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Monday, June 24, 2024

My fellow local weather activists are celebrating ‘the top of coal’ in New England — due to our ‘imaginative’ nonviolent direct motion


This text was initially printed on Waging Nonviolence.

On March 27, Granite Shore Energy, or GSP, introduced that it’s going to “voluntarily” cease burning coal at its Merrimack and Schiller Stations in New Hampshire by 2028. Main information retailers have been hailing the information because the “finish of coal in New England” and casting GSP as a pacesetter within the transition to wash, renewable power.

Insofar as media have acknowledged the position of out of doors stress on GSP in any respect, they’ve primarily cited a lawsuit by the Sierra Membership and Conservation Regulation Basis for alleged violations of the Clear Water Act.

However activists know higher: Nonviolent direct motion will get the products.

These of us who’ve participated within the No Coal No Fuel marketing campaign, or NCNG, have been anticipating Merrimack Station’s closure for a while.

(Schiller Station has not run since Might 2020.)

In reality, in June 2023, we threw a festive retirement social gathering exterior Merrimack Station’s gates, full with cake and surveillance by the New Hampshire Division of Homeland Safety and Emergency Administration.

Activists celebrate with signs
No Coal No Fuel members hosted retirement social gathering for Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire final 12 months. (NCNG)

Then, simply three weeks earlier than GSP’s personal press launch, we held a weekend retreat to mirror on every thing our marketing campaign has completed, plan for the long run and strategize when, how and whether or not to declare victory.

It had change into apparent to us that victory was imminent, if not a fait accompli. In partnership with the Sierra Membership and 350NH, we’ve been monitoring the plant’s failed makes an attempt to finish federally-mandated stack assessments to measure its air pollution emissions.

On the similar time, from conversations with native IBEW staff, we additionally know that employment on the plant has all however dried up, as union staff solely are available to do repairs.

What’s extra, by monitoring our regional grid operator’s annual “ahead capability funds” — that are successfully taxpayer subsidies for coal — we all know that funding for Merrimack Station is slated to finish in 2026.

Nonetheless, essentially the most hanging little bit of proof pointing to the plant’s demise is the truth that we’ve not seen any new coal deliveries in effectively over a 12 months. We imagine that is largely because of the marketing campaign’s reasonably spectacular and broadly reported coal prepare blockades.

From December 2019 to December 2022, we stopped a number of trains in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

We stopped a single prepare a minimum of 3 times on its route, and we stopped one other for hours by erecting scaffolding on the tracks. This technique pushed rail service CSX, in a single case, to separate a really lengthy coal prepare into segments in an unsuccessful and costly try and “conceal” from activists. 


Halting resupply, even briefly, is one tactic to persuade company oligarchs that coal is a foul funding. One other method, utilized by NCNG’s company analysis group, was to immediately goal Merrimack Station’s two personal fairness homeowners, Castleton Commodities and Atlas Holdings.

We delivered coal to their company workplaces and even to the houses of CEOs, holding rallies and dropping banners. In 2021, Castleton determined to divest from the partnership.

Past pressuring for divestment, although, these techniques try to point out what’s doable. On this vein, we’ve additionally pursued civil disobedience at Merrimack Station itself. In 2019, 69 folks in Tyvek fits have been arrested as they carried buckets onto the property, vowing to hold the coal out bucket by bucket.

In 2021, 18 of us started renovating the power’s driveway, digging up asphalt and planting meals for folks and flowers for soil remediation.

Like a lot nonviolent direct motion, these weren’t solely makes an attempt to intervene with enterprise as common; they have been acts of collective creativeness.

On the streets, within the courts, in our writing, artwork and advocacy, activists search to reveal, critique and upend methods of energy.

Like anybody who practices civil disobedience, we’re typically informed that there are “extra applicable” methods to enact change. However as one in every of our members, Nastasia Lawton-Sticklor, places it, “disobedience. . .[is] an uncompromising imaginative and prescient of radical, as in from the roots, change.”

This doesn’t essentially imply that we see ourselves as some sort of excessive flank, “throwing ourselves into wild escalation to make lawsuits and the laws appear inherently cheap.”

Somewhat, Lawton-Sticklor says, “I see this as an invite to proceed peeling again the layers of systemic energy, to make seen the inherent compulsion for self-preservation that grounds systemic concession, and to maintain going.”

The marketing campaign seeks to ascertain and nurture relations amongst present and yet-to-be communities. (Markus Spiske/Pexels)

A marketing campaign and a group, not a company

How does a local weather marketing campaign “preserve going”? How can we maintain such stress and variety of techniques over a interval of years? It truly has loads do with NCNG being a marketing campaign, versus a extra formal nonprofit group.

Whereas we definitely profit from — and couldn’t proceed with out — assist from the Local weather Disobedience Heart and 350NH, NCNG is just not embedded in or beholden to the nonprofit industrial advanced like many different organizations are.

Because of this, our strategic decision-making is just not pushed by fundraising considerations or donor preferences. Somewhat, the marketing campaign attracts on capillaries of energy working via a number of, shifting affinity teams and mutually useful relationships with different established teams and campaigns.

Since its inception in 2019, NCNG has had three exactly articulated objectives:

1. Construct unity and group;

2. Present what is feasible;

3. Shut down the Merrimack Producing Station.

It’s value noting that shutting down Merrimack Station was solely ever our third — and arguably the least essential — purpose. We all know, in spite of everything, that this coal plant is just one contributor to local weather disaster and that our personal actions are just one tiny a part of a a lot bigger, multi-pronged local weather justice motion.

“Constructing group” doesn’t merely imply that marketing campaign individuals change into their very own sort of cohesive in-group, though that has generally occurred. Somewhat, the marketing campaign seeks to ascertain and nurture relations amongst present and yet-to-be communities.

We’re school professors, ministers, farmers, artists, scientists, attorneys, college students, dad and mom, grandparents and shift staff. We deliver connections to colleges, church buildings, radical collectives and political formations. We assist sew collectively relations amongst present nonprofits like 350.org and fellow campaigns like Repair the Grid; we encourage new affinity teams and assist longstanding ones; and we’ve made our presence recognized to our regional grid operator ISO-New England.

Generally we’ve executed so in playful methods — for instance, by delivering a wheelbarrow of coal to their safety gate throughout a blizzard on Tremendous Bowl Sunday.

Furthermore, we’ve intently studied their arcane operations after which elected members to their Client Liaison Group in what turned recognized domestically because the “ballroom coup.” On this capability, we’ve pressured ISO-New England to cease giving ratepayer cash to legacy fossil gasoline vegetation. We’ve enlisted lots of of mates and supporters in writing public feedback urging the Federal Power Regulatory Fee to reject these ahead capability funds.

In flip, we present up for others’ struggles. Maybe as a result of we did a lot intensive organizing through the top of COVID — when a lot work and sociality needed to transfer on-line — we’ve been in a position to attract in like-minded activists from round New England and past, and to attach with different activist efforts.

NCNG individuals routinely present up for one another’s actions on, as an illustration, LGBTQ+ rights or the Free Palestine motion. We generally even put the marketing campaign on pause to lend assist to main actions, as we did throughout 2021, when many people traveled to Minnesota within the struggle towards Line 3, incurring arrest and persevering with to offer distant authorized assist to fellow co-defendants.

Displaying up for different teams’ struggles is crucial, not solely as a result of our points are all so intertwined, but additionally as a result of in doing so, we be taught. We share our abilities and develop new ones. We have interaction within the crucial, sustaining exercise of pondering collectively.

New England after coal

On April 4 we held a mass name on Zoom to rejoice Merrimack Station’s closure announcement, and to sketch out our subsequent part.

Persevering with to point out what is feasible, we want to shut down all of New England’s so-called fossil gasoline peaker vegetation — these services that, like Merrimack Station, run solely throughout occasions of peak electrical energy demand, typically in periods of utmost chilly or warmth.

Because the Christian Science Monitor reported, Merrimack Station ran for under about 500 hours final 12 months.

Peaker vegetation are costly and soiled, and arguably pointless. In lots of locations they’re being changed with battery storage.

They is also eradicated, we imagine, with higher demand response, which implies encouraging customers to shift their electrical energy use to occasions when demand on the grid is decrease.

We really feel that management from our utilities and grid operator has been missing on this regard, so we’re doing what they received’t: constructing a ratepayer collective that can observe demand response on the New England grid ourselves.

As our demand response cohort places it, this implies “We are going to keep grounded in group and mutuality as a result of we’re greater than particular person ‘customers.’ We’ve the facility to decide on to work collaboratively to shift our relationship to power use, to change into extra intentional. And because of this collectively we’ve the facility to remodel how the power markets in our area work.”

Briefly, by constructing an alliance of ratepayers “able to assist one another within the face of snowballing financial, environmental, well being and social crises,” we might be laying the muse “for joyful, community-centered conservation demand response and a simply transition.”

This, perhaps, is what “victory” within the local weather struggle actually means: that we’re studying what we will obtain collectively, with or with out the mandatory actions that our governments, financial leaders and regulators appear categorically or politically unwilling to take.

One thing that has at all times caught out to me is a sequence of questions I’ve heard posed by Marla Marcum, one of many founders of the Local weather Disobedience Heart (and our marketing campaign).

Many occasions, after a nonviolent direct motion, we might be debriefing, and Marla will ask, “No matter whether or not this explicit motion succeeds in shutting down this explicit coal plant, what has it executed for us? What have we discovered? How have we grown stronger? What does this progress make doable?”

Once we struggle, we actually do win. And what we win is the final word bulwark towards local weather grief and despair. We discover one another.

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