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Mary Anne Hitt

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The Nation's 100th Coal-Fired Power Plant Retirement

Posted: 02/29/2012 2:46 pm

Today the Sierra Club and lovers of clean air nationwide reached a major milestone for public health. Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign joined with allies to mark the 100th coal plant retirement announced since January 2010.

The Crawford coal plant in Chicago became the 100th coal plant to set plans to retire. This Midwest Gen-owned plant is one of nine coal-fired plants from Chicago to Pennsylvania that announced plans to retire today. You can learn more about the Chicago plants in my column from earlier today, and about the seven GenOn plants being retired in this press release.

City by city, town by town, communities are standing up and saying no to coal, and saying yes to clean energy. This milestone demonstrates that a shift is well underway across the country, and we will not power our future with the energy sources of the 19th century. The Beyond Coal campaign's goal is to retire one third of America's polluting coal plants by the year 2020 and replacing that power with clean energy like wind, solar, and energy efficiency.

Now we must ensure that the transition from coal to clean energy happens in a way that protects workers and communities. We've seen it happen before -- from the Pacific Northwest to the Tennessee Valley -- and today we call on GenOn and Midwest Gen to ensure jobs for the workers now at these plants.

Today's announcement is a tremendous victory for public health. Pollution from coal-fired power plants contributes to a host of health problems, including respiratory illnesses and asthma attacks, heart disease and cancer. Coal mining is also being linked to serious health effects, like increased rates of cancer and birth defects near mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia. Retirement of these 100 plants is estimated to prevent more than 2,042 premature deaths, 3,299 heart attacks and 33,053 asthma attacks, according to the Clean Air Task Force.

In addition to securing retirement dates for 100 coal plants nationwide, the Beyond Coal campaign has prevented 166 proposed new coal plants from being built, since 2002. The campaign estimates that these preventions and closures have led to 50,000 megawatts of new clean energy projects across the country.

The Beyond Coal campaign had very humble beginnings back in 2002, when a handful of volunteers and a lone staff person decided to stand in the way of a tsunami of new coal plants proposed by the Bush administration. Ten years later, we are a movement and a powerhouse that is changing the way America produces energy, and slashing the pollution that threatens our health, our homes, and our climate.

I am constantly amazed and energized by the volunteers, allies, and organizers who are part of our Beyond Coal effort. Just look at some of what has been accomplished to date:

  • Proposals for 166 new coal-fired power plants have been abandoned, opening market space for clean energy.
  • We have secured retirement dates for 106 existing plants since January 2010, meaning nearly 20 percent of the nation's current coal plants are now slated for retirement.
  • New mountaintop removal mining permits have slowed to a trickle.
  • Nineteen colleges and universities have won fights to phase out coal plants on their campuses, thanks in large part to the Sierra Student Coalition.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people mobilized in support of strong clean air and water protections, including submitting a record number of comments -- almost 800,000 -- in support of new national mercury standards.
  • We won the biggest clean air agreement in the history of the Southeast when the Tennessee Valley Authority announced it would retire 18 dirty, outdated coal units.

Working with local people in neighborhoods across the country and dozens of allied organizations, Sierra Club organizers have been fighting Big Coal's efforts to push through the dozens and dozens of new plants since the early 2000s. Together, they achieved one victory after another. Now, by retiring existing coal plants, we are saving lives, saving mountains, and saving the planet -- all while clearing a path for clean energy.

Take a moment to celebrate this milestone for public health and the environment today. Then it's time to get back to work building a clean energy economy that will create jobs and protect our health.

 

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