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Over 100 Residents Join Clean Power Lake County Campaign for Beach Sweep and “Hands Across the Sand” Solidarity Event in Waukegan
Local Citizens Impacted by NRG Coal Plants Join in Asking for a Responsible Transition to Clean Energy on the Heels of the People’s Climate March
WAUKEGAN, ILL. (Sept. 28, 2014) — Community leaders who live next to coal-fired power plants in Waukegan, Romeoville and Pekin, Illinois, and more than 100 local residents participated in a sweep of Waukegan’s Municipal Beach on Sunday and stood together to demand healthier clean-energy economies for their hometowns as part of an event called Hands Across the Sand: Solidarity for Clean Water & Clean Power.
These concerned citizens have been vocal in their criticism of the recent decision by New Jersey-based NRG Energy to continue burning coal at its plants in Waukegan, Romeoville and Pekin, saddling residents with many more years of pollution at a time when they are calling for local clean-energy development.
“If we truly want a healthy and revitalized lakefront, then we have to get serious about addressing the coal plant, which is largest source of water pollution in the entire county.” said David Villalobos, a Waukegan resident and a leader within the Clean Power Lake County Campaign. He added, “We’re glad NRG complied with our demands for clean energy in their recent announcement, but they need to commit to a reasonable transition plan for the coal plant if they want to be the visionary clean-energy company of the 21st century.”
NRG’s coal plants are also some of the largest carbon polluters in the state of Illinois. The Clean Air Task Force, with 2014 emissions data and modeling used by the Environmental Protection Agency, concluded that these three plants collectively contributed to 90 premature deaths, 142 heart attacks, and 1,540 asthma attacks every year.
Beyond polluting the air across multiple counties, NRG’s coal plants damage crucial local waterways such as Lake Michigan and the Illinois River with mercury emissions and leftover toxic coal ash waste.
“I’ve watched community member after community member, including myself, suffer from the impacts of coal pollution—and enough is enough,” said Ellen Rendulich, a resident of Lockport, next to NRG’s Will County coal plant and director of Citizens Against Ruining the Environment (CARE).
Tracy Fox, leader of Peoria Families Against Toxic Waste, who lives in Central Illinois near the NRG’s Powerton plant, added: “All communities with coal plants deserve long-term transition plans so they can plan for the future. It’s disappointing that NRG only chose to disclose its short-term strategy: promising to reduce pollution if they just wait another few years.”
The coal plant in Waukegan has coal ash waste ponds that sit directly next to the shoreline of Lake Michigan. This plant and other coal plants now owned by NRG Energy were issued violation notices in 2012 by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for high levels of contaminants in groundwater near their coal ash ponds.
Coal ash, the waste material left after coal is burned, is full of heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic. These heavy metals can cause cancer and brain damage in humans, and they are toxic to fish and wildlife. While some corrective measures have been taken at the sites, community members feel that still more protections are needed to safeguard local groundwater and Lake Michigan.
“These plants have a history of serious compliance problems with both air and water pollution,” said Faith Bugel, senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “These community members have very real concerns—and while NRG will be installing overdue controls for air pollution, it means that their coal ash is only going to become more problematic.”
Antonio Lopez, Ph.D., and executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, offered hope for a healthier future based on clean energy: “Just like Little Village and Pilsen, each of your communities impacted by coal pollution can build a new future beyond coal where the lights stay on, air quality is improved, and revisioning of those critical spaces can begin for redevelopment.”
Many of Sunday’s speakers and attendees traveled to New York City last weekend to participate in the People’s Climate March, the largest march in history to demand action to stabilize our climate for future generations.