Rallying at the Capitol for Power Shift ’09

NWF   |   March 6, 2009

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The final event of Power Shift, which took place on a snowy, below-freezing day in Washington, DC, drew thousands of students to the Capitol for pre-scheduled visits to members of Congress.

Christopher Applegate, a Missouri transplant now attending the University of Oklahoma, said that his state has been underrepresented, so he came with a group of ten people to speak with Senator Coburn and Senator Inhofe.

"The biggest issue we’re facing is that they’re trying to get some nuclear energy and some coal plants put up, but Oklahoma already has 708 MW of wind energy and another 126 going on the grid this year, so we're looking for ways to transition to more of that," said Applegate. "Oklahoma has already voted down one coal plant and through grassroots organizing we got rid of another one." He noted that the University of Oklahoma has announced that it will be completely powered by wind energy by 2013.

Lindsay Randall, a graduate of Purchase College in NY who now works as the school's Environmental and Sustainability Coordinator, said, "“It’s incredible, there are 12,000 people here at Power Shift, and that’s just the people who could afford tickets, who could take the time off school. It’s just a fraction of the people who wanted to be here."

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The 11 students who came with Randall, most in environmental studies, art and business, went to a meeting with Senator Gillibrand's environmental staffer, Ben Rosenbaum. "When she was Congresswomen, she was a co-sponsor of the state climate act, so we look forward to working with her. I think she’ll be supportive, and that we’re going to be able to make some good progress with her," she said.

Purchase College, a signatory of the President's Climate Commitment, recently completed its greenhous gas inventory. "We're looking at reductions right now," said Randall. "The students are going to be more involved. They learned skills here to organize on campus, and we’re going to do a lot more activism and awareness of federal legislation. We have a really strong non-violent action group on campus, and they’re going to do more."

After the rally and visits were over, many left not for home, but for a protest that ended up at the Capitol coal plant. Carrying signs advocating everything from a no-coal economy to green jobs, students from Power Shift joined groups from Greenpeace, the Chesapeake Climate Action network and other organizations. As they walked, the group of more than 2,500 protestors passed a rival protest from coal supporters that had attracted fewer than 20 people.

Several days earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had announced that the U.S. Capitol Power Plant would be switched to burn only natural gas, a transition that will require significant retrofitting to the equipment that produces 35% of the plant's output from coal. No timeline for this transition has been determined.