Rallying for Clean Jobs

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We rode to Springfield on a bus. We rallied on the steps of the state capitol building. We conferred with our elected representatives.

We were 43 people from Waukegan and nearby Lake County communities—and we added our voices to those of more than 300 like-minded people from across the state on April 21, calling for prompt passage of the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill (HB 2607/SB 1485).

The bipartisan Illinois Clean Jobs Bill is supported by more than 41 co-sponsors in the House, 21 co-sponsors in the Senate, and a coalition of more than 160 businesses and 60 organizations.

The bill is designed to help consumers save money on energy, bring clean energy investment to communities, strengthen local tax bases and create family-sustaining jobs, according to the bill’s legislative co-sponsors.

Unfortunately, a full year has passed since the Clean Jobs Bill was introduced in the Illinois legislature.

In that time, Illinois has lost 152 solar jobs and 431 wind jobs. At the same time, Michigan has added nearly 700 solar jobs and Ohio has added more than 500 solar jobs, according to Michelle Knox, owner of WindSolar USA in Owaneco, who spoke at the Environmental Lobby Day rally.

“We simply cannot afford to be here a year from today, listing more and more states that, by then, will have passed us by,” said Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park, a lead sponsor of the bill. “Illinois needs to act, and we need to act now.”

For many Illinois residents attending the rally, the shift to a clean energy economy is personal.

Among them, Dulce Ortiz, a Waukegan resident and a leader with the Clean Power Lake County Campaign.

“I am here because every family has the right to breathe clean air and have a healthy environment. Clean energy will bring jobs and opportunity to places like Waukegan, which desperately needs economic development,” Ortiz said. “It’s time to get these policies right. Bringing those projects home is a win-win for everyone in the community. We bring in more jobs and make sure my community is not left behind in the new economy. More importantly, it means the air our children breathe is less likely to make them sick.”

 

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Demanding a Forward-Looking Plan for NRG Coal Plant Site

Clean Power petitioners
Clean Power Lake County coalition members gather in the lobby of Waukegan’s City Hall, ready to deliver 2,082 petitions to public officials. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/courtesy of Clean Power Lake County Campaign]
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.

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.

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.

For detailed comments, see Waukegan Residents Deliver 2,082 Petitions to City Council Demanding Forward-Looking Plan for NRG Coal Plant Site.

Five of the nine city council members thanked us for actively reaching out to community members and demonstrating a strong commitment to bettering our city.

Mayor Motley has not yet committed to convening the transition task force, but said he has reached out to NRG Energy about coming to the table to talk.

So far, NRG has said “no.” According to a December 17, 2015, article in the Lake County News-Sun, NRG spokesman David Gaier said the Waukegan Generation Station will continue to function as a coal-burning plant indefinitely.

 

 

Embracing a Vision of a More Beautiful Lakefront

Volunteers pick up trash on Waukegan's beach.
More than 120 people who live near Waukegan’s coal-fired power plant collect bags of trash at Waukegan Municipal Beach during Clean Power Lake County Campaign’s second annual beach cleanup. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/Clean Power Lake County Campaign]
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.

Clean Power Lake County volunteers hold "We Are Waukegan" canvas banner
With NRG Energy’s dirty coal-fired power plant in the background, volunteers hold a canvas banner proclaiming why Waukeganites care about clean air and clean water. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
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.

“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.

Students with clean air and climate action signs
Students participating in the beach cleanup and rally make it clear that they want clean air. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
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.

RSVP to stand with Clean Power Lake County and Sierra Club to fight for clean air in Waukegan and Lake County!

Event Summary

What: Illinois EPA Hearing on Waukegan Coal Plant
Where: Illinois Beach State Park Resort, 1 Lakefront Drive, Zion, IL 60099 [map]
When: Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 7 p.m. .
RSVP and questions: Alex Morgan

Boarding the Bus to Support Clean Jobs in Illinois

"Climate avengers" from Lake County, Illinois, visit the state capital to ask their elected officials to pass the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. [Photo courtesy of Barbara Klipp/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
“Climate avengers” from Lake County, Illinois, visit the state capital to ask their elected officials to pass the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. [Photo courtesy of Barbara Klipp/Clean Power Lake County Campaign.]
By Maryfran Troha

I felt courageous as I showed up at the parking lot of Most Blessed Trinity Church and stepped onto a Springfield-bound bus to participate in the Illinois Environmental Council’s annual Lobby Day. I, of course, had written letters, signed petitions and made telephone calls—as active citizens in a democracy are supposed to do. I had even had one-on-one meetings in local officials’ constituent offices. However, I had never gone to our state capital to meet with lawmakers.

Boarding that bus, I had not a clue what I was supposed to do to advocate for the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. Needless to say, I did not want to make a fool of myself or come home without making contact with any elected officials.

Fortunately, wonderful lobbying pros on the bus gave us a really good rundown during the four-hour trip. They gave us a map of the Capitol building showing the locations of our reps’ offices. They also suggested we write letters to our senators because senators do not come out of session to meet with constituents.

As our bus pulled up alongside a long string of buses near the Capitol, I stepped into the bright sunshine to find myself among hundreds of neophyte activists.

Divided into groups according to which senators represented us, we marched up the Capitol steps, passed through security and gazed around a massively crowded rotunda. My sense of confidence grew as my group, led by the Sierra Club’s Alex Morgan, wove through droves in colorful T-shirts representing our cause and many other causes and dodged awestruck hordes of eighth graders on school trips.

We climbed many flights of stairs to Senator Terry Link’s office. One by one, we presented our letters to the aide at the reception desk. The aide smiled politely and offered regrets that the senator could not meet with us. This was a crowded affair since senators in adjacent offices were receiving delegations from various environmental groups.

I started feeling a little panicky. How would we pull Representative Rita Mayfield out of the House session? Fortunately, Alex knew the ropes. He explained that we’d go to “the rail” to meet a page, who’d take our lobbyist cards to the member. Then we’d wait in a long corridor, hoping Representative Mayfield would be able to meet with us. Imagine all the advocacy groups smashed into one 8′ by 20′ space. Really? Yes, really!

We lounged along the walls watching representatives dash out to meet with individuals in smart suits as well as people like us in T-shirts representing different issues. After a wait, Representative Mayfield bustled into the corridor, smiling and appearing pleased to see us. She took our literature, listened to our message and kindly posed with us for a photograph to show the folks back home. This crazy meeting in a packed corridor was actually democracy in action!

It was awesome to be part of an impressive show of strength for an important cause and to connect with my elected officials in a powerful way. It truly was grassroots activism. I urge others to “board the bus” at the very next opportunity.

Maryfran Troha, a lifelong resident of Waukegan, Illinois, represents Christ Church of Waukegan in the Clean Power Lake County coalition. She has been involved in the Clean Power campaign for almost two years.