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Waukegan Faith Leaders Head Dia de los Muertos March
and Vigil for People Impacted by NRG Energy’s Coal Plant
More Than 150 Community Members Ask NRG Energy
and Mayor Wayne Motley to Move Waukegan Beyond Coal
WAUKEGAN, ILL. (November 1, 2015)—More than 150 Lake County residents joined faith leaders on Sunday, November 1, in a march and vigil for environmental justice to commemorate Dia de los Muertos. Together, they called on NRG Energy to set a retirement date for its coal-fired power plant on the lakefront and urged Mayor Wayne Motley to convene a transition committee to address the future of the site.
The NRG plant, the largest source of air and water pollution in Lake County, was named one of the nation’s worst environmental justice offenders in a 2012 NAACP report.
The NRG plant also stands in the way of meaningful lakefront development in Waukegan, according to participants in the event organized by the Clean Power Lake County Campaign, a grassroots coalition of community, faith and environmental groups.
From senior citizens to toddlers, community members processed solemnly, heads bowed, from Bowen Park to NRG Energy’s generating station.
Near the coal plant, they listened intently to local residents and guests directly affected by coal plant pollution.
“The Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos calls on friends and family members to celebrate loved ones who have passed and to pray for their spiritual journey,” said Dulce Ortiz, a leader in Waukegan’s Latino community and the Clean Power Lake County Campaign. “This year for Day of the Dead, the Clean Power Lake County campaign will honor people and our environment, which have been impacted by coal pollution, and pray for a vision of rebirth for Waukegan’s lakefront beyond coal.”
“For too long, our community and our environment have suffered because of NRG Energy’s coal plant and many other industrial polluters,” said Susana Figueroa, Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place. The organization, which inspires religious people of diverse faiths to care for the Earth through education, connection, and advocacy, is a partner in the Clean Power Lake County Campaign.
“The Clean Power Lake County Campaign was born almost three years ago when community members and organizations came together to say, “No more!’ We joined forces to call on the owners of the plant and local elected officials to take action and build a just transition beyond coal and bring clean energy into our community. Our community can’t be left behind anymore, and that is why our campaign continues to fight each day for a better future,” Figueroa added.
“I am proud to stand with you in solidarity from the coal fields of West Virginia—and I bring you a message of hope: We are winning, led by frontline communities and grassroots campaigns,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. “The transition from coal to clean energy is happening at a rapid pace, and that’s why it is so important for community leaders and public officials to come together and envision how to embrace a clean energy economy while protecting workers. We are living at a very exciting time, and we know how much is on the line. To make sure that our land and water is protected for future generations, we know that the time to act is now.”
“It is clear to me now how my faith intersects with the struggle for environmental justice,” said Celeste Flores, representing Most Blessed Trinity Parish of Waukegan. “For me, putting my faith into action and answering Pope Francis’ bold call to address the climate crisis led me to join Clean Power Lake County and fight for a future beyond coal, which is the largest contributor to climate change.”
Flores added, “I knew my generation had to step forward and lead this fight and that is why I traveled hundreds of miles to NRG Energy’s shareholder meeting in Philadelphia to deliver thousands of petitions and let this company know that these petitions are from real people living next to this plant who want change. It is time for clean energy in Waukegan.”
“Our history has taught us that we must demand that companies on our lakefront plan proactively with our community. We’ve learned our lessons. That’s why we’re calling on Mayor Motley to bring NRG Energy to the table and form a transition task force so that we can set a clear plan for this plant that includes a retirement date and a plan for impacted workers, remediation and reuse of the lakefront,” said Reverend Eileen Shanley Roberts of Christ Episcopal Church. Her church was one of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign’s founding partners.
Leading prayers during the march and vigil were Father Justo Espinoza-Perez of Sagrado Corazon Lutheran Church; Waukegan native Julie Nowak of the Baha’i Faith; Father Narciso Diaz of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Episcopal Church; Reverend Eileen Shanley Roberts of Christ Episcopal Church; and Sister Kathleen Long of Most Blessed Trinity and the Father Gary Graf Center.
Prayers offered in Spanish and English expressed common desires: clean air and water, healthy communities, relief for people here and around the world who are impacted by pollution and climate change, strength to continue the struggle to protect the Earth and seek environmental justice, rebirth for Waukegan and its lakefront.
Supporters of the Clean Power Lake County coalition are collecting petitions calling on Mayor Motley and the Waukegan City Council to convene a transition committee to address the future of the coal plant site.
About the Clean Power Lake County Campaign
The Clean Power Lake County Campaign aims to bring community members together to build a just future based on clean air, clean water, and a revitalized lakefront in Lake County. The coalition consists of Agg’in Tribe, Christ Episcopal Church of Waukegan, Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Exchange Club of North Chicago, Faith in Place, Father Gary Graf Center, Incinerator Free Lake County, Knights of Columbus, Lake County Bike Project, League of Women Voters-Lake County, League of Women Voters-Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Area, Moms Clean Air Force-Illinois, Most Blessed Trinity Parish of Waukegan, NAACP-Lake County Branch, Organizing for Action-Lake/McHenry Chapter, Respiratory Health Association, Sierra Club Woods & Wetlands Group, Tufo Art, and Waukegan Community Church.