02/17/2012 02:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Breaking Up With Coal, Falling in Love with Clean Energy

The big news today is that the long-awaited mercury standards for mercury emissions from coal plants are now on the books, published today in the Federal Register. That's great news, and it also starts the clock ticking for attacks on the rule.

Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma is first out of the gate, announcing that he will file an official challenge to the safeguard in Congress. So for the 800,000+ of you who sent in a comment in support of these new protections, please watch this space for future details on how you can help us defend these life-saving standards, and push back against this and future attempts by Congress to repeal the mercury protections.

At the same time, communities nationwide are taking action on coal and clean energy, and today I wanted to highlight some of their great recent events. These amazing local activists remind of this famous Margaret Mead quote:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

I'll start with my favorite piece of news so far, which comes from Vermont. Following up my column last week, here's some great work to make sure new clean energy jobs are union jobs.

From Sierra Club Vermont:

Green Mountain Power is currently building a wind farm in Lowell, Vermont. This wind farm will provide green electricity for up to 15,000 homes. However, up until this week, not one single union member has been employed on this major construction project. In short, livable wages were not guaranteed and many jobs were going to out-of-staters. As of this week, Vermont union Iron Workers from Local 7 will be working on this project. Through the joint efforts of organized labor, the Vermont Sierra Club, and our partners in, we have compelled Green Mountain Power to take one positive step in a very good direction.

Amazing work, Vermont!

Now, because we had our most romantic of holidays this week, I also want to highlight the especially creative Valentine's Day actions several groups took part in. First, in Marietta, Georgia, activists gathered yesterday to thank Cobb Electric Membership Cooperative (EMC), a major electricity cooperative, for "breaking up" with coal last month, and to encourage them to fall in love with clean energy.

The Georgia Sierra Club joined with coalition members at Cobb EMC headquarters to deliver 1,000 letters thanking the utility for its January decision to stop investments into two coal-fired power plants. The letters, including a giant Valentine's Day card, were written by EMC customers and clean energy advocates from around Georgia.

Cobb EMC love

"Cobb EMC's decision to break-up with coal shows the new leaders are looking out for members," said Don Dressel, EMC member and volunteer with the Sierra Club. "Customers are happy that our EMC is moving in the right direction. Now, we can invest in smart energy efficiency and renewable energy programs that will lower our rates and move us forward. That will be a huge boon for EMC members."

Sierra Club Virginia also took on the Valentine's Day spirit Tuesday, when they visited Senator Jim Webb's Richmond office and encouraged him, via hand-made Valentine's cards, to defend the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to protect clean air. "We <3 Clean Air!" read the cards.

VA lovers 2

The chapter also joined Virginia Organizing for the "General Assembly-You Broke Our Hearts" event. Hundreds of activists gathered at the Virginia General Assembly building and said that the General Assembly had "broken our hearts" by focusing on weakening the Renewable Portfolio Standard and a host of other progressive issues that we were disappointed in.

And in Los Angeles, our activists kicked off a creative online campaign asking L.A. to break up with coal and fall in love with clean energy jobs. If you want to help, you can take action.

Finally this week, I want to highlight some amazing scientific work from the Pennsylvania Sierra Club. Activists are taking on the Homer City Generating Station in Homer City, because it is among the worst polluters in the country.

Through modeling, our folks discovered that:

The 1,884-megawatt power plant -- one of the biggest in the nation -- released more sulfur dioxide than any other plant in the U.S. last year and enough to violate federal air pollution standards and its state operating permit.

"The report's modeling of emissions shows that in ... three years, from 2008 through 2010, it was violating its state permit and causing ambient pollution concentrations to be above the health-based standards," said Zack Fabish, an attorney with the Sierra Club. He noted that the power plant wasn't cited for violating the standards because of the lack of state monitors downwind from the plant to measure the pollution.

Nationwide, communities are saying "No more!" when it comes to dirty coal. Americans are falling in love with clean energy and the good jobs it will bring.