14 Mountaintop Removal Protesters Arrested in November Use Connecticut Court Case to Target UBS

Posted April 23, 2014

MP3 Interview with Ricki Draper and Joanne Sheehan, mountaintop removal activists, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


Fourteen activists with the group Hands Off Appalachia made their fifth court appearance on Earth Day, April 22, in Connecticut Superior Court in Stamford, Conn. The legal proceeding stemmed from an action last November where some of the activists locked themselves down inside and outside the corporate office of UBS, the financial services company, in Stamford to protest the bank's financial support for mountaintop removal coal mining. The 14 are charged with trespass, breach of peace and conspiracy. The individuals who scaled a construction crane and unfurled a banner condemning UBS's role in mountaintop removal were additionally charged with trover – a legal action to recover $30,000 in damages for the time the crane could not be used by its owners.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus, who covered the November action and the activists’ most recent court appearance, spoke first with Ricki Draper, one of two protesters who locked themselves to each other and to a railing inside the UBS office. She explains why Hands Off Appalachia targeted the financial services company. In this segment, Tuhus also spoke with peace activist Joanne Sheehan, who explains what happened when she and two other supporters of Hands Off Appalachia attempted to deliver a letter to UBS management on Earth Day, asking the company to end its financial support for mountaintop removal mining.

During their court appearance on April 22nd, the protesters were told if they paid half the restitution the crane company says it's owed – $15,000 instead of $30,000 – charges would be dropped. They’re now considering their options.

RICKI DRAPER: UBS is one of the main funders of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining and this action came out of a campaign we've been working on for the past two years called Hands Off Appalachia and the campaign has demanded that UBS stop funding and supporting companies that practice MTR, and put forward a public statement that they would not do business with those companies. They fund some of the worst companies – Alpha, which took over Massey's assets, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal and James River Coal. Something interesting and a movement in our campaign is that UBS just recently downgraded Alpha and Arch holdings, and that actually had a big effect on these companies. And we understand that's mostly for economic reeasons. For economic reasons, coal's market is not doing very well now. But at this point we want to say, for economic reasons you've done this but now issue a policy because of the human cost of coal and issue a policy saying you will not fund these companies or support these companies financially again.

BETWEEN THE LINES: In terms of UBS's role in MTR, my understanding is that ... I was down there last month, in March, and my understanding is that mainly, or maybe solely, for economic reasons, there's actually a lot less MTR mining than there was a few years ago ...

RICKI DRAPER: Yeah, there are new permits in every state where MTR happens. They've started blasting again on Coal River Mountain. These areas are still very much threatened by MTR and very much threatened by the aftermath of those mines, and the slurry ponds and the coal processing and everything. We've really focused in fighting so hard right now, even though we know coal is declining and there won't be this industry much longer, but we want to target them and make them accountable while they're still in these communities, while they still have open permits, so they are accountable to the land instead of just leaving the coal slurry ponds, like they are going to leave and we just want to make them clean up their mess, and stop, because there are still new permits and it's still threatening people.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I was talking to somebody down there who was very experienced in coal slurry impoundments, and was very worried. They're all accidents waiting to happen and I guess one of them is over a billion gallons, and there's really concerns that there'd be a breach.

RICKI DRAPER: Yeah, absolutely. They are mostly earthen dams, and they did a large scale test of most of them in West Virginia, and most of them failed safety inspection. The one that sat above Marsh Fork Elementary School, which is right by where I live now, is 8.2 billion gallons of slurry. It sat above this elementary school for so long until the campaign won and moved that school. But it's still over communities. It's terrifying. No one knows what to do with that slurry.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Joanne Sheehan is a Connecticut peace activist and a supporter of Hands Off Appalachia. She and two others went to the corporate office of UBS in Stamford on Tuesday to deliver a letter asking the company to stop funding companies that conduct MTR operations.

JOANNE SHEEHAN: Because folks were here in court today and it's Earth Day, Hands Off Appalachia wrote a letter to UBS, kind of catching up on things that have happened since they were here in November, reminding them of all the people in Appalachia who have been really harmed through the coal mining process, mentioning that this month JP Morgan Chase updated its environmental policy that would be ending financial support and relationships around MTR, and basically asking UBS to do the same. So, a simple letter in an envelope that wasn't sealed. We went to the main door of UBS. The security guard told us he couldn't take a letter, but told us where to go to the mail room and as we were going to the mail room, security forces began to follow us and by the time we got there, there were several police cars that pulled up and detained us. They wouldn't let us leave. And then the bomb squad came. And people from UBS with all sorts of security badges on came outside at one point; there were about 12 to 15 people including the Stamford police supervisor who were all there, for there people with a letter. They asked us if there were any chemicals or powders in the package. We said there is no package; there's a letter. "Who has it?!" Well, a police officer had been standing there holding it. They never even checked the envelope. So the police officer said, "You're the people who caused all the trouble in November" so there was clearly a concern in that way. It was total overkill. They took our bags; they took our ID; they brought a woman police officer in who patted us down, right there out on the street. So trying very hard to be intimidating, but to be honest, I felt pretty powerful, standing there with two allies of Hands Off Appalachia bringing out what seemed like half the police force and security at UBS. What are they afraid of? We have nothing to hide. We're non-violent people.They searched our bags, they wanted to know if we had weapons. l think they knew very well that we didn't. That's not the history of anyone who's opposed UBS, to use violence in any way. As a matter of fact, we're trying to stop the violence of MTR and the violence against the people in Appalachia.

Find more information on the movement opposing mountaintop removal coal mining by visiting www.handsoffappalachia.com.

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