SmogEvery week it seems like yet another small town gets fed up with the coal industry and demands action. This week’s fantastic example comes from Eliot, Maine, where Tuesday night residents voted 906 to 560 to ask the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate dangerous sulfur dioxide pollution coming from the Schiller Station coal plant just across the border in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

I recently blogged about the dangers of sulfur dioxide pollution:  Exposure to sulfur dioxide for even five minutes can trigger asthma attacks and respiratory distress – a serious problem for the more than 3,500 kids in York County, Maine suffering from asthma.  Sulfur dioxide is also associated with aggravation of cardiac conditions, increased rates of hospitalization, and even death.

This fight against the Schiller Station coal plant started earlier this year, when Eliot residents embarked on an education and awareness campaign showing just how much the coal plant was polluting local air. Here’s a model showing how much the coal plant’s pollution affects people in New Hampshire and Maine. Over the past few months, our activists worked with local and state officials, and the plant owners as well.

Then the Eliot town council voted to put the issue of filing a “Good Neighbor” petition (part of the Clean Air Act) before the city. Communities can file a “Good Neighbor” petition requesting that the EPA investigate cross-border and out-of-state sources of air pollution that pose a threat to public health in their community.

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“With just a handful of concerned citizens in the very beginning, we have been able to effectively raise awareness to the important issue of ensuring that our air is clean and healthy to breathe,” said Kimberly Richards, an Eliot resident. “Our message that we won’t allow large companies to dictate our living conditions has been embraced by communities beyond just Eliot, (even as far as Lee, NH). To me, that is what has made this campaign a great success. And I couldn’t be more proud.”

People power – that is what’s making cities nationwide wake up to the dangers of coal. It was people power, Kimberly’s neighbors and friends who, together, voted to protect their air.

“It’s inspiring to see a group of concerned citizens, especially in a small town like Eliot, come together to take on and win against a powerful polluter,” said Glen Brand, director of Sierra Club Maine. “Despite threats of frivolous lawsuits and a slick, misleading corporate ad campaign, the residents of Eliot sent a clear message that they want the coal plant cleaned up and that everyone in the Seacoast region deserves to breathe clean, healthy air.”

The people of Eliot have spoken; Schiller should clean up its act. Clean air is a right no one should be denied and today’s vote is a victory for the town of Eliot and every family concerned about the air they breathe. When put to a vote, the right to clean air free of dangerous coal-fired pollution will always win out over corporate smoke and mirrors.

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Today, thanks to Kimberly and her community, we’re one step closer to a clean air victory in Maine, and in all of New England. As Catherine Corkery of Sierra Club New Hampshire said: “Pollution doesn’t respect state lines. This isn’t just a victory for the people of southern Maine, but for folks in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and across the Seacoast who suffer from the same pollution and deserve clean air.”

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