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Retaking Capitol Hill from Big Coal: DC Strategist JW Randolph on Next Steps for Anti-Mountaintop Removal Movement

"The coal lobby doesn't get freebies anymore, because thousands of regular American citizens are standing up and going toe-to-toe with them."

Editor's Note: The following is a part of “Next Steps for the Anti-Mountaintop Removal Movement,” a series of interviews with affected residents and activists in the central Appalachian coalfields region, including West Virginia leader Bo Webb, Kentuckian Teri Blanton, Kathy Selvage in Virginia, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson in Tennessee, and Appalachian Voices legislative aide JW Randolph in Washington, D.C. While the EPA scrambles to enforce the Clean Water Act and a Republican-controlled Congress attempts to defund strip-mining regulatory measures, and various state agencies continue to be embroiled in Big Coal machinations, millions of pounds of devastating explosives are detonated daily across mountain communities in central Appalachia. As a national movement, what should anti-mountaintop removal activists do next?

The beloved Judy Bonds referred to him as “our man in Washington.” For other Appalachian activists eagerly awaiting his return to the region to run for Congress, eastern Tennessee native JW Randolph has played a major role on Capitol Hill as one of the top legislative strategists over the past five years–and in the blogosphere–in the campaign to end mountaintop removal mining.

As Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) re-introduce the Clean Water Protection Act this week, the sleep-deprived father of a newborn babe will walk the halls of Congress once again with legions of other citizen lobbyists with the Alliance for Appalachia in an uphill legislative battle.

Jeff Biggers: The anti-mountaintop removal mining movement (MTR) has developed a strong citizens lobbying component. How do you see legislative efforts as vital to the overall mission of abolishing mountaintop removal operations?

JW Randolph : Citizen lobbyists from Appalachia are the most important reason that more than 200 members of the House have already taken anti-MTR actions, the reason bipartisan Senate legislation to stop valley fills has been introduced, and the primary reason that President Obama and his administration have even taken the first glimpse at the issue of mountaintop removal. That’s something that Representatives, Senators, and staff within the White House have made very clear to us. Continued citizen lobbying from Appalachia is an essential and growing piece of the puzzle to not just end mountaintop removal, but to begin building a sustainable future for the Appalachian region.

When I was just a kid in the mountains, I saw all this incredible energy being created around this horrible issue of mountaintop removal. But Congress and the President never mentioned it. The missing piece, it seemed to me, was a connection between the national movement created by the Appalachian people who were so incensed by this issue and our elected officials in Washington. Through monthly citizen lobbying efforts, Appalachian Voices and the Alliance for Appalachia has succeeded in bringing that message and our energy to Washington, and it is having an enormous impact. The coal lobby doesn’t get freebies anymore, because thousands of regular American citizens -- who are on no kind of payroll – are standing up and going toe-to-toe with them. And there is nothing more powerful than citizens who are taking their stories straight to decision makers.

To beat the coal industry it is important that the people of Appalachia continue to communicate our vision and our values beyond just one bill or one amendment or one case in court. Victories may come piece-by-piece, but you can’t shape the future if you don’t win the hearts and minds of the other people in Appalachia and America as a whole. I think that the pro-mountaintop movement is particularly good at letting people know that sure, we want to end mountaintop removal, but we also want to ensure that our miners are safe, that the communities we have are wholesome, and that what economy we have is sustainable.

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