It has been a big month for clean energy in the Midwest. Yesterday, We Energies announced plans to repower its coal-burning power plant in downtown Milwaukee. Earlier this week Dominion announced plans to retire the State Line plant in Indiana just over the border from Chicago. Last week LG&E indicated it will replace the Cane Run plant in Louisville.

These cities join Denver, Minneapolis, and Madison as urban areas that are addressing or have addressed their coal problems. It seems that everywhere, cities are taking the necessary steps to protect the health of citizens by phasing out dangerous coal pollution. Everywhere, that is, except Chicago.

Across the Midwest and the nation, the Sierra Club is working to protect public health and promote clean energy in urban areas that are polluted by aging, dirty coal plants – including Louisville, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago. Many of these polluting coal plants have been violating the Clean Air Act and other landmark environmental standards meant to protect Americans from asthma, heart attacks, cancer, and other major health problems.

In each case, the Sierra Club is working with local volunteers and partners to achieve solutions that clean up the air and protect the health of the affected communities.

Yesterday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, We Energies announced that it will take the first steps to convert the Menomonee Valley coal plant to natural gas.  This action has the potential to significantly improve Milwaukee’s air quality and the health of its residents by reducing dangerous air pollution.

Milwaukee is consistently given failing grades for its air quality. More than 24,000 people live within a mile of the plant and suffer the worst consequences of the plant’s pollution. Furthermore, the Valley plant lacks modern pollution controls and is a significant source of soot and smog, which are linked to serious health problems such as asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. But with this new announcement, residents can breathe a little easier knowing that cleaner air is in their future.

In Louisville, Kentucky, fly ash dust from the Cane Run plant routinely coats the homes and cars of neighboring residents. In March, the Kentucky Division of Waste Management investigated samples of this dust and found that it tested positive for mercury.  Thanks to a huge citizen lobbying effort, a Kentucky House committee has agreed to hold a legislative hearing this summer on the dangers of coal ash in the Cane Run community.

In Indiana, State Line is an old, dirty coal plant just over the border from Chicago, but is still in the greater Chicago metro area. Dominion Resources, the owner of the plant, has decided it is not worth spending money to bring the plant into compliance with clean air protections. Dominion is writing off the remaining book value of the facility and it will be retired by 2014, and possibly much sooner.

So why is Chicago stalling on the two old, dirty coal plants within city limits? It isn’t for lack of effort that the Fisk and Crawford coal plants are still up and running. Earlier this month, hundreds of Chicagoans gathered to attend of public hearing of the Clean Power Ordinance and ask city council to protect the health of its residents…only to literally be shut out.

Midwest Generation bussed in more than 200 employees (few of whom actually live within the city limits) to fill the seats and shut out the public, including many local residents who live in the shadow of the smokestacks. Obviously, we didn’t take this lying down. And it seems that despite being shut out of the room, our voices were heard.

Across the country, utilities are realizing they can’t justify the cost of continuing to burn coal. This is in part because the Environmental Protection Agency is implementing long-awaited public health protections on mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal plants.

 

In fact, on May 24, Chicago will be hosting a national EPA hearing on the health dangers of air toxins, giving Chicago residents the chance to support clean air, public health, and call for Chicago to catch up with the rest of the nation. (There are two other hearings, as well, one in Philadelphia and one in Atlanta).

I hope you will join us in Chicago or the other hearing sites to speak up in favor of these long-overdue protections that could slash emissions of mercury, arsenic, and other toxic pollutants that threaten our health.