For years, Clean Power Lake County has called for state action on toxic pollution from two unlined coal ash ponds at the NRG Energy coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront. On July 30, 2019, our calls were answered as Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed SB9, the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, into law.
The most significant step to protect clean water in years, the new law will result in stronger rules for coal ash cleanup, fund cleanup programs, and require companies to set aside money to close and clean up coal ash ponds.
“This is a great win for coal ash communities, especially for Waukegan residents that have been continuously affected by corporate polluters,” said Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County.
“The governor is putting the State of Illinois in a good trajectory in signing SB9 into law, by sending a message that environmental justice communities across the state are being put before profitable industrial polluters like NRG Energy. Waukegan residents commend Gov. Pritzker and our state legislators for making SB9 into law. Our land is our children’s future and we look forward to the State of Illinois continuing to strengthen protections for our vulnerable environmental justice communities,” she added.
The groundbreaking bill addresses the many waste pits filled with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of burning coal, located all over the state:
Creates a regulatory framework to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for needed closure and cleanup.
Guarantees public participation and transparency around cleanups for affected communities.
Provides the Illinois EPA the funds it needs to properly oversee closure and cleanup.
Requires Illinois to put in place standards for coal ash impoundments that are at least as protective as federal coal ash rule requirements, with additional protections against dust and water pollution.
Now the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) will begin writing and proposing draft rules. The Illinois Pollution Control Board will finalize the IEPA rules.
“Illinois joins other states that are putting residents’ health before industrial polluters’ profit. We look forward to working with IEPA to engage communities most affected by coal ash in the rulemaking process,” said Celeste Flores, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County and Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place.
Once again, we thank the many Lake County elected officials who supported this important legislation: State Senators Melinda Bush, Terry Link, and Julie Morrison; and State Representatives Rita Mayfield, Joyce Mason, Dan Didech, Mary Edly-Allen, Bob Morgan, and Sam Yingling.
Earlier this month, we proudly delivered 2,082 petitions from Waukegan residents to Mayor Wayne Motley and members of the Waukegan City Council, asking them to convene a task force of key stakeholders to address the future of NRG Energy’s coal-fired power plant on the Waukegan lakefront.
We know that the 57-year-old plant endangers the health of people living in Waukegan and other Lake County communities. We believe that the plant also stands in the way of meaningful lakefront revitalization and economic growth in Waukegan.
Representing each of the city’s nine wards, we delivered a powerful message: Residents throughout the city want a transition plan that establishes a retirement date for the plant, provides pathways to new opportunities for workers who aren’t eligible for retirement, provides a site remediation plan, and provides recommendations for site reuse that account for Waukegan’s tax base.
As morning showers gave way to afternoon sunshine on August 23, approximately 120 Lake County residents headed to the beach on Waukegan’s beautiful lakefront to rally for clean air, clean water, and clean energy.
First, we swept the beach and the adjoining dunes to take care of the pollution we can control–like litter–as part of our second annual beach cleanup. Then we called for NRG Energy to act to retire its old and dirty coal-fired power plant, which stands less than a mile north of Waukegan’s swimming beach.
“For too long, corporate polluters like NRG Energy have taken advantage of our lakefront and made our families sick,” Maryfran Troha told volunteers as they finished the August 23 cleanup.
Troha, a lifelong Waukegan resident, represents Clean Power Lake County coalition partners Christ Episcopal Church and the League of Women Voters of Lake County.
“I’m sick of it. I’m ready for a clean Waukegan for all of us because we deserve so much better,” Troha said.
The most immediate thing we can do to help protect Waukegan’s lakefront is to attend the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Act hearing on September 2, 2015. The hearing will focus on the operating permit for NRG’s coal-fired power plant in Waukegan.
More than 50 residents of Waukegan and nearby Lake County communities had good reason to smile on Monday, August 10: We were gathered on the Waukegan lakefront—in the shadow of NRG’s coal-fired power plant—to celebrate the recent release of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, featuring the first national carbon pollution protections.
And then, of course, we had cake.
Now it’s up to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to craft a statewide plan to comply with the federal plan.
The Waukegan celebration was one of five events co-sponsored during the week by the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Related events included a celebration and petition delivery in Alton, and press conferences in Springfield and Chicago.