CONTRIBUTOR

Standing Up To Super Polluters

11/22/2016 11:36 am ET | Updated Nov 22, 2016
Sierra Club
Evansville, Indiana, residents march for clean energy. November 2016.

This week, as families plan to load up the car, wrangle their kids onto a plane, or ready their houses for Thanksgiving, some Americans are heading home for the holidays to places where the air isn’t safe to breathe. These are the homes of the super polluters.

Many residents around Evansville, Indiana, have long known and felt the effects of the pollution from nearby coal plants ― but recently something scary was confirmed to them.

A nine-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity that combined toxic release inventory data from coal plants as well as those plants’ carbon emissions showed that four “super polluters,” as the report described them, are concentrated around Evansville ― a higher concentration than anywhere else in the country.

“This was frightening to me as someone who has lived here for 30 years and is raising my daughter here,” said Wendy Bredhold, a Beyond Coal campaign representative living in Indiana’s Ohio River Valley.

You can see the whole amazing reporting project done by The Weather Channel, the Center for Public Integrity, and USA Today by visiting SuperPolluters.com. The study found 22 super polluters nationwide, in states including Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Alabama ― the full list from the Center for Public Integrity is here.

Wendy helped the reporters tour the area for the project earlier this year, introducing them to the families living near coal ash ponds and the coal plants. She and many other residents ― from teachers to doctors to business owners and more ― have long been organizing to push for the clean up or retirement of the local coal plants.

“This project was an admittedly heartbreaking validation of the concerns we’ve been expressing about the concentration of coal plants in our region,” said Wendy.

Thankfully, the super polluters report release in September has sparked interest and media attention that will hopefully garner attention from local and state officials, like this letter to the editor from an area resident with a heartbreaking opening paragraph:

“Before I read Jamie Smith Hopkins’ piece on the horrific pollution problem in Southern Indiana, I listened to my three year old daughter coughing herself awake in her bedroom. This is a habit she has developed over the course of this summer- sudden, uncontrollable coughing- and it happens every time we go outside to play and at night while she’s trying to sleep.”

“I hope that local people begin to understand ― and believe ― the magnitude of the issue, and at the same time find hope that the Sierra Club, friends, and allies are working on solutions,” Wendy said. “And of course I hope they join us!”

Since the super polluters project release, Beyond Coal volunteers have continued attending local meetings to speak on the issue. This fall, the South Bend, Indiana, City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the state and utility to reduce dependence on coal and increase investment in clean energy.

And just last week, more than 50 local community leaders marched to the headquarters of local utility and super polluter operator Vectren, calling for a shift to clean energy. The utility is releasing its 20-year energy plan on November 29, and these leaders are calling for a plan that sets retirement dates for super polluter coal plants, does not build natural gas plants to replace old coal plants, replaces the coal plants with renewable energy and efficiency, and commits to a path towards 100 percent clean energy.

“We’re calling on coal plant owners Vectren to be a leader in this region overburdened by pollution from coal plants and present the community with a clean energy transition plan,” explained Wendy.

Following our rally, the Evansville Courier & Press’s executive editor weighed in, pointing out the silence from Indiana’s elected officials on the subject of super polluters, and asking, “Who answers for the environment?”

We don’t have to accept living with dangerous, filthy energy, and we won’t. Indiana’s Ohio River Valley residents will continue to lead the charge to retire these four super polluters in their backyard and replace them with clean energy, as local leaders in other super polluter communities are doing the same. To support their work and the fight for clean air, join us.

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