‘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

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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.

Demanding a Forward-Looking Plan for NRG Coal Plant Site

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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.

 

 

Praying for Environmental Justice

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Let relief come to all people impacted by pollution and climate change. 

Let NRG Energy work with us to end the burning of coal and to bring clean energy to our community.

Let us have the strength to continue our struggle for environmental justice.

Let our community, our lakefront and our environment enjoy a rebirth.

These simple prayers seemed to carry special power on Sunday, November 1, when voiced by Waukegan faith leaders and more than 150 Lake County residents commemorating Dia de los Muertos in a march and vigil organized by the Clean Power Lake County Campaign.

From senior citizens to toddlers, these community members processed solemnly, heads bowed, from Bowen Park to NRG Energy’s coal-fired power plant on the shore of Lake Michigan. (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.)

Near the coal plant, they listened intently as speakers explained how industrial pollution in Waukegan continues to pose significant health risks for local residents. They also heard how ongoing pollution from the NRG coal plant stands in the way of vibrant economic redevelopment that might attract recreational tourism and new businesses to Waukegan.

Together, they called on Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley to bring NRG Energy to the table to set a clear retirement date for the coal plant and establish plans to protect impacted workers and remediate the site.

Building on that strong sentiment, Clean Power Lake County supporters have begun collecting petitions addressed to Mayor Motley and Waukegan’s City Council. The petitions urge Motley to convene a transition task force to plan for the future of the NRG coal plant site so Waukegan can move forward as a healthier community with meaningful options for lakefront revitalization and economic growth.

Click here to sign the Clean Power Lake County petition for clean air in Waukegan and Lake County!

 

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

Back to the Beach: Taking Care of Waukegan’s Lakefront

A year ago, the Clean Power Lake County Campaign gathered more than 120 people from all walks of life to clean up Waukegan’s Municipal Beach and to demand new clean-energy policies for their hometowns. Students, parents and senior citizens had one thing in common: outrage toward NRG Energy, whose coal-fired power plants are some of the worst carbon polluters in Illinois.

NRG’s coal plants have faced numerous lawsuits for violations of the Clean Air Act, violations related to high levels of dangerous pollutants in groundwater near coal ash dumps adjacent to the coal plants, and repeated sulfur dioxide violations.

That’s why concerned citizens were willing to draw a line across the sand as part of Clean Power Lake County’s “Hands Across the Sand” event:

Clearly, standing together makes us stronger.

“I’m still convinced there’s a lot of power in people,” said Tracy Fox of Peoria Families Against Toxic Waste in Peoria, Illinois, stated. “We in central Illinois stand in solidarity with Lake County, and hope we can do great things together.”

This sentiment was echoed by Maria Contreras, a Waukegan High School student: “I know that I can make a difference.”

Now we have another opportunity to stand together. The Clean Power Lake County Campaign will host its second annual Waukegan beach cleanup on August 23. Together, we will celebrate our beautiful lakefront and discuss how we can protect it in the long run.

Event Summary
WhatClean Power Lake County Beach Cleanup/Limpieza de Nuestra Playa
Where: Waukegan Municipal Beach, 201 Sea Horse Drive, Waukegan, IL 60085
When: Sunday, August 23, 2015, 1 p.m.
RSVP and questions: Alex Morgan

CPLC Sends Heartfelt ‘No Coal’ Message to NRG

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Clean Power Lake County team members are asking NRG to stop using coal at its lakefront plant in Waukegan. [Photo by Karen Long MacLeod/courtesy of Clean Power Lake County Campaign]

Why would nine Clean Power Lake County Campaign team members tromp through the snow in subzero temperatures at Waukegan’s lakefront on Valentine’s Day, armed with two heart-shaped candy boxes and one gallon of pink lemonade? It’s not because they are gluttons for punishment (though some might argue that they are). In fact, it was because they wanted to send a heartfelt anti-coal message to David Crane, CEO of New Jersey-based NRG Energy, which owns the coal coal-fired power plant in Waukegan.

The message: No coal.

The burning of coal is one of the main reasons Northeastern Illinois fails to meet minimal federal air quality standards for ozone smog and particle pollution. This endangers not only Waukegan residents but also the more than 8 million people living in the region.

The coal-fired Waukegan plant is of particular concern because it emits more sulfur dioxide and mercury than any other factory or facility in Lake County, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

The risks are real: Pollution from the Waukegan coal plant resulted in 34 premature deaths, 570 asthma attacks and more than 50 heart attacks, according to “The Toll from Coal,” a 2010 Clean Air Task Force report.

The burning of coal poses additional risks. Coal ash contains toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and selenium that pollute groundwater at the lakefront site of the Waukegan plant. Numerous studies link heavy metals with increased risk of cancer, learning disabilities, neurological disorders, birth defects, asthma and other illnesses.

The annual health costs of air pollution from the Waukegan coal plant exceed $86 million, according to a 2010 National Research Council study that applied an economic model to air pollution statistics.

No wonder 26 state and local public officials from the Illinois State Legislature and the Lake County Board and more than a dozen Lake County, Illinois, physicians have asked NRG to establish a clear transition plan for the coal plant and to explore clean energy options.