Activists dressed as chipmunks shut down construction at the first US tar sands mine on September 23. It was the latest in a series of actions by Utah Tar Sands Resistance targeting the 213 acre Book Cliffs tar sands mine.
A video released by the group shows chipmunks spreading rapidly through through the camp site where they block construction equipment with their bodies. Though the finale of the video playfully describes the chipmunks fates as “poisoned by tar sands waste water,” activists actually shut down construction for part of a day, resulting in five arrests. There have been 27 total arrests since the beginning of the campaign to halt construction.
A bellweather project
Anti-tar sands activists in Utah believe that if construction at Book Cliffs is allowed to continue, it will result in more tar sands extraction in the state and elsewhere in the country.
“This project is a bellweather project,” said Raphael Cordray, an organizer with Utah Tar Sands Resistance. “If they can make this project successful than it will open up the flood gates for a whole lot of other tar sands and oil shale strip mining projects in the area and in America in general.”
According to Cordray, the site was chosen because it is public land administered by the state, letting US Oil Sands, the firm constructing the mine, take advantage of the state’s comparatively lax environmental regulations.
“They’re pursuing it in the easiest place they can with the least amount of regulation. The [United States] Bureau of Land Management identified 860,000 acres within Utah, Wyoming and Colorado that’s available in the future.”
The group has hope that continued direct action can shut down the mine.
“It’s a good place to focus on because it’s not an operating mine and because they leased this land in 2005 and they’ve yet to produce a commercially successful product,” Cordray told Mint Press News.
Other tactics being considered include lawsuits over water pollution and pressuring the EPA to enforce their strictest standards, because this public land actually belongs to indigenous people.
“It’s considered Indian country so there’s a whole new standard that [...] the state of Utah pretended like they didn’t know applied.”
Global crisis, local action
One of the concerns local activists have raised about the recent massive Climate March in New York City is that it might take energy from local environmental issues and direct action.
In “I Think I’ll Just Stay In Texas (But Bring Me Back A Bagel)“ on Rising Tide North America’s Growing Deep Roots blog, Eric Moll writes:
The only problem is that 350.org can’t seem to find the real frontline. Those of us who were in New York during and after Sandy know the frontlines: the Rockaways, Coney Island, Staten Island, Redhook. What will the so-called “People’s Climate March” do for the people who were most affected by Sandy and are most threatened by the next big storm?
Did anyone ask these communities what [thousands of] climate activists could do for them? Logistical nightmares aside, do they have any buildings that need repairing, any gardens that need expanding? Is there anything the marchers could do to oppose local forces of gentrification, police violence, or racism in a way that might actually improve some lives? Some local target with a bit more relevancy than the United Nations?
Mint Press News asked Cordray what activists can do to find targets for direct action and climate justice in their own communities. One possibility are Environmental Protection Agency lawsuits.
“The good news is that the EPA is citizen enforceable. It’s one of the few things in government where a citizen can sue to enforce a regulation. It’s uncommon for citizens to be able to enforce government laws on other entities.”
It’s also important for activists to plan for the future, as many destructive environmental projects require years of infrastructure construction before extraction begins.
“If you look closely at what’s going on in local communities, there are a lot of activities lining up to support local industry that aren’t the best for the community. Things like refineries are constantly in violation of the law but nobody has the energy to follow up. [...] Just a few phone calls could start a lot of action in your community.”
Chipmunk communique and legal support fund
The chipmunks issued the following statement through Utah Tar Sands Resistance: