

Members of the council declined to comment.

  • Harry Alper ([email protected])
  • Jeremy Loscheider

    You protestors would REALLY impress me if you went back to your campus, changed majors to something useful like electrical engineering, and worked on developing solar power generation systems that could be implemented on a wide scale.

    No, coal is not clean, but we don’t have another option. Oil is too expensive and valuable to burn. Biomass doesn’t solve the pollution problem. Nuclear forestalls the problem of what to do with radioactive waste. We do need an affordable, renewable source of energy – and we don’t have that right now.

    Short of rolling blackouts and energy rationing, we’ve got coal. It’s dirty, it imposes negative externalities and health costs, but we’ve got coal or it’s lights out.

  • Harry Alper ([email protected])

    WU Grad,

    That’s an important concern and there’s no one simple answer. We’re all going to have to use less energy, and what we do use, we may pay a little more for it on the utility bill. Folks who came to the action yesterday, we’re not willing to pay for it by poisoning mining communities and dumping mercury into our air, our waterways, and ultimately our own bodies.

    If the industry has its way and keeps burning coal with carbon capture and sequestration, that will be very costly on the bill, probably more costly on the bill than the much less complicated wind power.

    Check out this most recent, of many, accounting of the true cost of coal.

    Two excerpts:
    “Yet coal power’s rock-bottom price for utilities and consumers omits a host of attendant costs associated with its production, from public health impacts to local and global environmental effects. Measuring these impacts with any kind of precision is not easy, but in a new report, a team of researchers at the Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment tries to put a price tag on coal’s hidden costs.

    The numbers are startling: simply tallying public health impacts, the study found that coal costs the United States economy $140 billion to $242 billion a year. Much of this burden is borne by mining communities in Appalachia, where premature deaths associated with coal mining cost local economies an estimated $74.6 billion a year.”

    “We see the accidents and the deaths of some of the miners. We see some of the impacts of mountaintop removal,” he said. “We don’t see the benzene and lead and mercury and arsenic — the whole slew of carcinogenic materials affecting household waters.”

    I hope this helps explain why we do what we do what we do.


  • WUgrad

    How about every member of Green Action subsidize $ for $ how much more it costs me to get the so-called “clean” energy versus the “not-clean” coal. Seriously guys, I prefer renewable energy too but its economics 101 – instead of acting immature and protesting everything, spend your time and resources towards helping fund R&D that will make the price equivalent. Oh and by helping fund I mean you actually working and donating $, not protesting so that tax payers have to pay for your hobby.

  • clairechristensen

    Simply because Green Action had a demonstration at a National Coal Council meeting does not imply that they have a lack of knowledge about the issue. That is jumping way too quickly to conclusions. There are many different ways in which environmental justice advocates can approach an issue and activism simply happens to be one of them. However, most advocates understand that activism is not the only way to tackle an issue and that an approach from all angles is absolutely necessary. Lobbying, litigation, policy, generating feasible economic plans, etc. are all very different, but very necessary components in an environmental campaign. Activism is too. Activism brings awareness to an issue that people might not have normally encountered or known about previously. The goal is to get people to recognize the problem. The goal is to get people to THINK. So, “anon” when you took the time to read the article and consider its merit, you took the first step in accomplishing activism’s goal.

  • Trevor

    theres no such thing as clean, period

  • anon

    Green Action is not proposing anything. Simply protesting. That does NOT help anything, and they have not accomplished anything by having a public meeting closed.

    No, clean coal is not clean. But it is far better than the alternative of no capture or sequestration.

    I’d give credit to Green Action if they knew anything about the topic, but their lack of proposing an alternative (or any solution really) shows how woefully little they understand about renewable energy.

    • brainwashed hippie

      Yes, ‘clean’ coal is better than no carbon capture, but it is also worse than almost any other energy source that has been proposed. It is not true that environmental groups such as Green Action have not proposed anything. They have made numerous attempts at promoting renewable energy sources- often only to be rebuffed by coal company CEOs who somehow hold scientific expertise on the issue.

      Saying clean coal is a good energy solution is like saying tylenol is the best way to treat AIDS because the headaches aren’t so bad. There’s a lot more we could be doing.

  • Harry Alper ([email protected])

    Congratulations to everyone involved in this action, and to every one who breaths air or drinks water and is pleased to see the coal industry on its way to the history museums.

    If you weren’t there and wish you were, you should come to Mountain Justice Spring Break in the coal fields of Northern Alabama with Green Action and the Outing Club.


    Mountain Justice Spring Break is a week-long action camp to learn about mountaintop removal coal mining, hear from local impacted communities, practice effective methods to confront environmental destruction, build sustainable community, and more.

    And when we get back to campus, we’ll have the skills and passion to win the coal fight in St. Louis.

    I’d love to tell you more about Mountain Justice. Please contact me with any questions at [email protected]


    There is no such thing as “clean coal.”