published Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Mountaintop removal opponents target UBS

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    Jared Story, left, and Debbie McKinney hold signs protesting against UBS Bank during gathering Tuesday sponsored by Chattanooga Organized for Action.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Cars flowed up and down M.L. King Boulevard during lunch-hour traffic as Jared Story and nearly a dozen Chattanooga Organized for Action and Occupy Chattanooga members chanted: "UBS, step off it. Put people over profit."

Standing near UBS' local office on Tuesday, the group was among protesters across the Appalachian Mountain region posted outside UBS financial centers. Johnson City, Kingsport, Oak Ridge and Cookeville, Tenn., also had scheduled demonstrations, according to the Hands Off Appalachia Facebook page.

Protesters said their goal is to persuade UBS bank, which is based in Zurich and Basel, Switzerland, to stop funding mountaintop removal for coal mining.

"We're here because UBS firm provides financing to mountaintop removal coal mining, which is one of the most destructive forms of coal mining. It literally blasts the tops off mountains," Story said.

The debris from the blasting gets into mountain streams and contaminates the water supply, he said.

The groups distributed fliers stating that "UBS is responsible for the funding, support and advising of all companies engaged in mountaintop removal coal mining."

Three Walden security guards turned away media trying to get a face-to-face comment from UBS officials inside the offices.

"We're glad to have people exercise their free rights. We just want to make sure there is no interference with the business," said Walden Security account manager Paul Newman.

In an email statement to the Times Free Press, UBS spokeswoman Karina Byrne wrote: "UBS applies a robust framework when assessing MTR [mountain top removal] financing requests. ... UBS continues to consider the views of the various stakeholders in this issue."

Mountaintop removal occurs primarily in eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, southwest Virginia and east-central Tennessee, according to the Appalachian Voices website. More than 290 mountains have been impacted by mountain top removal in Kentucky, the state with the most mountains affected. Six mountains have been impacted in Tennessee, the state with the least.

During Tuesday's protest, several people walked by and took pamphlets -- although some declined. After at least a half-hour, protester Ash-Lee Henderson stepped out with a smile, handing a pamphlet to a passer-by, who stopped and looked at it.

"I've heard peeps about it, but I haven't investigated it," said Arthur Moran, holding the pamphlet.

A few horns also blew for protester Debbie McKinney, who sat in a wheelchair holding up a sign that said "Honk if you love mountains."

Sam McKinney, her husband, stood behind her.

"She has COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]," he said. "I'm here because anything that destroys the air, destroys her lungs."

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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