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Pro-green activists turn up the heat on Congress

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Thousands of demonstrators braved a late-winter snowstorm Monday to call attention to global warming and urge Congress to impose tougher limits on greenhouse gases.

The rally, sponsored by Capitol Climate Action, combined more than 90 climate activist groups from all 50 states and Puerto Rico, Canada and several other nations.

"I am here to send the message loud and clear to Congress that we need to stop using coal as our primary source of energy," said Lauren Glickman, a coordinator for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. The Takoma Park group brought 250 members to the rally.

Demonstrators began arriving Friday for a four-day environmental conference dubbed Powershift '09. Their summit ended Monday with the frigid rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol, followed by a march through snow and freezing winds to the coal-fired Capitol Power Plant on New Jersey Avenue Southeast. The plant provides energy to Congress and heats numerous buildings on Capitol Hill.

Environmentalists and some members of Congress are urging the power plant to switch to natural gas or alternative fuels. Several dozen counterprotesters, meanwhile, mounted a spirited defense of fossil fuels.

From Ireland to Puerto Rico, people from both sides of the coal debate came to the District to voice their concerns.

"We might be missing school, but this is more historic," said Lauren Howland, a University of New Hampshire student.

Erik Schneider and seven colleagues from Rainforest Action Network drove 700 miles in a van from Chicago to attend speeches, workshops and Monday's closing demonstration.

Mr. Schneider and other protesters called for creation of more green jobs and a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. They also vowed to keep spreading the global-warming gospel.

"It's about not just putting a solar panel on the movement, but building from the ground up," said Mr. Schneider.

Bob and Virginia Bush traveled to Washington with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. They are passionate environmentalists who say they know first hand the negative impact fossil fuels can have on a community.

In parts of Kentucky, they said, it is not safe to eat fish from waterways that have been polluted by mercury - a direct result of burning coal, they said.

"I hope this is just the first step," Mr. Bush said. "Natural gas is not good enough. Energy needs to go to solar and wind, which is truly clean energy."

The protest came as Washington dug out from its biggest snowfall of the season. Organizers took pains to explain that climate change causes extreme weather and the issue is important enough that people are willing to brave the cold to draw attention to it.

Hundreds of gloved hands held signs that read, "Clean energy," "No more coal," and "Vegetarian diet is the most effective way to stop global warming."

Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney flew in from Ireland to defend the use of fossil fuels. The global-warming skeptics directed a documentary "Not Evil, Just Wrong," which is scheduled for release this summer.

"It's quite funny to be here, where these thousands of protesters are standing in a foot of snow here in D.C., where it is extremely cold, yet they don't seem to get the irony of that. It's like, what global warming?" Ms. McElhinney said.

Fossil fuels power America, Ms. McElhinney and Mr. McAleer said, adding that carbon keeps the lights on, children safe and hospitals open.

The pair noted that fossil fuels "make people wealthy, which is really good because poverty is really tough."

Nearby, a group of University of Connecticut students in green hard hats danced and chanted, "Clean energy, not bombs, put a garden on the White House lawn."

Asked why they were wearing green hard hats, sophomore Malin Boutot replied, "We've got a lot of building to do to get green jobs."

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