PITTSBURGH - Hundreds of environmental activists protesting fracking and mountaintop-removal mining staged a rally and marched through downtown Pittsburgh on Monday amid a call for renewable energy.
A small group of activists -- all wearing green T-shirts that said "Earth Quaker Action Team" -- blocked the entrance of a PNC Bank branch, forcing it to close. Seven protesters were arrested, according to a police spokeswoman. The activists accuse PNC of financing energy companies that blast the tops off mountains to access seams of coal.
The larger protest was held on the final day of a national conference that provided training to young people on how to fight coal mining, fracking for oil and gas, and climate change. The four-day Power Shift conference has drawn thousands of environmental activists to Pittsburgh.
Activists gathered at Allegheny Landing Park to call on the federal government to embrace renewable forms of energy and reopen pollution investigations at fracking sites in Pennsylvania and Wyoming. They marched peacefully through downtown, holding signs and chanting.
Counter-protesters from a labor union -- the Boilermakers Local 154 -- met the activists at one end of the Roberto Clemente Bridge across the Allegheny River, holding signs that said "Stop the War on Coal," while a river barge from Consol Energy displayed giant banners touting coal as supporting U.S. jobs.
A few dozen activists also held a sit-in at the office of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to protest plans to drill under a county park.
“I’ve met with many groups many times, and I’ll continue to meet with them. That’s something that is part of how I handle my day-to-day activities,” Fitzgerald told Channel 11’s Jennifer Tomazic on Monday.
Fitzgerald said there is no drilling scheduled right now in county parks, but the county is looking at the possibility of drilling under Deer Lakes Park.
“We’ve been very judicious, and there are some people who don’t want it anytime, anyplace, and I consider that an extreme position,” Fitzgerald said.
"We are here to express our anger and frustration over what is clearly a top-down process that fails to involve those most affected by the toxic process of fracking -- the public that owns the parks," said Ashley Bittner, 21, a student at Chatham University.
Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE, as well as The Associated Press contributed to this report.