Before the year is out, I just had to try my hand at a "Best of..." year-end list because 2014 was so full of amazing victories by hard-working community activists nationwide. From small towns to big cities, we saw inspiring coalitions of diverse groups and organizations working together to protect communities from coal's pollution and ramp up clean energy.
While there are many more highlights than I could possibly list here, I narrowed it down to a dozen - and here they are. If I left out an important victory in your backyard, please share it in the comments.
#1- Indianapolis beats coal: In August, after two years of pressure from a broad coalition of groups, Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) announced it would retire the polluting Harding Street coal plant by 2016. More than 55 churches, neighborhood associations, student groups, and other organizations comprising the Power Indy Forward Coalition passed resolutions urging IPL to power the city with clean energy and put an end to toxic pollution in Indianapolis. IPL's Harding Street coal-fired power plant was responsible for 88 percent of the toxic industrial pollution released in 2012 in Marion County, Indiana, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Harding Street power plant is also the largest source of dangerous soot and sulfur dioxide pollution in Marion County, contributing to Central Indiana's failing grades for air quality.
#2- Austin charts a course beyond coal: In the final weeks of 2014, the city of Austin made a Texas-sized announcement - it's charting a course to 100 percent clean energy! The city council adopted a plan that had been in the works for months, which will phase out not only the city's polluting coal plant, but also a natural gas plant, and will make historic commitments to solar power, wind, and energy efficiency.
#3- Kentucky community watchdogs catch coal polluter red handed: Smile coal ash polluter - you're on a hidden camera! While this story highlights bad behavior by a coal plant, I'm highlighting it because it shows how committed our activists are to stopping polluters and holding them accountable. This past spring our Kentucky Beyond Coal activists in Louisville released hidden camera videos of Louisville Gas & Electric's Mill Creek coal plant dumping coal ash wastewater directly into the Ohio River. This news spread like wildfire and garnered some major news hits, and we joined with EarthJustice in taking legal action.
#4- North Omaha unites for clean air: In yet another great example of a community-wide movement, activists from community organizations in North Omaha, Nebraska, banded together in asking the Omaha Public Power District to retire its nearby coal plant. After years of pressure, in June OPPD decided to retire the plant and invest in energy efficiency, saying that's the best path forward for its ratepayers.
#5- Thousands of Americans pack EPA carbon pollution hearings: This past summer, the EPA held four multi-day hearings in four cities about its Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution. I was one of thousands of Americans who turned out to testify, rally, and march in support of this historic move to fight climate disruption.
#6- Holding the line on coal exports in the Pacific Northwest: The prospect of massive coal exports in Oregon and Washington has inspired clean air lovers across the Northwest to take a stand. Three of the six proposed coal export facilities have been abandoned, and a fourth is now teetering on the brink. Thanks to serious community pressure from a broad base, rallies, packed public hearings, and more, the state of Oregon denied a key permit for Ambre Energy's proposed coal export terminal on the Columbia River, dealing a serious blow to one of the largest proposed coal export projects. And recently came the news that Ambre Energy was selling its stake in the plan.
#7- Retiring coal and ramping up tribal solar in Nevada: On the heels of 2013 legislation that required retirement of the Reid Gardner coal plant and a ramp up of clean energy, utility NV Energy put forward a plan for replacing the coal power from Reid Gardner with large new renewable energy commitments. Unfortunately, the state has not yet approved a proposal from the Moapa Band of Paiutes, who live next to Reid Gardner, to move forward with a solar project on their land, so we continue our advocacy in support of the Moapa solar project.
#8- In advancing clean energy, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) cites activist pressure: In August, TVA announced it would retire the Allen coal plant in Memphis, which emits thousands of tons of pollutants into the air every year. Local residents had pushed hard to replace the plant with renewable energy, and TVA pointed specifically to community pressure as the reason they chose to go with a smaller natural gas plant and leave room for clean energy options.
TVA president Bill Johnson said TVA evaluated gas plants as large as 1,400 megawatts in their Environmental Assessment, but they went with a smaller plant in consideration of comments received urging TVA to "preserve the opportunity to use other kinds of energy resources such as solar or wind to meet future demands."
#9- Utahns band together to oppose solar fee: When Utah utility Rocky Mountain Power tried to stop rooftop solar's expansion in the state by enacting a solar fee, thousands of residents pushed back. They rallied, spoke out at hearings, and submitted nearly 2,000 comments in opposition. And in August they won! The state public service commission rejected the proposed solar fee.
#10- And the Emmy goes to...Years of Living Dangerously! The Beyond Coal Campaign was honored to be featured in Showtime's climate series, Years of Living Dangerously, which aired in 2014, and then proceeded to win the Emmy for best documentary series. The award was much-deserved recognition for a groundbreaking series that transformed the issue of climate change into must-see TV.
#11- Accountability for coal mining pollution: Unfortunately, the travesty of mountaintop removal continued in Appalachia for another year, exposing nearby residents to pollution directly linked to cancer, according to a new medical study published this year. But there were some victories to hold polluters accountable, like this court ruling in West Virginia, the decision to block a Colorado mining permit due in part to climate concerns, and the decision to give a full environmental review to Virginia's "Coalfield Expressway," a highway project that's a mountaintop removal mine in disguise.
#12- Minnesota envisions a future beyond coal: This year, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton challenged state leaders to find a way to eliminate coal from the state's energy mix. The state has been leading the way in advancing solar power and clean energy in recent years, and the governor's leadership bodes well for continued clean energy investment, innovation, and job creation in the state.
Of course I could go on and on with many more inspiring stories from 2014, but then this column would be far too long. I'm so proud of the thousands of community activists nationwide who are fighting for clean air, clean water, and clean energy. I can't wait to see what 2015 brings!