CPLC Celebrates Passage of Landmark Legislation to Clean Up Coal Ash

Coal ash pollution seeps into the Vermilion River in central Illinois. [Prairie Rivers Network photo]

Clean Power Lake County joined a dozen statewide and regional partner organizations on May 28, 2019, in celebrating the passage of SB9, The Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, by the Illinois Legislature. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker for signature.

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.

Illinois — which has the highest concentration of coal ash impoundments in the country — now is the third state in the country to pass legislation providing significant coal ash protections above and beyond federal requirements. Virginia and North Carolina also are addressing coal ash through state-level legislation.

The NRG Energy coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront has two unlined coal ash ash ponds.

“The passage of SB9 out of the general assembly is a historic step forward for environmental justice communities across the state, like Waukegan,” said Dulce Ortiz, co-leader of Clean Power Lake County. “Environmental justice communities still have a long fight to assure community members have the basic human right of breathing clean air and drinking clean water. We call on Gov. Pritzker to prioritize the voices of a community like Waukegan and protect them from polluters like NRG Energy.”

“The passage of SB9 is a historical win for environmental justice communities throughout our state,” said Celeste Flores, with the Faith In Place Action Fund and co-leader of Clean Power Lake County. “People of faith across Illinois applaud the leadership of our elected leaders in the Senate and House for taking action on coal ash contamination of our land and water and implore the general assembly to continue to hold polluters accountable for injustice, oppression, and environmental degradation.”

The Illinois EPA has found groundwater contamination from coal ash waste sites dating back to 2009. A 2018 report from environmental groups Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club analyzing data collected by ash dump owners under the federal coal ash rule found that 22 of 24 of Illinois’ reporting coal ash dump sites have unsafe levels of toxic pollutants in the groundwater.

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.

We also thank everyone who signed petitions, made phone calls, and visited your elected officials. We are stronger together.

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No Coal: Clean Energy Should Be the Goal

A letter by Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Respiratory Health Association—a lead partner in the Clean Power Lake County campaign—appeared in the December 7, 2017, edition of the Lake County News-Sun.

Compared to NRG’s coal plant on Waukegan’s lakefront, WE Energies’ Pleasant Prairie coal plant two miles north of the state line is nearly twice as big, half the age and 10 times less polluting. Yet WE Energies is shutting down that power plant this spring and will instead install 1.3 square miles of solar panels in the area by 2020.

That cleaner, newer, less health-damaging coal plant is closing and Wisconsin will see thousands of new solar jobs. Yet Waukegan keeps NRG’s daily deadly pollution and tiny solar projects built for show on a few local schools.

The utility industry has changed dramatically and Waukegan is behind the curve. In 2012, 19 coal power plants ringed Lake Michigan. None had pollution scrubbers. By late 2018, 10 of those will have ceased burning coal. Four more will have installed modern pollution controls that slash lung-damaging emissions 80 percent or more. Of the last five, NRG’s plant is by far the largest polluter operating on 1,600 miles of lakeshore across four states.

Many Lake County leaders, from County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor and County Board member Mary Ross Cunningham to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and Zion Mayor Al Hill, have signed the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, aiming to move Lake County beyond coal, adopt ambitious 100 percent clean energy goals, and build climate-resilient infrastructure. In order to protect the health and livelihoods of their constituents, all public officials in Lake County need to sign that pledge.

Source: Lake County New-Sun

The Lake County Climate Action Pledge is an initiative launched by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in partnership with the Sierra Club. For details about the central pillars of the pledge, see our September 17, 2017, Launching the Lake County Climate Pledge post.

Waukegan Beach Rally Focuses on Need for Countywide Transition to Clean Energy

More than 100 people who live near Waukegan’s coal-fired power say they are “Moving Toward a #CleanWaukegan” during Clean Power Lake County’s Annual Beach Cleanup. [Photo by Dylan Blake]
At time when the federal government has abdicated its role in climate leadership, Lake County residents who support local action against the climate crisis will gather at the Waukegan lakefront on Saturday, August 26, for the 4th Annual Clean Power Lake County (CPLC) Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup. We will join elected officials in focusing on the need to transition Lake County beyond coal in order to create new jobs in the clean energy economy and make sure Lake County’s communities are healthy for decades to come.

In July, Mayor Sam Cunningham and the Waukegan City Council responded to the climate crisis by passing a resolution committing the City of Waukegan to uphold the carbon reduction goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Waukegan is the only Illinois city with an operating coal plant to sign on to the agreement. The Waukegan coal plant, owned by New Jersey-based NRG Energy, is the largest point source of carbon dioxide emissions in Lake County, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The coal plant also is a major source of water pollution, discharging more than 8 million gallons of tainted water, including coal ash wastewater, every day directly into Lake Michigan, according to Dulce Ortiz, co-leader of Clean Power Lake County, a grassroots campaign supported by community, faith, health, and environmental groups.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor will be the keynote speaker at the lakefront rally. The Republican official, recognized in 2014 as one of six rising stars in Illinois politics, has worked tirelessly to promote economic development and investments in transportation infrastructure. In December, at an event promoting a national documentary that featured Waukegan as a symbol of the debate over our country’s energy future, Lawlor said that redevelopment of the Waukegan harbor cannot happen with a coal-burning power plant on the lakefront.

Also speaking at the rally will be Angelina Jose, a Waukegan High School graduate who now attends Northwestern University. As an organizing fellow with Clean Power Lake County, Jose has spent the summer helping community members understand how Waukegan can become a leader in sustainability by saying “yes” to clean energy, sustainable economic development, and local job creation.

Event Summary
What: Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup
Where: Waukegan Municipal Beach, 201 E. Seahorse Drive, Waukegan, IL
When:  Saturday, August 26, 2017, 10 a.m.

The Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup is organized by Clean Power Lake County.

 

We Applaud Waukegan for Committing to Paris Agreement Goals

After over 4 years of climate/environmental advocacy, Clean Power Lake County members commend Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham and the City Council for committing to the Paris Climate Agreement and Compact of Mayors. [Photo by Dylan Blake.]
After more than 4 years of advocating a coal-to-clean energy plan for Waukegan, Clean Power Lake County and our partners now commend Mayor Sam Cunningham and City Council members for making a commitment to act on climate: On July 17, 2017, the Waukegan City Council unanimously passed a resolution committing the City of Waukegan to adopt, honor, and uphold the Paris Climate Agreement goals and authorizing the mayor to commit the city to the Compact of Mayors.

On the Monday night of the vote, 40-plus members of Clean Power Lake County filled the lion’s share of seats in the council chambers. We listened intently as council members voiced their votes one by one. When the eighth alderman said “aye” into the microphone, we leapt to our feet, clapping and cheering.

The City of Waukegan’s decision comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States would exit the Paris Agreement. The central aim of the historic international climate accord is to keep a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Waukegan now joins 357 other cities that have committed to upholding the Paris goals and reducing carbon pollution locally.

Waukegan is the only Illinois city with an active coal plant to sign on to the agreement. The coal plant is owned by New Jersey-based NRG Energy . It is the largest point source of carbon dioxide emissions in Lake County, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Coal-fired power plants are responsible for one-third of U.S. carbon emissions. Reducing carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants was the signature policy of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, designed to meet reduction targets under the Paris Agreement.

“Clean Power Lake County and our partners look forward to working with Mayor Cunningham and City Council in developing a climate action plan that moves Waukegan beyond our legacy of pollution and positions our city as a clean energy leader. This work lies hand-in-hand with the mayor’s goal to revitalize our lakefront and local economy and we encourage City Hall to not waste any time in getting started,” said Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, co-chair of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign.

“Sierra Club applauds Mayor Cunningham and the City of Waukegan for their commitment to climate leadership at this critical moment in our country’s history,” said Julio Guzman, campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “We look forward to working with Mayor Cunningham in developing a strong and just plan to reduce carbon pollution and bring new clean energy investments and jobs to Waukegan. After years of community members speaking out on climate change and urging Waukegan to move beyond coal, this marks an important step forward in charting a new course on environmental leadership for our city.”

Now let’s get to work and reach those goals. Click here to find out how you can get involved.

 

Clean Power Lake County Campaign Is Showcased in One Earth Film Festival

Clean Power Lake County activists and campaign supporters appear in “Years of Living Dangerously: Uprising," one of five environment-themed films to be screened in Lake County as part of the One Earth Film Festival.

Several Clean Power Lake County activists appear in one of five environment-themed films to be screened in Lake County as part of the One Earth Film Festival, March 4-11.

Dulce Ortiz, Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, Sister Kathleen Long, Karen Long MacLeod, Julio Guzman, Celeste Flores, and Christine Nannicelli appear along with hundreds of campaign supporters in “Years of Living Dangerously: Uprising.” The documentary will be shown at 5 p.m. on March 5 at Christ Episcopal Church in Waukegan.

In the documentary, actress America Ferrera follows Clean Power Lake County activists as, over the course of nearly a year, they collect and deliver petitions to the Waukegan City Council, journey to Springfield to advocate for clean energy policy that can provide green jobs, and appeal directly to NRG Energy to work with the community to transition its Waukegan power plant beyond coal.

Audience members will have the chance to meet local activists featured in the film, learn what Clean Power Lake County is doing to move Waukegan beyond coal, and talk with local leaders about how community members can work together to revitalize the Waukegan lakefront.

Here’s the line-up of Lake County showings:

The Lake County showings are free and open to the public. A $6 donation per film is appreciated. For more information, movie trailers and tickets, go to www.oneearthfilmfest.org/films-by-date.

The Lake County screenings are part of the Midwest’s premier environmental film festival. Local sponsors are Citizens Climate Lobby, Clean Power Lake County, College of Lake County, Faith in Place, Liberty Prairie Foundation, Prairie Crossing Charter School, Sierra Club: Woods & Wetlands Group, and Wild Ones: Lake to Prairie Chapter.

Speaking on Environmental Justice Issues at Illinois Civil Rights Hearing

Eight members of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign attended a March 9, 2016, hearing held by the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to tell how pollution from NRG Energy’s coal-fired power plant disproportionately affects minority and low-income residents in Waukegan.

Representing Clean Power Lake County and its coalition partners were Dulce Ortiz and Peggy Jones of Waukegan; David Villalobos, Waukegan Fourth Ward Alderman; Celeste Flores of Most Blessed Trinity Catholic Parish (Waukegan); Susana Figueroa of Faith in Place; Brian Urbaszewski of Respiratory Health Association; Barbara Klipp of Incinerator Free Lake County; and Christine Nannicelli of the Sierra Club.

Midwest Energy News published a good recap of the March 9 proceedings.

The Waukegan coal plant, which sits on the lakefront near a predominately Latino neighborhood, is the largest source of air and water pollution in Lake County. The plant was named one of the nation’s worst environmental justice offenders in a 2012 NAACP report.

Clean Power Lake County is concerned that pollution from the coal plant is impairing air and water quality and contaminating soil. The plant also reduces access to open space.

The findings of the Illinois Advisory Committee will support the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ 2016 federal statutory enforcement report on environmental justice.

“As the product of an Illinois community that has suffered from environmental racism, I commend our Illinois Advisory Committee for addressing this issue. This will ensure that affected Illinois communities will be a prominent part of our national report to the President and Congress on environmental justice for communities of color,” said Martin Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan agency charged with studying and advising the President and Congress on civil rights matters and issuing federal enforcement reports.

For information about the reports and meetings of the Commission and its State Advisory Committees, visit www.usccr.gov.

Waukegan Voters Support Transition Plan for NRG Coal Plant: Poll

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NRG’s Waukegan coal plant, on the Lake Michigan shore, is the largest source of air and water pollution in Lake County. [Photo by Lisa Long/Clean Power Lake County]

In December, we went to Waukegan City Hall to deliver 2,082 petitions requesting formation of a task force to plan the responsible transition of NRG Energy’s outdated coal-fired power plant on the Waukegan lakefront.

This month, we went back to Waukegan City Hall—this time, to deliver the results of an exciting new bipartisan poll that bolsters our argument that Waukegan is ready to transition to renewable energy.

An overwhelming 70 percent of Waukegan voters participating in the poll support a transition plan that sets a retirement date for the coal plant, considers clean energy alternatives, and promotes redevelopment of polluted sites along the lakefront.

Nearly eight in 10 voters in the city want this part of Illinois to start producing more electricity from solar energy, according to the poll. Conversely, most voters want this area to produce less electricity from coal.

The Global Strategy Group poll, released January 14, involved interviews with 300 registered voters in Waukegan between December 11 and December 20, 2015. It was commissioned by the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. For full poll results, click sierraclub.org/waukegan.

Add the convincing poll evidence to the recommendations of Waukegan’s own lakefront development consultants, Edgewater Resources:  These give Mayor Wayne Motley and the Waukegan City Council ample justification to bring NRG to the table to discuss a responsible transition away from coal in Waukegan.

Mayor Motley says he has contacted NRG Energy more than once about meeting with community stakeholders (see Poll: Waukegan residents want transition from coal to clean energy ).

In the meantime, Clean Power Lake County volunteers will continue working to build support for the transition task force.