On 26 April, people involved in the Rising Tide Network literally put their necks on the line by blockading the railway line which carries coal from the controversial open-cast mine at Ffos-y-Frân in Merthyr Tydfil to Aberthaw power station, the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in Wales.
It took the combined efforts of British Rail police and South Wales police over eight hours to remove the protesters. Eighteen people from Bristol and Bath were charged under the Malicious Damages Act of 1861, a law to protect the interests of 19th century rail owners.
If convicted they face a possible life sentence. The 18, who are part of the Rising Tide (UK) network, were held for over 24 hours. Meanwhile, the home of one of those involved was raided by police who spent three hours conducting a search.
Kim Green from Rising Tide (UK) said: “We are protesting the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels in the face of a global climate emergency. The failure of the Copenhagen climate talks to deal with this huge problem, and the obvious policy inadequacy of the three main UK political parties to take the necessary action to tackle the problem, has highlighted the need for the people to take grassroots direct action.
“This action is also in support of the local people of Merthyr Tydfil whose campaign, Residents Against Ffos-y-Frân (RAFF), has been fighting the mine for over six years.
“The mine causes noise pollution for up to 16 hours a day, dust and dirt are carried into the town by the wind, and it turns the rain black.”
Ffos-Y-Frân is operated by the consortium Miller Argent, which is partly owned by the BT Pensions Group. The process by which Miller Argent were able to get the go-ahead to mine the coal failed to take into consideration the social-environmental impact of such projects and highlights a democratic deficit in the planning process.
Miller Argent have pressured their small local workforce into mobilising against RAFF, citing the loss of jobs if the mine closed. Their “concern” for their workers rings hollow, however: Miller Argent are reportedly desperate to sell the mine, as there is only half the quantity of high-quality coal as they expected, and the consortium are making a loss on the project.
On the potential life sentence, a spokesperson for the 18 protesters said: “We took great care to ensure the safety of all taking part and had made certain that the coal train would not leave the loading area before the line was blocked. This was carefully planned, hence its success.”
The protesters admitted that theirs seems a drastic course of action but claim it is insignificant compared to the climate crisis we will face if much more radical measures are not taken immediately to curb the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.