Launching the Lake County Climate Action Pledge

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At a time when the federal government has abdicated its role in climate leadership, public officials and residents across the country are stepping forward to take local action against the climate crisis.

Leading the way in Lake County, Illinois, is Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor. He recently launched an initiative in partnership with the Sierra Club to encourage local community leaders and public officials to deliver local, bipartisan action on the climate crisis.

“With vision and determination, Lake County can move beyond coal, toward a 100% clean energy future, and invest in fiscally and environmentally sustainable infrastructure. Climate action isn’t just an issue for our president to fail on or Congressional leaders to ignore. Climate action needs local leaders to step up and lead us forward, and it’s going to start right here in Lake County!” Lawlor said.

Lawlor announced the initiative, the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, before a crowd of 175 Lake County residents and public officials who gathered at the Waukegan lakefront for the 4th Annual Clean Power Lake County Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup.

The new initiative consists of three pillars:

  • Move Lake County beyond coal
  • Adopt ambitious clean energy goals
  • Build climate-resilient infrastructure

The solutions to these issues are related to solutions to serious social issues, said Dulce Ortiz, a Waukegan resident who spoke at the rally on behalf of the Sierra Club.

“We sit at an unprecedented and, frankly, dark moment in our country’s history that has to be spoken to—when the President refuses to denounce racism and white supremacy, when immigrant communities and Muslims are under attack, when the head of the EPA is a climate denier and is actively rolling back critical environmental policies, leaving us to protect our own communities,” Ortiz said. “These are not separate issues: They are absolutely interconnected and so, too, are their solutions. We are called to new levels of courage to speak out on these threats to our community and environment and to take decisive action at the local level in partnership with one another.”

Eight public officials have already joined Lawlor in taking the Lake County Climate Action Pledge:

  • Lake County Board Members Vance Wyatt, Diane Hewitt, Judy Martini, Mary Ross Cunningham, Sandy Hart, and Ann Maine
  • State Senator Melinda Bush
  • State Representative Sam Yingling

Both the Lake County News-Sun and Daily Herald published good recaps of the August 26 rally.

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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.

 

Our Story Brought an Emmy Award-Winning National Geographic Series to Waukegan

On December 4, 2016, you can hear the story that brought an Emmy Award-winning National Geographic series to Waukegan. [National Geographic/Years of Living Dangerously photo ]
[National Geographic/Years of Living Dangerously photo ]
In Years of Living Dangerously, some of Hollywood’s most influential stars reveal emotional and hard-hitting accounts of the effects of climate change around the planet. Now the Emmy-winning series is focusing national attention on the fight to bring clean energy solutions to Waukegan.

Years of Living Dangerously will feature actress America Ferrera along with members of the Clean Power Lake County campaign in an episode airing December 14 (10/9c) on the National Geographic channel. (Don’t have cable? The episodes will be available on Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and NatGeo’s TV Everywhere app after midnight EST the next day.)

Ferrera, a project correspondent with the documentary series, met with Clean Power Lake County volunteers earlier this year to learn what we are doing to create a healthier, more livable community.

Clean Power Lake County will host a special Years of Living Dangerously  preview event on December 4. Guests will have the chance to meet local activists featured in the upcoming episode, 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.

Event Summary
What: Sneak Peek: National Geographic Spotlights Clean Power Lake County
Where: Greenbelt Cultural Center, 1215 Green Bay Road, North Chicago, Illinois 60064
When: Sunday, December 4, 2016, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
RSVP: sc.org/CleanPowerLCSpotlight
Questions: Celeste Flores, celeste.flores@sierraclub.org, 502-395-8683

 

‘Chicago Tonight’ Spotlights Waukegan Coal Plant Controversy

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Three members of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign were featured prominently in a March 23, 2016, report by “Chicago Tonight,” Chicago’s premier news and public affairs magazine.

Waukegan Fourth Ward Alderman David Villalobos, Sister Kathleen Long of Most Blessed Trinity Catholic Parish (Waukegan), and Christine Nannicelli of the Sierra Club highlighted several reasons why we are pushing for a transition plan that spells out a retirement date for the coal-fired power plant in Waukegan and also emphasizes renewable clean energy sources as part of the report, “Activists Call for Closure of Waukegan Coal-Fired Power Plant.”

The “Chicago Tonight” video and transcript are available online.

Area residents were quick to sound off—via the Lake County News-Sun—about on-camera remarks by Mayor Wayne Motley of Waukegan and Julie Contreras, chair of the Lake County Latino activist group LULAC:

Glad to see folks standing up for our lakefront and wanting to see a future without pollution. It’s been one of Waukegan’s greatest challenges to attract more visitors and new economic growth. There are so many opportunities here to chart a new path for Waukegan but we’re going to need courageous leadership that isn’t tied to out-of-state corporations. It’s encouraging to see Alderman (David) Villalobos have the independence, courage, and vision to speak out.

It was great to see more media coverage on the coal plant issue here in Waukegan. I applaud the persistent efforts of organizations and local leaders to push our city toward a cleaner and healthier future for our lakefront. However, I don’t see how Mayor Motley’s responses and perspective on the coal plant align with the plans of revitalizing the lakefront that will attract more visitors, businesses, and recreational activities. Waukegan wants to brand itself as a city moving forward and we need to address the pollution from the plant on the lakefront. Thank you.

I was happy to see that “Chicago Tonight” took an interest in Waukegan this week with its story, “Activists Call for Closure of Waukegan Coal-Fired Power Plant.” While a range of positions were expressed, I think we all know that coal pollution is dangerous. Waukegan has paid a big price for all the pollution it has endured for decades from corporations who make their profits and leave their contamination behind. It is important to plan a transition from the coal plant to clean energy precisely so people’s jobs and the city’s tax base not suddenly be lost when this aging coal plant—like so many in the country—ends up closing down. Hopefully one day elected officials will deny the corporate campaign contributions and do what’s right for our community. Waukegan deserves better.

I saw a TV program about the NRG coal-fired power plant in Waukegan. If the mayor is worried about the coal plant leaving the community, and the impacts to the tax base and jobs, then the city should begin planning for it now. I keep reading about coal plants closing and coal mining companies going into bankruptcy. That plant is old and will not keep running for much longer. Mayor Wayne Motley’s statements are short-sighted. He should see the great opportunity he has in front of him to demonstrate effective leadership to chart a responsible transition plan for the plant. Everyone

Waukegan Voters Support Transition Plan for NRG Coal Plant: Poll

2516_CoalPlant_docsize
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.

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.